The Penn Congressional Call Center, a newly formed group on campus, aims to increase student participation in the civic process by eliminating some of the “intimidation” of calling elected representatives.
The call center is a nonpartisan space that provides all of the resources necessary for Penn students to contact their congressional representatives.
The call center provides a comprehensive contact list with the names, office phone numbers and postal addresses of all United States representatives as well as issue lists, facts sheets, conversation templates and scripts for students who lack confidence in a subject they are addressing.
After the Women’s March on Washington, which several of the group’s co-founders attended, some students found themselves lacking a concrete way to air their grievances against President Donald Trump’s cabinet nominees and other issues, and to grab the attention of the federal government beyond just attending protests.
The call center’s co-founder, 2016 College graduate and MPH student Alyssa Kennedy highlighted the need for continuous political activism on campus — regardless of political affiliation — as a “tangible accountability measure” for politicians approaching mid-term elections.
“The whole vision ... is to bring Penn students to a safe space where people can reach out to their representatives ... and keep activism going,” Kennedy said. “People don’t really know how to be activists and have an image of activism that is really just stereotypical.”
College senior and co-founder of the call center Rhea Singh has been operating as a liaison with intersectionality groups on campus in order to create partnerships to ensure that the group reflects the “accurate voice” of the student body.
Penn Democrats President and College sophomore Rachel Pomerantz stressed the importance of call centers as a form civic engagement on campus regardless of a student’s political affiliation.
“The need to engage more with your congresspeople cuts across the political spectrum,” Pomerantz said. “People who haven’t done this before who don’t know exactly what to do, who want to call their senator or their representative, I think that is a need that isn’t liberal or conservative.”
Penn Democrats had their own call centers and phone banking events during last year’s campaign season and throughout the Trump’s election and inauguration.
Similarly, College Republicans hosted their own call banking events for Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey during his re-election campaign last semester.
College Republicans President and College sophomore Ryan Snyder commented on the “constructive dialogue” that call centers on campus facilitate between students and their representatives through direct engagement with representatives.
“As a partisan political group we at CRs encourage all strains of political activism but this particular strain of political activism can be particularly useful and effect direct change,” Snyder said.
Snyder also mentioned the need for a nonpartisan call center in the midst of what he called the “hyperbolical” climate at Penn.
“Certain people who are intimidated by how political it is may be discouraged from openly pledging to certain sides of the argument,” Snyder said. “Having a nonpartisan center is a good way to encourage people who don’t feel comfortable necessarily declaring their political affiliation to talk to Congressmen and Congresswomen.”
The call center’s next initiative is to place boxes for postcards in buildings around campus — students will be able to fill out a card with a message to their representatives and anyone in the federal government, and the group will then send the card to the correct location for students.
Current initiatives are strictly focused on the federal government, and while College senior and call center co-founder Trudel Paresaid she acknowledges their actions may not be able to “directly ... affect what Trump does,” she hopes that congressional representatives will have a greater “incentive to make decisions motivated by whether they may or may not be re-elected.”