Appealing to Your Adversaries

I’m a fan of any tool or community that makes it easier to engage with your rep, but sometimes these resources give lame advice.

A few weeks ago (before multiple women came forward to women have come forward to share their stories of sexual assault at the hands of this nominee) I wanted to call my Senators to ask them to vote against Brett Kavanaugh.

I went to a popular civic action resource and found a script for calling Rob Portman’s office. The script prompted me to demand that Senator Portman defends reproductive freedom. The problem was, Senator Portman is hostile toward women’s right to choose. These talking points weren’t going to cut it.

. . .

You need to advocate for your cause even when it doesn’t align with your rep’s. Yes, your elected official should listen no matter how much they agree with you. But there is an opportunity to make your ask count for more:

1. Know where your rep stands on the general issue.

Is this senator on the record regarding the specific vote or the broader issue? Are you on the same page?

Maybe you don’t agree with their stance. In my case, I was focused on the supreme court nominee’s stance on abortion. Again, we’re in pre-sexual assault allegation land. Stay with me. So abortion rights were a primary concern, but I knew that wasn’t my opportunity to connect with my anti-choice representative.

2. Explore all angles of the topic.

When you call your rep, you want to present as a constituent who might be on their side. When you have something in common, you can come off as someone who they might be able to win over (or retain). Propose about mutual wins instead of digging your heals in on the issues that divide you.

So I wasn’t going to resonate by advocating for reproductive freedoms. I considered other topics of concern regarding the nomination. I knew Portman had vocalized concern with the Commander in Chief. And that Kavanaugh had expressed reluctance toward holding the President accountable for breaking the law. I felt like I was onto something.

I figured presenting first and foremost as a pro-choice advocate would probably have gotten me written off. Don’t get me wrong–I believe there is absolutely a time and place to advocate for fundamental rights that we believe in. But engaging more strategically gives us a better chance of being heard on related-but-separate issues such as this.

3. Bring up your official’s platform promises.

They’ve all got em. Did your rep commit to reducing opioid-related deaths in your state? Bring it up. Say, “I know [Senator] _____ is a champion for _______.” Then make your point for how their vote can make good on the promise they have already made.

Since this Supreme Court nominee demonstrated hostility to a healthcare policy that makes mental health and addiction recovery services more accessible, I tuned into that.

. . .

If you’re going to take a few minutes of your day to appeal to your representative, throw in a moment to consider how to reflect their interests. This takes more work when you’re calling an elected official who sits across the aisle, but it’s a worthwhile investment to make your engagement count.

The same could be said to appeal to a neighbor or family member you don’t always agree with. Connect in ways that resonate with them–or risk broadening the gap. The need for empathy in our communities is increasingly urgent, and everyone has an opportunity to practice.

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