This guide will show you how to write a letter, including what information to include and tips for writing an effective message.
Who is my congressman? This is a question that many people have. It’s important to know who your representative is, because they can help you with issues like immigration, healthcare and more. They are also the ones who will be voting on bills and laws that affect you in the future.
Note from the editor: This is a guest post by Harry R. Burger. Mr. Burger has been writing letters to his congressman for over 10 years, and his state assemblyman once recognized him by name from the back of a crowd.
Politics has always been considered a masculine activity. How can a guy expect anybody else to speak out for his own interests if he doesn’t? While some people may want to run for government, all citizens should be informed of the politics and current events in their neighborhood, country, and globe. Instead of ranting at the television when you see an issue you care about, you can really do something about it by writing to your Congressman.
You may wonder, “Why should my Congressman care what I think?” Because you are a constituent, it is their responsibility to represent you in government. They work for you, and if they don’t perform their jobs and please the people they represent, they risk being voted out in the next election.
The freedom of all people to interact with their elected officials is guaranteed under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution:
Congress may not pass any legislation forbidding the free practice of religion, or restricting the freedom of expression or the press, or the right of the people to peacefully assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances. (italics added)
Americans are lucky to have this privilege, which they do not use nearly enough. Many males are skeptical and indifferent, believing that politicians are so corrupt that petitioning them is pointless. However, this becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy! If decent men do not get engaged and hold their politicians responsible, nothing will change. It may seem little to write your legislators, but politicians need to know that their people are paying attention.
It’s not as difficult or time-consuming as you would think to write to your Congressman or any other political person. Follow the steps mentioned below to exercise your citizenship and have your say.
Prior to Contacting Your Representative
1. Concentrate on why you’re writing.
Do you have strong feelings on a topic you’ve heard about in the news? Do you believe you’ve been treated unjustly by a government agency? Do you feel you have an issue that should be addressed by a new law? Is there a law that you believe is unjust or has unfavorable consequences? Are you considering a service academy (such as West Point)? Are you working on the Boy Scouts’ Citizenship in the Nation Merit Badge? Do you intend to send a courtesy invitation? Is there anything your representative did that you truly like?
It’s critical to summarize your aim in a single phrase, rather than the sort with six commas. This is the initial step, and it’s crucial for you to stay focused and informed throughout the process. This will, in most cases, be the opening line of your letter.
2. Determine who you should be speaking to.
You must ensure that your message is sent to the correct recipient. Depending on the nature of your problem, this may need some homework. Your senator or congressman may not always be the ideal person to address your problem. For example, if you have a question about land zoning, you should contact local town or county authorities, whereas questions about state legislation should be sent to your state senator. It’s usually ideal to interact with someone as low in the chain as possible who can assist you, so you don’t have to wait for your message to be forwarded down the chain. An official can afford to offer your message more personal attention if they have fewer constituents.
Because every jurisdiction is distinct, it’s hard to explain how to find this out in one place. Because practically every government office and agency now has a website, the internet has made this considerably simpler. www.govtrack.us features an interactive map for federal representatives to assist them find out which district they are in. A list of government officials is often maintained and published by your local League of Women Voters chapter, or a local library might be able to assist.
“Don’t ask for something they won’t be able to provide. For example, a town supervisor cannot reduce school taxes or enhance Social Security benefits.” -Frank Petrone, Town of Huntington, NY Supervisor
You nearly always want to speak directly to someone who represents you. If you get to vote for them, they’ll be more interested in what you have to say, and if you unintentionally address the incorrect lawmaker, they may be forced to disregard your request out of respect for your true representative. If the problem impacts a place that is near to your house but technically in a separate district, your best strategy is to contact both legislators and inform them that you are doing so.
3. Decide on the best medium for your message.
Almost every government official now has a website; just Google their name and search for the “Contact” option on their page. They could have special preferences for how they want to be reached. Members of Congress, for example, requested emails rather than letters in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and anthrax mailings because of the additional security inspections and delays involved with physical mail. In general, the media you choose should be determined by the topic you wish to address and how passionately you feel about it.
• The most polite and time-honored approach is hard copy. There’s something about writing down a message that makes it seem more formal and tangible. If you have the time to do it well and want to be taken seriously, this is usually the best option.
Only handwrite the final copy if you have good handwriting. Handwriting gives a more personal touch, but what good is it if the person on the other end can’t read what you’re writing? If yours isn’t very excellent, it may be time to start a practice diary.
• Email: Use it when you don’t have a lot of time and don’t care all that much about an issue, but you still want to be heard. Please follow the other rules above as well–much it’s too easy to send an email in a fit of rage without rereading it first, which might undermine your argument if the reader identifies your point of view with terms like “uninformed,” “uneducated,” or “irrational.”
