One of the many wonderful aspects of living in the United
States is that we can have a direct
on the way we are governed. To do so, you need to become
your own advocate with Congress. Members of Congress
listen to their constituents and care about constituent
opinions. But to be effective, you must communicate
properly with your representative and senators. Members
of Congress are people, too, and as you would react
negatively to someone who sent you an angry or threatening
letter, so do they. So to be effective, you need to
follow some guidelines that are founded on civility
courteous and respectful in all communications.
Don't use threats.
Faxes & E-Mails
you have a personal, first-name relationship with a member
of Congress or one of their staff members, the way you
guarantee that your communication will be effective is
to make sure the receiving office instantly can identify
you as a constituent. If they can't, there is an excellent
chance your communication will be discarded without being
read. Start each communication with your name and address
at the very top:
writing a member of Congress it's important to use the
proper salutation. For senators it's "Dear Senator"
(and the senator's last name: Dear Senator Lansing:).
For members of the House of Representatives (according
to House rules), the way to address female members of
the House is "Congresswoman" and male members
is "Congressman" (Dear Congresswoman Munster:
/ Dear Congressman Calumet:). However, using "Dear
Representative" (Dear Representative Hammond:) is
you are sending a letter, fax or e-mail already
prepared for you, take a minute to put the message
into your own words.
you are sending a letter, fax or e-mail already prepared
for you, take a minute to put the message into your own
words. And remember, courteously written communications
are more likely to be read and have positive impact than
a page or two of ravings and rantings.
are some other key points to remember in writing to your
Also, don't forget that elected officials are people too
and they like to be told when they've done something right.
Send them a congratulatory note when they do something
that merits approval.
If you are sending an e-mail to a representative, you
won't receive a response via e-mail but will receive one
through the mail (rules of the House -- however, you can
communicate with House staff members via e-mail). Senators
respond to e-mail with e-mail. If you follow these guidelines
and establish a working relationship with the elected
official or one of their staff, you might be sending and
receiving e-mails on a regular basis.
Best Communication: A Personal Visit
most effective way of communicating with a legislator
is to personally meet with them or their staff.
Unless you are planning a trip to Washington, DC, this
means visiting their local
Don't expect the legislator to be in their local office
if Congress is in session on the date of your visit. If
you have the opportunity, note when Congress is in recess
and make a point to visit the legislator's
district office then. You also can see if your representative
and senators have on their Web
sites a listing of their district offices (most do)
and whether they list times when they will be there. You
increase the chance of actually meeting the legislator
by visiting at this time.
forget that elected officials are people too and
they like to be told when they've done something
It is very important to remember that all contacts with
elected officials must be constructive even if their opinions
contrast with your own or those of your organization.
It's one thing to disagree with someone, it's another
thing to be a jerk about it . . . be respectful, courteous,
If you meet the legislator either in the Washington or
local office, send them a thank you card after the meeting.
In the card or letter state that you would like to meet
again to tell them more about your profession and the
issues about which you are concerned. Try to attend any
social gathering which your elected official may attend;
this is a good way to nurture the friendship.
you have established a working relationship with a legislator
or one of their staff members, telephone calls are best
limited to times when a bill is coming up for a vote and
you want to urge the legislator to vote for or against
it. If you have established a working relationship with
the legislator or one of their staff members, then call
them to discuss it. But, keep in mind you may not be able
to talk with the legislator personally. When in Washington
elected officials have hectic schedules and a good part
of their day is spent in committee meetings or on the
floor of the House or Senate.
Instead of calling your legislators' Washington office
consider calling a local district office instead. For
one, it's less expensive than a long distance call to
Washington and, two, district offices tend not to get
swamped with phone calls as do Capitol offices.
If this is your first call to a congressional office,
you'll talk with a staff member. The first thing you need
to do is state your and name and the fact that you are
a constituent of the legislator. Then briefly state the
nature of your call, i.e., urging the legislator to support
or oppose a particular piece of legislation: