Tips for communicating with your Congressional representatives
One of the most important ways you can help conserve wildlands is to speak to your members of Congress. You have three members of Congress: two senators and one representative. Any contact is good, but concentrating your outreach during key times can be particularly effective. Use the tools below to find your members and be heard.
How your members of Congress think
Members of Congress want to hear from their constituents. In addition to legislative work, they have the non-stop job of planning for re-election. This continual election work creates a need to keep a close watch on constituent opinion.
It's worth noting that there are many environmental champions in Congress. Your support tells them to keep fighting for conservation. It also helps fuel their fight against bad legislation that harms wildlands. But not all lawmakers are environmental leaders, and some can even be hostile towards conservation. For those Congress members, we recommend constituents continue to make contact. Regular contact on environmental issues can show them that aligning with pro-pollution, anti-conservation bills can be toxic to their image. Public opposition can also push legislators to slow down the progress of controversial legislation while they take time to hear from more stakeholders.
Calling your members of Congress
Members of Congress expect to hear from voters. Their offices keep track of the types of phone calls received each day. Staff tally the calls on various issues, including the number of calls for and against various bills and policies. But they will only tally calls from their own constituents. Be prepared to provide your zip code or your town when you call.
If you feel passionate about an issue, it’s perfectly acceptable to call your Congress members every day. A simple message stating your position and why people of your community could be affected will suffice.
Tips for calling
Use the call to express your thoughts, or to learn more about your member's stance
Most often when you call your Congress member's office, you'll speak to a staffer who will convey your message. Knowing your member's stance ahead of the call may pave the way for a more productive conversation. That said, it's perfectly acceptable to use your call as a fact finding mission. Either way, be sure to let the staff know where you stand before you hang up.
Explain your stance in genuine terms
Your Congress member often wants to know more details about how an issue affects their constituents. Your phone call is a great opportunity to tell them why the issue is important for you personally. So let your Congress member or their staff know where you stand, but be respectful of their time. Stick to a few key points.
Call often and at key times
It's fine to call more than once. In fact, it's fine to call several times a week if you truly care about an issue. It's also important to call at key times when the issue you care about is in the news and other constituents are also making noise.
Meeting with your Congress member is often the most impactful way to be heard. While it may be difficult to secure a meeting, you can opt for an appointment with a staff member as a starting point. It's always helpful if you can bring informational materials such as reports or fact sheets from environmental organizers. This helps staff members better understand your issue and gives them reference material to refer to after you've left.
Another key way to connect is through Town Hall meetings or public forums. Sign up for your representatives' e-mail list and social media feeds to find out about such events.
Mention your Congress member in letters to the editor
Publishing a letter to the editor in your local paper is a great way to gain visibility for conservation issues. Actually mentioning a Congress member's name often gains the attention of congressional staff who cull through the newspapers each day.
If you have more time, you can submit an “op-ed” for the editorial pages. Submission requirements vary for each publication, so be sure to contact the newspaper before you get started. Adhering to guidelines, such as word counts can increase your chances of getting published.
Write letters and e-mails
Physical meetings and personal phone calls are best, but an email or a personal letter should not be overlooked if that's what you have time for. The key is to personalize that letter to show why you care about the issue. Say why you are for or against a bill and how it could affect you or your community. Your member of Congress might even use your personal story to publicly support his or her stance on the issue.