At Bothering Your Elected Officials

So, it’s been a while since the last time we spoke. After this disastrous election cycle, words didn’t feel like they were sufficient anymore. However, after a few weeks and some historical context, I’ve realized that words are all that matter. I’m gonna keep writing while the world burns, and I hope you will too.

I’ve decided to pick this blog back up again. I’ll be updating weekly, and I’ll dedicate one post a month to political issues. First up: how to get your elected officials to actually listen to you.

A lot of people think it’s enough to just tweet your displeasure at your senators’/representative’s/governor’s/President-elect’s Twitter handle and call it a day, but interns ignore those mentions or delete them almost immediately. Some people who have worked in government say letter writing campaigns aren’t as helpful as they seem either; politicians have a form letter response for almost everything, and it’s difficult for words to make an impact when nobody actually reads them. According to former Congressional staffer Emily Ellsworth, the best way to reach your elected officials is to call them on the phone.

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Image created by Lucy Anh Doan at happymonsters.tumblr.com

Now, if you’re anything like me, that last sentence really stressed you out. I hate making phone calls, especially if I think that a confrontation will happen when somebody picks up. My threshold for what I consider “confrontation” is pretty low, too: I’ve been known to avoid calling to reschedule doctor’s appointments because I’m afraid they’ll be disappointed in me. However, calling your elected officials to express a political opinion isn’t a confrontation–it’s really more like leaving a voicemail, but with a real person instead of a computer. The process is simple and not scary at all. Let’s begin.

What is not sucking? Not sucking, in the realm of calling your elected officials, is defined as finding someone who actually represents you in government, calling their office, and expressing your opinion in such a way that the person on the other end of the line will pass on the message.

  1. Think about the issue you’re concerned about. Is it a federal, state or local issue? Is it related to a specific law or bill? Whom will it affect? This will determine who it is you need to call. If it’s a local issue, like concerns about your neighborhood’s trash pickup, your child’s school or your city’s electrical grid, you need to find your city or county representative–probably a councillor, mayor or commissioner, but also maybe a head of some local department, like the county Superintendent of Schools.

If it’s a state issue, like a state income tax, current state law or a bill in your state’s House or Senate, then you probably need to call someone at the state level. I tend to only call legislators at this level and above, like state representatives and state senators (who are DIFFERENT, it’s important to note, from representatives and senators at the federal level), but sometimes it’s a better idea to call the office of your state’s governor or Supreme Court. If you need a refresher on which branch of government does what at the state level, there’s a good guide to that here.

If it’s a federal issue–something that will affect people all over the country in some way–then you need to call your federal representatives, again focusing on legislators. Sometimes it’s best to start with your local government and work your way up, like Lee-Anne Walters and Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha did when they were first concerned about lead poisoning in Flint, Michigan.

2. Find your representatives. If you live in Colorado, calling an Oregon senator and telling them about your positions on the issues probably won’t do a whole lot of good. Public servants are obligated to listen to their constituents, and you’re only someone’s constituent if you live in the area they represent. Here’s how you can find who represents you:

  • In the United States, every state has two federal Senators. You can find out who those are by Googling “[your state] Senators”. Easy.
  • You also have a federal representative–every state is allotted a number of these based on their state’s population. You can find out who your district’s federal Representative is here. Remember, you have only one of these.
  • You also have one representative each in your state’s House and Senate, respectively. This is where things can get complicated, because you might be in different districts for the federal House, your state Senate and your state House. Googling “who are my [your state] state representatives” will usually pull up results of .gov websites that have search engines where you can plug in your address and find out what district(s) you live in and who represents each of them. For Florida, where I live, those sites are here and here.
  • Depending on where you live, you might also have a county or city commissioner, a city council, a mayor, a school board and/or any number of other people and groups who manage things at the local level. Doing a number of Google searches like “[your city] city council”, “[your county] county commission”, “[your city] waste management”, etc will help you find out who you need to contact about which issues.

