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This will be my first posting to daily KOS - I couldn't find a diary on the subject, so I'm sorry if I'm duplicating.  Like many West Coast office-dwellers, most of my coverage of the Gonzalez and Rice Senate floor debates came from this website (thanks, lesliet, and others willing to transcribe!), and during these debates I saw several comments which went unanswered about "Do Senators respond to out-of-state calls?" and "Email them right now - I've emailed them 5 times."

Let me first start with a disclaimer --- I haven't been on the Hill in coming up on 5 years, so some of what I have to say may be dated (as to Senate office treatments of emails and such), but I invite any Kossacks (That is the right term, yes?  I'm new here.) who have more recent experience to please contribute their observations.  That said, I thought I'd offer my 2 cents about what really happens when people contact a Senate office --- I spent the better part of a year answering the phones in the D.C. office of a prominent Democrat from a small state.

Update: When you finish here, head over to DCMike's diary (and recommend) for a continuing discussion and what will hopefully be a good series of demystification and tips on how to talk to elected officials in Washington.

Now, before you get all worked up about how your Senator doesn't hang on every word you say and immediately change his/her opinion to mirror yours when you call, please keep in mind that no matter how right(eous?  Or should it be "how left"?) you are, your "Democratic" Senator is not necessarily a worthless piece of DINO trash (unless you're from CT, and I'm not talking about Dodd).  Your Senator is beholden to at the very least, 700,000 people, and at the most, tens of millions.  Granted, your enlightenment and engagement in the political process should and do count for something, but keep in mind that your individual constituency accounts for 0.000285%, or less, of the voters in your state.  Yes, you care, and that counts.  But that doesn't make you the Senator's personal trusted advisor on anything.  And if you aren't even from the state the Senator represents (a constituent), the most you should expect is a polite voice on the other end of the phone.

That said, before you go sink back into the well of impotence and frustration that for so long has characterized our poor, disheartened party, some good news: many voices are louder than one.  And having been on the other end of those phones, and from tales of wait times and busy signals in Washington, I can safely say that last week there were quite a few voices being heard. (go dkos!)  But what really happens when you call?

First, anatomy of a Senator's office, and then - further steps you can take to have an impact. (Skip to the last few paragraphs if you just want advice without understanding the system. ;-) I won't hold it against you; this thing got a little long.)

From the bottom up, here's how a D.C. Senate office works:

  • Interns - unpaid college students, usually.  Aspire to careers in government.  Various levels of competence - menial administrative tasks are the meat and potatoes of this job (including autopenning [signing] all the nice letters senators send back to constituents).  Occasionally, though, they might be trusted with picking up a phone.

  • Staff Assistants - Recent college grad.  This is the job that I had, also known as the `front lines'.  Stationed in the front of the public office, this job (one or two people in our office) consists in the main of greeting visitors and loonies who walk in off the street, answering phones and opening mail (though uncommonly bright interns can often be trained to do the last on a regular basis).  Sorting faxes and email is also part of this job.  Oh yeah, and keeping office supplies stocked --- how many different kinds of pens do we need?  One for each staff member, of course.

  • Legislative Correspondents (LCs) - Recent college grad.  The bulk of this job is writing the nice letters that senators send back to constituents.  Emails, phone messages, faxes, and letters are all routed to them by the Staff Assistants.  There are usually a few LCs, and issues are divided between them.  They research the senator's position, find supporting evidence, and then write response letters, which are sent to the interns to sign.  They report to the LAs with a breakdown of constituent feelings on the issues.

  • Legislative Assistants (LAs) - Usually an experienced person with qualifications other than a bachelor's, oftentimes in a specific field.  This is where my knowledge of how the constituents's desires are communicated becomes a little vague.  The LAs are responsible for supplying the senator with information on the issues and briefing them before an upcoming vote.  Each LA covers a subset of issues (e.g. heath care, veterans' affairs, education).  Presumably, what constituents are feeling as described by the LCs counts for something in these briefings, but is probably not the main consideration.

  • Senator - Yes, they're slimy.  Of course they are.  Imagine the ecto-shield you'd have to erect around yourself if you spent 20 years with a job description that included having polite political discussions with the likes of Rick Santorum on a daily basis.  The point isn't "is my senator a slimeball or not?" it's "do I agree with them or not?" and, in today's world, "do they have a spine or not?"

Are all ways to contact the office created equal?  When I was there, no.  Email was the least effective because a lot of crap used to get emailed in and sifting through it for genuine constituent letters was not an efficient or a high priority job.  Form letter emails are better than nothing, but not much.  Things may have changed for the better, here, however, so I will defer to anyone who knows more.  Faxes, letters, and phone calls are treated about equally, but if you want your opinion to get farther than the Staff Assistants, you better be a constituent, and LEAVE YOUR ADDRESS. If you don't do the latter, you will be treated as a non-constituent (i.e. ignored).  Emailing or calling multiple times in a short time frame about the same issue (<1week or so) is not likely to be weighted more heavily than calling once.  However, if you feel like you forgot to say something, it won't hurt to call again.

What else can you do?  Well, the first rule is obviously Be A Constituent.  If you're feeling persistent, I advise asking for the LA who deals with your-favorite-issue when you call, and cut out the middle man.  This is not a strategy that will work five hours before an important vote, because they won't have time to talk to you.  But, if you call repeatedly and ask for that LA (find out their name from the front office), and YOU ARE A CONSTITUENT, then they will eventually talk to you - persistence IS rewarded.  But expect to have to call multiple times.  Calling on behalf of an organization (i.e. a group of people larger than yourself, especially one based in the senator's state) will also help you get heard.  Letters and calls from organizations get routed directly to the LA as a matter of course, though repeated calls may still be necessary depending on the schedule of the LA and the clout of the organization.

