Suit Up Maine leaders recently took a trip to Washington DC to meet with policy staffers of our Members of Congress (well, at least three of them). We asked them to give us some insight and tips into the very best ways constituents can convey their concerns to their reps, and know that they are being heard. Have a look at what they told us.
EMAIL THROUGH THE REP’S WEBSITE
Most staffers agreed that sending an email through the MoC’s website is the fastest and most effective way to convey your message, especially if you have a compelling personal story to tell. Senator King’s staff described how they compile constituent messages by subject, and that the Senator reads every message passed on to him, as well as every reply that gets sent back. Having received a number of these detailed and thoughtful responses, we believe it. Chellie Pingree’s staff told us that she likes to keep a few personal stories on hand to use in her floor speeches. It’s easier for her to find what she is looking for when stories can be filed electronically, and are in the constituent’s own words. All staffers advised constituents to send a separate message for each issue of concern. It saves time getting the message into the appropriate staffer’s hands.
They matter, but use them appropriately. Members of Congress DO like to have tallies of how their constituents want them to vote, and a flurry of phone calls does bump an issue up the priority totem pole. But if you have a personal story to tell, or a longer message than “Please vote NO on the bill”, put it in an email. Have you been prioritizing calls to your reps who are generally NOT in line with your priorities and neglecting those who generally vote as you want them to? Stop that! Chellie Pingree’s staff told us that she takes those phone tallies into committee meetings, and uses them to back up her positions. Messages about imminent votes should be directed to DC offices unless the lines are busy.
Faxes take longer to make their way into the appropriate policy staffer’s inbox. But lovers of Resistbot, do not fret. As a result of jammed and discontinued fax lines, the Resistbot team has changed how their system works. Now, when you use Resistbot (either by text or via their Facebook page), your letters are sent to your MoCs via the Communicating with Congress (CWC) system, the communication protocol used by Congress. Your letters are funneled via CWC to MoCs emails, just as if you had submitted it on your senator’s or representative’s web site.
POSTCARDS & SNAIL MAIL
All staffers agreed that snail mail is the least effective way of communicating with legislators. Since all mail goes through security screening, it can sometimes take up to a month for MoC to receive mail. Security screening in DC is particularly intense, and the microwaves they use have been known to melt postcards together! Snail mail to district offices might be read sooner, but the time it takes to get a hard copy message into the appropriate hands adds just as much time as security screenings. If you love sending postcards, and want them to be effective, look into Postcards for America and Postcards to Voters. These groups help you get your personal, positive message to targeted areas around the country.
SCRIPTS AND FORM LETTERS
All staffers agreed: don’t use them! Your MoC want to hear your personal story, and why the issue is important to YOU. This advice should also be followed when making public comments, as duplicate messages are often discarded. Instead, they recommend using bullet points to guide your conversation.
CONTACTING MOC THAT ARE NOT YOUR OWN
Staffers said that most of these messages are discarded. There are some exceptions. For example, contacting a chair of a particular committee may be appropriate. Otherwise, DO reach out to friends who live in the rep’s district, and ask them to send their own message.