Making Your Voice Heard in Congress
It is vital that elected officials know where their constituents stand on the issues - your letters, phone calls and visits can have a big impact in shaping their opinions. There are many ways to make your voice heard.
Getting others involved
- Find volunteers who are willing to contact members of Congress on a regular basis and add them to your e-mail, fax, or phone tree.
- Identify potential venues for encouraging mass letter writing or phone calling.
- Provide volunteers with background information on the issue and distribute contact information for their elected officials.
Creating a message
- Use special alerts to get current issue information.
- Visit www.civilrights.org for detailed information on your organization and coalition’s priority issues.
- Activate phone, fax, and e-mail trees. Contact coalition partners on legislative alerts and updates. Generate communications to elected officials.
- Visit your members of Congress. Members of Congress are often available for meetings with constituents when they are at home in their district. To set up a meeting with your member of Congress or invite her/him to participate in an event, contact the district office and speak with the scheduler. Attending town meetings is another great way to learn where your member of Congress stands on priority issues.
- Make phone calls. Get the phone numbers for members of Congress from the U.S. Capitol switchboard at 202/224-3121, government pages of your phone book, House and Senate websites www.house.gov and www.senate.gov, or public policy staff.
- Send e-mail and write letters. Using e-mail or sending a fax is really the best way to make sure your voice will be heard in time to make a difference. You can easily look up contact information (including e-mail and fax numbers) for members of Congress, as well as send personalized e-mails to them through the State Link on www.civilrights.org.
Building a Relationship with Members of Congress
- Invite your legislators to speak at meetings or public forums.
- Build relationships with the legislators’ staff members, especially schedulers and legislative assistants working on priority issues.
- Add legislators to your mailing list.
- Always call or send a letter to thank your legislators for their help.
Tips on effective e-mail and letter writing
- Be brief. Short, direct letters are the most effective.
- Be specific. Deal with just one subject or issue in your letter, and state your topic clearly in the first paragraph.
- Be personal. Letters are most effective when they reflect your personal experiences and views in your own words. Form letters don’t carry as much weight as a letter that you have written yourself.
- Be sure to give your name and address. Legislators and other decision makers pay most attention to letters that come from their constituents - people who will be voting for or against them - so it’s important to let them know you are from their district. Including your contact information also enables elected officials to respond to your concerns.
- Be persistent. Write often, especially to legislators who are undecided on an issue.