Write to Representatives
Writing to Senators, Congresspeople, & State Legislators can have a real impact on
legislation; & activists in the cause of peace & justice should make the time do
it often. Sometimes just a few dozen like-minded, well-honed missives can swing a vote.
But keep in mind that legislators' aides read a lot of these communications every day,
on many topics, to keep an eye on constituents' thinking about the key issues.
They can't make use or give an adequate response to everything they read.
So here are some tips for effective communication with them:
- Write mostly to your own representatives, & selectively to others whose
work you appreciate. Legislators generally don't pay much attention to letters from
non-constituents; but they are certainly encouraged by any signs of broad support
for whatever good work they do, & they can often make use of these in trying
to persuade colleagues.
- Write a personal letter (or a postcard), in your own words & on your own
stationery -- even when you're paraphrasing or outright copying a form letter as you
The attention paid to letters is roughly proportionate to the effort that went into
sending them. Mass e-mails make the least impact (though they're better than nothing);
then printed form letters & petitions. Personal e-mails come next, then typed
Best of all is a (legibly) hand-written letter or card with a stamp on
- Keep your letter brief & concise. Never longer than a page (250 words);
better if even shorter.
- Be polite & constructive. Be free with acknowledgement, giving credit
where credit is due. Avoid insults or attributions of base motives, as well as
threats to withhold future votes or financial support. Representatives take a
lot of abuse, & are seldom if ever persuaded by it. Focus your critical
comments on a particular vote or a disappointing omission, rather than on
the person or the entire life's work.
- Personalize the communication. Mention having voted for the representative,
or contributed money to his/her campaign (if you did); refer to any prior
business or personal connection. Give evidence of familiarity with the
representative's previous work on particular subjects.
- Stick to one subject to per letter. Hit your two or three main points (no
more than that) as clearly as possible. Readers need to remember why
they should adopt your views on the subject.
- Be concrete; use vivid local examples. Let the representative know how
& why the legislation you are pushing for or against is going to matter
in your community in particular.
- Be confident. Don't be intimidated by challenge of "speaking truth
to power." Most representatives are not better informed than you are
about an issue on which you have boned up & feel strongly; & most
in fact don't really have much power. They work hard, year in & year out,
serving the people according to their own lights.
They have to mobilize information & arguments & bend many
ears in order to persuade their colleagues to join them in doing anything
in particular; & they generally don't get a lot of recognition or
press coverage for what they accomplish.
All representatives can be expected to do their work a whole lot better
if they have regular access to the best thinking of considerable numbers of
their constituents, & if they know that these people are following their
work with a lively interest.