There should be a phone number associated with every one of the representatives you find during your search. In the case of federal representatives, there are usually two: one Washington, D.C. office, and at least one local office in the place they represent. When in doubt, call the local office. They get fewer calls, so your voice will stand out more.

3. Research. What is this person’s current stance on the issue you’re calling them about? If you can’t find one after searching a number of trusted sources, search for their voting records on related issues. If all else fails, have a look at their political party’s platform and assume that it will probably be close to that. You want to know what you’re in for before you get on the phone–will you be encouraging someone, or trying to persuade them to

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Snopes, probably, when you fact-check Drumpf quotes. Gif from Scrubs.

change their mind? More importantly, what are the facts about this issue? Be very careful about the sources you use to find information–if something seems outrageous or fishy, check Snopes before you go off.

4. Script yourself. Going into a phone call cold always results in disaster for me, so I tend to write down a couple of key points to make before I dial. Sometimes other people who think like you do will share scripts they used when calling their own reps. Try to reference a specific law or action that’s making headlines–“I’m calling to ask about Senator [blank]’s stance on the First Amendment Defense Act” is going to get you a more specific, useful answer than “I’m calling to ask about Senator [blank’s] stance on gay rights”.

5. Make the call. Again, the person answering the phone is not going to argue with you. Usually they are interns or staffers who have been trained to do their jobs as inoffensively as possible. As long as your tone stays civil, all they will do is take down your message to the representative and share it with them at the next opportunity. Most of them even thank you after you’ve finished expressing your opinion.

6. Talk about the call. Share the script you used. Let people in your district or state know that you’re calling your representative about an issue you care about, because once other people know it’s an issue, they’ll probably call too. (This is part of why it’s so important to research before you call!) One call to a federal Senator makes a tiny impact; lots of calls make a big one. If you want action taken on your issue, encourage others to call about it too.

7. Call again. No, not now. Not today. This week sometime, maybe. Definitely next week, though.

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It’s almost too appropriate to include a Leslie Knope image in this post.

 

Make it a goal to contact the representative you called regularly until they take a stance on your issue and take action. Once that issue is resolved, find another issue, start calling about that and talk about calling about that. Lots of tiny actions become parts of big movements.

Got opinions for me? Want to tell me when you call your own representatives? Tweet at me @ShelbyBouck.

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At Drinking In Public

 

Hey! You know what sucks? Underage drinking. Don’t do that. If you’re under 21, nothing about this post should pertain to you. See you next time!

All right, now that we’ve got that disclaimer out of the way, us *~adults~* can chat in peace.

Most of the time, I still feel like a kid. I have no idea what I’m doing from one hour to the next, I can’t resist plush toys of video game characters, and one of my favorite TV shows is a cartoon. I’ve even recently gotten in on the coloring fad. But I never feel more gloriously

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It’s classy if it’s sandwiched between a Cosmo and two books about French art.

like a grownup than when I’m sipping an ice-cold cocktail, flush with the knowledge that if the cops show up, I don’t have to throw my cup on the ground.

 

Not that’s an experience I’ve actually had. I was never interested in drinking as a kid. I’m not just covering my butt when I say that: my mom didn’t really drink, and also I was a nerd, so I didn’t get invited to parties where there were red Solo cups. (I was okay with that. Hogwarts was way more fun.) Today, I’m nowhere near “hardcore drinker” status, but I do like my Yellow Tail Pinot Grigio.

I’ve been to a couple of clubs and had an okay time, but my favorite places to hang out and sip some juice for grown-ups are intimate little holes in the wall where you can do stuff other than drink and laugh at drunk people. Indie retro arcade bars are where it’s at–liquor makes me better at Space Invaders.

Since I didn’t start drinking until I was older than all the characters in The Breakfast Club, I missed a lot of opportunities to do stupid stuff and then forget about it. I’ve been described as a “graceful drunk” by friends, which is about the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me. However, I’m aware that not everyone compulsively studied alcohol safety before taking their first drink. Here are some tips that have helped keep me from becoming any bar’s “that girl”.

