PSA: Contacting Your Representatives


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ZeSpectre
January 26, 2013, 11:44 AM
This is a Public Service Announcement, I hope it will be of some use as people contact their legislators.

I worked in DC for nearly 20 years, 11 of which were spent working amongst the "movers and shakers". I have also been very politically active for nearly my entire adult life, frequently having close personal contact with my various representatives, their staffers, and other members of government. This has given me some real insight as to the actual "nuts and bolts" operation of our governmental system and how to get things done.

So most of the time it works like this;

1) Your correspondence is read by one of the staffers who goes just far enough to determine what legislation or issue it is referencing so they can assign it a category.

2) Once assigned such a category it is then usually tallied as a "FOR" or "AGAINST". At this point they don't usually get into the details of the letter and the staffer, who is responsible for thousands of pieces of mail, will probably not read any further at this time.

3) At some point down the road, usually closer to the actual discussion of the issue or legislation, the pieces of "FOR" and "AGAINST" correspondence may be read for details and information. This is also usually done by staffers who then write a summary of the talking points for the legislators to read.

Once you understand how this system works it becomes clear that you can write more effective correspondence by using the following guidelines;

1) ONE issue for ONE letter. If you have multiple legislation or issues then you have to write multiple correspondence, sorry but that is how it works.

2) Include your contact information (full name, address, phone number, etc).

3) Address the Legislator appropriately, usually "The Honorable <full name>"

4) START with a clear indication of the Issue in question and say whether you SUPPORT or OPPOSE it. This is especially important for email where the header should clearly state "I SUPPORT HR10XX" or "I OPPOSE the widget restriction bill".

5) Write a BRIEF and TO THE POINT summary of why you have your stance regarding the legislation or issue in question. Generally you should not exceed two paragraphs. If you have evidence supporting your position, reference it.

6) Close by requesting the action you want taken: a vote for or against a bill, or change in general policy.

7) Keep the pressure on...always. Set a calendar reminder or whatever you need to do so that you KEEP SENDING MAIL, this can dramatically increase the chances that your correspondence will be one of those selected for detailed reading.

And finally;

I have seen a lot of dismissal of "new" communication such as email and an ongoing perception that a physical, written, letter somehow carries more weight. I will probably offend a number of traditionalists but the simple truth is that the vast majority of legislative offices prefer email. It is easier to handle, store, retrieve, sort, and read. This trend is getting stronger as electronic systems become increasingly capable of "reading" the emails and creating summary reports.

The WORST thing you can do is send a hand-written letter! If you must send physical mail, type it or do a computer print-out.

Good Luck!

ZeSpectre

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