Why bother contacting your elected officials? You're busy, right? Do they really listen, anyway?
The answer to both questions is "yes"—so even though you're busy, take the time to let your representatives know your thoughts about the issues. In truth, only a small percentage of the population bothers to contact them, so elected officials tend to listen to the people who take the time to reach out.
You may think, "I'm not sure what I would say." There are many conversations you might have with your elected officials, by phone, in person, or via e-mail or letter:
- Educate them about an issue. Perhaps there's an education bill being considered and you're a teacher, or there's a medical bill up for a vote and you're a doctor. Let them know how the proposed law would affect your profession, and the population at large.
- Let them know how you stand on a bill. If enough constituents feel strongly in one direction or the other, it could influence your representative's vote. Currently, there's talk at the national level of making birth control an "over the counter" drug. Would that make life more convenient, because you wouldn't need to go to the doctor to get a prescription? Would it cost you, because it might not be covered by your insurance anymore? Letting elected officials know how these bills could affect you broadens their understanding of the consequences of legislation they're considering.
- Ask how they intend to vote on a bill. You might also engage in conversation about their reasoning behind their intended vote. This is a good chance to help them make an educated vote, by discussing the logic supporting their decision.
Here are some tips to make your voice heard:
- Know your topic, and research your representative's stance and past voting record.
- If you are writing, whether by letter or e-mail, be formal, thorough, and clear. A personally-written letter or e-mail is much more powerful than a form letter. Provide contact information, in case your representative wishes to reach out regarding your message.
- If you are calling, be prepared to speak to an office assistant or aide, who will likely take a message or transfer you to voicemail. Have a brief statement prepared that will make for an effective message. Include your full name and phone number in your message.
Not sure who your local representative is? Click here to find him or her, by entering your address. From here, you could not only send a message to your representative, but also look at current legislation he or she is sponsoring, read his or her most recent newsletter, and find out when coffee hours and town hall meetings are being held. To locate your state senator, click here.
Written by Jennifer Reynolds, staff writer for West Michigan Woman magazine.