Okay, that's what I've got.  Glad there's a forum out there in which to disseminate this information.  Hope that helps someone understand and work within the system a little bit better.  The important thing to remember is that voting in elections and calling your elected officials when you feel really strongly about something is only just a little better than the minimum civic duty in a functioning democracy.  You want more influence?  Get involved in other ways.  (BTW, mad props to SusanG and the gang for being involved in other, big ways.)

If anyone else wants to comment on how it works in a different office, or a Representative's office (way fewer constituents on average...  If you're not in DE or WY or something.), please jump in.

Thanks! Wow, verbose, eh? Sorry...


Originally posted to demandcaring on Thu Feb 10, 2005 at 11:44 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  DC office anatomy/functioning vs. state office (none)
    good diary post. interesting for those of us who have called but don't really know how things work.

    i assume you are referring to the DC office. I wonder how the senator's state office functions/funnels info, or if it is much different. I have usually called the state office when I have called.

    •  My experience... (none)
      from time on the Hill was that we'd get raw numbers of calls pro and con from the District offices, and later a list of names and addresses so we could plug in the right response letters corresponding to their position.

      In our case, the District offices were strictly clueless on legislative issues. They were staffed by caseworkers only, plus a few higher-ups -- but all legislative matters were referred to DC for response.

      •  I worked in a district office (4.00)
        and you are right - sort of.  They do keep the pro/con tally on the phone calls too.  But we just asked for names and addresses.  Then these less than scientific "statistics" were passed on to the Senator every day.  

        The Senator I worked for always wanted to know what type of calls we were getting.  So, this is probably a better use of "freep" time than online polls.  In fact, I would recommend calling them AND the Senator's DC office.  Most of the time, they will NEVER compare lists of who called.  So, your voice on any issue will essentially be counted twice.

        •  True. (none)
          In terms of raw numbers, nobody would ever bother to do anything other than add them up.

          The duplicates would only be sorted out in the mail report, when the same name would come up multiple times in the list, and be merged in under a single code for a response letter to be generated.

      •  a District office (none)
        I called up My (republican) Senator on the Alberto Gonzales issue through a local district office, and was transferred to the DC office.  Don't know how often this happens, but it happened to me.

        We have no desire to offend you -- unless you are a twit!

        by ScrewySquirrel on Thu Feb 10, 2005 at 02:54:20 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  I'm recommending this diary (4.00)
    It is instructive -- and, considering how many of us around here actually DO call and write our representatives, I can't think of a more useful diary on the board right now.

    Thanks for taking the time.

    Rage, rage, against the lying of the Right.

    by Maryscott OConnor on Thu Feb 10, 2005 at 11:48:25 AM PST

    •  It was good. I agree. (4.00)
      Good judgement Maryscott, if that is your real name...


      This diary fits in with CategoryAction in sort of a how-to way.

    •  Direct contact with members of Congress (none)
      If Kossacks are truly engaged on a particular issue, one way to have a bigger impact is to call your Congressman or Senator's office and find out if they do regular constituent events, either in DC or in their states or districts.

      My boss is a Senator from a Midwest state, and for the past several years, we have held constituent breakfasts when the Senate is in session.  Any constituent who is in town, whether on business or vacation, is invited to attend, and will get a chance to speak to the Senator during the breakfast.  That conversation is likely to be brief, but you will also have the chance to speak to the member's Leg. Assistant on the issue you care about at some greater length.

  •  Yes: (none)
    Thanks for enlightening us, as a former insider, about what tactics are most effective.

    We're just getting started.

    by jem6x on Thu Feb 10, 2005 at 11:51:24 AM PST

  •  Recommended (none)
    Good "meaty" fact filled diary. I hope we see some of the updating you have suggested from more recent staffers.
  •  Show up at the Senator's apperances. (4.00)
    Feingold will always give me a minute and a half to make my case, 4 if it's interesting.

    Herb Kohl doesn't actually do many personal visits to the State. Last time I caught up with him, at the State Dem Convention, I got in his receiving line, shook his hand, and didn't let go until I'd said my piece, smiling and pumping all the while.

    If your Senator or Rep is on the Committee with jurisdiction on your pet issue, get to know the Committee aide, email them directly.

    Snailmail is no longer a preferred method, since the Anthrax scare. It can take as much as 3 weeks before it's screened and delivered.

    Congressional offices with their act together should issue passwords to trusted constituents, so that their emails can be filtered from the astroturf.

    The Republican Party: We get government off your back, and drop it on your head.

    by ben masel on Thu Feb 10, 2005 at 11:54:01 AM PST

    •  State Legislators: hit 'em where they drink (4.00)
      Step one, find out where they do their boozing when in session.

      Step two, get to know the bartenders. Let them introduce you.

      "Well Dave, if I buy you a drink, you'll have to list it on your Ethics Board filing, so why don't you buy."

      The Republican Party: We get government off your back, and drop it on your head.

      by ben masel on Thu Feb 10, 2005 at 12:00:34 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  And be hot (none)
        Following on from the watering hole approach, a very effective way to contact dirty old conservative Senators is to be a hot young woman, like my cousin whom we'll call "S".

        S is from New York, but she was out west on vacation when she was approached in a bar by an aging man. Where are you from? he asked.

        S: "New York."

        "Where do you work?"

        S: "Mt. Sinai hospital."

        "Oh. Are you a nurse?"

        S: "No, I'm a cardiologist, and you sir are getting to the age where you could use one. What do you do?"

        "I'm a Senator."

        Who was it? I won't reveal sensitive details, but let's say he was a Republican from New Mexico who has an unhealthy affinity for nuclear waste. And no, the above did not take place in NM.

        "We must uphold a familiar commerce together in all meekness, gentleness, patience and liberality."

        by Marshall on Fri Feb 11, 2005 at 04:03:15 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  Except (none)
      The filtering could also work in the opposite direction. I have no doubts whatsoever that Fat Denny would cheerfully put me on his personal "ignore this asshole" list if such a thing were possible.

