One of our former volunteers, Lily, had previously come from Washington as a legislative assistant and frequently helped us better understand the ins-and-outs of life on the Hill. Now, she shares a way to help increase political engagement:
Although the presidential election has come and gone, many of us want to continue being involved with the policies that shape our lives. One of the best ways to be involved is to contact your elected officials. It can be a little daunting, but as a former legislative aide, I have a few tips to make it go a little smoother.
1) Find out who your federal elected officials are. You can find them online at www.senate.gov and www.house.gov by entering your address in these websites. You have two senators and one representative (often times referred to as "congressman" or "congresswoman"), so you will have three officials to contact. You should call all three, unless it's a matter that is only handled by one chamber.
2) Once you have their names, visit their websites. From there, find their Washington, DC. phone numbers. This is where you call to leave comments for your federal elected officials. Also, take time to explore their website. Do they have statements on the issues you're calling about? There is often an "Issues" or "Legislation tab" that provides this information. You may also go through their press releases on their website to get updated information. Another great resource is www.congress.gov, where you can find bill information including sponsors, movement in the legislative process, and related bills.
3) Armed with the correct phone number and basic information, call your rep! You may also want to email them through the website, but know that it may take awhile to be read because of the incoming volume of emails they receive daily. A call is quickest way to be heard. However, if you have a long story that you'd like to communicate, you should send an email. That's usually done through their website. They often have a button that says "Contact Me" or "Email Me".
4) On the phone, be polite. The staffer answering the phone is not the lawmaker! You may begin by asking where your representative stands on the issue, if you don't already know. If you do, you may begin by stating your name, city, and that you'd like to leave a comment about xyz issue. Explain how you feel about the issue and how it would impact your or your community. Ask that you hope your rep will keep your thoughts in mind and that she/he votes in line with your priorities. If you'd like a response, you may say that. However, keep in mind that staff is often backlogged with mailing out responses, so asking for a response is most effective when you disagree with your representative.
5) Each office processes constituent comments differently. However, all Members of Congress get feedback on how constituents are calling in or writing about certain topics. So, keep emailing or calling.
That's it! You've taken action! All it takes is to do a bit research, finding the right phone numbers, and explaining your thoughts about an issue you're passionate about in an articulate, polite manner. Open communication with your representative is the hallmark of democracy, so I hope you start calling today!
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