What can you do about it?

Written by erik


TerraPass members are a vocal group, with our past surveys showing that about half of our members have contacted their government on environmental issues.

Recently, I spent some time with some friends who work in environmental NGO circles, and we got to talking about the most effective ways for regular constituents to get attention from their elected representatives. After all, if you’re going to go to the effort of getting in touch, you might as well be heard.

As some long time Footprint readers will recall, a couple of years ago in the heat of the Democratic presidential primary battle, we launched a petition against the ridiculously short-sighted and cynical “gas tax holiday” mooted by both Hillary Clinton and John McCain. Though it was, I’ll admit, quite satisfying to send off the latest signatures every night or two, I’ve never been fully convinced it was the most effective way to get our point across.

So what is that most effective way? As it turns out, that’s a simple question with a straightforward answer – send a letter! Yes, actual snail mail. OK, there’s a bit more to it than that, but rather than walking you through it myself, I’m going to point you to Omar Ahmad, a member of the City Council for San Carlos, California, and his great short TED talk from 2010.

If you follow his advice, it will cost you the occasional stamp, and take a little more time than a simple email might, but you can be at least reasonably sure that someone will take the time to read it and perhaps even respond.

Because despite all the noise and confusion that characterizes our political system, at the end of the day the only way the politicians know what you want is if you tell them. So if you care about climate change legislation, please pick up that pen.

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  1. Lori

    I worked for a Senate office for over 10 years and my husband is not going on 15 years. Another really good way to get your message across is start by trying to get a face to face with SOMEONE in the office. You may start with a 20 something Legislative Correspondent, but that is your foot in to move up to a Legislative Assistant and then the Senator. Also holding the office accountable for what they say or what they may or may not do. Keep calling, but not annoying. keep sending the office very easy talking points to pass on to their boss. Be VERY nice. Make sure that you are aware of any positive things that the office has done that your group supports. Thank them, recognize their staffers by name in newsletters etc.. Come to the office with what supporting your cause can do for them as well as their state. Do research specifically for their state. give them that info in easy to read and pass on formats. Make them aware of specific things your group supports or action your group has done specifically in their state. Make an appointment and come with several heads of different organizations that share the same message, or agree that you are only going to talk about one specific talking point during that meeting. Be prepared. Remember, Actually shaking a Senator’s hand or getting a picture doesnt mean that you are going to get what you want. Convincing the staff that it is important to the state and the office is key.

  2. Maurice

    One potential problem with letters: for a fast-moving issue, they may not be timely. As I understand it, ever since the anthrax incident in the early 2000s, the mail first goes to some facility to be tested for anthrax or other lethal content. Otherwise, yes, I think a letter is taken more seriously, as it shows a greater level of effort and seriousness than, say, signing a petition. And with the routine use of the filibuster, there are few “fast-moving” issues these days.

  3. Lori

    Yes, Maurice is right. All mail is delivered off-site first,irradiated, and the corners cut off of each envelope and the letters are shaken. All packages are pre opened at an off site facility as well. What is too bad is the office buildings cannot except couriers or deliveries anymore. Not even flowers because of threats. My 2 year old son was in the service elevator that the anthrax envelope was in that was delivered to Sen. Dashle’s office. All of us were stuck on Cipro (including my son) for months. Our bosses were not even in the building.
    Another way to “get in” is befriend the district reps. These are the people that attend meetings in the states on behalf of the senator. Their main job is to be the eyes and ears of the Senator in the state. Contact them, invite them to meetings, followup with them. These are regular people who live in the state and are a lot of time retired state workers. I have worked with tons of them. Very nice.