Unsolicited Phone Calls: How You Could Unwittingly Change the World

Photo: Gavin Stewart

Amidst a crying baby, a noisy dryer, and the steam from my tea kettle, I barely made out the sound of my ringing cordless phone. The caller ID flashed “unknown caller – unknown number.” I should have let it be.

Knowing that I sometimes get important cell phone calls from friends and relatives that don’t show up properly on my caller ID, I answered it anyway. A fast-talking older woman with a twangy accent sped through a script of about 250 words in less than a minute. I vaguely caught the words “energy crisis,” “Lieberman,” and “state’s rights” amongst the chatter. At the end of her breathy spiel, she stopped and asked me, “Would you like us to add your name to the letter going out to your Senator?”


Flabbergasted, I wondered how on Earth anybody could agree to such a strange method of political action. I have always considered myself a fairly informed citizen. I read my regular updates from my state and local representatives, drafting personal letters or emails once or twice a year, when it seems appropriate and necessary. I enjoy the “town hall” transcripts from my legislature, and I take time to talk with my 9-year-old daughter about the complexities of our unique Nebraskan unicameral system.

This really did take the cake, however. I replied cheerfully that, “I appreciate your offer, but I already use the opportunity to communicate directly with my government representatives with my own letters and phone calls. Thanks, anyway.” She didn’t have an answer, but wished me a happy holiday weekend and suggested that I enjoy the weather.

I still don’t have a clue what the phone call was about. Whoever spearheaded the phone campaign had one tactic on their mind – to blast through a telemarketing script with the recklessness of a runaway semi-trailer in the hopes that loaded language and fear mongering would get me to agree on any term.

I don’t work that way. Neither should you. And since phone calls from “non-profits” and PAC’s don’t fall under traditional Do Not Call registry guidelines, I suggest a few options for keeping yourself off of aimless “world-changing” petitions and form letters:

  • Let the caller ramble. It’s a perfect opportunity to grab that last load of laundry out of the dryer and snag a pen and paper.
  • When they are finished with their passionate plea for change, ask them some basic questions, specifically:
  1. What organization they represent
  2. What legislative bill or action they are addressing
  3. Their formal stance on said bill or action
  4. Where you can find out more information (bill status, drafters, lobbyists, etc.) on the issues
  • Politely end the call and spend a day or two doing your OWN research on the topic; If it prompts you to take action, find a group that closely represents your opinions on the matter, and align yourself with them, or simply contact your representative via the government website (email) or phone them.

By taking the matters into your own hands, you are guaranteeing two things:

  1. Your views will not be misrepresented.
  2. You will usually get a personal (albeit form-letter) response mailed directly to you regarding the issue at hand. You will have the satisfaction of knowing where things stand, and you can follow up accordingly.

And while I’ve since figured out that the lady was probably referring to the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act of 2007, I’m not sure if the letter she called about was “for” or “against” the cause. In matters of finance, politics, and anything else of the utmost importance, it is usually best to be prudent and very, very involved.

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Guest's picture

Reminds me of the deceptive copywriting that some companies used when petitioning for the network neutrality issue. From what I recall they were getting signatures by making it look like they wanted a neutral network, when really they just represented typical American capitalist thugs who wanted to impose ridiculous charges on content providers for "preferential treatment."

Always pays to be aware of what you're doing exactly.

Guest's picture

I've had a couple of charities call me asking for donations -- with the same rapid-fire delivery and a "How much can we put you down for?" conclusion. I thank them politely and inform them that I don't make donations over the phone, but I would be happy to look into their organization further to decide if it fits into my charitable giving budget.

Honestly -- do phone calls really work any more?

Guest's picture

I let one of these organizations "connect me to my local Congressman." I figured it would be his office phone, where I would politely leave my thoughts on the matter involved. Turns out it was his personal phone. I heard his kids in the background. How embarrassing. I apologized profusely and warned him about what was happening.

Guest's picture

I agree to nothing on the spot. That goes for donations, petitions or political action. This seems to make phone and street canvassers really huffy, even if I do it in a polite way.

We ditched out landline recently. Even with an unlisted number the cable company sold our number to a bunch of places. We were getting telemarketing calls the morning our phone was turned on. So after six months of telemarketers and "unknown number" calls on a line that less than 10 people had the number for we ditched it.

Now I am getting this junk on my cell phone. I made the mistake of giving a political campaign my phone number so one local organizer could contact me. Now with an upcoming primary my phone is ringing all the time with unknown numbers that don't come up on an internet search of the number. I only answer numbers I already have in my phone book.

Guest's picture

First, why not just hang up? And why not put that annoying "disconnected phone number" sound on your answering machine so that when the machines do the first "are you home" call and get your machine it thinks it's a disconnected phone number.

That aside, I do like to mess with telemarketers. I had one from the local paper call me. She talked really really fast and gave a sales pitch in one breath that must have lasted five minutes. When she was done, I said, “I'm sorry, you speak REALLY fast. Can you repeat all of that?” She said, “F^(< You!” and hung up on me. She hung up on me! I was really shocked. Another asked if I needed repairs on my home. I was watching the news at the time and a story about tornadoes came up. So, I told the guy I needed a new roof. And he got really exited. Then I told him I need my walls fixed. And he got even more existed. This continued for like 10 minutes until finally he said, “Why do you need all this work done?” And I said, “My house was destroyed and I need it rebuilt.” And he said, “Are you messing with me?” And I said, “Yup.” To which he laughed and said, “I knew it was too good to be true.” I thanked him for at least having a good sense of humor, we talked for 10 more minutes and hung up. He was a nice guy.

Linsey Knerl's picture

Unfortunately, I can't usually just hang up, since my home line is also used for business.  Hubby and I both work as independent contractors, and often we get calls from clients or co-workers trying to get ahold of us at home.  Very often it is difficult to tell what they are saying at first (if they call from a cell, airport, etc) so I almost always listen for quite a while to be sure I am hearing everything I need to know.  This is where caller ID is useful, but we know how that doesn't always work, either.

Hanging up doesn't remove me from their list. They may just call back again.  But I do enjoy hearing how other people try to have a little fun with unsolicited calls.... I'm just not that assertive, I guess!

Thanks for the comments!