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How To Reach Your Member of Congress Today, Online or Off

BY Nick Judd | Tuesday, July 26 2011

Republicans and Democrats in Congress today are swamped with public opinion. Will they hear what you're saying, or fail? Illustration: David Colarusso / Flickr

With congressional switchboards jammed today after dueling remarks from President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner have them vying for public support, there are several alternative ways to look up and contact congressional representatives.

If you're looking to make your voice heard today and having trouble thanks to the overloaded lines on Capitol Hill — and you're not interested in using lines set up by groups like SEIU — here are some ways to do that:

  • Snail mail or a well-written, obviously-not-form-letter email. Matt Lira, Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's new media director, writes: "The best way, [regardless] of the phone status, to contact their Members is write your rep." Past studies have shown that congressional staff sit up and take note of letters, and even emails — if it's obvious that the email is not a form letter, and especially if it's coming from a constituent in that member's district;
  • In person. and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, both progressive groups, are planning events in every district across the country. On, the FreedomWorks-backed social network for Tea Party supporters, it looks like some folks are also organizing counter-protests. If you happen to be in or near Versailles, Ohio, today, you could stop by Republican House Speaker John Boehner's roving office hours and voice your support or dissent to his plans;
  • OpenCongress, a project of the Participatory Politics Foundation and Sunlight Foundation*, which tracks members of Congress, bills and legislation, including each one's website and contact info. Includes a way to look up your elected officials by ZIP Code;
  • PopVox, a platform for communicating your position on bills and issues to your member of Congress. Built by a team including former congressional staffer Marci Harris and GovTrack inventor Joshua Tauberer, it has gained some acceptance from staff on Capitol Hill;
  • Votizen, a project, now in beta, that tries to match you up with your voting record so that eleced officials know that when you're indicating your opinion on an issue, it comes from a real voter. One problem: Voting records are often poorly kept, so your mileage may vary;
  • TweetCongress, a directory of members of Congress who are on Twitter;
  • Facebook or YouTube — the Congressional Management Foundation released a study today that finds most members of Congress have "thoroughly integrated" new media tools, including Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, into their daily business, based on a survey of congressional staff, and 72 percent of staffers surveyed — with the caveat that this includes "social media managers" who might have a particular view on the subject — believe social media allows their member of Congress to reach people they had previously not communicated with. Forty-two percent say social media is important for understanding constituents and just over a third say they routinely check YouTube;
  • GovLuv, a (slightly out of date — it still thinks David Paterson is governor of New York) web application that returns your elected officials and their Twitter handles, if it has them, based on your address.

Did I miss any? Let me know or leave them in the comments.

* Personal Democracy Forum co-founders Andrew Rasiej and Micah Sifry are senior technology advisers to the Sunlight Foundation.