Hold Leaders Accountable
"Members of Congress every day hear from the monied side of the issue, and they must have this counterbalance by hearing from the grassroots….there is nothing more eloquent to a member of Congress than the voice of his/her constituent."
- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
Your elected representatives want to hear from you (and if they don't, that's all the more reason to be in touch!). The key to influencing them is proving that you are a well-informed, committed and persistent constituent.
Whether you send an email or letter, make a telephone call or meet with your representative, your communication has an impact proportional to the amount of effort you put in. It's important to take time to prepare your thoughts, familiarize yourself with PAN's strategy, and follow up as many times as it takes.
Below are some tips to make your lobbying successful, as well as a sample letter, call script and contact information for your senators and representatives. We've also included some basic information about how congress works that might help you get started.
Why is Congress so crazy?
We don't know. It may have something to do with the elaborate machinations it takes to get a piece of legislation passed. You can find an overview of the process here.
It might also have something to do with all the committee work that happens behind the scenes, before a bill even makes it to a "floor vote." For PAN's work, the following congressional committees often end up being the most important. If one of your Senators or Representatives sits on these committees, please do get to know the staffers in their office.
Where do I start?
All contact is good contact, and it gets easier with practice. So start where you are. The most impactful lobbying in roughly ascending order: email, FAX (yes, some offices still use them), phone call, personalized letter, and a face-to-face visit.
Two good one-stop-shops for reaching Congress: Congress.org and the Capitol Switchboard, (202) 224-3121 — ask to be transferred to your representative’s office. Below are links to look up contact information for your representatives and agency officials using your zip code.
- Federal Agencies (e.g. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Agriculture)
- Congressional Directory
- State elected officials
- Local elected officials
- White House
How do I do this advocacy thing?
Remember that you are dedicated and well informed: you're a natural advocate. By following a few simple rules, you can achieve great results. But make no mistake, changing U.S. policy — doing battle with the bureaucracy and high-priced corporate lobbyists — is hard work. Don't be intimidated or discouraged.
Identify yourself and your issue. State your point of view. Explain why it's important to you. Be courteous and get to the point quickly. And follow three rules:
- Learn: Do background research on the issues you are tracking, and find out more about your government representatives.
- Organize: Work with PAN partner groups in your district (or throughout your state if you're contacting a Senate office). Work on issues that are shared priorities.
- Execute: Follow the steps above to plan and prepare for a meeting, present your concerns well, then follow up persistently. Keep records of all your communications. Focus on the specific outcome you want, and commit yourself to that end.