Last week, I filmed myself calling Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s office, encouraging her to filibuster the new Senate healthcare bill, and posted the footage to Instagram. I realized that I still get nervous when I call my members of congress, wondering, did I get the script right? Am I saying the right thing? It wasn’t perfect, but I put it up on my Instagram because if making these calls is still intimidating to me—and I do it all the time—then it must be intimidating to others, too.
Here’s a little secret I’ll let you in on: The more you talk to people who representing you, the more you realize it doesn’t need to be perfect. It’s okay if you’re fumbling your words. You can even say, ‘I’m nervous, do you understand what I’m trying to say?’ And you don’t need to understand the complexities of the GOP healthcare bill, the American Health Care Act, either. You just need to know people will die if we don’t fight really hard against it. You just need to know that 22 million people will lose insurance.
And that it disproportionately affects women, people with disabilities, people living in poverty, the old, and children: Planned Parenthood is the only organization that is mentioned in the entire bill and they want to defund it. All of this should be enough to light a fire under all of us and get on the phone during Congress’ Fourth of July recess, even if it’s just for five minutes, and make our voices heard. Yes, even while members of Congress go back to their home districts and states, their offices will be taking note of every phone call they receive.
There’s been a lot of confusion about calling representatives—if you’re not in one of the GOP states where your senator is uncertain how they plan to vote, is it helpful for people in states like New York and other progressive-leaning states, to be calling their Senators? In fact, it’s super helpful.
Even representatives like Senator Gillibrand are going in every day and asking for specific numbers of calls in support of whatever they’re doing. Our representatives have people in their offices chronicling every single call that’s coming in. I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know the senator little bit—I was her point person during the Women’s March, and a couple weeks ago, I attended a meeting where she spoke, explaining the calls are absolutely worthwhile. When the GOP healthcare bill comes to a vote sometime after the congressional recess, she said, Democrats may have to filibuster or hold the floor—what she said was “shut it down”—and they can’t do that unless they know they have a huge wave of support.
Our elected representatives can’t do anything unless we’re standing en masse behind them. In the days after the election, several experts on authoritarian regimes kept repeating this: Don’t obey in advance. Our silence is obeying. Oftentimes, these authoritarian or authoritarian-style governments get into power just by freely taking our power from us, and really, the only thing that’s ever pushed back is the power of the people. And every time I call and speak with an aide or staffer, I end up having these really lovely conversations—even with a person I might disagree with. After the healthcare bill went through Congress, I called several GOP representatives who voted against it just to thank them. Their offices were so happy just to hear the support because they were also hearing complaints from the constituents who were behind the bill.
Our success lies in sharing our personal stories and recognizing our shared humanity. It’s not just about making the calls—the hashtag #HowTheACASavedMyLife has been effective on Twitter because it’s people telling their personal stories. I stayed up reading them until 1 a.m. shortly after the stories started coming in this week. And all of this is working. The Senate delayed the vote on the healthcare bill this week because of our activism. The resistance is working. Throughout the long weekend and beyond, we have to be just as loud as we were this week. We keep chipping away at support for this bill. It’s an unpopular bill, but it’ll absolutely get pushed through if we’re quiet.
We have hit a wall with our resistance and our activism, because the truth is, this is worse than we thought it was going to be. Whether it’s the healthcare bill or the Muslim ban or the ongoing police violence, with the recent acquittal of the officer responsible for killing Philando Castile and the death of Charleena Lyles, who was shot by police in front of her children last week, the news is just relentless. But we need to figure out a way to incorporate all of this stuff into our daily lives. For example, I’ve signed up for the Daily Action texts started by Laura Moser, who is now running for Congress. They text you around 11 a.m. every day, with instructions on who to call and why. They even provide a script and connect you with the representative. It’s amazing.
It’s pretty easy to get involved. But multitasking is often unfairly maligned—I’m parenting alone for three months this summer, dealing with summer camp and slumber parties while also coming up with the #HowTheACASavedMyLife hashtag, calling my representatives, and devising actions with the Women’s March. I have come to the conclusion that I am going to celebrate my ability to do lots of things at once, and oftentimes it means not doing them perfectly.
That’s ultimately why I posted that Instagram video—even if you’re intimidated, even if you can’t do it perfectly, even if you can only show up at a rally for five minutes or make one call a day or whatever it is, just do what you can. Know that it’s making a difference. This delayed vote is a huge victory for progressives and anyone concerned with the cruelty of this bill. They’ve been promising to take down the ACA for seven years and now that they’ve been in power for six months, they can’t do it, or they can’t do it as easily as they thought they would. That’s because they can’t get the votes, and it’s because we have been a huge pain in the ass, and we have to keep doing that. Taking back this country and saving our democracy is up to us.
As told to Katherine Cusumano.
Sarah Sophie Flicker, Carmen Perez, Linda Sarsour, and more make history as the organizers of the Women’s March on Washington: