All too often, everyday people feel powerless to affect what is going on in our city, state, or country. Sure, in theory we “let our voice be heard” through voting, but once that’s done many feel that the process is out of our hands. I include myself in that group sometimes. But the truth is that it is not that way; we can still have an impact. We can contact a legislator.
What do our Legislators Do?
Our government is what is known as a Constitutional Democratic Republic. Particularly at the Federal level, we do not live in a Democracy — every person does not vote on the laws. Instead, we all get to vote on our Representatives who then vote or otherwise act on the laws, etc. on our behalf, constrained by the limits of the Constitution.
Lawmakers campaign, ideally, based on how they will vote or act on issues. Again, ideally, we all then vote for the candidate we think will represent us the best. Elected officials have a responsibility to represent the citizens within their jurisdiction.
How do Legislators Know?
Although there are many potential ways our elected officials could find out what we (their constituents) want, there is one way that we have complete control over. We can call a legislator. If we tell them, we know we’re heard.
Sure, perhaps the lawmaker has staff doing polls and research, or scouring Facebook for clues. Maybe. But they definitely have email, telephones, and mail boxes.
How to Contact a Legislator
If you’ve never done it before, contacting your legislator can be intimidating. Following are some steps you can follow to be prepared.
Tips for Contacting your Legislator
- Do your research. Try to get as much unbiased information about the topic as you can. If you’re calling about a particular upcoming vote, find out exactly what the law will say so you can articulate your objection or support.
- Articulate your thoughts and reasoning. Tell the lawmaker why you felt this issue was important enough to contact her and how you’ve come to your conclusions.
- Be concise. Anecdotes have their place, certainly. But avoid rambling.
- Avoid emotionalism. Typically, reasoning gets you farther than pure appeals to emotions. Name calling and accusations are not going to help your cause either. Think about it: are you more or less prone to hear someone out when they’re calling you names? Legislators are people, too.
- Be (genuinely) polite. From the receptionist who answers your call or takes your message to the lawmaker himself. This is easy when you’re calling about an issue you think the lawmaker already supports. Not so much if not, or if this it the 99th office you’ve called, or you feel like you’ve been given the run around.
Where to Contact a Legislator
Google, of course, can get you far. However, the federal government created a one-stop-shop of sorts of not only federal, but state agencies as well. Find it at usa.gov/elected-officials.