Participation is the foundation of our country’s democracy. While casting your vote at the ballot box is one way you can voice your beliefs and advocate for issues, there are many other ways to communicate to elected officials beyond just voting. Here are a couple of ways you can interact with your elected officials year-round.
- Write a Letter
I mean really write a letter. Sure, it’s easy to sign a petition that an organization emailed you saying, “Sign here and we will send your representative a letter on this issue,” but understand the organization is sending hundreds, sometimes even thousands, of the same letter with just a different name attached. While your representative will know you care about this issue, they will also be able to clearly tell that it is coming from a service rather than a constituent. Next time you feel passionate about a topic, take a second and put your own thoughts on paper and send it in. Make sure everything is legible and contains your address, so the office knows that you are a constituent. Federal funds require Members of Congress to use resources only for their constituents, so always at least include your city and state.
- Call their Office
If you have a specific question about your congressperson’s stance on an issue, call their Washington D.C. office. The Washington D.C. office handles most of the policy work and will be more effective at answering your question. If you need help with a federal agency or want to invite your representative to a community event, call their main district office. The staff in district offices act as representatives when the elected official is otherwise engaged, and as caseworkers to help constituents with problems they may be having with federal agencies.
- Attend an Event
If you have a burning question that you really want an answer to, the most direct and immediate way to reach your representative is to attend one of their events. It could be a town hall, a meet and greet, or even just when they swing by somewhere in the community. You don’t always have to speak in a microphone at a town hall to ask a question. If you want to ask something but don’t want to stand up in front of a crowd, try catching the congressperson before or after the event. Typically, an elected official will mingle with constituents at some point during any given event. This is one of the best times to ask them a question. If you can’t find when your representative is next in town, call their local office. A staff member may have the information or may be able to put you on a list to directly notify you when the representative will be in town next.
You will get the best results if you are respectful to your Member of Congress and their staff, and if you are mindful of their time. Congressional offices do their best to accommodate as many constituent needs and requests as possible, and they want to help. If you disagree strongly on a topic with your elected official and want to raise it to their attention, don’t feel shy or like staff will automatically shut you out. Staff and congresspeople meet and hear a variety of opinions all day everyday, and they know yours is important too.
It doesn’t necessarily matter how you do it, but it’s important to stay engaged with your elected officials. Constituents need to voice their concerns because at the end of the day, congressional offices care about their feedback.