      "Je ne regrette rien" -- Edith Piaf
      Now let's take our country back!

      by musing85 on Thu Feb 10, 2005 at 12:04:32 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Jan Schakowsky is good about that. (none)
      I saw her speak at a local gathering, then went up afterwards with a paper I had written.  She was polite and handed it off to someone else.  But I managed to get the email address of that person, and have been able to send her the occasional brilliant idea, which, she assures me, gets in front of the Representative and other members of the leadership committee.

      Of course, it may be hooey, but, it makes me feel like my occasional flashes of brilliance are at least seen by people who may make a difference.

      Of course he's written in the Lamb's Book of Life. He's the Antagonist.

      by ultrageek on Thu Feb 10, 2005 at 01:11:10 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  yes, Jan has good "ears." (none)
        Last summer, she came to Madison to headline a fundraiser for Tammy Baldwin. I approached her as it was breaking up, and initiated a conversation about drug policy, and specifically the currently illegal ibogaine cure for addiction.. She suggested we head to the hotel bar for coffee, gave me around 20 minutes.

        The Republican Party: We get government off your back, and drop it on your head.

        by ben masel on Thu Feb 10, 2005 at 01:28:45 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  I was so excited about this information (none)
    that I accidentally hit recommend twice.  Once you unrecommend you can't undo that.  Sorry for my dumb ass.

    The Christian Right is neither Witness Every Day

    by TXsharon on Thu Feb 10, 2005 at 12:09:06 PM PST

  •  Recommended, and thank you. (none)
    I'm lucky in that I'm an Illinois resident, so, you know, Durbin and Obama.  I haven't felt this contented in my representation since the irreplaceable Paul Simon was in the Senate.

    I've always doubted the effectiveness of contacting senators from other states, but could there be influence in numbers?  One letter from a non-constituent may be inconsequential, but maybe a great many make a dent.  Many senators harbour aspirations of national prominence, after all.

    It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation.

    by martianchronic on Thu Feb 10, 2005 at 12:09:38 PM PST

    •  You _are_ lucky. (4.00)
      I too, have only lived in torture-free states, but I really feel for those living in, say, Texas.

      My advice is that if you want to make a dent, focus on your own representatives, and get a great many people from your state to do so too.  Dkos is a great way to make that happen.  

      It may be more indirect, but one already-true-blue senator getting accolades or pressure from constituents may lead to them becoming more vocal and self-assured.  And that will have more of an impact than thousands of calls from out of state that don't get past the front desks.

      •  Ain't that the truth... (none)
        We've got Kay Bailey Hutchison (R), who's occasionally somewhat conscientious, and John Cornyn (R), who bleeds the Bush Kool-Aid. Not much point in even trying.

        To be perfectly honest, I've only bothered to contact one of them once: in 2003, after the FCC's media consolidation vote. KBH, bless her heart, actually opposed the Administration, and Powell, on this issue.  She's likely running for Governor in '06, hoping to unseat Bush-lite Rick Perry, so we have a slim shot at regaining a senate seat, if the right candidate comes along.

        •  Democrat Barbara Ann Radnofsky (none)
          is running for a US Senate seat from Texas in 2006.  Kossack Tomtech is advising her on communications.

        •  Hutchison (none)
          opposed the confirmation of Leon Holmes, too. Since his confirmation vote came less than four months before the election, she caught hell when she broke ranks for the first time to vote no.  

          It was also the first (and so far, only) time I'd written her a fan letter, but after having sent her so many of the other kind over the years, it was only fair.  ;-)

        •  Oh Man, (none)
          and you think you got it bad!  Look at who I got for senators!  Frist and Alexander!!!!!!!!!!  I just want to cry on most any day of the year because of this.  I certainly feel I have no voice and  am taxed without representation all the time!  I do know how you got to feel here!!!
      •  that brings a question to mind.... (4.00)
        If getting the actual constituents of state/US congress to contact their representatives is the more efficient and effective way to get an opinion heard by the staff of a member of Congress, is there any way people can think of that would help identify Kossacks' state of residency, so that people who happen to live in, say, Connecticut, could get some sort of special notification when there's a bill or issue regarding the powers that be in that state?  

        Going on titles alone isn't always the best, if only because I do have to work and can't read every diary all the time.  And as much as I pick and choose what diaries and other posts to read based on preference/interest, it would be SUPERB if something earmarked posts about my home state, Massachusetts, so that if there were something urgent I needed to contact (uh, those scary conservatives John Kerry and Ted Kennedy) my Senator about, or something specific to Mass politics, I'd find out about it ASAP and could send it on to family/friends?

        I'm just throwing a bone out.... lemme know what you think.


        I refuse to have to proclaim love for my country before I criticize it.

        by deep6 on Thu Feb 10, 2005 at 01:36:53 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I think that would be great (none)
          Is there a technical way to do that?  Click what states this applies to, what disttrict etc.  and then subscribe to what is relevant to you.
          •  brainstorming (none)
            I'm horrible with the technical stuff, so my ideas are more organizational...

            1. Create an option in our user profiles that allows us to identify our state of residency.  

            2. When posting a diary - or maybe even a comment? - create a field of boxes to be standard in the "post a comment" screen.  Create boxes specific to each state (maybe create a box for the US as a whole, and then one for international regions) that the poster can click/select to identify what regions their post relates to.

            3. Then we could set up some sort of "preferences filter" for users so that based on just their state of residency any diaries whose writers identified that state (by checking on the box) would automatically show up in your hotlist, or on a new tab on your individual user page as some sort of alert.  

            There's more brainstorming to be done here....

            But I think this would be a great way to organize DKos campaigns where emails/phone calls/letters are really needed from constituents, so that they know which issues/campaigns/candidates need support in their region.

            Also, if a diarist wrote something good or bad about an important piece of legislation in Maine, they could select "Maine" from the boxes of affected states and anyone whose residency in their profile matched "Maine" could automatically have some sort of alert populate into their user page or on their hotlist....   something like that.  