You can come across a cause that asks you to write in using a pre-written form letter with just your address and signature to complete. While this is preferable than doing nothing to help the cause, you will become simply another number on their list; their employees will say things like “we received 25 letters or emails supporting XYZ.” It’s a bit better if you can include a personal note in the area generally supplied, but if you truly want to stand out, write your own message from top to bottom. You may replicate ideas, figures, and other information from the standard letter, but attempt to personalize it by paraphrasing it.
• Make a phone call: If you hear on the news that something is up for a vote today or tomorrow, and you can reach a real person from their office on the phone, this is the best method to ensure your message gets through before it’s too late. Keep it brief and to the point, and state your stance clearly. It is preferable to choose another route if the situation is not urgent.
• In-person meetings: This one has a lot of variables. They may conduct a public hearing on a particular subject, host an event to meet constituents and/or raise funds, or attend a gathering of civic organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce. My state assemblyman, for example, is renowned for attending Eagle Scout Courts of Honor in person.
You usually won’t have much time to respond to them since there are a lot of other people waiting to do the same thing. Before you get up to the microphone or shake their hand, think about what you want to say.
One technique is to write a letter ahead of time, then introduce yourself and allude to the major points of the letter during the meeting. This allows people to attach a face to a name and demonstrates that you are interested in politics on various levels.
Creating a Letter
1. Begin the letter with a greeting that is acceptable. “To the Honorable John Doe,” is an excellent approach to address a Representative or Senator. It’s also okay to use a title here, such as “Dear Supervisor Petrone.” Also, make sure your full name and address are on the letter itself–envelopes can get lost, and you want to make sure they can verify whether or not you are a constituent and respond to you. Even if you’re sending an email, this is still important. All of the usual rules for excellent letter writing apply. It also doesn’t hurt to have nice stationery.
“Make it as brief as possible.” -Jim Conte, a member of the New York State Assembly
2. Get to the point quickly. The opening line of your letter should state why you’re writing and what you’re looking for (you should already be clear on this if you followed the above guidelines). “Thank you for…” is one option. “I am in favor of the passing of…” “Bill XYZ should not be permitted to be re-elected,” and so on. If possible, give the bill’s formal name and number (for example, “USA PATRIOT Act HR 3162”). Don’t ramble on for too long–unless you write anything intriguing enough to warrant it, readers will become bored and quit reading after a page or two. And if you ramble, you’ll come out as a lunatic.
3. Provide evidence to back up your worries. Hard facts and data quoted from a particular, published source (be careful to mention where you got the information from) may be significantly more persuasive than hazy comments and pure opinion. Personal anecdotes are often suitable. It helps to “bring it home” if you can relate a story about how this problem impacts you or your family. Politicians like being able to identify their supporters by name and give a face to the cause. This also aids in the formation of a more intimate bond between you and your agent.
4. Always remember to treat others with respect. You’re talking to someone in a position of power and influence, and you’re hoping they’ll do you a favor. It’s unproductive to cast doubt on your recipient’s integrity or honesty. Above all, unless you want the FBI to investigate you, don’t include anything that may be regarded as a threat.
Getting a Reaction
Members of Congress are eligible to franking rights, which allow them to send letters to their constituents for free by using their signature instead of a stamp. Others may not be so fortunate, but it is still in their best interests to keep you informed about what they are doing to assist you–after all, they want your vote, and you’ve already shown that you are more interested in politics than the majority.
You may or may not get a response, depending on the person you’re writing to, the topic you’re discussing, how many people wrote in about that issue, how busy the office is with other mail, how busy the official is right now, and other circumstances too many to list. The bottom conclusion is that it may not be your fault if you do not get a response. It may just be postponed–Vice President Dick Cheney’s staff waited almost three years to deny a courtesy invitation to my Eagle Scout ceremony (blaming it on post-9/11 postal security). If obtaining a response is crucial to you, expressly request one.
Any answer you do get will almost certainly be in the form of a boilerplate letter. When reading their answer, keep in mind that this individual most likely got to their position because they are brilliant wordsmiths and diplomats, which means you’ll have to read between the lines. Of course, they will do so if they can honestly say, “I agree with you, and I voted appropriately.” Without an outright “I voted this way,” flowery stuff about taking your opinions into account or the like suggests they went the other way, and they know you won’t like it, but they’re trying to make it seem like they’re still on your side.
A thank you message to let them know that your problem has been fixed is a courteous gesture if they go out of their way to assist you.
Writing excellent letters, like any talent, improves with practice, and the first time is the most difficult. Make it a point to go over that hurdle today. Find a topic that important to you, even if your enthusiasm for it isn’t extremely great, and express your feelings to your elected person. It’s excellent preparation for when you do have a significant cause to advocate.
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The “who is my senator” is a question that many people have. This article will help you find out who your senators are and how to contact them.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I write my congressman?
A: To contact your congressperson, you can visit the following website and search for yourself.
Should I write to my congressman or senator?
A: Asking this question is a violation of the rules. Please do not ask for political advice on Quora.
Do you say representative or congressman?
A: I say congressman.
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