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Letters are among the oldest and most popular vehicle of communication with legislators. Members of Congress and state legislators do pay attention to their daily mail (or e-mail). Many have staffers just waiting to answer your mail and register your opinion. Legislative staffers maintain that one letter from an individual is viewed as representing the concerns of ten other constituents!
Thoughtful letters, presenting clear and forceful arguments carry the most weight, and are the ones most often passed along from the staff to your federal/state legislators. But remember, any letter, even a postcard, is better than no letter at all.
Do your Homework
Know the pros and cons of your issue and the courses of action that have been proposed. Know where your legislators stand on the issue. Show a familiarity with the legislator's past action on related issues. An hour in the public library looking up your issue in recent newspapers will pay off. If your letter is about a specific bill, cite it by name (and number) if you can.
Take a stand, Make it Personal
In the first paragraph, state why the issue concerns you and what you think should be done about it. Share from your own knowledge and experience. Explain how the issue will personally affect you, your family, friends, business and community. Provide concrete real life stories and analogies which a legislator can relate to.
Be an Inch Wide, a Mile Deep
Cover only one issue in a one page letter. Present your case with a convincing rationale that your legislator can incorporate into their own argument. Build your case point by point, appealing to reason. Speak in the language of policy. Send enclosures if you think more information is needed. Relevant editorials and news stories from local newspapers in your legislator's district will get her/his attention.
Praise is as Important as Criticism
When legislators take a brave stand, get in touch to express your thanks. Legislators need to know we're backing them up when they do the right thing. When you disagree with your legislator, do it politely, and try to find something praiseworthy about him or her. It's best, if your first written contact with your legislator is a pat on the back. Then, they'll be more likely to listen when you write with constructive criticism.
Ask for a Commitment to a Specific Action
Let your legislator know exactly what you want done. Ask a legislator to reply, and ask very directly whether she or he will support your position. Legislators are masters of non-replies (letters which avoid giving a position). When you receive a response from your legislator, check to see if they have responded to what you asked, if not, write again. Provide copies of any replies you receive to your leadership and lobbyists.
Show them how they can Take Credit
All politicians are in the credit-taking business. They'll be much more inclined to do what you want if you can convince them that it will put them in a favorable light before a large number of people. Enlist others to sign you letter. Provide legislators with new catch phrases and quotables which will report well in the newspapers. Frame your issue in such a way as to reinforce your legislator's campaign promises.
Don't Miss the Boat
Be certain that your legislator receives the letter before the vote. Allow enough time for the "snail mail" to get to your legislator's office. Then allow a day for it to sit in the mailbox. Then allow another day for your letter to be opened, registered, and forwarded. On the fourth day, after arriving at the capitol, your letter should be receiving your legislator's attention (either personally or as part of a constituency total).
Show Good Form
Put it in your own words, avoid buzz words or jargon, and use only those acronyms that the legislator will know. Avoid "Canned" letters. Although any letter is better than no letter. A personal letter, in your own words, in immeasurably better. Write on plain stationary or on your personal or business letterhead. Handwritten letters are fine as long as they are legible. They often get more attention than typed letters.
Define your Relationship
Always write as a constituent. Decide whether you should be writing as an individual or as a member of a group. If you are writing as a group, it will broaden your base of influence. If your writing as an organization, use your group's letterhead. If you know your legislator, make it clear in the first paragraph. This will alert the person opening the mail to give the letter special attention. By all means use your legislator's first name if you have established that kind of relationship.
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