One of the most important things we can do for our democracy is pay attention to what representatives are doing in their various bodies, whether it’s your city council, quorum court, state legislature, or members of the U.S. Congress. Every legislative body files, debates, and approves or discards policies that have a direct impact on your life. You absolutely should let your representatives know your values and goals as often as possible, whether you voted for them or not. Voting isn’t the end—it’s the beginning.
Knowing when and how to contact representatives can be overwhelming, but we promise it’s quick to learn. The more you do it the more comfortable you’ll get!
Phone calls are the most direct way to reach representatives. For local offices at the city, county, and state level, most representatives won’t have staff. You’ll get to talk to the representative directly. For offices like governor, attorney general, secretary of state, and federal offices, you’ll engage with a representative’s staff and they’ll pass your message on.
A more accessible option for a lot of people is email. All representatives have an email address, whether it’s the email itself or a contact form. For local offices at the city, county, and state level, their emails may be publicly available. The higher you go the more likely you are to use contact forms.
You may see campaigns that encourage you to “sign” an email and send a form letter to your representative. These are fine, but impersonal. They get batched together. A stronger way to engage is to always write personal, individual emails. This can be scary! But the more you do it, the better you’ll become, and the easier it will be. It’s okay not to be perfect. Don’t worry about spelling and grammar. Be kind, be firm, and advocate for your position on an issue.
Personal emails are more likely to catch a representative’s eye, or be highlighted by their staff. They’re also much less likely to be batched and responded to with a form letter.
Calls to Action
Many lobbying groups will use emails or text codes to encourage you to sign on to petitions and form letters. These are often really important campaigns and work as education on issues; we highly encourage you to read the material they share, understands resources they cite, and then go write that email/fill in that contact form instead with your own personal story.
Why Social Media Isn’t Great
It’s easy to want to spend hours on social media talking at representatives. But these don’t necessarily count as constituent comments. One reason is that it’s incredibly hard—sometimes impossible—to confirm if someone is actually a constituent on any of the main social media platforms. People can misrepresent themselves. This is why direct requests on phone or via email are so critical.
We’re All In This Together
Sometimes you may feel an issue isn’t “about” you, so you can’t write in. But caring about people in your community absolutely counts as a reason to write to your representatives. Telling representatives the reason you’re writing for a causes is because you support a group’s advocacy issue is a valid form of lobbying. This can be especially helpful in situations where marginalized communities are being targeted by bad or harmful policies. Sometimes, allies helping those communities push back can make all the difference. Collective action works.
The Value of Shame
When representatives take votes that conflict with your values or make decisions about policies that are harmful to your communities, telling them you’re disappointed in their vote/action is a valid form of constituent outreach. Expressing disappoint (kindly) is extremely important. For so long, representatives have been able to operate with no pushback from community members. We have the power to end that and let them know we’re watching.
Only Contact Your Representatives
This is mostly a federal rule, but it’s important: only contacting your representatives means that the staff of representatives who aren’t yours can focus on their specific constituents. There are some exceptions to this, and each call to action will often include who to contact and why.
However, you can go critique them on social media. That’s fine. 😉
If you’re interested in getting more into the weeds on contacting your representatives, you can read this report about communicating with Congress.