A How-to Guide: Writing to Congress | The Washington Center

A How-to Guide: Writing to Congress

We the people, in this crazy place we call America, often get very upset when politics don't go our way. While public protests are a vocal way to make your opinion heard, I feel there might be a quieter way to let your opinion be known that might make even more of an impact: writing to your Congressman or Congresswoman.


Russell Senate Office Building


This past Thursday, I had the pleasure of meeting with an advisor for Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio) at the Russell Senate Office Building (pictured above). I may have gone in to this meeting fairly ignorant about the political relationship between voter and Senator, but I left with some valuable information about making my voice heard. Most importantly, I learned some important tips on how to write a letter to my local Congress members.


Step 1. Home State, Home Run

There's really no other way to put this: don't write to a member of Congress that is not from your area. A senator from Maine is not going to care about the amount of trash in a state park in the middle of Arizona. Okay, they might CARE, but all they can do is refer the message to the Senator so-and-so from Arizona. That's the person who it is directly affecting.

So do yourself, and the person reading your email, a favor: save some time, and send your message to YOUR state's senator or YOUR district's representative. Okay? Good. Now, next thing is to find what to write about.


Step 2. Find a Single, Specific Topic

We might think that everything about America is going wrong, but when you write to your member of Congress, narrow down the list of problems you might have to a singular topic. If you think the education system is a bust, focus on that.

Don't ramble off a list of complaints ranging from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) being a waste of money, to a request to spend more on defense spending. Stick with education and run with it. You are the person this woman or man has sworn to represent; don't let the fact that you might be from a small town keep you from voicing what you think is right.


Step 3. Email is the Way to Go


Image courtesy of imgflip.com


Jon Snow uses ravens. Harry Potter uses owls. Your preferred medium for writing to your senator should be emails. This was something I particularly found interesting in my meeting with Senator Portman's advisor. I have heard that people can call over the phone or mail a printed-out letter, but by far the recommended medium ended up being email.

Here is the reason: it is much easier to sort emails by their topic, compared to phone calls or written letters. This allows staff to send the message to the advisory committee that would be able to handle it (like sending complaints about Ohio public schools to the advisory committee on education). Also, emails are much cleaner than owls or ravens. The bird poop really gets annoying after a while.


Step 4. Mention Specific Bills

Isn't it the worst when someone gets mad at you or wants you to change something you're doing, but they don't tell you what it is that you're doing wrong or what they want you to do differently? Don't be one of those people to your Congress member.

Ask them specific requests that mention specific bills or specific actions. For example, let's say that you feel very strongly about the EPA. If you want it terminated (or to keep it), you could write an email to your representative saying, "Please vote yes (or no, respectively) on H.R.861. Thank you!" It's as simple as that.

Now obviously, we all don't know the exact bill number, or even if it is in the House or the Senate. Not to fret my politically savvy reader, there is a way! Congress.gov is an extremely helpful website that allows you to search for specific bills by keywords. See! Now you can be as informed as a Congressional clerk from your couch while wearing slippers and eating cheese balls.

Step 5. Write a Message, not a BookMembers of Congress are like teachers reading essays: they don't want a bunch of fluff, just get to the point. I learned that some of the best emails Senator Portman received were simply one sentence long and straight to the point. In that fashion, I'll stop here for this step. Short and sweet, make your emails like that.
Seriously, just keep it simple.

One last tip I was given that I will forward on to you wonderful policy influencers: if you can include a personal story, do it. It makes the claim that are making much more credible and shows that there is a serious need for what you are asking of the member of Congress.

I may have come into this meeting last week thinking politicians care more about getting re-elected than anything, but that view has been changed to portray politicians in a much more positive light. Being surrounded by the political field has only increased the desire I have recently had to work on Capitol Hill, and knowing how I can influence policy from back home makes a huge difference.

So, go ahead, send an email or twelve to your senator or representative. Who knows, maybe your email could be the next bill on the floor of Congress. After all, it's March, and the madness isn't just limited to basketball.

Stay classy Washington,

Read Zach's previous blog posts

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