            Just the benefit of being able to determine the residency of Kossacks so that we know where we're getting our support from - or states where we need MORE support - would be good.  We could get some statistics off that...  


            Anybody who's been around DKos a while should really chime in here....

            I refuse to have to proclaim love for my country before I criticize it.

            by deep6 on Thu Feb 10, 2005 at 03:08:27 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

        •  Damn that's a great idea! (none)
          Pennsylvania for me.  So, my two Senators are rarely on the fence.  Well, I guess Specter sometimes is maleable.
    •  Another IL resident here, feeling oddly powerless (none)
      I felt almost helpless during the Gonzales hearings.  I knew Durbin was going to vote no, and it became apparent that Obama was too (Rice vote notwithstanding), so it felt like there was nothing I could do.  I wrote to them anyway, of course, before and after the vote.  Which reminds me, does it help to write in and thank Senators/Reps for voting the right way?
      •  asdf (none)
        Try being from PA and having Santorum and Specter, the Stepford Senators.  I have nearly stopped calling because it feels so futile.  Isn't that awful?  Oh, to be from IL...but I dare hope to oust Santorum in 2006 and at least get half way there!

        Closed minds should come with closed mouths.

        by Pennsylvanian on Thu Feb 10, 2005 at 02:17:50 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  No... don't stop making contact (none)
          Calling... or writing... is in reality an extension of voting.  Democracy doesn't begin and end on election day.

          A Senator represents all the people of a state... and regardless of how useless one may think a single call or letter seems... a multitude of contacts does cause them to pause...

  •  Wow! (4.00)
    People recommending my diary?  I'm all of a dither!  Yes, should have mentioned that if the senator is on a committee, it's likely that the committee staff are the ones who handle most pressing issues on that topic and you should try and make contacts there, rather than in the senator's home office --- but if you call the home office, they should be able to transfer you.
    •  Great!! May I Suggest You Submit This (none)
      well-informed advice to other blogs, such as Democracy for America if you haven't, of organizations that are mobilizing elements of the grass roots.

      It wouldn't hurt to try to find some minority organizations too. Minorities have been complaining about being ignored since forever, and heaven knows we need their partnership now more than ever.

      We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy....--ML King, "Beyond Vietnam"

      by Gooserock on Thu Feb 10, 2005 at 12:52:24 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  I've been wondering about this! (none)
      So thanks for your timely diary. What happens to mass "petitions", like from, which are signed by constituents from every state?
    •  Couple of quick questions... (none)
      What is your recommended method of communication? Is a phone call better than a letter?  

      When writing letters, is there a word limit one should work for? Should it kinda take a format like "I'm a consituent and a __ (insert interest group here) and I feel you should support/oppose X." Then go on to say why in a few sentences then summarize in a couple of sentences?

      I've never actually communicated with my elected officials and my husband and I have decided our best short-term impact on things that are bothering us is to write letters to our officials and send $$ when we can to support our causes. I'd like to make sure our letters are formatted for maximum impact.

      Thanks for a great diary!

      Where are we going and what are we doing in this hand basket?

      by awnm on Thu Feb 10, 2005 at 01:25:19 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  First let me say that (none)
        I love your sig... first saw that on a bumper sticker while working in D.C. and it's more appropriate now than ever.

        Secondly, original, hand-written letters, or phone calls are the best.  When I was there, they were treated approximately equally, but you can lay out more of a case in a letter.  If it's not a form letter, it gets read, no matter how long, but obviously succinct and well-written is better than rambling and incoherent. :-)  Although, judging from some of the comments, a phone call might be best in these post-anthrax scare days if you really want to get a message through in a timely fashion.

  •  Thanks... (none)
    ...will adjust some of my tactics, especially with my Senators (Clinton & Schumer).

    Unfortunately, my mis-representative's office is hopeless. What's particularly annoying are those
    thank you letters telling you that they appreciate you contacting them and supporting their position on a particular matter when, in fact, you clearly did the opposite. It was after having received a couple of those that I actually addressed a letter to him as "Mis-Representative James Walsh." Sure enough, got a letter thanking me for agreeing with him on his position, which, as usual, was not true.

    Do they do that deliberately with constituents they know are unlikely to support them just to piss them off?

    •  Walsh (none)
      I get the same thing from Walsh. I wish someone would run an effective campaign against him.
      •  He had no opponent on the ballot (none)
        this last time, and he's one of the weakest, least intelligent politicians, with a personality that's the opposite of charismatic.
        The only reason he seems to be able to keep getting reelected, IMHO, is the overwhelming Republican registration in the district, and the fact that he's still milking his daddy's name and reputation for all it's worth. It sure would be nice if a credible candidate could be found to run against him.
  •  For non-constituents (none)
    What if you want to contact a Congressperson because of a Committee issue (eg judicial nominations, the environment), but you're not a constituent?  Any chance that the communication will be read/listened to?  After all, Committee votes affect all of us, not just folks from a particular state.
  •  Worked basically this way (4.00)
    on the other side of the Hill in a Representative's office 10-15 years ago. Except then we didn't have to also deal with e-mail. Reps don't have as many staff, so they're likely to have only one LC. This means that the LAs (the people working on policy) do more of the responding to constituents--at least they do see the non-form letters/calls, and work up the basic responses to them. Back in the day, the equivalent of the form e-mail you talk about was form postcards. Issue groups (like the AARP) would mass mail to their members on key votes and stuff, and include postcards that the individuals could fill out with their names and addresses to send to us. We'd get hundreds and hundreds of these things every month. They'd get answered, eventually, but didn't really have an impact.

    Individual letters, written in your own words and signed is always the best way to go for a considered response. But I'd also encourage folks to go to public meetings. Almost all of these guys have fairly regular town meetings in the district or state, and that can be the most effective way to be heard. Particularly if local media is there. If you come across as well-reasoned and intelligent, and have an important point to make, you might even end up being part of the story, and once your issue is in the press, well there you go.

