Monday, June 12, 2006

Contact Congress!

Take a look over at the right side of the screen. You'll notice a couple of new items in the "Links" section: direct links to pages for you to contact your own representatives in the U.S. Congress and Senate.

My friend Pepper Pepper reminded me at dinner last night of the importance of staying in contact with your elected representatives. He visited the home office of Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR) last week and was shocked to see that right-wing Christianists were bombarding his office with calls condemning not only the Senator's vote against the so-called "Marriage Protection Amendment" (despite right-wingers claim that this legislation is about "protecting" their marriages, it only makes sense as an attempt to permanently set sexual minorities at the margins of society, enshrining discrimination in the Constitution), but also personally and hatefully condemning the Senator himself.

I made it a point to both call of my Senators' offices this morning and sent an email through the form provided on their websites thanking them for opposing this amendment, encouraged them to consider the rights of their GLBT constituents when voting, both on the Senate floor and in their home districts in Arkansas, and reminded them that those who support such discrimination and extreme right-wing rhetoric are not likely to vote Democrat in any election, regardless of the issue.

I followed these comments with another note to each of my Senators encouraging them to protect "Net Neutrality" when the issue is introduced in the Senate in the near future.

When writing to your representative, keep a few tips in mind:

* Keep it brief. Don't go on a long tangent, detailing the history of the issue, or a number side issues. State simply what action you would like your representative to take with a simple, well-reasoned rationale. Maybe include a brief statement on how this action would affect your personally.

* Keep your letter to a single topic. Keeping your correspondence to a single issue will better enable your representative to know how to take action. If more than issue is important to you, write more than one letter.

* Be polite. Using invectives and coarse language will cause your representative and his staff to be dismissive of your request or comment. By maintaining a courteous and professional tone, you can make a better case for your position, especially if it is at odds with your representative's position. Your representative is the representative of all of his/her constituents, even those that voted for the other candidate in the last election. Being polite preserves the proper representative/constituent relationship. Throwing verbal rocks only lets your representative know you aren't likely to vote for him or her in the next election cycle and makes him or her less sympathetic to your view point.

* Write your own letter. Many political activist websites feature forms that allow you to input your name and address, select an issue, and send a copy/paste form letter to your representative. These form letters are problematic, however. For one, when representatives receive hundreds or thousands of identical letters from a single IP address, they consider it as receiving mail from Focus On The Family or Move On and not their own constituents. Secondly, don't presume that you and any organization are in lock-step on a given issue. For example, though you may feel strongly that late-term surgical abortion is immoral and should be legally permitted only under extreme circumstances, communicate that to your representative your self, in your own words. Political action groups will often use your support for one facet of their agenda to imply your support of another facet. Don't let your support for legal limits on late-term abortion be misconstrued by the organization as opposition to contraception or marriage rights for homosexuals. These groups are often umbrella organizations advocating a wide array of policy positions, all of which you might not agree with.

*Say "Thank You." This might fall under the category of "be polite," but wite a follow-up note thanking the Senator his or her vote, or for considering your request if they do not act in the way you had hoped. Stay engaged. Stay in contact with your representatives. Be a good constituent.

Ok, with these tips in mind, click on the links to the right and tell your representatives how you feel.

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