Make Sure Your Voice Is Heard
The election is over, the drama has passed, and most of the campaign promises have been forgotten. Like many Georgians, I have a new Congressman and State Representative. We have a new Governor and State Superintendent of Schools. Now, as these elected officials take office, it is our responsibility to hold them to their word, let them know what issues are important to us, and communicate whether they are doing a good job or not. We must convey this information to these officials in a clear, respectful, and effective manner. However, the question for many is, “How do I communicate effectively with my elected officials and have my opinions seriously considered?”
There is a proper form, method and somewhat of an art to communicate your opinions to your elected officials. When you get it right, your one voice is heard by your Governor, Senator, or Representative as many voices speaking in unison. “How?” you might ask? Well, that’s an involved answer.
There are three ways you can contact your elected officials: e-mail, mailed letter, and personal phone call. By far, the most effective is the personal phone call. Did you know for every e-mail received they believe three (3) other people share the same opinion? For every letter received in the mail they believe 15 other people agree with you. However, for every call stating an opinion on an issue they believe that 27 additional people share your opinion. By far, this is the most effective method to sway your elected officials to act. According to Michael Farris of HSLDA, “E-mails are totally worthless.” It is so easy to send an e-mail, many special interest groups use e-mail for mass message sending, and most experts believe that counting an e-mail as representing 3 more people is high.
Please allow me to explain how email, a mailed letter, and a personal phone call are respectively handled by a Congressional office. Every day each member of Congress receives more than 10,000 e-mails. In order to deal with that kind of volume, each Congressional office uses an automated program to sort and send automatic responses to each e-mail. Then, a report is generated at the end of each day to show the number of people who e-mailed on each issue. The system does not report how many are for or against an issue, and no human ever reads the e-mails. The Congressman and his or her staff only see totals. This is why many say that e-mails are a waste of time. Their message is diluted to the issue only, and your opinion is lost.
Mailed letters are handled very differently. When you mail a letter to your Congressman, the letter is opened and read by a clerk or intern to determine what the issue is then sent to the staff member who handles the individual issues. Next, the staff member will read the letter, record which issue the letter was about and whether you are for or against the issue, and then assign a form letter response to send back to you. Sometimes, if the letter is an exceptional one, the staffer will take the time to type a more personal response to your letter only. Because of the Congressman’s limited staff, they can only send these personal responses to about 300 of the 5,000 to 6,000 letters they receive each week. For the select few absolute best letters, no more than 10 a week, the Congressman himself will actually sign the response letter sent out. When you take the time to write, print, and mail a letter to your Congressman, you can assume at least two people will read it, and your opinion will be recorded and discussed with the Congressman at the weekly staff meeting. However, there is a correct format to use when writing your Congressman, and I will give you that information later in this article.
As stated earlier, calling your Congressman is the most effective way to convey your opinion. However, this option also takes the most effort. For many people it’s intimidating to call Washington, D.C., and calmly and concisely give your name, the purpose of your call, and state your opinion. A letter you can write at night and drop in the mail, but a telephone call requires you taking time out of your busy day, collecting your thoughts, and placing the call. However, your Congressman respects your commitment to the issue and appreciates every effort you make to communicate your opinion. He or she generally gives your thoughts the recognition they deserve. On a normal day, a Congressman’s office will receive 400 to 600 calls from constituents wanting to make their opinion known. When the Health Care Reform Bill was being debated, congressional offices reported receiving as many as 4000 calls a day.
As with most forms of communication, there is a proper protocol. When you call your Congressman, you will give your name and purpose of your call. For instance, you might say, “Hello, my name is Gerald Stunkel, and I am calling about the Health Care Reform Bill before Congress.” The person answering your call may take your message, or you may be transferred to the staff member who is handling your issue. At this point, you will have about a minute to tell the staff member what your position is on the issue and what you want the Congressman to do. Depending on the information you have provided, the staff member may ask you some questions concerning your issue. It is always wise to be prepared and have all your facts and figures ready in case you need them. Generally, a staffer will thank you for your call and promise to convey your comments to the Congressman. Always thank the staff member for their time at the end of the call. They deal with many constituents every day and are very rarely thanked. Your simple thank you will be remembered. If during your call the staff member tells you that the Congressman agrees with your position and will be voting the way you want, immediately ask the staffer to thank the Congressman for his or her stance on the issue. Too many times we are quick to criticize a stance we are opposed to and forget to give proper thanks to our leader when they do what we have asked. Also, the staffer will most likely take notes during your call. These notes may be as simple as noting the issue and your position on the matter to as much as quoting something you said. Oftentimes, your words may be quoted and read at the next staff meeting with the Congressman. No matter how little or how much is noted, you will be listed with those who took the time to call. Remember, your call is counted as voicing the opinions of 28 people.
I am constantly asked, “So if calling is so powerful, why even bother to write?” I always answer, “Write and call.” You present a more educated and dedicated position when you call first and follow up with a letter. In some ways, it’s seems like over-kill. But, in another way it’s not. By calling and writing you get the people count credit for both when the Congressman’s office counts up their contacts. It’s the best bang for your voice.
No matter if you are writing your Governor, Senator, or other elected official, there is a correct format to use. They are all addressed by their office held first and their full name second. The only exception to this is when you write Congress. Your Congressman and Senator are always addressed on the envelope and in the addressee line of the letter as, “The Honorable (Full Name). Please go to www.ghea.org and click on the article library under “browse the library” and then click on the “Etiquette and Appropriate Conduct” link for a sample of how to write a letter to your Congressman and properly address the envelope.
Finally, let me give you a little encouraging insight on our new Governor, Lt. Governor, and State Superintendent of Schools. Before the election, I had the opportunity to talk with the campaign managers for each of these candidates. Governor Deal is supportive of homeschooling and has promised to continue to support our rights and freedoms. Lt. Governor Cagle is very supportive of homeschooling, and he would support any legislation that helped parents and our rights to homeschool. Superintendent Barge is also supportive of homeschooling, and his campaign manager is a homeschool dad. Superintendent Barge actually sees homeschooling continuing to grow in Georgia, and he will not do anything to adversely affect our rights as homeschoolers.
This is a new year, a new Governor, a new State Superintendent of Schools and a new Congress. It is our responsibility to hold their feet to the fire and follow through with their campaign promises. I hope you will take the time to call and write your elected officials. They need to know that you care about the issues. Without your input, they will listen to someone else. Always remember, if you remain silent, you will be ignored.