Updated: Oct 22, 2021
By Hamilton Steimer
As citizens, we must engage with our politicians and make sure they adhere to their campaign promises. With issues such as voting rights, racial injustice, and climate change currently at the forefront of American politics, there are more reasons than ever before to connect with our leaders.
Take the destabilizing global climate as an example. It represents a serious threat to our food and water systems, our health, our national security, and our way of life. It is imperative our politicians understand the urgency to take action, whether that be winding down the use of fossil fuels or promoting clean energy technologies.
Recently, politicians have declared increasingly ambitious climate policy targets, such as creating a 100% clean energy economy or achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. However, with Congress currently divided over President Biden’s “mini-Green New Deal,” it seems increasingly possible Congress will fail to take significant climate action. With recent reports suggesting the window to prevent the worst climate impacts is closing, we must make sure that our leaders know that failure is not an option.
Fortunately, there are multiple ways to contact your representative about the climate crisis: written letters, phone calls, in-person meetings, virtual meeting calls. Elected officials are more accessible than ever before! However, before you pick up the phone or storm into a politician’s office, take a moment and come up with a strategy. With a little preparation, you can increase the chances your representative takes action and produces tangible results.
Do Your Research
Before you begin planning a meeting, call, or letter to your representative, you first need to research and understand the issues at hand. What is the problem that should be addressed? Why is this issue important to you, your community, and therefore, your representative? What are potential solutions and their impacts? What are the costs and potential consequences of taking action? You don’t need to become an expert on the subject matter in order to contact your representative, but by learning on your own and thinking through these types of questions, you can put yourself in a strong position to communicate what you want effectively.
Understand the Legislative Process
Once you fully understand the problems you want to be resolved, you need to decide how your elected official can produce the solutions you support.
Your representative ultimately votes on legislation to enact their policy priorities. What bills are coming through the legislative pipeline? Do any of them address your legislative priority and in what way? By understanding the steps a bill goes through to become law, you can tell your representative exactly how you want them to help you and your community.
When identifying a bill, know which committee oversees it, learn how the bill would address your priority, and be prepared to communicate why your representative’s constituents support passing the bill. Maybe your representative is on an important environmental committee, such as the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, or maybe he or she will only have an opportunity to vote “Yea” or “Nay” if a bill makes it to the floor for a vote. Either way, they will probably have some level of influence on the creation, development, and success of bills within their respective chamber.
Know Who to Contact
Whether you are setting up a meeting, leaving a voicemail, or sending an email, know who you will be contacting. If you are reaching out to a state representative, you may be communicating with the representative directly. If you are communicating with a congressional office, you will most likely speak with a legislative aide, assistant, or intern. These individuals will be trained to keep interactions brief, so make sure you are direct and to the point.
Also, make sure you are communicating with the right office. Your congressional representatives probably have an office in Washington, DC as well as in their state or local district. Local offices are generally focused on things such as constituent requests, while DC offices mostly handle legislative and policy matters.
Make sure you plan ahead so that your phone call, meeting, virtual call, or letter is a success. For a phone call, consider writing down your message before calling. A well written script will ensure you hit all of the points you want to address and not leave any important points out. If you are planning a meeting, you could practice your talking points ahead of time to feel comfortable presenting your position. Don’t forget to learn about the importance of effective body language, which will help you quickly make a solid first impression.
In your message or meeting, share your contact information and say that you will follow up with your representative and their office to see if they are taking any action on your issue. If you don’t want to call or email a second time, you can say that you will follow up via social media. Your representative may be more responsive if they know you and your community will be monitoring their actions in Congress.
Don’t Give Up
Lastly, even if your representative ultimately takes no action, you can’t give up and stop trying. The planet needs people like you to stand up and advocate for it. If you score a victory, don’t forget that the planet still needs your help. If your efforts fall flat, look for other avenues to achieve success.
Your elected officials are not experts in every issue. Many of them may not understand the climate crisis or how it impacts almost every facet of life. As citizens, it is our duty to engage with our leaders, educate them, and pressure them to take action against the climate crisis.
Craft an elevator pitch. A 30 to 60 second pitch will help you clearly communicate what you want in an efficient manner.
Stick to one issue. Be concise with what you want addressed, so your message is remembered and passed along accurately between staff members.
Be courteous and respectful. Whoever receives your message will be more likely to listen to you.
Personalize your message. Communicate why you are passionate about your issue, and emphasize how it impacts you and your community.
Provide your name and address. Hopefully, your representative’s office will send a response letter updating you on their actions.