With politicians at all levels seemingly out of touch with many of us, it’s only natural to develop an attitude of “does it matter what I think?” Politicians are going to do what they like no matter what I think or say.
While this may have more truth today than was the case in the past, I would suggest that individuals and advocacy groups can still make a difference, and affect the direction of public policy.
I’ve been involved in a number of organizations or supported causes over the years that had a need for political engagement. I’ve testified at committee hearings in the state legislature and sat down with my United States Senator. In meeting and communicating with state legislators, members of congress or other political leaders I’ve noticed some common things:
- Elected officials will go out of their way to meet with constituents. You’d be surprised how accommodating even your members of congress are to meeting with you. State legislators will almost always make time to meet with you.
- Email is a powerful tool for engaging with your elected officials. They or their staff really do read every e-mail. If a point is being made that affects more than a handful of people, you are very likely to get a response.
- If you are contacting elected officials in support of an advocacy group (such as an industry trade association) that magnifies the impact of your contact, since the official has likely heard from others on the same topic.
So if you do decide to contact your elected officials what should you keep in mind?
- Be nice. Elected officials are people too. Even if you disagree with an official on almost every issue, being confrontational or accusative won’t help you get positive attention.
- Frame your point around how the issue can affect the majority of the elected official’s constituents. Ultimately, elected officials want to be elected and they need a majority to achieve that.
- Be brief. Elected officials really are busy people.
Most people that engage with elected officials are not donors, but I have to admit that contributing to a politician who shares common ground with you will increase their attention span. Many years ago I heard a speaker systematically outline how one could have significant influence with your member of congress. It started with something as simple as being registered to vote and ended by making a donation of $250 and being willing to place a yard sign for their campaign. By the speakers account this would make you one of the 500 most influential people in your congressional district, which have about 700,000 people these days.
So, if something is on your mind go ahead and email, call or schedule a visit with your elected official. You may be surprised how accommodating they will be.
– Rick Parks