  •  Excellent Information. Thank you. (4.00)

     Should be its own page on Kossopedia, for reference purposes.

     My two cents worth, with creds first:

     Gig 1.  Congressman's Office.  Capitol Hill.  19 years old college sophmore.  Answered phones, wrote "simple" letters.  Ghost wrote a telegram from the Congressman for (local) Viet Nam War Memorial bcz Congressman Pork over at Paris Air Show eating duck No. 14,529 or something.

     Gig 2.  Governor's Office.  After college.  Some research.  Answering phones.  Constituent correspondence.  Keeping library (where press conferences held) tidy.  Driving around state handing out awards for the Governor, who was very sorry that his busy schedule would not permit him to be present in person today.

     Gig 3.  Different Congressman.  The Hill.  26 year old law student.  Mainly research and prep work for Congressman sitting on House Sub Committee doing hearings on reauthorizing Commodities Futures Trading Commission.  You can wake up now.

      LESSONS LEARNED:  Volume, volume, volume counts.  Your or my single phone call DOES NOT MATTER.  However, a flood of phone calls, letters, faxes (I was pre-email -- what does that tell you) all on the same topic and all of the same opinion certainly DOES make a difference.

     Out of State calls or letters are pretty much wastes of time.  I'd say the exception would be for House and Senate Leaders, as their constituency is, in a way, a national one.

     So, 20 or 30 or 50 or 100 or 1,000, etc. letters (I think snail mail is UNDER-ultilized these days; think about the sheer MASS and WEIGHT that many, many, many letters have -- I've witnessed it as a problem in cramped House offices) can certainly, certainly make a gumment official perk up.  And, yes, phone calls, too.  But it has to be MASSIVE and from IN-STATE.

     Hope that helps and dovetails with this excellent Diary.



    "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." T.J.

    by BenGoshi on Thu Feb 10, 2005 at 12:48:19 PM PST

    •  Question about phone calls and cell phones (none)
      Do they use caller ID?  My only phone is a cell phone with a California area code.  I have since moved back to Massachusetts.  I suppose that I could  call the California people and use a fake address, but I'd like to be honest.  Are they screening the area code?
      •  Good question, not sure... (none)

         I always identify myself when I call my Congressman's or Senator's office and they (staff person) at least act like they wouldn't have known otherwise where I was calling from.  

         It's been long enough for me to have been away that I wouldn't know what kind of tech they're using today.  Need to ask one of these latter-day staff people and, of course, it may very from Senator to Senator, Congressperson to Congressperson.


        "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." T.J.

        by BenGoshi on Thu Feb 10, 2005 at 02:01:20 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  My office had Caller id (none)
        But if the call was switched from the main board, we had no idea where you were calling from...
      •  Yes (none)
        All offices have caller ID.
      •  Caller ID (none)
        We had caller ID, but if you supply an in-state address, you're treated as a constituent.  Verification of constituency was never done based on caller ID when I was there.
    •  "snail mail" (none)
      Anthrax scare is why e-mail is preferred now.  Faxed letters will also get a response, too.

      "Sir, we've already lost the dock." A Zion Lieutenant to Commander Lock, The Matrix Revolutions

      by AuntiePeachy on Thu Feb 10, 2005 at 02:27:18 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Downside to faxes... (none)
        is that they annoy the staff.  Probably won't have an impact on registering your positions for or against something.  But, might get your letter filed in the recycling (Democratic office) or trash (Republican office).
        •  "Annoying" faxes . . . (none)

           . . . look, if CONSTITUENTS fax lots of faxes and they DON'T look like Astroturf (i.e., not in "form letter" form), then there's no problem with "annoying" the staff.  

            The staff is there, partly, to guage constituent opinion and reaction to policies and proposals.  If enough constituents (like, say, 25 faxes from all over the Congressional District; or, with a Senator, 75 faxes from around the state) fax or mail or call in a SUSTAINED way -- that is, over a sustained period of days, or, much better, weeks or 2 or 3 months -- it will, indeed, at least make the Representative or Senator think twice before supporting or voting against a particular bill or policy, etc.

            PLAN OF ACTION:  Like with Dean Meet-Ups, if enough people, using the "tree" networking system, were to mount a sustained campaign of faxes, calls or s-mail letters to an MC -- over a period of at least days, if not weeks or months -- rumblings (at least) within the office will occur.    Again:  VOLUME MATTERS.



          "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." T.J.

          by BenGoshi on Thu Feb 10, 2005 at 02:44:43 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Clarification -- (none)

             those "25" and "75" numbers meant PER DAY.  

            Of course, 5 or 10 per day's good, too (talking about faxes and letters).  Organization is the thing.  

              Both on the Hill and in the Governor's Office, we'd sometimes get "form" post cards that, while sort of attention-getting (because they're be lots of 'em), were not taken nearly as seriously as would two-thirds or even half amount of hand-written postcards, letters or faxes because that would have shown a passion in the constituents' feelings on the matter that a form postcard does not.


            "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." T.J.

            by BenGoshi on Thu Feb 10, 2005 at 02:49:40 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

      •  Well, the letters are still . . . (none)

         . . . delivered, are they not?  And someone still opens and reads them, don't they?  I mean, even with the Anthrax scare, it's not like the mail's simply stopped being delivered, right?  

         Again -- the point is VOLUME.  That (and, of course, $$$) is what these nabobs respond and react to.


        "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." T.J.

        by BenGoshi on Thu Feb 10, 2005 at 02:35:58 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  I sent an email (none)
      to Harry Reid before the Gonzales confirmation. I was succinct and funny and closed with "Give 'em Hell, Harry" and look what happened, he's been on fire. I like to believe it was my letter, it does me good to feel so. Some of it is the feeling of being able to DO something no matter how small, in these trying times.
  •  Good point about e-mail (none)
    which, I'll bet, is the way most people here contact their legislators.

