Tips for Contacting Elected Representatives
June 17, 2011
© Kathryn Young Thompson
Here at Mom Congress, we’re all about action. Each week as one of our delegates is highlighted, she has a chance to submit an action alert, something she’d like other parents to help her accomplish. Often this is a request for people to contact their Senators and Members of Congress.
Personally, I find this a little intimidating. I know they are constantly barraged with calls, letters and emails and I don’t quite know how to make mine stand out. This week I asked our Mom Congress delegates for tips to make this communication more effective. Here are a few helpful responses:
I think the format of the letter/email is huge! Introduce yourself briefly and start with a positive! Then choose your battle. Pick one topic and share your concern with ideas you have on things making better. Offer to serve on a panel, meet in person, etc. By doing so, you are becoming part of the solution! ~Lyssa Shadevan – Georgia Delegate 2011
- Try to meet your local senators and representatives in person to talk to them.
- If it's a federal issue, make a phone call because that is often better received than an email.
- Stick to your point and be as brief as possible.
- Identify the reason for your email and the specific bill you are referring to. ~Heather Jack – Massachusetts Delegate 2010
I always tell parents that calling your congressman is like calling an employee. Parents need to remember that the politicians actually work for them, the citizens, and they have every right to tell them what they want to see happen. It is their job to listen to parents and use that information when they make their decisions. I also always tell parents if they are uncomfortable calling that they should try emailing first. You can send an email - which should not be too lengthy - to introduce what you want to talk about or make a comment on and then follow up with a phone call because then you have had practice writing what you want to say so it comes out right when you say it. Also, keep in mind that you will most likely not talk with your actual congressman/woman but you will likely talk with an aid that will simply take down what you have to say and pass it along...so in the end, they are simply writing it down for you, so know what you want to say, who you want to have hear it and keep it short, simple and to the point. But most of all...remember that they work FOR you...so you are entitled to speak your mind. ~Jennifer DeFranco – Illinois Delegate 2011
First off, there is strength, and to some degree, comfort in numbers -- you don’t have to go it alone. Though you may still be nervous, reaching out to elected officials as part of a group or delegation can make a big difference. Last year, when I went to speak to the state assembly member, whose district my children’s school is a part of, I was with five other members of our school community (which included my son – a second grader at the time, a teacher, and three other parents). The opportunity to take the trip to our state capital came via my affiliation with a local group that exists, “to give voice to issues of concern to local families and teachers, and to bring those issues to the attention of elected officials.” Connecting with an advocacy group of this sort is something that I’d definitely recommend. Additionally, being connected to a group that utilizes the principles of community organizing can be quite helpful.
Secondly, it’s extremely important, whether you reach out as part of a group or as an individual, to have a clearly delineated agenda/plan mapped out. Know what it is that you want to discuss/convey/ask of your elected official. If you are part of a group or delegation, each member of the group needs to know his/her role in the meeting. Be sure that each member of the group has a clear understanding of what it is that he/she will say. As is often the case in life, preparation is key. You don’t necessarily need to go in with a memorized speech or script, but at the same time you do want to have clearly defined goals and objectives that have been discussed and agreed to by the members of the group. Also, if someone goes off topic, whether it’s a member of the delegation or the elected official, you want to be able to help reel them back in. Taking time to plan and prepare before the meeting is critical. Equally important is debriefing after the meeting to talk about what was accomplished, what went well, and what could be done differently or better next time.
Finally, thanks to the day and age in which we live, initiating contact is relatively simple and there are several ways in which to do it. I personally have used email and telephone calls to make contact with school board members and county officials. I’ve used Facebook to connect with my local town council representative. Attending multiple events (school, youth sports, arts/cultural, etc.) in my community affords me many opportunities to initially connect with people, elected officials as well as everyday people like me, face-to-face, making follow-up emails and phone calls more effective. ~Cushon Bell – California Delegate 2011
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