Tuesday, February 28, 2017

How to Write to Your Congressman/woman

Recently, my family and I visited some universities as my daughter considers her higher education options. At one of the colleges, I was pleased to see a booth set up for students, professors, staff members and even visitors to write a letter to their elected officials, expressing their opinions about current political topics.

As political turmoil continues here in the United States, many people who haven't written a letter in
years are contemplating the option for contacting their representatives and senators. One benefit that letter writing has over making a phone call is that you can save a copy of the letter, especially if you write it on a computer, and send a copy to more than one person, including your local newspaper.

Here are some tips for writing your elected officials:

1.      Write a real letter in your own words. Form letters are quickly identified as such and may be easily dismissed. If your letter is unique and sincere, it is more likely to be taken seriously.
2.      Have a specific reason for writing and be well-informed on the topic. Seek out legitimate news sources or official websites for details on specific actions or legislation. Don’t rely on just one source; make sure you have good information.
3.      Write in a more formal tone than you usually do in texts or emails to friends and family. Use correct grammar and punctuation, including capitalization. Don’t say “i hate ur vote 2 …..” Your opinion will be taken more seriously if you say something more like, “I’m concerned about your decision to support….”
4.      State your opinion plainly. Although you want to be respectful, this is no place to be timid. Don’t downplay your thoughts on the matter. Make it clear which side of the issue you’re on and what you want your representative to do.
5.      Be clear about which specific issue you are writing. Congress regularly considers many different issues; make sure they know which one you are most concerned with. Use the specific wording that they use in the title of a bill or other action.
6.      Be brief and to the point. You may have a fascinating story, but this isn’t necessarily the place to tell it. If your job or hometown – or any other criteria – is relevant to the topic, it’s OK to mention it, but keep your comments short. These are busy people you’re writing to, and they likely will just pass over a long, drawn out letter.
7.      Write to the correct person and mail it to the right address(es). You can find that information in a variety of sources. Remember, there are U.S. Senators and Representatives, as well as state-level elected officials and local government officials. You can find U.S. Senators at https://www.senate.gov/senators/contact/ and U.S. Representatives at http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/ . You can find your state officials on similar websites by using a standard search engine. For example, the Texas information is at http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us/Home.aspx  . Information on your city, county and district officials could be online or located at your local courthouse or city offices.
8.      If you copy the letter to send it to more than one official, be sure to update the pertinent information in each letter. Don’t address a Senator as “Rep.” or vice versa.
9.      If you send a copy of the letter to the editor of your local paper, be sure to indicate whether or not you’re submitting it as an official letter to the editor. If so, it may require some editing on your part. Be sure to let the editor know that you have sent the letter or a similar version to your congressman/woman.
10.  Sign your name and include your contact information. Otherwise, your letter may be dismissed as less legitimate.

In the formal style of letter writing, your letter should follow a specific addressing format. At the top of the page, write the official’s name and address, followed by the salutation. Here is an example of how you might word that (be sure to use the actual names and addresses of your representatives):

The Honorable John Doe
123 Senate Office Building
United State Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator Doe:

Keep in mind that the elected officials usually keep one or more offices in their home states/districts, as well as in Washington, DC, or their state capital. You might want to send identical copies of the letter to each of their addresses, in order to ensure that they see it. If you choose to do that, you might add something like “CC: Sen. Doe’s other addresses” below your signature.

Making sure our elected officials know what “we the people” expect from them is part of our civic duty. Good luck with your letter writing!

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