The U.S. election is over, but the opportunities for change are just beginning.
New mayors, governors and Congressional representatives are being sworn in across the county. Now our real work as citizens begins – the work of letting representatives know what issues are important to us and how to address them.
Elections can have major consequences on issues we care about. I saw this firsthand in 2017 when, as part of my year spent writing letters to change the world, I sent letters to my representatives. Among others, I sent letters to my then Republican mayor – asking him to join the Mayors National Climate Action Agenda – and Republican governor – asking her to support sensible gun restrictions. They never responded. But, after an election, they were replaced by Democrats and things changed. One of the first things the new mayor of Albuquerque did was join the Mayors National Climate Action Agenda. Similarly, the new governor of New Mexico signed a bill that required domestic violence offenders to relinquish guns and another that required background checks for most gun purchases.
So if you sent a letter to your representatives in the last year or two and never received a response, try again. Or, if you’ve never written to them, try writing now.
Why letters? Well, believe it or not, Congressional offices usually don’t track social media mentions or complaints, as it’s difficult to tell if people are constituents. Letters and emails, on the other hand, are counted. According to a 2017 report by the Congressional Management Foundation, which included the results from a 2015 survey of Congressional staffers, “individualized postal letters” were the fourth most effective method for influencing a representative, with the most effective being in-person visit from constituents, contact from constituents’ representatives, and individualized email messages. 88 percent of staffers said that letters had a positive influence, which was higher than local editorials, comments during telephone town hall meetings, phone calls, lobbyist visits or form email messages.
Here are some tips for making your letters more effective:
- Make your “ask” clear. Briefly explain why you are writing and what action you want them to take.
- Whenever possible, include a personal story. Representatives are more likely to respond when they know how an issue impacts you.
- Did you vote for the representative? Volunteer for them? Donate to them? If so, mention it in your letter.
- Write about whatever issues you are passionate about, but realize that it is unlikely that your letter will change how the representative votes on big, partisan issues. Letters tend to be more effective when they alert your representatives to an issue they may not be aware of that they can help remedy through legislation.
- If possible, keep letters under one page (this is a tough one, but it’s important to be concise!)
- Consider sending your representative a thank you letter. It’s a difficult time to be a representative and messages of support from their constituents mean a lot.
Have any additional tips? If so, please leave them below.