As many of you know I have been interning at Michele Bachmann's Congressional office this summer. One part of our jobs is to help with the phones. Many people call to give opinions about an issue or about something they want her to do or look into. The problem is, most people do this wrong or ineffectively.
First of all, don't get me wrong. I think everyone should let their Congressman and Senators know what they think. Unfortunately, many people who actually follow through and contact them, do it totally ineffectively. So here are some ground rules if you want to have your opinion count:
1) DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT call Senators or Congressmen who do not represent you. You are wasting their time (well, not theirs but their staffs time) which might be your goal, but you are totally wasting YOUR own time. You really think that your opinion REALLY matters to them in the end? Why should it? Please, this is a total waste of time. Do not do it.
2) DO contact your representative in the House of Reps, and both Senators. All three represent you. Unless you make your opinion known, how do you expect them to know what you think?
3) Snail Mail, Phone, Email. In that order. Mail is very effective because there isn't as much of it anymore, therefore the fact you took the time to actually send a letter stating your opinion makes them value your opinion more. Second, a phone call can be very effective (more on that below) if you do it properly. An email is better than nothing, and very easy to do so at least doing that should help.
4) Letter's should be short and to the point, and very respectful (even if you totally disagree with prior policies they have taken). Remember, if you show respect they will respect your opinion. Emails should be the same way. Read this email I sent to Al Franken a week ago. I disagree with most of what he will probably do as a Senator, but at least he knows where I stand and I showed respect.
5) Phone Calls should be short and respectful. Know what you want to get across before you call. The more you ramble the less will actually be written down and communicated. Be ready to give your name, phone number, and city. Again, if you are not a constituent your opinion is worth 1/10 of a constituents, so don't waste your time.
6) Never threaten. Never threaten or get heated about an issue. Just be polite, state where you sit and obviously how you want the Rep. to vote, give your information, and your done. They know how you feel, and they know if they vote opposite what you want too many times they will lose your vote. No need to state the obvious.
7) Do not expect the person on the other end of the line to answer specific questions. "Why did _____ do this?" "What did ____ mean by this?" It really is a waste of your time, as usually it will be an intern over 50% of the time and the only thing they can state is statements he/she has already made.
8) Don't get upset when you do not get specific answers. Like I said, they can't give you specific answers 98% of the time. Getting upset about it does not help, actually hurts any credibility your opinion had.
So, to sum up, do not call someone who does not represent you. Be extremely polite, concise, and be ready to give your name, number, and city. Never come off as angry and avoid at all costs attacking the representative. If you disagree with something they did, by all means let them know, but do it only in the most respectful way.
Trust me, people impact their representatives. Just make sure your letter/call/email is effective.