Contacting Your Legislator
One of the most important action steps in advocacy work is to contact your elected representatives! Lawmakers run for office because they care about their communities, and they want to hear from you. In any interaction with a lawmaker, be sure to mention where you are from (to show that you are a constituent), come with a clear ask that they could accomplish, and thank them for their time. You can use the following resources to see who represents you and find their contact information.
Ideas/tips for contacting your lawmaker:
1. Write a letter to your lawmaker
The more our lawmakers hear from constituents on issues that are important to them, the more likely they are to be swayed. That said, even a few personalized letters, framed in a non-partisan or bipartisan way, can help to influence them. Letter or email writing can take place at community meetings, on college campuses, with an affiliated group, in churches, or even at a book club or party in someone’s home or dorm room.
Tips for writing letters, notes or emails:
Be personal: A handwritten letter or card attracts much more attention than a pre-printed letter or card. Similarly, an email that has a personalized subject line, states that you are a constituent within the first paragraph, and uses your own words is much more powerful than generic talking points. It takes hundreds of pre-printed letters/postcards or click-through emails to weigh as much as a handful of personalized messages.
Be respectful: Calling legislators names, telling them they don’t know what they’re talking about or being generally aggressive can be counterproductive. Rather, you can use letters and other forms of contact to build a positive relationship, showing lawmakers that you aren’t going away while thanking them when they do something right. This goes a long way toward earning respect and gaining their ear to listen to you and others sharing your position.
Be concise: Express your request clearly in one to three paragraphs.
Make a specific request: Asking your lawmaker to do something specific is more likely to result in action. For instance, “Please work to improve Minnesota’s Renewable Energy Standard to 50% renewables by 2030” or “Please support HF 1772 to improve our Minnesota Renewable Energy Standard.” Limit yourself to one or two related issues per letter to keep your message clear. If you have another issue to address, do it in a separate note or email and wait at least a day to send it. Check with LA-MN to learn the latest “asks” to legislators.
Give a reason: Talk about why you care about the issue. What is motivating you to act on it? Can you tell a personal story to shed further light on the issue? It never hurts to offer a fact or two, but don’t use too many. Lawmakers are more likely to listen to personal stories about an issue than to generic talking points.
2. Call your lawmaker
When events are unfolding quickly, phone calls to legislators are an easy and effective way to take action. Usually a message can be left with a staff person, but ask them to record your contact information and tell them you want to know later what the legislator did on the issue; instead of just being a “for” or “against” mark in their tally, your communication may have more of an impact.
3. Meet with your lawmaker
Magnify the impact of your letters or emails by arranging a group visit with your legislator(s). Our leaders want to hear from us and they rely on us to help inform them on issues that are pertinent to their districts. Constituent visits have been identified as the single most influential way to make a difference on an issue. When it is possible to refer to several previously written letters and emails by your group, the visit is even more powerful.
4. Write a letter to the editor
If you can write a letter to your legislators, you can also write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper. Tie your comments to a recent article. Letters to the editor need to be very short and concise–no more than 200-300 words. The first sentence should engage readers immediately.
5. Use social media
Tagging legislators on Twitter or Facebook can be a good way to get their attention. Thank you messages can be helpful in relationship building. Photos of a person with a brief, specific action or message written on a whiteboard can be a very effective post–be sure to include your first name, last initial, and the community you’re from.