TUTORIAL: Writing Your Own Letters

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If you aren’t used to writing and need some help starting your own letters, I wrote up a list of things to think about and remember, as well as prompts to get you working. Feel free to contact me with any questions or comments.

  • Don’t shy away from making it personal. Share your story. Start from a place of emotion and sincerity. There is no reason you should feel constrained. The pen is yours and the letter is real. Let them know why a cause is important to you personally. It will make the situation more vivid for them. Never underestimate the value of truth and human feeling.
  • Always be polite. Use common courtesy, and thank the Congressperson at the end of the letter. It doesn’t do us any good to be rude and they will only ignore us if we play to their stereotypes.
  • Don’t feel limited to just writing to their D.C. offices. That is the address I provide in each post, but you could spice it up every now and then and send letters to their local state addresses. That’s good if there’s something specific to your state/locality on a smaller level.
  • Brevity is good! Keeping it short and sweet is always a good option if you’re really stuck. Lists are also a good start if you’re a bit at a loss as to how to organize your thoughts. Tell them what specific law, act, event, etc that is making you write and that it is unacceptable to you. If flowery language isn’t your thing, that’s okay. Just letting them know that a certain issue is on your mind is enough to start the momentum.
  • Try to be clear and concise when it comes to policy. If you can, cite a specific HR Bill, for example. That way there is no ambiguity and the Congressperson can know exactly what it is that you are asking.
  • You don’t have to have perfect handwriting, but try to be as legible as possible. (It might help to type out your letter first and then copy it onto paper. That way you’re focusing on your printing rather than improvising your ideas.) They’ll take it more seriously. As much as we don’t want to admit it, aesthetics matter. If you write on a crumpled piece of paper versus clean stationery, it makes a difference. Just keep it in mind.
  • Use proper titles. It’s just respectful. Let them know you’re serious and polite. Use “Senator,” “Congressman/Congresswoman,” etc. Also, as much as it hurts, try to say “President” Trump. Basic rules like these let them know you are considerate and willing to start a dialogue. Be the better person.
  • Writer’s block? I feel you. Sit down, get comfortable, and think about some of these questions. Jot down some notes as you consider, then try again. If you’re overwhelmed by the big issues (ISIL, Russian interference, etc), try thinking on a smaller level first. Wait until you’ve mastered this before moving on to the wider concepts.
    • What story or event did you see in the news today that made you particularly passionate? Why?
    • Do you have a close friend or family member that is part of a “minority” group in this country? Think about how current laws and issues affect them. How do you want them to be treated? Tell your Congressperson.
    • What is the most FRAGILE aspect of your life, and how can you make sure that it remains intact? What kinds of policies or responses do you want your Congressperson to take when it comes to this particular aspect (family, money, job, etc)?
    • What is the most STABLE aspect of your life, and how can you make sure that it stays that way? What drives and motivates you? Use this source of strength to inform your writing.
    • Give your Congressperson a reason to listen. Ask yourself: What further activism would I engage in if a letter didn’t work? Let them know. Marching, phone banking…talk about your personal investment in these causes and let them know that you’re awake.
    • If you’re at a loss as to a topic, turn on the news (just make sure you maintain skepticism) or go through the headlines of your local or national newspaper. What sticks out to you? What do you recognize, or not? What names sound familiar? Think about what looks important and go from there.
  • Postcards work too! You can buy them in bulk, or, if you’re on vacation, go ahead and buy one and send it to a Congressperson. Why not? All mail counts.
  • It’s ok if you can’t afford stamps. Trying calling if you have enough minutes/access to phones, or email if you have access to the internet. This project is specifically about the power of letter writing, but don’t back away if you can’t get to a post office to buy stamps. EVERYTHING matters. Don’t forget that.
  • Try not to use form letters. They get ignored more if they are clearly mass produced. If there’s a narrative, they’re more likely to listen.
  • Handwrite instead of type when possible. If you have a disability that prevents you from writing with a pen, you could perhaps ask someone to help you. I welcome suggestions from the disabled community on this. Typing certainly doesn’t negate your voice, but I find that the personal touch adds something special.
  • Do some research on the Congressperson you are writing to – it doesn’t have to be exhaustive, but get a general idea of their position(s) on the issue(s) you want to address before sending a letter. Find commonalities between the two of you to help facilitate discussion and promote bipartisanship.
  • You’re allowed to write to legislators outside of your home state/district. There is no rule against it. They represent all of us on national/federal issues. People in Congress are not just voting on issues for their constituencies, but for all of us. Think about writing to your local governments, too.
  • If English is your second language and you feel self-conscious about it, don’t let that stop you. Ask a friend for help if you like, but if not, you can address the fact in your letter. Let them know that you are learning English and that any stilted syntax is a process of your progress. Hopefully they’ll understand.
  • Try to send your letters as quickly as you can after writing them. Because of security regulations involved with screening mail to Congress, it can take longer than you may want for your messages to get there (especially if you live far away from D.C.). Some of these issues are time sensitive (Cabinet confirmations, etc) so it’s best to get them out fast.
  • You are more than welcome to use my letters as templates or as guidance for your own, but I’d appreciate it if you didn’t quote them verbatim. I don’t want to give people the idea that I am formulating their thoughts for them – try to put things in your own words.

Photo: The Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna, Virginia

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