    Sure, e-mail is easy and free, but it's also easy to delete unread. A letter, on the other hand, has to be opened and read by somebody.

    I've found that e-mail often doesn't even rate a response, which, to me, means it was never read.

    The part about being part of a group is also helpful, even if it's a cosy DFA chapter.

    The Republicans want to cut YOUR Social Security benefits.

    by devtob on Thu Feb 10, 2005 at 12:51:24 PM PST

    •  Email Responses (none)
      My emails always get a response from my US senators, state senators, and state representatives.  The only person that I don't get a consistent response to my emails from is my US representative.  Just my experience, YMMV.
      •  California here (none)
        Boxer=response always.
        Feinstein=no response. She did respond once three weeks after the fact. God, I can't stand her.

        I know we can't always get the vote we want for our issues but when a dem consistently votes rep lite it truly makes me crazy.

        Thanks for the great info. I am sure Feinstein's aids are getting sick of me. Boxer's are always polite and seem to care when you call. What a difference.

        The more understanding one posesses, the less there is to say and the more there is to do.

        by Alohaleezy on Thu Feb 10, 2005 at 02:02:46 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  No response=never read (none)
      I'd say you're right on - most offices try to do a really good job about responding to constituents (even if the senator doesn't agree)

      This is probably true: if you don't get a response letter in the mail, your correspondence was never read.  

      It is also true what someone else commented: if you don't leave a return, in-state address, your correspondence will never be read.

  •  Alternative to senators, etc. (4.00)
    This is a good diary that underlines the situation.  However in view of the difficulties outlined above it might be a better idea to work through groups like this one, who lobby congress and have some pull, check out this site.

    Friends committee on national legislation

    by diane101 on Thu Feb 10, 2005 at 12:55:39 PM PST

  •  When I write... (4.00)
    ...I do so on the assumption that my shimmering prose isn't really going to register, but my basic position will.  So I try to offer it in a topic sentence -- as I was taught in grade school -- and then offer another few sentences to amplify a bit.  Generally, I try to work in a reference to the Founders.  But that's because I genuinely hold them in very high regard.  

    Years ago I received one of those "questionaires" from my congressman.  You know the ones -- the questions are there to soften you up for the "included is my donation of $__" at the bottom of the page.  Well, I ignored the questionaire, but sent back a letter.  I said something like, since you asked me about my opinions this is what they are.  I gave him a sentence or two on each of the issues.  (The only one I recall specifically was flag-burning.  "Since when do the rights of symbols take precedence over the rights of citizens?" I asked.)

    I was pleasantly surprised to get a letter back in reply.  Not a form letter, either.  I have no doubt it was written by a staffer, but still, nice surprise.  My congressman told me he basically agreed with the opinions I had expressed, thanked me for taking the time.  He also announced he was retiring.

    I have no idea if there was any sort of cause-and-effect there or not....

    "...your grasp has exceded your reach/ And you put all your faith in a figure of speech..." -- Warren Zevon

    by Roddy McCorley on Thu Feb 10, 2005 at 01:07:10 PM PST

    •  check the bottom of the letter (none)
      it will have the initials of the legislator and the initials of the person who wrote it.

      Yeah the revolution starts now..So what you doin' standin' around? -Steve Earle

      by juls on Fri Feb 11, 2005 at 05:20:44 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Also ... (none)
    ... some times Congressmen (more often, women) will have brief "meet the constitutients" sessions for about 10 minutes which you can schedule ahead of time (there's an LA there usually, to actually take notes or just check off issues that were discussed and get you on their email list for "news updates").  If you have numbers and sincerity these meetings can have an impact and I recommend you look up your congressperson and see if they have such meeting.  I can only confirm California's Lynn Woolsey (Sonoma, Marin, etc).  

    Great article, very timely and helpful, thanks!

    •  Constituent meetings (none)
      Senators Boxer and Feinstein have constituent breakfasts in DC once a week. I have yet to be able to go to one, but have been meaning to.

      "I'm George Bush and I approve this message"

      by Hollywood Liberal on Thu Feb 10, 2005 at 01:50:30 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  If you represent a group (none)
      and are persistent, it is always worthwhile to try to schedule a meeting with the Rep or Senator. Even if you can't get the person, if you keep at it, you can usually get a meeting with the relevant LA -- not quite as good, but can be helpful and certainly keeps the pressure on.

      Obviously for this sort of thing, you have to be paying attention and have time -- not a spur of the moment activity.

      And then you have to make sure your little delegation knows how to talk about what it is there for. You need to be cogent.

      America is a broken promise, and we are called to do what we can to fix it. -- Bill Moyers

      by janinsanfran on Thu Feb 10, 2005 at 07:00:04 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Something else to think about (none)
    First off, great diary.

    Secondly, I know that several Senators and Reps have stopped accepting snail mail (thank you botched anthrax investigation).  Not all, mind you, but I'd just recommend a phone call above a nicely pefumed letter.

    In this world of sin and sorrow there is always something to be thankful for. As for me, I rejoice that I am not a Republican. -HL Mencken

    by sq1 on Thu Feb 10, 2005 at 01:19:47 PM PST

  •  Elizabeth Dole's Office (none)
    has always sent me a nice, relevant, noncommital letter after I've dropped my two cents worth into their email box. She has a nice website, and there is a "Contact Elizabeth" form there that lets you supply name, addr, etc and then your message.

    I've written her on Gonzales, HR 418, the RIAA, Social Security, the Induce Act, and have always gotten a prompt, relevant 4-5 paragraph letter on actual paper in the actual mail from her office.

    Even if she doesn't vote the way I want (and I didn't vote for her), I feel that someone at least has made a tally mark on the side I'm urging her to support.


