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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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 do it. 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 letters. Best of all is a (legibly) hand-written letter or card with a stamp on it.
  3. Keep your letter brief & concise. Never longer than a page (250 words); better if even shorter.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.

Monterey Bay Educators Against War
Last modified May 20, 2003 editor@mbeaw.org Help build this page
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