What is not sucking? In the world of drinking with other people, not sucking is defined as leaving the bar upright, conscious, and no more debt-ridden or social media-ruined than you were when you arrived, as well as making sure to the best of your ability that everyone else leaves that way too.

1. Hydrate. 1 drink=1 glass of water. Most bartenders will give you water for free. (They know that if you hydrate properly, you probably won’t throw up in a dark corner.)

2. Watch your tab. If you’re trying to stick to a budget when you go out, use cash. Stop at an ATM on your way out, get however much money you want to spend, and then stick to that–do not open a tab when you run out of bills.

3. Watch your drink. People are horrible, and some of them will try to hurt you by tampering with your drink. If you’re chatting with a guy (while victims of drink spiking can be any gender, drink spikers are overwhelmingly men) and he offers to get you a drink, here’s a flowchart to help you out:

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The above applies to everyone who has received or regularly receives offers of drinks from men, regardless of gender or actual sexual orientation. Don’t worry, people who like to buy people drinks! I made you a flowchart too:

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4. Watch your friends. Obviously regular party behavior involves a little willing embarrassment; where would we be if no one had any shame about singing “Girls Just

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We are the fortunate ones. Still from The Office.

Wanna Have Fun” on karaoke? But if one of your buddies is going over the top in a way that could affect them when they’re sober, take them in hand. No texting exes, no posting incriminating photos on social media, no crying on strangers, and no putting your feet up on the bar. Anyone exhibiting this kind of behavior should be gently coaxed into drinking some water and eating a little junk food.

 

5. Leave no one behind. Everyone should have an idea of how they’re getting home before they start drinking. Sucky people leave their friends to fend for themselves against predators, questionable transportation choices, and alcohol-driven impulses to stand on non-floor surfaces. If you see someone whose group has abandoned them, try to make friends. Get some water in them and encourage them to call an Uber or take the bus.

If you’re a girl talking to another girl, this should not be difficult, as drunk girls are the nicest people in the world. In my experience, when women drink, they become eloquent angels who have something kind to say about every other woman they see. I have been complimented more beautifully and effusively by drunk girls than I have by any other group of people, intoxicated or otherwise.

Regardless of gender presentation, always ask before touching people, introduce yourself, and explain to them why you want to help. Something like “I’m worried about you, and I want to make sure you get home safe” can help ease tension. If you approach people as respectfully as possible and genuinely want to help, with no creepy intentions, it should be okay.

However, it’s also important to listen. If they refuse your help, don’t push. Back off and try to find someone else to help them. If the drunk loner in question is belligerent or creepy, let security or the bartender know that you’re concerned about them and how they’re getting home–do not engage.

Drink responsibly, everyone. For more stuff like this, follow me on Twitter and like this blog on Facebook.

31 Day Blog Challenge: Day 17

Ok… so, definitely not great at the whole “blogging every day” thing. But since today’s theme, “Where do you work?” is kind of impossible right now for reasons I’ve already covered, I’ve decided to go back and do a couple themes that I missed.

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Love me some Meg Myers.

This first one, music, is weirdly emotional for me. I have a history of changing my music tastes based on who I’m friends with or dating at the time–that stopped a couple of years ago, so I’ve had some time to actually develop my own taste. Here it is.