    When a trembling distant voice, unclear
    Startles your sleeping ears to hear

  •  Short and Sweet (none)
    I always (most always) keep my correspondence with my senators and representative short and to the point, as in covering only one subject at a time.  I figure all they need is a thumbs up or down and don't require a long explanation.
  •  So, nothing wrong with repeated calls/letters (none)
    in a short period of time, if they are all on separate topics?

    What if I have three issues I want to make my voice heard on, should I talk about them all in one call/letter, or split them up?

    I call so often I have to laugh when the staffer takes down my address.  I recognize her voice, I can tell it's the same person every time, I halfway expect her to have my address memorized by now.

    •  Any which way (none)
      you choose to divide it up.  If it's all-in-one or separate correspondence, each issue should still get addressed in the response, which may be written by more than one LC.  

      :-) Ah, "frequent callers."  Sometimes, it's nice to hear a friendly voice on the other end of that phone. (as opposed to one snarling obscenities, or mumbling incoherently)

  •  dKosopodia? (none)
       Is this stuff available in the dKosopedia?  Because it seems to me that this is ideal material for it.
  •  I'm still confused about ...... (none)
    is there any power any signing on to the petitions that come from organizations like MoveOn?
    •  My understanding (none)
      is that the primary function of those online petitions is for the sponsoring organization to collect emails of interested individuals to add to their mailing list.  They are also a good excuse to raise awareness on an issue.  I doubt that they do little good as petitions.

      Work for change with DFA in Illinois!

      by citygirl on Thu Feb 10, 2005 at 01:50:25 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Not really (none)
      When we got petitions like that, if there were no addresses, I'd chuck them. If there was city information at least, I'd mark people possibly in our district and look them up in our database.

      --- If I were employed, my opinions would be my own and not my employer's.

      by Aexia on Thu Feb 10, 2005 at 05:04:30 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  if there are a bunch with an issue (none)
      which deals with a constituant-based area than yes, they will count. If not like a nationwide abortion thing, then no.
  •  Excellent points (4.00)
    They mostly apply to House offices as well.

    When I worked in DC, I handled all the incoming mail in the office and distributed it to legislative aides. Kind of scary in hindsight with the anthrax scare I suppose.

    The important thing to remember about being a constituent is that it's not enough that you be one, you have to give your address. When a piece of mail or fax or e-mail or phone call comes in, it usually gets entered into a database and assigned to someone. If you're out of district, we pass your mail onto the correct representative.

    The DB serves several purposes...

    1. It's a way to make sure that LAs and LCs are answering their mail.
    2. We can track interests and issues.
    3. When we send out mailings, we can target people by interest.

    No address, no response, and no one cares.

    If you send a form letter, you will get a form response. If you write a simple letter on a known issue, you will get a form letter on the issue. Writing complicated letters covering several issues will usually be enough to force the mail handler to assign your letter to an LA and get a more personalized response.

    Petitions, unless you've included your complete address, are worthless. E-mail petitions are less than worthless.

    It's difficult to rank methods of contact as it depends on the office but for a good office...

    1. Fax
    2. E-mail
    3. Phone call
    4. Mail

    Mail would normally be the best way because it's a physical thing they have to deal with but that takes too long now. Faxes are the next best thing. They end up with a piece of paper to deal with and it gets there immediately. E-mail depends on the office, but typically, they'll print it off and then treat it like a normal piece of mail. So it's almost the same but depending on the office, it can be easily ignored. YRMV.

    Phone calls are a great way of making an impact on a pressing, defined issue, but for anything more complicated than that... in the end, what's going to get responded to is whatever the staff assistant put down on the message pad during the conversation and any subtle points you wanted to make will get lost.

    In all cases, GIVE YOUR IN DISTRICT ADDRESS. I cannot emphasize this enough. Even if you don't expect a response, it's important that you give it to be included in any tallies.

    --- If I were employed, my opinions would be my own and not my employer's.

    by Aexia on Thu Feb 10, 2005 at 01:31:51 PM PST

  •  Originality counts (4.00)
    One of the best pieces of advice on this topic that I ever received was from Sen. Don Reigle's (D-MI until 2000) staff in the early 80's.

    I learned that one independent, well written letter is the most effective communication unless you have an opportunity for personal access. It showed real concern over an issue and a willingness to take time to share it.

    I was told that one good letter (defined as obviously written by the constituent - short, clear and make your point in the first paragragh - and not part of some mass mailing campaign) had a better effect than 10,000 post cards. Post cards then are today's email at best.

    When I write letters, I always keyboard them and fax.

    Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has. -- Margaret Mead

    by Cordelia Lear on Thu Feb 10, 2005 at 01:31:55 PM PST

  •  The "nucular" option: Run against them (none)
    In 1990 i ran against Tommy Thompson in the Republican Primary for Governor of Wisconsin. Took a couple years, but he eventually adopted my pet issue, Hemp as an agricultural commodity. Ever after, if I showed at his public events, he'd always look me up to see what was on my mind, once even keeping the Chair of Archer Daniels midland waiting. (afraid I'd interrupt if he didn't get me out of the way first?"

    The Republican Party: We get government off your back, and drop it on your head.

    by ben masel on Thu Feb 10, 2005 at 01:34:45 PM PST

  •  Advice for the disenfranchised? (none)
    I live in DC. We have no Senators. Our House Delegate has no vote.

    We can go to the Hill physically, but the real Senators and Reps will throw us out of their office because we're not constituents.

    So any advice on how to get our interests represented would be nice.  I've thought about impersonating a constituent, but that's not ethical. I've thought about writing my letters on the back of a $20 bill too.  I donated money to a Presidential candidate, but he lost in the primaries.

    •  drag (none)
      Geez, that would depress the hell outta me.....That is truly screwed up.

      "I'm George Bush and I approve this message"

      by Hollywood Liberal on Thu Feb 10, 2005 at 02:05:04 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Capitol Hill watering holes (none)
      Hang out at the top Congressional and staff bars. Socialize. Collect personal emails for staffers with whom you relate. Don't antagonise the Republicans, move the topic to issues on which they're ambivalent or sympathetic. Easier to sway them on the fine points of legislation than the up/down votes on the package.

