Educating yourself on all the sides of an issue is important and vital when contacting or visiting your legislators.
After fully understanding the issue and preparing for every possible question, there are several ways to bring attention to the topic. One productive way is to start a petition. According to Care2petitions,
A petition, put simply, is a list of names and signatures compiled together to show support for a cause. By demonstrating public support, petitions give clout to an issue that could otherwise go overlooked by government or business. Whether you are looking to change a law or a behavior—or just raise awareness for an issue—petitions are an easy and inexpensive way to get the word out.
Here are some questions to ask.
- Is your case petition ready?
- What do you need to know to make your petition ready?
- Which groups, businesses, and influencers support your cause?
- Do you have a clear target?
- Can this petition open a dialog?
One person can do a variety of things, but there is strength in numbers. That is why it’s a great idea to consider joining a non-profit organization that has similar values as your own on issues and laws that need to be implemented or changed. Partnering with an organized group helps in several ways. The most obvious one is finances. In most cases, it takes money to get attention. That is why non-profits are getting more proficient at marketing and promoting their cause. Many organizations offer educational tools, workshops, training sessions, and conferences on fundraising. Partnering with organizations keeps the momentum and personal passion going while encouraging people to work together on the same issue, building deep and lasting friendships.
Social media is a powerful tool, but it can also be destructive if used poorly. Participating in a group discussion with comments is helpful.
Here are some important keys to remember when posting on social media:
- Stay on topic with the issue that is being discussed.
- Be polite, but firm. No personal insults, profanity or name calling.
- Use social media in moderation, especially when it comes to political issues.
Hammering out tweets hourly and spouting out all day on Facebook about a topic will drive people away simply because they will tire of hearing the same thing. Updates and information are good; obsessive complaining and murmuring is not good. Negativity is never conducive to winning over your peers.
It’s also a good idea to create dedicated FB pages and other social media accounts for each topic at hand. This way, you will be able to post on your specific topic to a targeted audience and avoid annoying your friends and family.
Here are three ways to reach out to legislators.
- Phone Calling
Every legislator has a phone number listed on the State Capitol website. Their phone will usually be answered by their legislative assistant or staffer. Still, these are human beings, so don’t be a robot reading off a template. Their offices get those types of phone calls every day, so droning on and on will do little to advance your cause. Instead, explain in your own words your opinions and feelings about the issue. Stay on topic and to the point. Two good times to call are at the beginning of the legislative session and right before the vote.
Every legislator has an email that can be taken directly from the State Capitol website. Be specific with emails.
When addressing a government official, in person or in print, use the proper salutation. This signals to your representative or senator that you respect their position, and they will be more likely to take you seriously.
The proper salutation for a U.S. senator is “Dear Senator <name>.”
The proper salutation for a U.S. representative is “Dear Mr. / Mrs. <name>.”
Of course, there is no legal requirement to use a particular salutation. You’re free to call your senator or representative whatever you like. However, you will gain favor and be taken more seriously if you respect the office of the person you’re contacting.
It is also important to write with a friendly yet professional tone. Your email doesn’t have to be a work of art but it needs to be free of spelling and grammar mistakes. Access the plethora of editorial software available; much of it is free (such as Grammarly). Finally, if you’re asking the official for a particular change, be firm and state your position clearly.
You may include personal details but try to keep them relevant to the topic at hand.
Keep written correspondence short. Don’t write more than a few paragraphs if you want your reader to stay with you. Make sure you say what you need to say. Condense any anecdotes as much as possible.
Try to keep it under 500 words and be polite and courteous.
- Visit in person
Visiting your legislators can be daunting, but most of them realize they work for their constitutes, and so they will listen to your concerns. Make an appointment in advance. Prepare your meeting with a written outline. Greet them with grace, especially if they are from the other side of the isle. Find some issue they have voted on or sponsored where there is an agreement between both of you and thank them for it. Be courteous, smile, and get to the topic. If you are nervous, you might forget an important point, so bring a note card and keep it close. Stay away from generalities such as, “We need better education!” or “The roads are a mess.” Bring the issue to your personal experience. How will the issue affect you, your family and community? Explain in detail the consequences and the benefits of their vote. The legislators need to be reminded that their votes affect thousands of people exactly like the one sitting across from them.
And again, do not waste their time. Choose your words carefully and give them time to process your information. They are busy people; respect that.
In conclusion, be alert and stay abreast of the information affecting your issue. Join groups, use social media, sign petitions, march at rallies, and visit your legislator face to face. You can make a huge impact for today and change your world for tomorrow.
Mary Salamon is the author of Government and Its People- How the Church can Participate in Government and the children’s version, Government in the Bible. She resides in the Pacific Northwest and was the publisher of Marysville Tulalip Life Magazine. She served as the Washington State Leader for the Governors Prayer Team and a regional leader for the National Day of Prayer. She is the mother of three sons and seven beautiful grand-children. She is available for speaking engagements at local civic events, churches and conferences.