Speaking Out – Does it Work?

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We’re named Seniors Speak Out, implying that speaking out is important and it will make a difference. I know that many of you feel like your voice doesn’t count, that you’re powerless, that only the power brokers and big donors have influence in Washington. I certainly understand why you think that. I’ve talked with a lot of people in my years advocating for seniors and when I encourage people to contact their member of Congress, I often hear responses like, “that’s a waste of time,” “my comment will never get to the member,” “unless I’m giving them money they don’t care.” I think one of the tools that these big influencers use is to convince people that their vote doesn’t count, and that they need to join them to make a difference. I’m here to tell you that your voice and vote does count. The goal of this blog is to convince you that your voice does make a difference and give you ways that you can make your voice more effective.

The most powerful leverage you have is your vote. Your member of Congress (I will use that phrase in this blog to refer to the two Senators from your state and the Member of the House from your district) is in that position because people voted for them. Your vote counted just as much as a big donor or a big celebrity. Find out why McDonalds might be a powerful tool in having your voice heard by listening to the latest Seniors Speak Out Facebook live event. I hate it when click bait articles make you wade through 100s of screens to get to the answer so, while I think you might enjoy the whole half hour video, the answer is at the very end starting at 28:20. While TV ads are powerful,  the members of Congress know that the opinion of a committed voter is a clear and unencumbered voice that can be trusted. My point is – your opinion matters.

So, what can you do to make sure your voice is heard? You need to contact your members of Congress. When you contact your members of Congress you have entered yourself into a very exclusive group. I’m not sure what the actual percentage is but you can be assured that very few constituents take the time to contact their congressional representatives. By doing that, the member of Congress identifies you has an important influencer. Whatever the contact method is, there are important ways to have contact be effective:

  • Most important, be short and concise
  • Make sure the member knows that you understand the issue
  • Include a note that other constituents are waiting to hear from you about the member’s response
  • Make clear that you are a committed voter

If the member of Congress is not who you voted for don’t hesitate to still contact them. You may have the chance to influence them even more when you tell them how they can win your vote or at least win your respect.

The way you contact your members of Congress does make a difference. There is no doubt that some methods of contact are more effective than others. In my opinion this is the order of effectiveness and tips on contacting your members of Congress.

Visit their office in Washington D.C. – While this is certainly not the easiest method, it can be very effective. If possible, plan your trip when Congress is in session and call the member’s office to make an appointment. If you are there on vacation with your family, ask for a tour of the Capitol and indicate you’d like to have a short meeting with the member. If you don’t have a particular issue to discuss at that time, take the opportunity to tell them the areas where you agree with their stance and areas where you have disagreed. Make sure they know that you influence other votes besides yourself.

Visit their district office in your state. This is obviously easier, but you should still make an appointment at a time when the member is back in their home state. Along with the tips above, talk about the town hall meetings and other local events you have attended (if you haven’t, start doing it. It’s a great way to become known by the member and their staff).

Call or email the Washington office – I think that phone calls and emails have equal levels of influence. The person taking the call or reading the email will categorize the contact as to the issue or area and record your stance on the issue and/or transfer it to the legislative assistant for that issue area. One thing to mention about a call or email, if your call or email just parrots an advocacy groups stance, i.e., you copy a letter drafted by an advocacy group and email it in, you lose some effectiveness. Make the salient points in your own words. That approach is powerful.

Here’s how to get in contact with your members of Congress. You can click here to find your U.S. House representative and click here to find your two U.S. Senators. Your zip code will almost always get you to the correct House member. If the zip code gives you a choice, click on one of them and call them. They will give you the correct district for your address. The phone number is always on the member’s website, again, call the Washington office. Clicking on the envelope will make it possible to send an email. They will ask you for your name, phone number, address, and email. They need to protect against automated bots and false emails. They often ask for the issue area of your email. Your information will be protected, and they need ways to get back to you. Always include a request for a response.

I encourage you to contact your members of Congress. Remember, your voice matters! Take the opportunity to join that exclusive club of voters who want their voice heard. Seniors Speak Out is here to help magnify that voice.

Best, Thair

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