Thursday, July 9, 2009

Speak Up, America!


I know that the Constitution is clear on my role in our government. I am one of the “people” who not only has the right but also the obligation to participate in our government. It is my duty to make my wishes and opinions known to our elected representatives in the House and the Senate. They are there, after all, to do what we want them to do.

I also know that, in reality, the majority does not always win. In many cases, it is the vocal minority. That is fair. If citizens grumble at the water cooler or cusse at the television news, but never informs their elected officials of their opinions, then they have no right to do much but suffer in their silence.

I have been writing letters to our presidents and representatives since I first learned to write. My father wrote at least once a month. He had an old upright Underwood typewriter (some of you have never seen one of these!) and used the “hunt and peck” method of typing on thin typing paper, often making carbon copies. It was tedious. Mistakes meant strikeovers or “do-overs.” But he persisted because he was dedicated to being a part of the system and exercising his rights. He also frequently typed out letters to the editors of our local newspapers. He would allow me to add hand-written postscripts to his letters, and thus I learned a valuable lesson and developed a life-long habit. While my friends were collecting autographed photographs of Tab Hunter and Sandra Dee, I was collecting photographs of our presidents, with personal greetings inscribed on them.


What I don’t understand, though, is why it is still just as hard to communicate with Congress and the White House as it was 50 years ago! It is tedious. Word processing cuts down on the time needed to compose a letter, and makes strikeovers and strikeouts obsolete. But it still takes hours to print off enough copies to mail and to stuff the envelopes. If you want to fax copies, you have to run the same paper through the machine time and time again and pay long distance charges for each transmission. If you want to email, you must fill out a form on each individuals website, some more extensive than others, then copy and paste your message in, with some limitations on length. It can take hours and hours to reach all of Congress and the White House.

I would like for our elected officials to have published, direct email addresses. I would like to be able to create lists in my email for republicans, democrats, representatives and senators. I would also create a group for my home state, and selected committees. I would also like for Congress to have toll-free phone and fax numbers. It would increase the feedback, but that should be desired by those officials IF they truly wish to serve us.

Tips for Writing to Congress

Congress does pay attention to us. Concise, well-thought out letters should be sent rather than long-winded rants. There are many places on the Internet that welcome rants, and Congress does pay attention to social networking sites. So, write. Make it a periodic family activity.

Write to your local representatives the most often. You vote for them, so they are most likely to care.

Use proper grammar, check spelling, and use proper forms for the type of communication you choose. For example, a mailed letter should be dated, should open with “Dear Senator Smith” and should end with “Sincerely,” and your hand-written signature. Emails and faxes will have automatic time stamps. Some emails will include fields for your contact information.

Show that you are an informed citizen. Although Gilda Radner made a name for herself with her SNL mis-informed editorials, you don't want your letter to be dismissed because of any error in it. We've all heard people who call into talk shows that sound like idiots because they didn't do their homework!

Keep your communications short, concise, pointed and on one page. A good “template” to follow would be the following three paragraphs:

  1. Identify yourself. Introduce yourself and give your credentials and your contact information. You don’t have to be anything other than “a concerned citizen from the 8th Congressional District.” That should be credential enough. However, if you are writing about a financial issue and have a degree in finances or are a banker, that is worth mentioning.
  2. State your concerns. Give the reasons for the letter as facts, rather than as emotions. You can say that you are concerned because your elderly parents need special care, or because you have a child with special needs, but don’t get bogged down in the details of what they suffer and how it stresses you and/or your family.
  3. Make your request. Give the name of the bill and ask for a “yea” or “nay” vote. Make sure you give the date of your visit if you are requesting an audience. Be specific on the action you want your representatives to take on your behalf.

Email addresses:

Email and snail-mail addresses (follow links):

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