Congressman? Did you hear me?

Posted on January 28, 2011 by elcaworldhunger

I had the good fortune to attend the Region 3 Hunger Retreat in Alexandria, Minnesota this week. I admit that the deep interior of Minnesota is not my dream destination in January, but I was told it would be lovely in a bleak, wintry sort of way. I was not disappointed! The air was crisp and the snow was pleasantly crunchy underfoot. But best of all, I got to spend time with some really phenomenal people.

 The content of the event was wide ranging, but one of the presenters was Tammy Walhof from Bread for the World. She spent some time talking about advocacy, and she shared a couple of things that I’m anxious to pass on, since they seem so helpful.

 The question arose about whether or not sending those email form letters to your elected officials is helpful. In response, Tammy shared some research. What makes the most difference in influencing your politicians?

  1.  Visits from constituents. Nothing makes an impact like showing up in person – or persons! Consider taking a delegation from your congregation. Or organize delegations from several congregations in your community.
  2.  Individualized postal letters. And hand-written are best.  If, however, your handwriting is illegible, individualized email are third on the influence list. The key is individualized! If your letter starts with the same sentence as 100 other letters they’ve received, it will be dismissed. You may be saying the same thing as others, but be sure to say it in your own words if you want to make sure it’s carefully read.
  3. Of medium influence are phone calls. On a daily basis, there was a pretty even split between political staff who thought they were made a difference and those who thought they didn’t. But Tammy was clear to point out that at key moments, they are incredibly important. When time is of the essence, call! But otherwise, your time is probably better spent writing.

In the category of “no influence at all” were form letters. Whether email or postal, there’s a decent chance that if you send these, they will be discounted and make no difference. 

 One final tip: Tammy said to never underestimate your elected officials desire to be compassionate. It struck me as not only true of our politicians, but probably most people, and probably something we don’t acknowledge often enough.

 Now let’s go advocate!

 -Nancy Michaelis

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