Tufts Democrats to host tables to phone public officials

The Tufts Democrats plans to set up regular phoning tables in the Mayer Campus Center to allow students to contact their senators and representatives. Having hosted a phoning table earlier this semester, the group plans to set up another one in the next few weeks, according to Ben Kaplan, president of the Tufts Democrats.

Kaplan, a senior, explained that while the group was focused on campaigning for Hillary Clinton last semester, this semester they have turned toward lobbying on specific issues in response to President Donald Trump’s administration.

“This semester, in response to all of the horrible things that Trump is doing in the White House, we have oriented ourselves towards issue-based lobbying, so we’re fighting for our progressive values with these phone bank tables,” he said.

According to Kaplan, the tables are set up in the Campus Center and staffed by at least three members of the Tufts Democrats. The group aims to help and encourage students to lobby their representatives by calling and writing letters.

“We allow students during the day to call their local representatives and advocate for issues [that are] important to them,” he said.

Kaplan argued that these tactics are effective in influencing the positions of members of Congress on important votes.

“Representatives are most likely to support what students want or change their position if they get calls from people who live in their district,” he said.

Jaya Khetarpal, a sophomore on the board of the Tufts Democrats, explained that the tables also help students find out who their representatives are and how to contact them.

“We … printed out a list of senators so that people … know who their senator is and they have [their senator’s] contact info,” Khetarpal said.

The first phone bank table that the Tufts Democrats hosted this semester was originally focused on Trump’s cabinet appointments but also served as a point of contact for people to discuss other issues with their representatives, according to Kaplan.

“We had originally set up the phone bank table so Tufts students could call their representatives to oppose Betsy DeVos and Jeff Sessions’ appointments to the Cabinet,” he said. “But it just so happened that that same week Trump signed the Muslim ban, so we also had students call their representatives to oppose Trump’s Muslim ban.”

According to Kaplan, the first phone bank table was a success because it got students who were otherwise not involved in politics interested in their representatives’ actions on a national scale.

“We had that table set up for a couple hours and we had about 25 students call their representatives — these are 25 students from important swing districts,” he said. “And over 50 students from important swing districts wrote letters to their representatives.”

Kaplan was excited about future plans to host phone bank tables, explaining that the Tufts Democrats also want to have a more locally focused effort to support Massachusetts legislation.

“[The next phone bank table will be] focused on issues at the state level, so we’re going to be asking students who are registered to vote in Massachusetts to call their representatives about the Massachusetts Safe Communities Act [and the] Education Equity Bill,” he said.

Khetarpal explained the background and intent of the two bills.

“The Massachusetts Safe Communities Actwould make Massachusetts basically a sanctuary state where state police would not cooperate with [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] individuals or any immigration officers in deporting undocumented immigrants,” she said. “The Education Equity Bill works a lot on trying to [get] … more money allocated to after-school programs and more money allocated to [schools in] lower-income cities and areas in Massachusetts.

She mentioned that students who live outside of Massachusetts will be able to participate in the phone bank as well.

“We want to make sure that, if we’re targeting MA legislation, that there’s also a different topic that applies more broadly where people can call their senators,” she said.

According to Tufts Progressive Alliance (TPA) cofounder Grant Fox, the group has not mobilized using the same methods as Tufts Democrats due to its lower membership, but TPA has worked with issue-based campaigning in other ways.

“We would be calling into different district[s] where key senators were sort of waffling on the vote, and we would talk to [constituents] about why [it] was important,” Fox, a senior, said. “If they were … in favor of that, we could click a button and then it would transfer them to their own senator’s office, where they could leave a message.”

Fox said that TPA is currently phone banking for Jon Ossoff, a Democrat running in a special election in Georgia’s sixth congressional district. He believes that phoning to influence voters before an election is more directly effective than calling senators before a vote.

“When you’re talking to elected officials, they have a lot of different pressures and competing things and … often the influence of one person talking to them isn’t as big as one person talking to a voter,” he said.

Nonetheless, Khetarpal believes that phoning tables for elected officials are effective and important in creating political discourse.

“It’s always important to call your senators and let them know what you’re thinking, especially as a constituent,” she said.

Fox emphasized that, no matter the specific tactics employed, both groups are working toward a common goal.

“I think at the end of the day we’re pretty much doing the same thing,” he said.

UPDATE: A quote in this article from Tufts Democrats President Ben Kaplan has been updated to remove a bracketed phrase and better-reflect the quote’s original wording.