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Legislative Getting Started

The Importance of Letter Writing

Letter writing is an important and effective tool in legislative grassroots activism.  Meeting and talking in person on the phone is very helpful, but letter writing helps put something concrete in hand that helps you iron out a position or reinforce something you may have talked about.  Even after you personally meet with a legislator and talk to them, it is most appropriate to follow up with a letter.  You can thank them for meeting with you while reminding them about it at the same time.  This gives you another opportunity to remind them of what you are asking from them or perhaps to clarify.  Sometimes a meeting does not go as well as you would like and the follow up letter gives you another opportunity to leave someone with a good thought about the time spent with you or perhaps another way to think about what you had discussed.

The proliferation and increased use of computers and email have made letter writing even more valuable, but as an MRO, letters can be one of our most important tools.  Even people without a computer can go to the library and send a letter by email.  We need to continually engage members in the letter writing process, for many of them this will be the only way for them to share their wishes and thoughts with their elected officials.  Our elected representatives in the Florida Legislature and the US Congressional delegation have been elected to represent us.  Our legislators cannot completely do their job unless we do ours.  We are their constituents.  It is their job to represent us; therefore we must share what is on our minds.  We need to tell them how we want represented and what legislation we want them to support, as well as what legislation we do not want them to support, etc, 

Sometimes we need to generate a lot of letters from many people about a particular issue and we need all Chapters or a certain group of Chapters to pitch in and help get the job done.  We don’t have to have a statewide issue going on to have a need for members to write their legislators.  It is important for members of a legislative grassroots organization to maintain an open line of communication with our elected officials and letter writing is one of the most convenient and effective ways to accomplish maintaining an open line of communication.  We can do it early, we can do it late; we can do it after the kids have been put to bed, we can do it while we are waiting our turn at an appointment.  We do not have to schedule an appointment or fit writing a letter into someone else’s schedule; we can do it at a time that is more convenient for us.  There are some tips here and the bottom line is that any letter we write is good, but if you are concerned about proper format and want your letter to project some legislative professionalism, there are some tips here in regard to the proper structure of a formal letter to a legislator.

How To Write a Letter to Your Legislators.

Handwritten letters are fine, as long as they are easily read.  People who cannot write legibly should type the letter.  Use dark ink on white paper.  Avoid pink, purple, red ink.  While colors may be cute or cool, it is best to use blue or black ink and white paper.
Always start your letter with the date.  Aside from correct format, sometimes the date is critical.  For instance, if your letter arrives after your issue is already voted on, it is too late to help make an impact.  Sometimes the date actually helps you follow up later, but to be proper, always date your letter.

Your name and address should appear after the date on your letter, not just on the envelope.  A proper letter includes your name and address but if the envelope is thrown away, your own contact information just disappeared if it was not included on your letter. 

The next thing should be the proper address for whomever you are writing -again- not just on the envelope, but here inside the letter.  I will list some examples, these go both on the envelope and then inside your letter.  This is the formal way to address a letter.

The Honorable Bill Nelson
United States Senate
716 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC  20510

The Honorable Larry Cretul
Florida House of Representatives
204 HOB     402 South Monroe Street
Tallahassee, Florida   32399

The next thing is the salutation.  This is where we use their title.  Some examples:
Dear Senator Nelson,
Dear Governor Bush,
Always begin your letter by identifying yourself as their constituent and identifying your issue.   Example, “As a resident of your district, I am writing to tell you about my feelings about S 577 and why I would like you to sign on as a co-sponsor to prevent health insurance discrimination against motorcyclists.”

Always identify legislation you support or oppose by using the bill number if you can.  If there is any related legislation, a legislator of staffer might think your letter is about something different than you intended it to be.

Although you should be courteous throughout your letter, you do not have to apologize for taking a legislator’s time; they work for and represent you. 
It is not ever a good idea to say anything like “I hope this letter gets past your secretary”.  It irritates staffers and frankly, staffers can be a lot of help to us so it is not a good idea to irritate them.  The letter should be courteous throughout as we do not want to alienate anyone, we are simply asking for support and sometimes explaining why we are asking for it, or sharing why we feel the way we do.
You can personalize your letter by emphasizing “you”.  Example, “You may not be aware there was previous specific language to prevent health insurance discrimination against motorcyclists.”  “You can help address this problem by sponsoring S 577”

Give reasons for your position on the legislation you are writing about.  Be reasonable and feel free to personalize the impact the legislation will have on you, your family, business, state, or community.  Don’t assume they know how you will be affected by the legislation you are writing about because the fact is that many times they do not even have a clue.  This is your letter and your chance - tell them about it.

Always recommend what a legislator should do, tell them what action they should take, ask them to support your legislation, etc.  Never demand, order or threaten.  Don’t ask them to do the impossible.  Your letter should present you as a reasonable and courteous person.  It is important that when you are communicating with your legislators in person or in a letter that most legislation is the result of compromise.  Often times, there is give and take, push and pull that lead to whatever legislation is finally produced.

It is important not to be threatening.  Don’t brag about your political influence or threaten how you or your organization will vote in future elections.

Our GRASSROOTS EDGE.

It is also VERY important to write your legislator when you approve of something they have done.  We are poised to capitalize on things like this in a  LARGE  way.  Know that not many people get involved in communicating with their legislators.  Our doing so is how we wield power reserved for effective grassroots organizations.  The only thing fewer than the number people who take the time to communicate with their legislators is the number of people who take the time to express their appreciation or thanks.  It is sad but true.  Most people who contact them are mad, and almost all of them want something.  Please capitalize on every opportunity to say THANK YOU. These expressions of appreciation will be remembered longer than you know because they can be very rare. Taking the time to make contact with your elected officials when you do not want something or to say thank you is a VERY valuable part of legislative grassroots politicking.   It puts you and our organization in a very positive light.

At the end of your letter, be sure to close by clearing asking for the action you wish for and that your legislator share their position on the issue.  Example:  “I urge you to co-sponsor and vote for s 577 and help prevent health insurance discrimination against motorcyclists.  Please let me know where you stand on this issue.”

At the end of your letter, your name should be legibly printed or typed and then sign your name over your printed signature.

Please help get the wave of paper, courtesy of ABATE of Florida, Inc., flowing into our legislator’s offices and Washington, DC