Learn the most effective techniques
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Before You Write Your Representative
1. Hone-in on exactly why you are writing.
Before you write to your Congressperson it is important to pinpoint exactly what you want your political leaders to address. For example, there are several urgent issues Free Kashmir Action is asking Congress to do.
“It is important to sum up your purpose in one sentence, and not the kind with six commas. This is the first step, and it is important to give you focus and inform the rest of the process. Under most circumstances, this will be the first line of your letter.”
Pick the appropriate medium for your message.
• Hard copy: Generally, this is considered the best way to get in touch with your Congressperson, especially if you have the time to do it right, and you want to be taken seriously.
Only handwrite the final copy if you have nice, legible penmanship.
• Email: Email has become an increasingly important and popular means to communicate when time is not particularly urgent. Do not send an email in the heat of anger and without proofreading, as the reader will see the sender as “uninformed” or “uneducated” or “irrational.”
If you come across a cause asking you to write in using a pre-written form letter where you only have to fill in your address and signature it’s still better to add a personal notation in the space usually provided, but if you really want to make an impact, it is always best to write your own message from top to bottom. You can copy out ideas or statistics or such from the form letter, but try to paraphrase and make it more personal.
• Phone call: This is vitally important especially if you learn that there is a piece of legislation that is going to be voted on soon. This will make sure your message gets through before it is too late. Keep it short and factual and be very clear on what your position is.
• Meeting in person: This one has a lot of variability. There may be a public hearing for a specific issue, they might hold an event specifically to meet constituents and/or fundraise, or they may attend a meeting of civic groups like a Chamber of Commerce.
Usually, you will not have very much time to address them, as there are many others like you waiting to do the same. Know what you want to say before you stand up to the microphone or shake their hand.
One strategy is to send a letter beforehand and at the meeting introduce yourself and refer to the main points of your letter. This lets them put a face to a name and shows that you care enough to participate in politics on multiple fronts.
Writing the Letter
1. Open the letter with an appropriate salutation. For a Representative or Senator, “To the Honorable John Doe,” is a good way to go. Using a title here is also acceptable, “Dear Supervisor Petrone,” for example. Also, make sure your full name and address are on the letter itself–envelopes can get lost, and you need to be sure they can verify if you are a constituent or not and send you a response. This is still important if you are sending an email. All the normal standards of good letter writing apply. Good stationery doesn’t hurt.
2. Get straight to the point. The first line of the letter should summarize why you are writing and what it is that you want Options include, “Thank you for…” “I support the passage of…” “Bill XYZ should be allowed to pass,” etc. If it’s about a specific bill, include its official name and number if possible (ex. “S.Res 250: Condemning horrific acts of violence against Kashmiris”).
Make it as short and sweet as possible, and try to limit it to two pages or less.
3. Back up your concerns. Hard facts and statistics cited from a specific, published source (be sure to say where you get the information from) can support your position much better than nebulous statements and pure opinion. Personal stories are often appropriate. If you can tell a story of how the Kashmir crisis affects you or your family specifically, that helps to “bring it home.” Politicians love to be able to call out their constituents by name and put a face on the cause. This also helps to develop a more personal connection between you and your representative.
4. Always remember to be respectful. Impugning your recipient’s character or honesty is counterproductive. Above all, do NOT include anything that could be construed as a threat.