How To Communicate With Your Congressman
There are seven basic methods for keeping in touch with your congressmen. They include form letters, petitions, phone calls, personal visits, personal letters, faxes, and e-mail.
Among these, form letters – often sent out by direct mail operators – are the least effective. They are perhaps better than nothing, but they do not communicate to the congressmen any great commitment on your part.
Petitions can be an effective way to influence elected officials. Petitions communicate that support for a particular position is organized back in a congressman’s district. For example, "Impeach Clinton Now!" petitions helped pressure Congress to proceed with the impeachment of President Clinton. Petitions are most effective when used in conjunction with letters, calls, e-mails, etc.
Telephone calls establish a more personal rapport than do letters, although congressmen realize that picking up a telephone takes little effort compared to writing out a thoughtful letter. Telephone calls have one benefit over mailed letters in that they can be made in a timely manner; postal letters often cannot. Telephone calls are generally more effective when they are kept brief and to the point.
Personal visits establish the best personal rapport among the methods of communicating with your congressmen. Most congressional offices try to accommodate constituent requests for an appointment with the congressman. Most people, however, rarely have more than a minute or two to sum up their concerns. Preparation for a face-to-face visit with your congressman is essential. While this can be a highly effective means of communicating with your congressmen, it is not always available.
Personalized faxed letters can be as effective – and more timely – than mailed letters. You can obtain the fax numbers of the officials that represent you by calling their offices. Be sure to include your postal address in your letter, so that the congressmen will know that you reside in his district and so that he will have the option to respond through the mail.
e-mail is increasingly effective, especially as more public officials become accustomed to using the Internet. When writing an e-mail letter, be sure it is as well-written as a mailed letter would be, as the Internet is full of semi-literate rantings posing as letters. It is essential that you include your postal address in your letter, so that the congressmen will know that you reside in his district and so that he will have the option to respond through the mail.
Personal letters are the most common form of correspondence with a congressman, and the most powerful. Congressmen realize it takes time to write out a thoughtful letter, put a stamp on it, and put it in the mail. This form of communication is weighed most heavily by Washington DC staff and your congressman. Your personal letter, as part of a nationally-directed campaign, can produce significant results. Click here for helpful tips on writing an effective letter.
How to Write an Effective Letter
Communicating with your congressmen is the duty of every American citizen. The Founding Fathers knew that the Constitution and system of government they had devised would be useless without a vigilant citizenry.
To increase the impact of your letters, write legibly or use a computer or typewriter, and include your name and address so your congressman can respond. Additionally, limit them to one page. You should first state, for instance, that you oppose the Free Trade Area of the Americas, then support your position (you could draw from some of the evidence discussed in our materials), and, finally, ask the congressman to respond and explain his position. Avoid exaggeration and, when appropriate, document your position with an accompanying article or editorial.
Write your letters on company letterhead if you are a small business owner, or if you are explicitly allowed to use company letterhead by the company which employs you for such a purpose. Letters on company letterhead often credential you as a community leader or give you professional prominence, and these are often weighed more heavily in Washington.
It is proper to follow up your congressman's response (or lack thereof) with another brief letter, regardless of the position they have taken. If your congressman agrees with you, send a letter of thanks for his stand. If your congressman disagrees with your position, reply with a brief letter quoting the section of his letter with which you take issue, restate your position, and supply individual additional evidence and support it.
Elected officials listen most intently to letters from voters in their districts, and hardly listen at all to voices from outside their districts.