Making Democracy Work

Taking Action

Interested in taking action on a particular issue? Follow these tips to make your voice heard.

  • Always be polite; speak or write calmly and concisely.
  • Address the person by job title: Dear Senator _____________, Dear Congresswoman ____________________, Dear Representative, Dear Mr. President
  • Identify your issue in the beginning of your message and state what action you want the government official to take. Put the topic in the first sentence and if possible give the title and/or bill number of the proposed legislative action. For example: Please vote against the bill that would open Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge(ANWAR) to drilling for oil.
  • Email, call, fax, or write a letter with only one topic per message. It is likely your action item will be separated by your pro or con message. You don't want your second issue to be lost. Contact separately about each of your concerns.
  • Put your name and address clearly within any written communication (perhaps phone number also) or when calling leave contact information clearly if you are required to leave a voice mail message.
  • Email, fax, or call only (no postal mail) if you are writing to the President, Senators, or Members of the House of Representatives. Since the anthrax incident in 2001, all postal mail goes through a "cooking" process to kill anything dangerous. Thus it will take a longer time to get your letter read--and your letter will be as fragile as old fashioned parchment.
  • Tell why this issue matters to you personally. Be specific about how it affects you, your children, someone you know. Explain how the issue matters to you providing details of its impact. A personal message gets attention.
  • Do not use a form letter even if you think it says it so much better than you could. It will likely be ignored or at best put in a pile to be counted...maybe.
  • A form letter or signing a petition from some group is better than nothing, but not much better. Do this only if you do not have time to write a real note of your own on the topic you care about.
  • Hand address envelopes sent by postal mail to state and local officials. Aides rarely toss aside hand-addressed letters, because it might be from a personal friend.
  • Type or hand-write using paper other than white (or with a unique letterhead of your own).
  • Slighlty curl the corner of the letter before you put it in the envelope. This may prevent it from getting "stuck" behind another letter in a stack of mail.
  • When calling, you may be asked to give your comments to an aide. Be clear about the topic, why it matters to you, and what action you want the official take.
  • Letters in the mail get noticed at the state and local level. If there is no immediate crisis, a "snail mail" communication will probably be better than email. During slow periods, general email boxes are not checked for days (even weeks). Plus emails are rarely, if ever, printed out on paper.
  • Typically, email is regularly checked (if not often) so do communicate this way and often with thoughtful comments that show you are informed on the issue and not just ranting.
  • Email is often ignored during a busy season, so a phone call will be better, especially when time is of the essence. This holds true for US Senators and Representatives as well as state officials.
  • At the STATE LEVEL, if they get six or eight communications on one side of any issue, they are likely to consider it a landslide as they so RARELY HEAR FROM ANYONE on issues facing them for a vote. YOUR COMMUNICATIONS DO MATTER.