writealetter.jpgReader Mauimom, who used to work in a Congressional office back in the day, sent along some tips that I think are fantastic about contacting your elected representatives by phone, mail or FAX.  And I wanted to pass along a number of them to everyone else who wants to participate in the “You Work For Us Summer Tour.”

Postcards, especially, are a quick and easy way to communicate with your members of Congress.  You can buy them pre-stamped at the post office, dash off a few lines, and pop them in the postbox.  Easy!  More now from Mauimom:

Here are some suggestions about contacting your Representative and Senators.

First, remember what’s going on here. You are NOT, in all likelihood, going to change your Congress Critter’s mind. [This is especially true if your Congress Critter is “out there.”] What you are doing is letting your Critter know that there’s a VOTER in his/her district who has been paying enough attention to notice the Critter’s vote on an issue.

Second, remember the difference between Senators’ offices and those of Representatives: a Senator has to deal with an entire state. That means LOTS of mail. A Representative — not so much (but still a fair amount).

Third, what gets their attention is mail [or phone calls, e-mail, or FAXes]. LOTS of mail….In a Senate office especially, the Senator is not likely to see what you wrote. So your eloquent prose and flawless reasoning are not going to sway the day.

The full mailbags of polite but angry letters will. It’s a game of numbers.  (And BTW, that genuine-looking signature on the “thank you” letter will definitely be written with an auto-pen.)

Mail comes into the office [the DC office, anyway] and is opened & sorted by the lowest person on the staff totem pole. It’s “tallied” — first, letters (or postcards or FAXes or e-mails) are divided according to issue and counted.  Then, for “big” issues, the pros/cons are tallied: X many letters “for” an issue; Y many letters “against.” The results are usually relayed to the Senator/Rep. or his/her chief of staff.

Sometimes a few “representative” letters will be pulled out by the legislative assistant or someone else, to give the Congress Critter an idea of what the mail’s like. It all depends on the Critter: some care (especially new ones), some don’t.

Someone on the staff is assigned to write a vanilla/milquetoast response for each issue. [”Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with me. I will certainly keep them in mind when this issue comes to the floor.” ]

You can spot the drill: they’re trying to make you feel as though your writing mattered, trying to provide a little “info” about what a great person your Critter is, etc. This end of the exchange [the letter to you] doesn’t really matter. [You don’t believe in the Tooth Fairy any more, do you?] What’s important is that you’ve sent a message to them.

In addition to his/her DC office, your Critter has one or more “district” or “home” offices. Most constituents know about the DC office & write their Critter there, but the home office(s) will usually keep a tally of mail as well. So hey, spend an extra 24 cents and send a postcard to the district office(s) as well.

Here are some ways to maximize your impact:

*Go sit at your breakfast table, write a SHORT note, identifying yourself as a constituent, and give ‘em a POLITE earful.

*Send one note to the DC office of your Critter, another [one or two] to the “District Office(s)” — they will be listed in your phone book.

*Tell as many of your friends, family, co-workers, etc. to do likewise. Offer to provide them with names, addresses, text. (I send out a “mass e-mail” to my friends, urging them to write. On the current FISA issue, I’ve gone through my “friends” list, identified people in states with Traitorous Dems, provided a summary of the issue/vote, suggested a brief point or two to be made, and included the respective Critter’s addresses. And then begged them to write.)

*You can call, write, e-mail and FAX. You want to generate a “man, are they pissed” reaction at the Congressional office.

*Some have pointed out that it may be more effective to send a postcard rather than a letter. It may get through faster, since it doesn’t have to go through whatever “anthrax screening” may still be operating.  Same is true for a FAX.

Quality does count for a bit. As someone said, as a staffer it’s nice to read something “readable” as opposed to a crazy rant. But, the truth is each communication represents a “voter.” No intelligence or style test before going into the voting booth — Congress Critters know that.

You’re basically trying — with respect to the most recalcitrant, pig-headed ones — to let them know there’s a voter out there [hell, there are LOTS of voters out there] who pays attention to the news, who feels strongly about an issue, who knows who his/her Congress Critter is, who knows how his/her Critter voted on this important issue, and who will remember all of this when the next election comes around.

Many “bad” Critters rely on the fact that most voters don’t pay attention to the issues. They believe they can sway them with platitudes and tv spots.

But above all, most Critters want to stay in office. Even if your card/letter/phone call/e-mail/FAX, and those of your many friends/relatives/co-workers don’t “change a mind,” they WILL put a little fear into your Critter and make him/her just a little less sure he/she can pull off the usual song & dance.

Excellent suggestions. Also, there are many more priceless gems to be mined from this classic TRex “guide to writing the angry letter.”  Do take the time to read that one, it is incredibly useful, and I use it as my own personal guide to angry letter-writing when I have writer’s block.  (Yes, it does happen.)  And I know we have many more former staffers out there in the readership, so please chime in with suggestions and/or thoughts in the comments on how we can all make our communication with our elected representatives more impactful and effective.

I am particularly interested as well in suggestions for face-to-face meetings — either at public events or in-office arranged meetings, because I have been told by a number of staffers that those are particularly effective in terms of immediate impact. Thoughts?  Please share!

(Photo of letters being written with iPod via fernando [pixelstains].)

UPDATE:  Oh, also — I meant to mention this: if folks come up with good, short, pithy missives for postcards, do share them in the comments. Thanks!

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com