By Leslie R
Cuomo is someone I dislike very much, but I have him on speed dial. I have learned the effectiveness of persistently calling his office over the years. I was very involved in the Ban Fracking campaign in NY State and believed from the very first day of the campaign that calling Cuomo or bird-dogging Cuomo (alone) would never persuade him to support a ban on fracking. But I did believe it was a piece of a big activist puzzle. And that, combined with other actions, calling Cuomo’s office might be effective.
Cuomo is as establishment as any politician and does things the way of the Mob, but after talking to his staffers and those who answer the phones when constituents call his office, I learned a lot. For starters, elected officials are working for us (we need to remember) and Cuomo’s staff is there to answer the phones, because that is what we are paying them to do. His staffers did take notes and they did make it clear that Cuomo gets the messages, especially when there is a majority of callers organizing around an issue.
“A Tip for getting through to him (or any other politician): Don’t leave a message; insist on speaking to someone directly. There is always someone available if you are persistent.”
Are making phone calls absolutely necessary for effective activism and movement building? Definitely not. But it is a piece of the puzzle. Good actors in power is the ideal way to achieve progress, but a movement that pressures an elected official can achieve the results we desire and need, even if the elected officials are unpopular and widely disliked. A movement can persuade an elected official to make good decisions that will have a positive impact on a majority of the people. The anti-fracking movement was very effective and was a huge movement. Cuomo felt the pressure and decided to ban fracking in NY State.
On Chuck. I have also called Chuck Schumer’s office many times. He is far more elusive than Cuomo. Is calling Chuck Schumer an effective tactic? Calling an elected official’s office is part of building an organized opposition. Just like building the movement to ban fracking, building the opposition to Cuomo included making phone calls to his office. Cuomo is the enemy, as is Schumer. But that doesn’t mean we should be totally shutting them out to our demands and eliminating communication at any level.
Are we playing into the hands of the establishment and playing by their rules by using the most basic task that an activist should use? Making phone calls to elected offices is important and shouldn’t be categorized as something left for the suburban housewife because she is angry about the war. Organizing a movement, let’s say around health care, means making a plan, a strategy and organizing actions. One of which is calling your representatives. It shouldn’t be underestimated how effective it can be. And it shouldn’t matter where one aligns themself politically or what organizations one belongs to. Movements are linked to legislation and governance. And who is making the legislation or governing is only somewhat important. Chuck Schumer and Cuomo happen to be our current officials. And as much as I dislike them, I have no problem picking up the phone and laying it out. And I don’t feel I have compromised myself.
I don’t see myself aligned with any party and I am definitely not aligned with Chuck and Cuomo, yet I still believe that Chuck and Cuomo owe me. They owe all of us. They owe us their attention, their time and respect. It’s their job and that’s what we are paying them to do. Regardless of what the hard realities are and have been in the past. The fact that they are bad at their jobs is a whole other problem altogether.
While we are all dreaming of a socialist leaning body of government one day soon, the establishment is not going away. If we want to move our ideas forward we need to tell our elected officials what we want. Yes, they are the enemy. But an organized opposition means building a movement. Building a movement includes a multitude of actions, and one of those actions should be calling your elected officials.