My 10 Favorite Albums Right Now

  1. Sorry, Meg Myers
    • Highlights: “Desire”, “Lemon Eyes”, “Motel”
  2. Hamilton, Original Broadway Cast
    • Highlights: literally all of them, no bad songs, everything is great but you can’t play it on shuffle because you’ll be bopping along to “My Shot” and then “It’s Quiet Uptown” starts and you just. Start crying
  3. Waitress, Original Broadway Cast
    • Highlights: “Opening Up”, “What’s Inside”, “She Used to Be Mine”, “Bad Idea”
  4. Badlands, Halsey
    • Highlights: “Roman Holiday”, “Castle”, “Control”
  5. Infinity On High, Fall Out Boy (I know, I know, what year is it)
    • Highlights: “Bang the Doldrums”, “thnks fr th mmrs”, “Fame < Infamy”
  6. ACT ONE, Marian Hill
    • Highlights: “Down”, “I Want You”, “Bout You”
  7. American Beauty/American Psycho, Fall Out Boy
    • Highlights: “Uma Thurman”, “Jet Pack Blues”, “Immortals”
  8. Pink Friday… Roman Reloaded, Nicki Minaj
    • Highlights: “Beautiful Sinner”, “Marilyn Monroe”, “Va Va Voom”
  9. Red, Taylor Swift
    • Highlights: “State of Grace”, “All Too Well”, “Treacherous”
  10. The Fool, Ryn Weaver
    • Highlights: “OctaHate”, “Sail On”, “Pierre”

These are some choice items from my bucket list: things I want to do before I die. Some of them are a little more immediately achievable than others. For example, I’m probably never going to do #3 until I’m actually on my deathbed.

My Bucket List

  1. Live in Europe
  2. Swim with whales
  3. Tell all of my secrets and live in a state of total honesty
  4. See the Hot Air Balloon Festival in Albuquerque
  5. See the autumn leaves in Vermont
  6. Be the village witch in a big-city apartment with lots of plants and constantly bubbling glass tubes, a la Kiki’s Delivery Service
  7. Write a series of young-adult fantasy novels
  8. Write some young-adult contemporary fiction
  9. Write some fiction for grown-ups
  10. Be a recognized regular at a local bookstore

What music do you like? What’s on your bucket list? Come talk to me on Twitter and make sure to like this blog on Facebook

31 Day Blog Challenge: Day 9

What’s in your purse?

Oh… oh boy. See, the answer to this depends on which purse you’re talking about. See, in my tiny, adorable Betsey Johnson bag from TJ Maxx with the little ladybugs on it, I have

  • my keys
  • my phone
  • my debit card
  • my driver’s license
  • a new Chipotle membership card (because I have a problem)
  • my Torrid Insider credit card (because I Have A Problem)
  • a Torrid gift card (because I Returned Some Bras Without a Receipt)
  • a Publix gift card (because My Mom is Great)
  • an inhaler (because I have asthma)
  • an Epi-Pen (because tree nuts will kill me)

But, see… I can’t always carry that bag, because I’m a grown woman and grown women have a lot of stuff. So, in my Great Big Functional But Still Cute Michael Kors bag (also from TJ Maxx),

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My big bag o’ shame.

there is

  • a wallet containing other forms of ID and cards
  • some CVS receipts that are 2 months old (in case I ever need an expired coupon for tampons)
  • a copy of Inkheart by Cornelia Funke
  • two pairs of sunglasses
  • a pair of 3D glasses I accidentally took out of Finding Dory
  • some earbuds
  • a flyer explaining the Chipotle rewards program
  • a bag from the dentist (contents: 1 toothbrush, 1 tiny tube toothpaste)
  • a bookmark from my local library
  • a dead Barnes & Noble gift card
  • seven loose mints
  • ten pens: 1 Sharpie Extra-Fine Point, 9 Pilot G2-07s
  • 3 lipsticks: 2 Elf Cosmetics, 1 Tarte
  • receipt from the FDLE, dated May 20th, from the background check I had to pay for in order to start working at my last job
  • Torrid coupons, expired 1 month
  • 1 empty saltine box
  • 2 empty boxes of generic Claritin
  • business card from my eye doctor
  • a bookmark from my favorite local bookstore
  • a checkbook, empty except for carbon copies
  • a flyer for a local production of Sondheim’s Assassins, which my friend Ira is performing in this week
  • a ColourPop contour stick in Dove
  • several Starbucks napkins

What’s in your purse? (Or your… I dunno, pants pockets, if you’re a guy. What do you people even carry around??) Let me know on Twitter.

