Recent events here in Wisconsin have me more motivated than ever to look more closely at our government, and what’s going on legislatively. From what’s going on at the capitol, I don’t think I’m the only one.
So I started looking for guidance on the best way to contact & communicate legislators. Demonstration is effective in its own way, but change comes from laws and laws come from legislation. What I found was almost exclusively on the sites of special interests, and aimed at guiding their members to write on specific issues. However I did find a really interesting, if somewhat outdated, report at the Congressional Management Foundation. Write a postal letter, on paper, by hand.
As you can see, postal message volume is declining while email is exploding, yet postal letters have greater influence.
Only write those who represent you. Writing from outside a lawmaker’s constituency is a waste of time – they are concerned about what their constituents think, no someone else’s. With the Internet it’s very easy to find your legislators – start by looking at your state legislature’s home page.
Include your contact information – more than 90% of lawmakers say they respond to personal letters. It’s also helpful to let them know if you expect a response. This means mailing address, phone number and email address. This information is also used to validate that you are a constituent, which is important.
It’s better to write regarding a specific piece of legislation and identify it, than generalities. This makes sense, but I’ finding it’s hard to know what legislation is out there and under consideration. I’ve signed up at congress.org, but I’d love to hear from anyone who’s got a better source.
Personal stories are more persuasive, specifically regarding the impact the legislation will have on you and your family. It also makes sense to arm your legislator with salient facts and figures that support your position and enable them to persuade others.
Do not threaten, be antagonistic, or rude. This seems obvious, but it actually brings to light another issue – how do you write a legislator that you know is 180 degrees from your point of view?
I recently wrote a letter to our governor, Scott Walker. It was hard enough to address the envelope to “The Honorable Scott Walker”, but that is the proper form of address no matter how insane or misguided his views seem to be and that’s important if I want it to be read. Harder was determining what to say. After all, I know I’m not going to change his views. Venting rage or disappointment has no value either except to further convince him that ‘the other side’ has no merit. The best I felt I could ask was that he be the leader that brings both sides to find sustainable solutions that didn’t divide the state.
In addition to the above, there’s also an excellent TED talk on the topic: