I was all set to do a full review of the classic 1998 rom-com You’ve Got Mail, starring Thomas J. Hanks and Meg Ryan, but then I thought to myself, “Everyone loves this movie already, does it really need a review? Also, it’s 2019 so I might be a little late to the party. And, this an advocacy blog, despite my best efforts.” But if you don’t think I can tie this movie into advocacy, you’ve greatly underestimated my pop culture prowess. I’m also just too lazy to think of a new title.
I’ve spent a lot of time encouraging advocates to meet with their members of Congress, but I do understand there might be some obstacles that prevent advocates from committing the time to in-person meetings. Your senator’s offices might be too far away, maybe you can’t seem to find an opening in the office’s schedule, and maybe you’re just too busy…umm…TEACHING! Luckily, there’s more than one way to be an active advocate. One of them is what we in the advocacy biz call a “light lift.” These are simple actions that generally don’t take too long to complete. They can also be done at any time of day, in the comfort of your own home, with your favorite Netflix show blaring in the background.
Writing to your legislators can be an extremely effective tool for an advocate. It’s an action that’s quick, to the point, and can highlight important issues that your representatives might not even know about. With that said, here are some pro tips for writing successful messages to your legislators.
1. Put away the stamp and envelope.
No, not because I’m a paper-hating Millennial, but because mailed letters to Congress take a long, long time to get there. Since people do stupid things, all mailed letters to Congress have to be screened for hazardous materials, which exposes your paper and ink to high heat, which in turn, can burn or melt the ink on your letter, leaving it illegible. So, apologies to the post office, but save your stamp and send an email!
2. Find out how to email or send a message to your legislator.
This might seem obvious, but I’m going to play it safe. The websites for your members of Congress have online forms for you to send emails and other messages. This site is a good resource to find the webpages and contact information for your members of Congress.
3. Keep the message short and sweet.
Just like any good rom-com: Keep it short and sweet. As someone who used to read constituent letters, shorter is always better. Unless your last name is King or Rowling, submitting a novel to your member of Congress will get you nowhere. Stick to addressing one issue or bill per email, and be prepared to make an “ask” (e.g., “support this bill” or “change this policy”). If applicable, always mention the bill number, and be clear and concise; try to keep your message to less than one page and be sure to use a polite tone throughout. You might be angry about a particular issue, but always remember that the folks at The Shop Around the Corner didn’t lose their cool when fighting off the encroaching Fox Books.
4. Offer evidence, information, and reasons to support your views.
The issues that concern you, especially those involving education and English learners, may be completely unknown to your lawmakers. At any given time there are hundreds of bills in Congress, and you can pretty much guarantee that not everyone has read each of them. That’s why it’s important to back up your ask with evidence and supporting information for why a legislator should vote a certain way or support an issue. Including facts, figures, and personal stories is a great way to strengthen your message and help your legislator better understand the issue at hand.
5. Follow up and continue your advocacy efforts.
After you send off your concise, well-written, and information-packed message, it will take some time to get a personal response because Congressional offices get hundreds of emails and phone calls each day. If two to three weeks have gone by with no response, feel free to follow up with a second email or a phone call. Patience is key, but I can assure you that your voice and opinion will be heard.
So, not too difficult, right? Once you send one message, keep sending more! Continued communications and advocacy efforts are key to any campaign that creates change, especially in government. If you keeping sending those emails and develop a relationship with your legislators’ office, who knows, maybe one day it will all lead to an in-person meeting where (advocacy) sparks will fly.