On Contacting Your Elected Representatives
There’s a lot of contradictory information going around about contacting representatives (by which I mean both Senators and Congresspersons–the term “representatives” is unhelpfully ambiguous at times because it can mean just Congresspersons, or it can mean them and Senators who also do represent us, but anyway) there is, as I said, a lot of contradictory information going around about just how to best contact representatives.
Common wisdom would have it that only calling, on the phone, is effective and that email is entirely useless. I saw someone tweet that snail mail takes weeks–weeks!–to be processed before it reaches anyone’s desk.
So, none of this is actually true.
My source is Annalee Flower Horne:
@sonyaellenmann @jkriss I am a former staffer who actually processed the mail.
— Annalee (@leeflower) January 31, 2017
This is my summary of advice she’s given. Any errors or misstatements are my own.
First of all, phone calls are NOT the only effective way to communicate. Snail mail letters and postcards are absolutely fine. So, it turns out, are emails! HOWEVER.
You want to be direct and clear in your email or letter. Best is to choose one issue. If possible, open with something personal. “As a parent whose children attend public schools,” that’s personal, that’s where this issue hits home for me, “I am absolutely opposed to the nomination of Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education. She is unqualified and will be a disaster for Missouri’s public schools.” And then a specific, actionable request. “I’m calling on you to oppose her nomination.” The personal bit could also be “I have a lot of friends who will be affected by” or even “I am very concerned/upset about…”
EDIT Jan 31: Annalee clarified to me that she advises opening with the “ask” (“I’m calling on Senator X to oppose”) and then give the personal, but she says that as long as the letter is concise, the order isn’t a big deal.
One topic per letter or email. Use your own words. The emails that actually are useless are the form emails that various orgs try to get folks to sign onto–they’re all identical, it’s obvious they’re not the person’s own thoughts, and they’re easy to dismiss. They’re mostly effective as fundraisers for the orgs that set them up. But YOUR own email, that you send, say from the official’s contact form on their website, that you wrote in your own words? They see that. They count that.
I’m seeing some assertions that with phones down, fax is next best, but I’m told that by and large faxes arrive as email attachments, so you might as well just email. In fact, this is what Annalee has to say about faxing:
I believe that faxing is such a bad way to contact congress that I'm unwilling to provide advice on how to do it. Email instead. https://t.co/aMR77Hzqki
— Annalee (@leeflower) January 30, 2017
ONLY CONTACT YOUR OWN REPRESENTATIVES. If you are not a constituent, you will be ignored. And Annalee suggests it’s better to send to the DC office. The local offices deal mostly with local matters, the staff isn’t really trained or equipped to deal with more, and your letters about legislative issues will be forwarded to the DC office anyway, so if you’re snail mailing you might as well send it right to DC.
I want to point out, too, that considering the Senate’s phones have been essentially melting down the last couple days, the cries of “ONLY PHONECALLS WILL DO” seem even more off-target. The phones might go down, and voicemails fill up, but the USPS keeps delivering those letters and the mailroom keeps processing them. So don’t feel like you’re doing something second-best if you’re “only” writing letters or emails.
And as always, if you’re calling, be polite to the interns answering the phones. They get paid a pittance and work long hours, and they’re not in charge of anything but taking your message.
Note, if you’re calling for impeachment (I know, I know, it’s a long shot. I know, Pence would be godawful but with him as Pres we may come out of this with an actual country and not just a smoking crater. And if nothing else Bannon would be gone) those calls/letters should only go to your Congressperson. Impeachment has to start in the House.