Want To Enact Political Change? 'Like' Less, Text More

(Heather Mount/Unsplash)
(Heather Mount/Unsplash)

I feel a lot of angst and disgust about our current political situation. And for the past two years, my mostly ineffectual outlets have included venting with like-minded friends, teaching my medical residents how to channel their aggravation into op-eds and numbing my mind with 20-minute games of "Words With Friends" and "Tetris."

Then, a couple of months ago, I started paying attention to the posts of a friend on Facebook. Day after day, she dutifully logged her efforts as a text campaigner — she often sends 4,000 texts a day, if not more.

I couldn't imagine how she had time to tap the return key with the diligence of a woodpecker. Like, I clicked on each post that summarized that day’s texting campaign. GOTV for Conor Lamb. Like. Demand net neutrality. Like. Protect Dodd-Frank. Like. 

In the last three months, I’ve sent more than 91,000 texts.

"Liking" was easy. All of those Facebook photos of my friends holding witty signs at marches with their kids at rallies: I "liked" them all. I shared their frustration, but I get claustrophobic in crowds. Plus, I had convinced myself that signaling my solidarity with a "like" counted as something meaningful. 

If only. I knew I was kidding myself.

Then, one day someone asked my mega-texting Facebook friend how she did it. Another person posted step-by-step instructions. I knew it was time for me to take action.

I chose MoveOn, but lots of organizations have similar efforts. At first, it seemed overwhelming. I had to register on two websites: one to communicate with other texting volunteers; another to actually send the texts. I was also worried about my ability to be persuasive. I had deeply felt views, but could I really provide, in the moment, hard evidence to support them? As for what I assumed would be the easy part — hitting the return key thousands of times in one sitting — what was I thinking?

My teenaged daughter happened to be sitting next to me on the couch as I sighed and shook my head. Get over it, Mom, she said. Figure it out.

In the last three months, I’ve sent more than 91,000 texts. I’ve texted Floridians to ask if they’ll attend a town hall meeting demanding that Congress work to end gun violence in the U.S. I’ve texted Oklahomans to request their support in the teacher strikes. And I’ve texted Georgians to vote for Stacey Abrams.

(Jesse Costa/WBUR)
(Jesse Costa/WBUR)

I request batches of 500 or 1,000 names to text, depending on how much time I have. The texting team manager assigns me a state and a pre-worded statement regarding a pressing issue. My assigned texts appear in the texting platform, and when I’m ready, I send them, one by one. A tap on the return key sends the message to the next person on my list, identified only by first name. It’s web-based, so my personal phone number has nothing to do with it.

Texting, it turns out, is both solitary and social. Sometimes the messages back to me read STOP or Please remove my name from this list. There are also insults: snowflake and f--- off are the most popular, as well as the occasional lengthier heckle: faddy faddy faddy you suck and you’re a hoe.

But many responses are uplifting. Yes, I’ll call my senator. Yes, I’m happy to ask three friends to do so, too. Yes, I already voted, and sure, I’ll remind my family members to vote. Thanks for doing this.

The work has also been incredibly educational; my knowledge of each of the issues we take on has expanded and deepened.

There’s also the connection I feel to other texting volunteers. If one of my text recipients asks a question I’m not sure how to answer, I e-chat the team leader who responds with a friendly suggestion almost immediately. The messaging platform allows for conversation between texting volunteers, too.

The work has also been incredibly educational; my knowledge of each of the issues we take on has expanded and deepened.

Best of all is that texting’s potential is exponential. If I call my senator or representative, that’s one or two calls. But in roughly the same amount of time, I can text 500 or 1,000 people. If 10 of those people call their members of Congress, and a few more get a handful of their friends and family to do the same, that’s a good day.

According to my texting team manager, over 700 volunteers have texted for MoveOn since June 2017. He estimates that since Trump’s inauguration, this texting campaign alone has sent over 20 million texts, generating tens of thousands of phone calls to Congress.

It feels mighty good to channel news-related angst into action, but I wish I’d known sooner that the journey from frustrated citizen to engaged e-activist could be this easy.

I would have “liked” a lot less and done a lot more.


Headshot of Anna Reisman

Anna Reisman Cognoscenti contributor
Anna Reisman, MD, is an associate professor at Yale School of Medicine, where she runs the Program for Humanities in Medicine.



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