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Tips when contacting elected officials
The more personal your letter is, the more influence it will have. Say whats on your mind and in your heart. You dont have to be an expertyoure a concerned citizen. Describe briefly how the policy in question affects you or your community.
Hand write your
letter if your writing is legible. This way the receiver can tell
youre a real person. If you do type, add a hand-written note.
Regarding e-mails and faxes: Again, the wisdom is the more personal the communication, the better. While some congressional offices do give e-mails and faxes the same weight as letters and send a formal response, others simply tally electronic letters and dont give them the same importance as "real letters."
These methods are best if time is of the essence. One idea is to print and mail letters you compose on an activism web site, or at least personalize your e-mail. It is very important that you include your address and zip code in all correspondence, because congressional offices only count opinions submitted by the people in their districts.
If you are calling a legislator, ask to speak to the aide who works on either defense issues or the environment. If that person is not available, leave a clear message with your name, address, and phone number. State why you are calling and what you want your legislator to do. You can ask for a written response to your message.
Enclose an article
that bears on the policy in question.
The most effective thing you can do as a citizen to influence policy is meet with your Member of Congress. Elected officials and their staffs regularly meet with constituents to hear their views on an issue. Yet the majority of congressional visitors are paid lobbyists representing industry and corporations, so its critical to counterbalance those voices with opinions of concerned citizens.
You can approach a congressional office by yourself, with friends, or members of other groups that share your stance on an issue. You can arrange a meeting in the district office or to their office on Capitol Hill if you will be in Washington, D.C. Remember, your Member of Congress is their to represent the views of the people, and anyone can request a meeting!
Before the Meeting:
Make an appointment. Simply call your congressional office and tell the staff member that you are a constituent and youd like a meeting with your Member of Congress. If you cant get an appointment with your Member, ask to meet with the staff person who works on the issue you are concerned about. Dont take "no" for an answer.
Gather a delegation. Your Member may be more open to meeting with you if you go beyond the usual suspects. For example, pair taxpayers and environmental advocates, or religious and business leaders. You will have a greater impact if you can demonstrate that not just a small segment of the population is sympathetic to your cause.
Preparing for the meeting:
Establish your agenda and goals. Decide what kind of commitment you are asking for (i.e., voting for or against a specific bill, co-sponsoring legislation, or ratifying a treaty.)
Check your Members stance. Call his or her office or check out the following web sites: www.vote-smart.org or www.congress.gov.
Select someone to act as the group leader and make a list of points to be made and questions to be asked by each person. A rehearsal is a great idea, if you have time.
Prepare materials. For greater impact, bring a packet to the meeting with materials such as: fact sheets from various organizations, supporting op-eds, editorials, and letters to the editor or news items that illustrate your issue. Include your name and phone number so that your Representative can contact you for more information.
During the Meeting:
Be concise and diplomatic. Keep your presentation short and to the point, as you will only be allotted a few minutes. Make clear exactly what action you wish you Member to take. It is important to listen to your Member even if his or her view differs from your own. Dont be argumentative or confrontational.
Put a local and personal angle on the issue. Stress why this issue concerns you and others the Member represents. Be specific. Cite local statistics, give examples of communities that will be most affected by this issue, or mention who supports your issue locally.
Press for a commitment. Dont let your Member of Congress evade the issue or change the subject. Ask specifically for his or her position on the issue. If they agree with you, ask them to co-sponsor legislation, make a floor speech or sign a "Dear Colleague" letter on the issueall of these can help sway other legislators too.
Dont be intimidated. If you are asked a question that you do not know the answer to, simply say that you dont know, but that you will find out. Get a fax number and a staff contact and be sure to provide the necessary information as soon as possible.
After the Meeting:
Thank your Member of Congress and/or the staff members for their time, summarize the key points you made during your visit and include any information you promised to provide.
Provide follow-up Information. If your Member asked questions, or was particularly interested in one aspect, seize the opportunity to follow up with a letter, fact sheet, phone call, or second meeting. Elected officials will respond better if they see you as providing information useful to them, rather than just pushing your own agenda.
Share the knowledge you learned. Be sure to tell the 20/20 Vision national office, as well as other organizations and individuals what you learned about your Members position.
Build a relationship. A first visit should never be the end of contact. Make sure you or someone in your group stays in touch with the staff on the issue.