In a democracy, it is every citizen’s duty to be informed and participate in his government. First learn as much about an issue as you can in order to form an opinion about it. Then let your opinion be known. It’s easy and you can do it in many ways:
- Write, email, call or visit an elected official, government agency or company official.
- Write or email a letter to the editor of a local, regional or national newspaper or magazine.
- Donate, join, volunteer with and attend an event sponsored by an advocacy group.
- Donate, vote or work for the election of a candidate who shares your opinion on issues important to you.
- Talk with family, friends, neighbors and coworkers.
- All of the above.
To maximize your effectiveness, try these tips:
- Do whatever is easiest first and do it now.
- A personal visit usually trumps a letter, which trumps a call, which trumps an email.
- Go to Congress.org and enter your zip code to easily locate your elected representatives.
- Call your US Senator or Congressperson via the Congressional switchboard at 202-224-3121.
- Always read about the issue so you will have the facts at hand when expressing your opinion.
- Be courteous and never express yourself with anger.
- Always clearly identify the issue or legislation and be prepared to say why you support or oppose it
- Contact an advocacy group that shares your position to get mail or email "Action Alerts" as to when it’s most important you speak out and to find out facts you can use when voicing your opinion
- Visit the websites of your US Senators and Congressional representatives at www.senate.gov and www.house.gov respectively.
Here's what to expect when you call your elected official:
- If you call via the Congressional switchboard, you'll have to give your representative's name to be connected. You can also call the official's local office directly if you know the number.
- Tell the staff member who picks up the phone that you are a constituent and that you want him to pass along your opinion on some legislation to the representative.
- Have the name of the bill or resolution (and its assigned number, if possible) ready to give the aide.
- Have several points in mind as to why you support or oppose the legislation.
- Be ready to give your name and address as your elected official may want to confirm that you live in his district and may want to write you a letter thanking you for contacting him and explaining his position on the issue.
- Follow up with a letter to the office reiterating your concerns.
If you write your elected representative:
- Be brief, polite and to the point.
- Note the name and number of the legislation you are writing about.
- Follow up with the office by phone a week or two later.
- Address letters to your US Senator as follows: Honorable (Senator's name), US Senate, Washington, DC 20510
- Address letters to your Congressperson as follows: Honorable (Representative's name), US House of Representatives, Washington, DC 20515
Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1789,
"...whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government; that, whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights."
His statement is as true today—and even more important, what with governments and corporations bigger, stronger and wielding more dangerous tools than ever. Remembering that what each of us does affects not only our own well-being, but that of people across the planet and in future generations, each of us must live up to this awesome responsibility.
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