Our schools are supposed to teach this stuff, but they don’t want you to know it.
Did you check your email today? How many of those irritating “Make Congress do what we want. Sign our petition today” messages did you get? Okay, confess. How many have you e-signed and returned? They’re a popular community organizing tool, but they’re the least effective way to get your representatives’ attention. What’s the best way?
When Americans have suggestions, complaints, or problems involving the government, a popular axiom advises them to “write to your Congressman”. It’s a shame that far too few people take that advice; it actually does work. They do read the mail and messages. And they do reply, although it’s usually a generic form letter. They also employ staff members whose duties include handling constituents’ bureaucratic complaints. So yes, you can contact them if your Social Security checks have mysteriously stopped, or the post office won’t deliver your mail, or whatever.
On to the hit parade, in order, from the most to the least effective methods:
1. A personal visit with your representative. Yes, members can and often do meet with private citizens, although their time may be scarce. Call for an appointment. Take a few friends for more impact.
2. A personal visit with the staff. Professional staff members have expertise in particular areas. Legislators rely heavily on their knowledge and opinions. And yes, your message does get through.
3. Attending a town hall meeting in person. They’re rarely as contentious as those you’ve seen on the news. Usually, few people attend and you have the chance to make your point and get real feedback from your representatives.
4. Participating in a telephone or online town hall conference meeting. I find them distracting and difficult to follow, but it’s an effort to make better use of time and technology.
5. Writing and sending a personal letter, by US mail or fax. Fax works better. Every piece of paper mail is checked for bombs and toxins before it’s delivered to federal officials. That delays it for about two months. Yes, really. The members don’t see all of the mail, but the staff log and summarize each letter for reports that the members do read. If the website contact information doesn’t list a fax number, call the office and ask for it.
6. A personal telephone call. The member is rarely available to speak to constituents by phone. However, staff members specialize in various issue areas, and you can ask for the specialist in the area of your concern.
7. Website contact form or personal email. Again, they’re all read, logged, and reported.
8. Signing and returning a mass form letter on paper. They’re noted and reported.
9. E-signing and returning an online viral petition or message. These petitions are more effective at raising money for a cause than for convincing legislators to change public policy.
The idea is that your message will have more influence when you put more effort into sending it.
Click the links for the contact information for:
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500
Two US Senators represent each state. Pennsylvania’s senators are
Robert P. Casey
Four Members of Congress represent Allegheny County in the US House of Representatives.
Find yours in the upper right-hand corner.
Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl Look at the bottom of the page.
If you live elsewhere in the US. Follow the links.
I’ve met with legislators and staff members from all levels of government and both political parties for nearly 30 years. As much as I agree with some and disagree with others, I can say that most are intelligent, hardworking, capable people who take their jobs seriously.
So, now you can contact everyone about everything that’s on your mind. Enjoy!
For more information: