A good way to begin your letter or e-mail is by introducing yourself as a constituent. This introduction should also include groups you represent and support. Including that you are a Lutheran or an Episcopalian does matter! Legislators are aware of the work Lutherans and Episcopalians are doing in communities. This gives our advocacy greater credibility.
Next, briefly sum up what you would like him or her to support or oppose. Stating your reasons for support / opposition: Your points should be genuine. You are not trying to prove that your position is superior. However, if you are aware of the policy maker’s position (due to a newspaper article, op-ed or letter to the editor, their website, etc.) and believe their position is based on some false assumptions, you can and should point those out in as polite a way as possible. Your position is exactly that, your position. It is important to speak out of your experience as well as your understanding of Scripture, Lutheran theology and/or the ministry of which you are a part.
What will make my letter / e-mail stand out? Personal stories about why you care enough to take the time to write are important. However, these should not be too long or too emotional. Painting a picture that includes both the challenges and the opportunities will help your elected officials know you are committed to an issue in a long term way. Your letter should be clear about what is happening currently without this legislation and what you fear or hope will happen once the legislation is passed.
Your letter is one of many. It plays an important role in a bigger picture. The picture is less complete without your voice, but you do not have to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders alone.
Letters are important even if you think your elected official has already made up his or her mind. If your legislator is in agreement with your position but only hears from the opposing view point, he or she may be forced to take that opposing voice more seriously if that is the only constituent voice being heard.
No public policy is perfect. You do not have to defend or agree with every word of a proposal in order to write in support. Most importantly you are speaking to the problem you have witnessed. If you know your elected official is in opposition to a specific solution, urge him or her to come up with an alternative proposal – then share your thoughts on that new plan.
Legislative offices have adjusted to technology and recognize that many people put a great deal of time and effort into e-mail communication. This is particularly true once you have a relationship established with the office. However, hand written letters remain a way for your communication to stand out in a crowd. The key is to make your communication as personal as possible. The less it seems like a form letter, the better. But remember, even form e-mails, when received in large numbers, can make a difference.
How important is formal formatting? Formal formatting is still a way of showing respect in our society. However, if formatting is holding you back, know that it’s not as important as making your voice heard. You need not make sure that every letter is addressed to “The Honorable Full name including Middle Initial” when a simple “Dear Senator or Representative Last Name” will suffice.
The most important part of formatting your letter is making sure to include your home mailing address. Even if you prefer to write on business stationary, make sure to include your home address if you are writing as a constituent and your place of business or your church is located in a different district.
Elected officials and their staff members carefully monitor newspapers and other social media to gauge local opinion. By mentioning your elected officials by name, and stating the specific action you would like for them to take, you can guarantee that your letter or comments will catch their attention.
In addition to getting the attention of elected officials, letters-to-the-editors are a tremendous advocacy tool because they reach a large audience, you can bring up information not addressed in a news article, and you can create widespread support or opposition to an issue.
Some general comments on writing letters-to-the-editor:
Keep your letters short. It is best to limit your letter to 100-200 words or less, but word limits vary by newspaper. Check your local paper for specific policy on length.
Focus on a single issue. Your letter will have more impact if you focus on one issue and state your case well.
Focus on the local community. This varies from issue to issue, but editors are generally more interested in letters that highlight the local impact of a national or foreign policy issue.
Respond to a news story. Editors are often more interested in letters that respond to a specific news story, and some will only print letters that respond to a story. That being said, letters may provide an opportunity to raise points or convey information that is not contained in a news story, though they should clearly have relevance to an issue that is in the news.
Respond in a timely manner. This is related to the previous point. Editors tend to be more interested in letters that respond within a few days of the story or news of an issue that you address, and preferably within a day or two.
Consider your options. Letters to your local paper have the best chance of being published, though you may certainly submit to national publications as well. Your local paper is most likely to catch the attention of your legislators. Other options include suburban or neighborhood papers, ethnic press, religious publications or many local communities have on-line news outlets, perhaps your hometown has a Patch.
Submit letters by e-mail whenever possible. The e-mail address for submissions is usually printed in the editorial section of your paper. Generally, editors prefer to have your letter printed within the body of your message, and not as an attachment.
Include complete contact information. You must include your name, street address and phone number. Editors are on guard about fake identities and will often contact you to verify that you wrote your letter. They will not run anonymous letters.
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