Since the election results, we’ve seen many, many posts stating or asking people to contact their legislators and a lot of people don’t seem to think that contacting them will do any good. Most of the time, people want to reach out but have no idea who their representatives are or what to say to them.
Well, I have LOTS of experience writing legislators. I’ve requested their assistance when dealing with certain government agencies and I’ve also called and written in to give suggestions or to complain about certain agencies or procedures that I believe need change.
As a matter of fact, the first time I wrote a legislator was when I was 20 years old. I was in the military and I had just returned from my 1-year tour in South Korea. I’d gotten married to a soldier who was stationed in a different state. As a married soldier, I could not live in the barracks. So, my option was to rent my own place since housing was not available for married soldiers whose spouses were not living with them.
Anyway, so, I get a lease and submit my request for housing allowance, because it was required in order to claim housing allowance: since the Army has to provide housing to all soldiers regardless of marital status or provide them a home to live in (whether it be barracks, a town-home, apartment or single family home). I was making very little money back then. So, I was literally broke because I had to come up with a deposit and first month’s rent.
I was so furious when my housing allowance was DENIED by the garrison commander. I was also really scared because I had just signed a lease and couldn’t afford to pay for it let alone pay the breach of contract (reletting) fees. Besides, where was I to live if I wasn’t allowed in the barracks or in family housing?
Well, after speaking to my commander and first sergeants, they laughed at me when I told them I was renting an RV (it was pretty nice and cozy) on someone’s property. It was within the allowed housing allowance amount set for someone the rank that I was back then and it was also the closest property available to the base (about 45 minutes away). So, I then had a rental lease, had to spend more money on gas to get to work and my paycheck was very small.
So, I decided to look up who my representatives were using a library computer because the internet was then available for free on the base. That was back when cellphones were flip phones and we were excited because we could buy ring tones.
Back to my story…I searched “how to find who my government representatives are” in Yahoo search and it lead me to many links, but I selected the most official looking one because it ended with .gov. Today, that link is still very reliable.
I chose to write Senator Barbara Boxer because I liked what I had read about her tenacity, her support for soldiers and her overall work as senator.
I drafted a very clear and direct letter leaving out personal, dramatic comments. You can follow the same structured I used below:
- Thanked the Senator for her service to the nation and to my state.
- Congratulated her for a recent win on a piece of legislation
- Explained who I was and what my problem was
- Clearly asked what I needed and suggested a solution (I also suggest you write about one issue at a time
- Thanked her for the valuable time taken to read my letter
- Proofread my letter and made sure she had my mailing address and phone number.
Email was not used as much back then, but today, you can include that in your footer along with your address and phone number. I have had some call me back and email me to ask questions or to let me know that my letter has been received but are waiting on my privacy release to arrive (more on this a little later)
I made sure I addressed the representative appropriately (Honorable Senator/Congressman first and last name) and that I had the correct mailing address. This is easy to find as it’s provided on their websites. As far as the address goes, I always write to their local office instead of the D.C. office because those are just forwarded to the local office anyway.
On with my story. Two weeks later (and I still have the letter), I got a response back with a copy of the letter that her office had written to my Garrison Commander. I was super relieved that my letter had been received and acknowledged…AND that something was being done to solve my problem.
Looking back now, I don’t know where this idea came from, because no one in my family was very involved in political or local government stuff or aware that this could be done.
Now, it took the Army a while to approve my housing allowance after that letter came in AND it took almost 10 months to receive my back pay for that first month I had not been paid for housing allowance.
Luckily, the people who rented out the RV to me had both served the Army and were patient when I had to pay the next month’s rent.
So, you, if you’re frustrated about a problem in your local or federal government or maybe even with a private organization and you want to either file a complaint to your legislators or request help, FOLLOW the steps I provided above.
If you request help, your legislator will ask you to fill out a Privacy Release form and email, mail it or fax it in to them. This form allows the legislators to inquire about your issue. Please don’t misunderstand the limitations of your legislator. He/She can only encourage or urge for action to be taken. He/she cannot demand or order an agency to do A, B, or C. However, entities respond quicker to issues when they get a congressional inquiry even if it’s in regards to an individual citizen.
And if you want to urge your legislators to sway this or that way about something you feel passionate about, you can CALL your representatives! YOU can do that. They will listen. However, they will. Not. Give you their point of view. Or side with you. That’s not what they’re there for.
The person who takes the calls is usually either an aide or an intern who will take record of your call and what you said regarding the specific issue you mention and this record will be provided in a report to the legislator.
I hope this information is helpful to you and that you become more engaged in your local government and community. You can use this method of communication with private organizations, although some do not prioritize responding to their public.
If you have any additional tips to share, please comment below and share your story!