Guest Author - Janine Queenin
Congress is in turmoil and American voters feel ignored by their elected officials. Many voters have thrown up their hands, complaining there are too many lobbyists, too much campaign money, and too few people with power in Washington DC.
It's true. Nevertheless, there ARE ways an average citizen can make their voice heard.
When you look at the greatest political movements in US history, the women's movement, civil rights, or the labor movement, it wasn't lobbyists or powerbrokers who drove social change. It was everyday people who got fed up and took matters into their own hands.
Maybe your concerns aren't as big as civil rights, or maybe you're just a movement of one, it doesn't matter. Many programs that are important to Democrats are in danger of being gutted or eliminated. Now is the time to take action.
Here are some tips to effectively contact and lobby your member of Congress, no high-priced lobbyist required.
1) Identify who represents your congressional district. Visit the House and Senate's websites and enter your state and zip code to find the information you need. If you are concerned about a local issue visit your state's website to contact your state senator or representative.
2) Research your issue and find facts to bolster your argument. The internet has a wealth of information on a myriad of topics. Make sure to check your sources, just because something is in print (or on the internet) doesn't mean it's true.
3) You need numbers on your side to compete with lobbyists. Find out who supports your argument and look for established organizations run by like-minded folks. Again this is where the internet is invaluable. A simple search on your topic will lead to articles and groups with similar points of view. Again, make sure you properly research each group and stick with those you know. Avoid the guy ranting from his basement computer.
Visit the group's website. Many have a "contact your legislator" or "sign a petition" box available to supporters. If you don't want to contact your legislator personally this is a good alternative.
4) Research the opposition. Identify the constituencies that oppose your position. Look at their point of view and develop a response to their arguments. Many organizations have fact sheets on their websites with the key arguments points for and against an issue. Take advantage of the work they've done to get started.
5) Contact your member of Congress, and remember, direct is best. Arm yourself with information and pick up the phone. If you're calling about pending legislation, do your homework. Know where it is in the process and be able to offer relevant and succinct information on the topic. There are thousands of bills circulating; don't expect your legislator to know each one.
The same is true about budget items. Everyone knows about the big issues covered by the media, but it's smaller items that often need attention.
6) Be specific about what action you want your legislator to take. Don't be vague or wishy-washy. Your opinion matters, speak up.
7) Be polite when you contact the office (yes they technically work for you – the taxpayer – but no one likes to be treated poorly. Remember the old saying about "catching more flies with honey," use that now.) When you get a human on the phone, explain who you are (a constituent!) and ask to speak to the aide who handles the topic you are concerned about. Make that person aware of your concerns and ask how your legislator stands on the issue. If they don't know, ask them to find out and call you back. If your legislator disagrees with your position find out why.
A handwritten letter or e-mail is also an acceptable way to make contact. Just keep your message on topic and brief. Again, know your information and put together a cohesive argument. Make sure it is well written and polite. Be prepared to wait weeks for an answer.
If they don't respond after a three weeks, contact the office again. Don't give up, persistence counts. Remember your voice matters and you have a right to be heard.