 

31 Day Blog Challenge: Day 8

What are you reading? 

First, a note: turns out I suck a little bit at this whole daily-blogging thing. In my own defense:

  • Day 4: “Name your favorite 5 blogs” has pretty much been taken care of on my “Friends Who Don’t Suck” page. Also, it was the 4th of July and I was mixing Everclear, blue Kool-Aid and grenadine at a barbecue like a True American.
  • Day 5: “Share the best advice you ever got” is deep as heck and I’m still working on it
  • Day 6: “Something for your kids to know” is irrelevant because I don’t have kids and don’t want them
  • Day 7: “Share your earliest memory” is boring: I’m three years old and receiving ear drops in a hospital parking lot.

Great. Now we’re caught up.

I’m always reading something–it’s usually a paper book, though some of my favorite authors (Shira Glassman, R.L. Naquin, and Briana Morgan come to mind) are primarily digital. At the moment, because I am an unemployed masochist, I’m tackling Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton, otherwise known as the book that inspired the Tony/Grammy-award winning musical Hamilton. It’s 700 pages of history, plus another hundred of bibliography, so it’s not exactly light reading… unless you’re Hermione Granger.

Best tidbit so far: according to an astrological chart I did with an app on my phone, Alexander Hamilton is a quintuple Capricorn. That explains a lot. Basically it just means 5 of the planets visible from Earth were in the Capricorn “zone” of the sky when the ten-dollar founding father without a father was born in St. Kitts. If you’re into astrology, you’re probably cringing. One-planet Capricorns are stubborn–now raise that to the fifth power. This text exchange sums it up:

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That’s all I’ve got today. What are you reading? Come talk to me about it on Twitter

 

31 Day Blog Challenge: Day 3

Why do you blog? 

Mostly it’s to keep myself from losing my mind.

There’s also some reasoning in there about helping people and junk, but to be fair, a lot of the reason why I blog is selfish. I just need a place to keep my words where people will see them.

The reason I blog here is because of all the reasons I talked about in my last post–I want to help people realize it’s okay to be okay instead of great all the time. We see so much on social media about how to be Supermom, how to look like a model, how to be the Pinterest-perfect homemaker while also holding down a killer executive career and going out with friends every night. That’s not what life looks like for most people. If my friends and I are any indication, life mostly looks like deciding whether to do the laundry or just sniff test something to wear while you watch Netflix. And, for a generation of people that’s been royally screwed over re: the environment and the economy, sometimes that’s okay.

I want to make people happy with themselves. That’s why I write what I write. But the reason I write at all is mostly because if I didn’t, I’d go completely stir-crazy inside my head, home of the question “Why aren’t pandas called orca bears?”

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See??? It’s RIGHT THERE. Science has missed an opportunity, I tell ya.

31 Day Blog Challenge: Day 2

Day 2: What’s the meaning of your blog name?

The How Not to Suck Blog started as a way for me to combat lifelong perfectionism. I’ve since adopted the philosophy that being great at things you’re passionate about is, well, great–but it’s impossible to be great at everything. We’re human. We’ve only got so much energy, and physics tells us that energy cannot be created. Therefore, if we want to conserve our energy for the things we care about, we’ve gotta let some stuff go.

However, even the stuff you don’t necessarily love sometimes has to get done. Cooking. Social dancing. Feeling (ugh) feelings. So you’ve got to be adequate at most things, even if you don’t like them all that much.

Basically, The How Not To Suck Blog is all about getting okay with being okay. You don’t have to be the world’s best or your country’s best or your family’s best at everything. You just have to stay alive and hopefully have fun doing it.

That got serious fast. Here are some public domain red pandas.

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If you like competence, realistic life philosophies and endangered animals, you should follow me on Twitter and like this blog on Facebook