I do not enjoy confrontation.
I am generally a pretty easy-going guy, and capable of enduring things that inconvenience me. Perhaps it was my rural Texas upbringing that pounded “No Whining” into my psyche. Or perhaps I distrust the ability of others not to escalate a simple disagreement into a screaming match. Whatever the reason, I just avoid it if it’s not a big deal.
But another thing crept into my core values: a deep desire for fairness. I might endure an injustice leveled at me, but if I see someone being taken advantage of, I will swallow my discomfort and stand up for those who cannot stand for themselves.
That’s a situation I see a lot of right now, and one particular situation is the Affordable Health Care Act. Depending on whose numbers you believe, somewhere between 10 million and 24 million of the oldest, sickest, and poorest citizens of the USA–the ones who need it the most–will lose their healthcare under this act.
Or at least that’s what I’ve heard. You see, we don’t actually know everything about the bill, because it hasn’t even been fully drafted yet. Senators are announcing how they plan to vote on the bill, and it isn’t even drafted yet.
So I decided to call my Senators. I attempted to call John Cornyn first, at 202-224-2934. His outgoing message went like this:
“Hello, this is Senator John Cornyn. Thanks for calling my Washington D.C. office. For general information regarding my office location and operating hours, please press one. To leave a comment regarding current issues of interest, please press 2. If you’d like to speak directly to a member of my staff, please press 3.”
I pressed 3, and the phone rang four times before I reached another outgoing voicemail message.
“My Washington D.C. office is open from 9am-6pm Eastern time Monday through Friday. If you’re calling for assistance with a passport or a federal agency, please call my Dallas office at 972-239-1310. That’s 972-239-1310. To send us a fax, you can do that at 202-228-2856. That’s 202-228-2856 for faxes. For additional information regarding my office locations in Texas, and information on how you can con-contact me otherwise, as well as information on how you can obtain a tour, I encourage you to visit my website at www.cornyn.senate.gov.”
Then robo-Cornyn hung up on me.
So I called back and pressed 2 to leave a voicemail. That resulted in this:
“I appreciate you taking the time to make your views known on current policy issues of interest to you. Please leave your comment, as well as your local zip code after the tone. Thank you, and have a great day.” followed immediately by a Siri-sounding voice telling me “I’m sorry, but that mailbox is full. Please try again later. Thanks for calling. Goodbye.”
Undeterred, I called Cornyn’s Texas line, and eventually spoke to a young man named Kevin, who allowed me to say my piece, and assured me that my message would be passed along to the Senator. That’s political engagement: you get to talk to a college kid named Kevin (no offense, Kevin. You were very polite) and hope the message is actually heard, somehow.
Next up: Ted Cruz, at 202-224-5922. I once e-mailed Cruz’ office telling him that I was embarrassed at the misinformation he was spreading about Syrian refugees. Cruz responded by putting me on his mailing list. Perhaps a phone call would prevent a repeat performance.
Ted Cruz’s outgoing voicemail has the unfortunate disadvantage of being voiced by… Ted Cruz, which is to say that it sounds like a Southern Baptist preacher who–regardless of the actual words coming from his mouth–is patting you on the head and saying “aw, bless your heart now.”
But at least with Cruz’ office, I was able to speak to a real person: her name was Katie and she let me speak. I have concerns that this AHCA bill is going to go to a vote before there are any public hearings, and as a Senator’s job is to represent the people of Texas, it didn’t seem right to me that the people of Texas would have no ability to hear what’s in the bill. Furthermore, it seemed to me that Ted Cruz–previously known for being stubborn and following his beliefs, regardless of their popularity–has become just another GOP Senator capitulating to the will of Donald Trump over the will of the people he was elected to serve. I finished by saying that I didn’t feel like my voice meant much to Senators Cruz or Cornyn.
Katie listened, and assured me that she would pass along the concerns to Senator Cruz, but also took the time to explain that the reason there have been no hearings was that the bill was still being drafted. I reiterated that if it did go to a vote before there were any public hearings, I would expect the Senator to vote against it. She finished the call by telling me that they had received a lot of calls today about the public hearings, and she reassured me that all of these messages would be passed along to Senator Cruz. She also added that I should continue to call with any concerns, and that this was the best way to be heard by the Senators.
So I’m passing that information along to you.
You can find your Senator’s phone number here. There is power in numbers, and at very least, if things go horribly wrong, you can at least live with yourself knowing that you did something, even if it was as small as overcoming your discomfort with making phone calls.
(addendum: this should not be the only thing you do. Find a charity, volunteer, donate, help the causes you believe in.)