I’ve always heard talk show hosts, NPR guests, etc. say how important it is to contact your Congressman (or Congresswoman) about your thoughts. Media personalities even start campaigns to “flood” a legislator’s office. But does it make a difference?
A few things I’ve learned so far on Capitol Hill…
7) Those bags of tea that Taxed Enough Already patriots are sending? They don’t get past Capitol Mailing Services. After the anthrax mail threat a few years ago, any potentially hazardous substance sent via mail is removed before delivery to a Congressional office—including tea. The pen is mightier than Celestial Seasonings, better stick with a letter.
6) Every political-related petition you sign probably ends up in a Congressional office. Interns across Capitol Hill thank you for writing legibly. Printing your letter is even better!
5) Over half the correspondence received shows that constituents are unaware of their Congressman’s position on the issues that concern them. Every Congressional office has an official website with press releases, policy positions, videos, etc.
To be heard, I’d encourage anyone to take a few minutes online and read up on how your Congressman sees the world. If your views match his, and his voting record backs it up, then perhaps no need for “taking him to task” too severely.
3) Even if you are writing on behalf of thousands of people, you should be brief. Your letter will be read and considered much more if you write one page or less.
2) Writing to multiple Congressmen isn’t very useful. When processing any contact (mail, fax, email), the first thing staff do is determine if you live within their district. If not, your contact is forwarded on to the correct Congressional office.
The only official person who will read or reply to your contact is your own Congressman’s office. Sending out multiple letters to various Representatives leads to one office receiving 10 copies of your letter.
2) Speaking of that… write your return address both inside and outside of the letter. A label or typed address is even better! The Congressman’s office really wants to keep in touch with you (if you wrote to your district), and that’s often not possible.
1) The purpose of a Congressional office is to represent on Capitol Hill the views of you and your neighbors. Not an hour goes by without someone asking, “What do our people think on this issue? How will they be affected?” You can bet that the S. Dakota Congresswoman subscribes to and reads the Rapid City Journal—including letters to the editor—just as closely as the Wall Street Journal.
So do contact your Congressman or Congresswoman! Find out who he/she is, read up on their views, and type something up. E-mail may be the best means to get your ideas noticed, since legislation moves very fast through Congress and a timely e-mail can be quickly passed on to relevant office staff.