The Constitution gives all citizens the right to “petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Our representatives in Congress work for us, and speaking to them directly about issues that concern you is a powerful and easily accessible advocacy tool. We know about large lobbying organizations, but individuals can lobby our public officials as well.
You have some options: sending letters, emailing, calling, and showing up in person. If you can, choose calling and in-person meetings over email or letters; the latter can be deleted or tossed in the recycling, but phone calls require the attention of staff members.
The more calls they receive on a certain topic, the more incentive they have to bring it to the attention of the legislator. And in-person meetings, of course, convey how important you find the topic and give you a chance to have a deeper conversation about it.
Here are some tips:
Prepare your comments ahead of time. This will make you more effective. If you’re nervous about speaking on the phone, write a script. If you’re not sure how to phrase something, do some research to find messages put together by nonprofits working on the issue.
Be specific. Don’t simply state what you support or oppose; ask for a vote in a certain direction or support of a bill. Or, ask what your representative plans to do about the issue, if it’s too early in the process for one of those actions.
Back your opinion up with facts. Again, reading up on the available materials on a given issue for background information and research that’s already been done will make your case stronger. And you may just educate your representative on the matter.
Be respectful. The staff member you speak to has a lot of power in this situation to either pass your message on or discount it entirely. Express your appreciation of their time and invest in developing a relationship with them. Tell them where you’re calling from, too, so they know you are a constituent.
Time your communication. When a vote is imminent, a certain issue is more likely to be on the minds of the staff and representatives.
Call the local office rather than the Washington office. This is especially true if you want to talk about something that affects your community, but even for larger-scale topics it can be a good idea, because local offices often have more staff support, and staff in local locations are more focused on working with constituents. And, of course, if you plan to meet in person, this is the location you’ll use.