When I was about 9 or 10 I had a particularly bad fight with my parents. One of my friends had left a message for me on the phone and wanted me to call her back. I was terrified and begged and screamed at my parents not to make me call her. It ended up lasting an inordinate amount of time, especially considering that in the end, when I did call and her mother answered and I said, “Hi this is Helen, is Brooke home?” it really wasn’t a big deal at all.
This was the first big bout of phone anxiety I’ve had, but not the last. Talking on the phone gives a lot of people my age anxiety, and most people opt to text or email instead. I avoid phone calls with people I don’t know; phone interviews are always filled with extra anxiety, more so than an in-person interview. I hate calling the credit card company, distant family members, pretty much anyone and everyone.
So when people started filling the internet with links where you could call your elected officials and propose x, y, and z horrible thing that the government is doing, I had the attitude of, Really guys? Can’t I please just send an impassioned email?
I’m a writer. I’m not a public speaker. Out loud, I’m not very eloquent at all. If I ended up talking to a real person, or even just a machine, I knew I’d probably just say something dumb like “Don’t take away people’s rights. Uh. You suck. Okay. Bye.”
It took the events of Monday, November 28th for me to actually get up the guts to make a few calls. The governor of North Dakota, Jack Dalrymple, ordered a mandatory evacuation for the protesters of the Dakota Access pipeline at Standing Rock. While the Army Corps of Engineers don’t plan on removing the protesters, and they are “seeking a peaceful and orderly transition to a safer location,” this is hard to believe when the situation has been escalating for the past few weeks. As news came in Tuesday that law enforcement would be blocking people and supplies from entering the campsite, I knew I had to do something.
My biggest fear was somehow being challenged by whoever I called and not having a comeback. I’m terrible at debating, but I armed myself with my convictions and went in to make a call.
My first call was to the Philadelphia Army Corps office to ask that they put pressure on the Omaha office to allow the Water Protectors to remain within the Oceti Sakowin camp. A real guy answered and I read the first few sentences of the script I found online before he said that he would give me the number to a hotline. I thanked him for his time and hung up, heart still pounding. It only took 20 seconds, and yeah, it was terrifying.
I called the hotline and was told to leave a message with my comments or concerns. Deciding that the script had probably been read out to this particular hotline before, I scrapped it and jotted down a few things I had been feeling and wanted to say. I felt it probably wouldn’t have much effect, but I left an impassioned and sassy message just in case, then moved to the next number, feeling angrier and more confident.
I called several representatives, the White House, and the North Dakota governor. The Morton County Sheriff’s line was, unsurprisingly, busy. By the end, I felt tired from talking to faceless strangers, but everyone had been perfectly nice. No one challenged me but a few of them took down my information.
A few days later, on December 4, the US Army Corps of Engineers denied an easement for the pipeline to cross Lake Oahe, which was the contested land the Sioux and so many other tribes came together to protest. While this wasn’t – and isn’t – the end (Trump’s administration is markedly pro-pipeline), this is an example of how mass protest can work. If people across America come out and do their part, as so many did over the last few months, real change can happen.
If you’re short on money and can’t donate to the causes you want, even if it terrifies you, I encourage you to start making calls. Once you’ve made one or two, it gets a lot easier. There are scripts all over the internet that you can use for causes you believe in, and if you can’t find a script or don’t want to use one, take some time to research the issue and write up a script beforehand. (This really decreases the probability of stuttering.)
It’s scary to make calls, yes, and it’s a lot easier to retweet or share articles. It’s easy to fight with your relatives on Facebook. It’s easy to close your laptop, turn off your phone, and watch a House Hunters marathon. But just because you look away doesn’t mean that bad things won’t happen. To borrow the famous Desmond Tutu quote, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” Retweeting, sharing, raising awareness, these are all important. But we’ve entered new political territory, where that stuff isn’t enough anymore. You have to get up and show up. Make calls, attend rallies, stage sit-ins, do whatever you can, wherever you can.
This doesn’t have to be the end of the line for democracy, as much as it may feel that way. By standing up now and refusing to stay silent on issues that matter to you, you can set a precedent for yourself.