Communicating with your Legislator
Go to the Senate web site at http://www.senate.gov, or the House web site at http://www.house.gov, click on your state to find your Congressman. Click on “contact us” for the address, phone numbers and fax numbers for the district offices and the Washington Office.
1. Meet, 2. Write, 3. Telephone
Meeting with your legislator
It always makes an impact on members of Congress when constituents take the time to visit in person.
The purpose of the meeting:
- to persuade your legislator to take appropriate position on issues related to adult education by supporting (or opposing) a particular bill
- to continue a relationship with your elected officials and their staff, and let them know you are a resource for adult education and literacy issues.
Simply walking through the door raises the awareness of the importance of the adult education program and services. And, you don’t have to travel to Washington to meet with your legislators. Members of Congress return to district or state offices most weekends and holidays.
The following suggestions may help make your meeting effective:
Contact Policy Committee or Washington Staff. We can help you put your visit in the context of current adult education issues, and brief you on how you can help advance our legislative efforts. E-mail the the Council at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 202 624 5250. Check the House web site at http://www.house.gov/house/2005_House_Calendar.shtml, and Senate web site at http://www.senate.gov/pagelayout/legislative/one_item_and_teasers/2005_schedule.htm, for times when your Congressman may be in the home district.
Plan Your Visit Carefully. Small groups are generally best (the Director, a teacher, and an adult learner for example). You probably will not have a lot of time with your legislator, so be clear about what you want to achieve. Remember to begin and end the conversation with a specific request that you’d like you legislator to follow up on.
Make an Appointment. Contact the legislators’ appointments scheduler to arrange a meeting. Explain your purpose and whom you represent, because it is easier for the staff to arrange a meeting if they know what you will be discussing and your relationship to the issue. You may need to be persistent, but be polite.
Be Prompt, Patient and Polite. It is not uncommon for a legislator to be late, or if you are visiting the Washington office, to have a meeting interrupted due to committee or floor actions. Be flexible. If you are interrupted, if possible, continue your meeting with a member’s staff.
Be Prepared. Prepare a brief fact sheet about your adult education program to leave with your legislator. Legislators must take a position on many issues and may lack details about the specific issues. Leaving a one-page document on the impact of your program is especially helpful.
Put Your Issue in Context. Legislators want to represent the best interests of their district or state. Wherever possible, demonstrate the connection between what you are requesting and the broader interests of the member’s constituency. How many adults do you serve? Your success related to learner outcomes. Collaborations you have with other agencies.
Be Responsive. Be prepared to answer questions or promptly provide follow-up information. While it is important to know the substance of an issue, you are not expected to know all the technical details. It is always acceptable to say, “I don’t know, but I’ll find out and get back to you.” Follow up with a thank you letter that outlines the different points covered during the meeting and answer any remaining questions; send other items as requested. Use a meeting as an opportunity to build and continue a relationship with an elected official and their staff.
Writing your Legislator
Surprisingly, few people ever write their elected officials, but for members of Congress, mail is an important connection to the opinions of their constituents. For every letter received, it is assumed that many constituents feel the same way. Because of the delay in mail due to the anthrax issue, it is wise to fax (not from your business fax machine) your letter.
Go to the web site of the Senate at http://www.senate.gov, or of the House at http://www.house.gov, click on your state to find your Congressman. Click on “contact us” for the phone numbers and fax numbers.
Before you write a letter, consider the following suggestions:
Identify the bill or issue first. Your purpose for writing should be contained in the first paragraph. About 20,000 bills are introduced each year in Congress, so it is important to be specific about a bill number(s). The NCSDAE web site, http://www.ncsdae.org, and the Policy Committee will reference the appropriate bill numbers in the action alerts that are sent out.
Identify yourself and whom you represent. Whether you are a single concerned constituent or you represent your adult education organization, the effort you are making on behalf of adult education sends an important signal. If you take the time to write, you probably take the time to vote too.
Be brief. Keep letters concise and to the point. As a rule of thumb, stick to one issue per letter and try to keep the letter to one page.
Include anecdotal or local information. Let your legislator know how the issue may affect you and your program. Include specific examples or success stories where appropriate. Key information would include how many adults you serve, how you meet your performance standards and other learner outcomes, and your services have done for workers, families, and the community you serve. Describe the reaction(s) you often receive from the adults who are successful in your program.
Be courteous. Even if you do not agree with the person, maintain a level of respect. Also, be sure to appropriately commend the legislator for any past help or support on the issue.
Ask for a specific action. Tell your representative that you want them to take some specific action, such as cosponsoring a bill, supporting an amendment or making a floor statement about a particular issue. Again, the Policy Committee and staff at NCSDAE can help you compose your request — check the Council web site at http://www.ncsdae.org to see what most recent request is.
Personalize letters. The more personal the letter, the more impact it will have. If letters are typed, a handwritten postscript at the bottom can be helpful. Also, include your home address on your letter. The envelope may be separated from the letter and your letter will be thrown away if your name and return address is not labeled clearly. If you choose to e-mail a letter, be sure to include your mailing address in the text.
Address the letter as follows:
The Honorable [_________]
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510
The Honorable [_________]
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
Dear [Senator/Representative _________]:
Follow up. Never underestimate the power of constituent reaction — positive or negative — to a legislator! Did he/she respond to your request? If so, thank them for their support. If not, don’t be shy about expressing your disappointment. Describe the importance of your request and its impact on your adult education services. Be sure to ask for the legislator’s support in the future.
Telephoning your Legislator
The effect of the telephone call is similar to that of letter writing. If a significant number of calls on an issue are coming into an office it alerts staff to specific constituent concerns. Like written communications, volume counts. If your time is limited, making a quick phone call might be a better way to communicate with your legislators.
Contact the appropriate staff person. Ask to speak with the staff person that deals with the issue you would like to address. Adult education is funded through the Department of Education, so you should first ask for the staff person that handles education. If he or she is not available, ask to leave a message so that your inquiry is recorded. Keep the message brief and focused. If referencing a specific bill, it helps if you include the bill number or sponsors.
Do not be intimidated. Although telephone calls may make you nervous as compared to writing a letter because you are speaking with someone personally, you are still a constituent with concerns that they must take seriously.
Keep in mind the most successful advocacy is not a single event or communication. Advocacy is an ongoing process. Each of the methods described above will provide a way for you to establish a relationship with your legislators and to nurture those relationships that already exist. Your legislator needs to be reminded what adult education is and the role the services play in ensuring that adults and families in their communities are able to take advantage of all the benefits of living the community and make full contributions to the community.
Thanks to Reach out and Read at http://www.reachoutandread.org/index.html and The American Society of Association Executives, the sources for these guidelines.