Today’s big idea is that the elected officials who represent you in government are interested in hearing what people think about the issues that they’re working on–or not working on. And, remember, you are one of those people. So, they want to hear from YOU. You’re reading the transcript of an episode of the How to Be a Better Person podcast. If you’d rather listen, click the play button below.
Listen to the Podcast Here
What do they want to hear from you?
Well, they want to know what you think about general issues or specific laws or policies. They would love to hear a personal story about how an issue affects you or your family. They want to know why you disagree with them if you disagree with them about something. And they love it when you thank them for their support and leadership on something.
Hearing from you helps your elected officials know whether or not they’re doing a good job. It gives them confidence in knowing what the people they represent care about. It also gives them leverage to do a better job of representing you.
Abraham Lincoln said:
“Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed.”
Communicating with your elected officials is how they understand exactly what the public sentiment is.
There are so many ways to do contact your elected officials:
You can call them
Every state, city, and the federal government has websites that list the contact information of everyone who holds an office. Once Trump got elected, and I became committed to being a more active participant in democracy, I put the phone numbers of my congresspeople, senators, and governor in my phone, so that I wouldn’t even have to look up their contact info–I could just call up Gina Raimondo’s number and press go. Representatives and Senators have offices in their home states and in Washington, DC–put both numbers in your phone because if you’re taking the time to make one call, you may as well make two.
You can also email your elected officials
Or, you can send them snail mail, which, in this electronic day and age, may take longer to get there, but makes a bigger impression once it’s received because it stands out.
You can also follow your elected leaders on social media and communicate with them there
I find Twitter to be a great way to interact with my representatives in a public way, which means if they do something I want to thank them for, like Sheldon Whitehouse standing strong on curbing greenhouse gas emissions or David Cicilline for taking big tech to task, they’ll see the message but so will other people, which hopefully gives that thanks a little more weight and may inspire others to do the same.
However you decide to communicate with them, you don’t have to make your message super eloquent or even that long
Although if you want to pour your heart out, you absolutely can.
When you’re writing to an official, you want to include your name and at least your town or city, then tell them what you support or oppose and why and ask them to consider your opinion when they are deciding how to vote.
I think that for the most part, their staffers are keeping track of how many communications they’re getting either for or against–it’s almost like you’re voting in a teeny little election and the content of your letter doesn’t matter all that much. BUT, if you have a story to share or a point that you don’t hear being discussed in the media, then I think your letter can get flagged by a staffer and shared with the official.
I was just listening to the Becoming Anita podcast, a short series of episodes on the impact of Anita Hill’s testimony at Clarence Thomas’s confirmation hearing that I highly recommend. The podcast hosts interviewed one of Ms. Hill’s lawyers, who recalled going around to Democratic senators and asking them to vote against confirming Thomas of Hill testified. And those senators shared that they were getting calls and letters that supported Thomas at a ratio of 7 to 1 over calls and letters that urged them to NOT confirm him. Meaning, those Senators didn’t have the power of the will of the people behind them. I hope this story helps you see why your letters and Tweets and calls and emails matter so very much.
Daily Tiny Assignment
Your tiny assignment is to locate at least one way to contact at least one elected official who represents you in government. Follow them on social media, add their number to your phone, or their email to your address book. Bonus points for adding multiple ways to contact them, and for looking up the contact information for multiple representatives.
And triple extra whammy bonus points with a cherry on top for actually contacting one or more of these folks. If you have no idea what you would say to them, that’s all right. I trust that the next time something comes up that you DO want to tell them, you’ll do it, because you won’t have to go through the step of looking up their contact info. Or, you can just reach out to them and say you’re a constituent and you’re aiming to be a more engaged citizen and you look forward to communicating with them again soon. Put ‘em on alert, you know?
Thanks for listening, and thanks for giving a shit about being a better citizen
Come back tomorrow when I’m sharing one other easy thing you can do to invite and encourage the people you know to become more engaged citizens, too. It might have gotten you in trouble when you were in school, but now that you’re an adult, it just might help save democracy!