Make no mistake about it; this is the political season of the outsiders. The voting public is fed up with establishment politics as usual and wants to tell their elected representatives about it. Instead of putting pen to paper or picking up a phone, they are increasingly hitting the “send” button on their fax machines.
Political action groups encourage voters to contact their representatives and voice their opinions on various issues. For voters, this experience can be as frustrating as watching the evening news. Congressional phone lines are often jammed in the days leading up to votes on controversial bills. When a person does pick up the phone at a congressional office, it is often a teenage intern or junior-level staffer with a dismissive attitude. Politically active Americans are turning to faxing, a technology that is largely considered a relic of the late 20th century but has seen a resurgence in grassroots activism.
A quick Google search will retrieve myriad organizations and companies offering direct links to the fax machines of representatives or varying options to reach them. One of those services, Faxography from Grassroots Campaign Creations (GCC) of Henderson, Nev., explains on its website why faxing has become a preferred method for the irritated electorate.
After 9/11, and the anthrax scare, Congress enacted a procedural requirement that causes all mail to be scanned before delivery,” it states. “Thus snail mail sometimes takes a week to get to the recipient. Many members of Congress will not give out their private email addresses.
Individuals can easily access congressional fax numbers and transmit themselves, but advocacy sites like TeaParty.org offer services such as “blast faxing,” where a prepared text on an issue is sent to a representative with the constituents’ name and town added at the end. Blast faxing can have the power of many thousands of citizens sending the same message as opposed to scattered individuals. Companies like GCC provide the technology for advocacy groups to engage their visitors to act, even providing editable FaxGrams – a technology created by GCC’s founder Chuck Benninghoff.
An example of faxing in action took place in 2010 when Senate Republican leaders outraged their base when they allowed Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski to remain in party leadership positions despite leaving the party and running as an independent after losing the GOP primary to Joe Miller. Republicans around the country sent all 41 Republican Senators more than 34,000 fax grams demanding that Murkowski be censured. It is now common for representatives to be flooded with faxes while bills are debated on the floor of Congress.
It may seem odd that, in an age of Bluetooth technology and really smart phones, faxing has become the method of choice for constituents to contact their representatives. In addition to the security delays for snail mail, there are some good reasons for this.
While some offices have technology that digitizes faxes into email form, others do not. There is something tangible about an incoming physical paper compared to an email that can easily be deleted from an inbox.
Politicians may not want to listen to angry callers or read letters, but they certainly care about getting re-elected. A tsunami of faxes in their office demanding a certain vote on a bill is a message from the voters. Members of Congress ignore those messages at their own peril.
Part of the effectiveness of low-tech faxing may have something to do with the high-tech blogosphere. Thanks to social media, podcasts and ubiquitous political blogs, Americans have more information about their elected representatives than ever before. Gone are the days when politicians could make unpopular votes well ahead of their re-election bid and count on voters to forget about it by Election Day. A few clicks on a site like Ballotpedia can bring up a politician’s entire voting record in detail, and voters will be sure to hold them accountable.
In the 1960s the sounds of protest were chants from bullhorns and the stomping of feet in marches. In 2015 it is that weird, gurgling noise from a fax machine sending to Washington. Keep those fax machines filled with paper, Congress. We’ve got a lot to say to you.