Communicating with Policy Makers
Letters, Faxes and Emails
Written communication is an effective way to convey your message to elected officials. Letters from constituents that clearly state the issue/problem, the specific request, and connect the topic to the elected official's community will be noticed in congressional or state offices.
Addressing Your Letter
Address the letter properly, using appropriate titles. Senators are addressed as Senator; Members of the House of Representatives are referred to as Representative, Congressman (when male) or Congresswoman (when female). Occasionally a legislator prefers another title, such as Doctor. If so, use it!
Phone Calls to your Elected Officials
Making a phone call to your legislators is certainly the quickest way to be heard just before an important vote is scheduled. Be sure to ask the person answering the phone if you may speak to the person handling the specific issue. For spinal cord injury and paralysis, this is usually the Health Legislative Assistant. If you are successful in getting connected to the appropriate staffer, identify yourself as a constituent and ask them how the legislator plans to vote on your particular issue. Clearly communicate your position, thank them politely, and ask that they thank the legislator as well. If you are transferred to voicemail, leave a concise message. Legislative offices often count the number of calls they receive either for or against an issue. As with all grassroots advocacy, your call is most likely to receive attention if you have developed a personal relationship with the legislator or staffer. If you don't know your senator's or representative's telephone number in Washington, D.C., you may get connected to their offices by calling the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121.
Meeting with Your Elected Officials
A face-to-face meeting with your legislators is another powerful advocacy tactic. When you take the time to meet with your elected officials, you put a face on paralysis, and remind your elected officials of the important role they play in improving the lives of those living with spinal cord injury.
It is important to remember that you don't have to travel to Washington to meet directly with your legislators. In fact, it is often best to meet with legislators when they are home in their district offices during a legislative recess. When elected officials are on recess, they have fewer distractions from legislative business. To find out when your members of Congress will be in your district, you can visit www.house.gov or www.senate.gov. You can also call your legislator's office directly.
Remember: Never be offended if your legislators are unable to meet with you in person. Lawmakers often rely on their staff to meet with constituents, draft legislation and make policy recommendations. Staff members, such as health legislative assistants, will have more time to get to know you and your issues. Use this time to get to know the staff, to develop meaningful relationships and to become a source of reliable information on paralysis and spinal cord injury in your community.
Download the Reeve Foundation Advoacy Toolkit (PDF) for a sample letter, tips for letter writing, making phone calls, and face-to-face meetings.