      The Republican Party: We get government off your back, and drop it on your head.

      by ben masel on Thu Feb 10, 2005 at 02:07:07 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I need a fix. (none)
        You know, as a political junkie, I LOVE being in DC and going to "watering holes" or, actually, ANYWHERE in DC, because people are ALWAYS talking about politics. Cabbies, people at Starbucks, people in the Super Shuttle. I mean, good ole Blue LA has a lot of political talk going on, but DC is Junkie Heaven.

        "I'm George Bush and I approve this message"

        by Hollywood Liberal on Thu Feb 10, 2005 at 02:26:33 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Been there, done that. (none)
        I was a Capitol Hill intern 20 years ago.  Hanging out in bars trying to kiss up to selfimportant staffers and influence them in the hopes of advancing good public policy is not my cup of tea, not with a wife and child at home.

        I think writing a fat check here and there has to be the only way we can vote.

    •  Thanks for mentioning this (none)
      I was going to post a comment on DC's voteless status, but I see you've already covered it.

      I do write to Eleanor sometimes in the hopes that she can at least tell the voting members of Congress what her constituents think ... but I kind of doubt they care.

    •  do they look at area code/postmark? (none)
      I'm in DC, too, and have thought about ghost-writing letters for friends/family of mine who live in states but who might not take the time to write their senators/representatives (if only they knew what it was like not to have anyone to write to!). So if, for example, I wrote a letter using my brother's name (with his consent of course) and non-DC address, pasted on a PDF of his signature, and FAXed it from the 202 (DC) area code, would the recipient be suspicious? And what if I did this for a few people, all going to the same office from the same 202 FAX number?
      •  curious (none)
        So how many people are we talkin' with no representation, here?

        "I'm George Bush and I approve this message"

        by Hollywood Liberal on Thu Feb 10, 2005 at 05:53:24 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Half a million (none)
          Slightly more than the population of Wyoming, which has  U.S. Rep and two Senators.

          DC's disenfranchised population is not only larger than Wyoming's over-enfranchised population but similar in size to several other states (Alaska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, Delaware)

          •  baaaad (none)
            I knew about this before but I don't know why it didn't sink in like it did when I read these posts. It really is f-ed up.

            "I'm George Bush and I approve this message"

            by Hollywood Liberal on Fri Feb 11, 2005 at 07:53:09 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Even worse (none)
              Not having a vote in the House and Senate, where they decide how to spend our federal tax dollars and decide whether to send our residents to war and pass laws that we must abide by, is the least of our worries.

              DC's unique status means it has no legislative or budget autonomy.  So if we want to have a needle exchange program, which our elected representatives on the Council voted for, then Congress can (and did) de-fund the program.  

              That's right, they have veto power over our laws and our budget that affects our own damn selves.  Not just the federal payments to the District, but the locally raised revenue.  We tax ourselves, decide how to spend it, and some wingnut Congressman from Indiana or wherever decides we have to spend it not on needle exchange or a locally elected district attorney that we voted for, but on private school vouchers or Bush's inaugural ball security. (Ok, I'm exaggerating a bit in that they generally have the shame to ask us to spend federal dollars on federal things, but legally they can ask us to spend our state income taxes on Jenna Bush's bar tab if they want).

              It hits our pocketbook too.  Nearly half of DC's land is exempt from local taxation because it is federal government, embassies, churches, or non-profits, even though all of these facilities use city services.

              Even worse, our Home Rule charter (we call it Home Fool) explicitly denies DC the right that all other states have, to tax income at its source.  So the billions in state income tax revenue generated in the District go to Maryland and Virginia, even though these workers all use city services.  New York City would never put up with that shit from NJ and CT, but we have to lie back and take it.

              Oh, and we get called to serve on federal juries at a much higher rate than residents of the states because our circuit has so many special cases, yet in serving on those juries we're being asked to enforce laws we have no say in passing.

              That's the United States of America, harbinger of democracy around the world.  Freedom is on the march!

  •  California reps (none)
    I had a sit-down with an LA in Feinstein's office just before the Iraq vote. I felt I had a good listening with the guy, not that it mattered to the outcome...but I also noticed while I was waiting in outer offices of both Feinstein and Boxer's office that there was an ongoing tally on Iraq yes/no votes. For big votes, whenever I call in, it's kind of like American Idol - Thank you for your opinion, one check mark, no name or address, and that's that.

    Of course, you can get the ear of your rep at a fundraiser....I've had the best chats with Senators at DSCC events or others.

    Feinstein is the Queen of "thank you for your interest and I'm very pleased for the opportunity to respond to your concerns...." and then proceeds to not respond to my concerns. Boxer responds usually about a month after Feinstein and is usually slightly more responsive. My Rep, Diane Watson, has responded to me only once, when I specifically and strongly requested a specific response. "She" did.

    Whenever I'm in DC, I always see herds of constituent groups with their name tags and packets of info. I've never gone in with a group to meet with people. I imagine there would be more of an audience.

    "I'm George Bush and I approve this message"

    by Hollywood Liberal on Thu Feb 10, 2005 at 02:03:07 PM PST

    •  Should I send a follow-up "thank you"? (none)
      I wrote to Feinstein about saying no to torture by saying no to Gonzalez.  You probably know that she did exactly that.  Does it do any good to applaud her action after the fact by writing again thanking her?
      •  thanks good (none)
        Can't hurt, I say. But I'm not one of those insiders.

        I think I remember reading maybe in the Wellstone book about reps being surprised on certain occasions NOT to hear from people. I think they really do gauge public response from mail/calls.

        I have been thinking about sending a few thank yous out for the Gonzales thang, too.

        "I'm George Bush and I approve this message"

        by Hollywood Liberal on Thu Feb 10, 2005 at 02:21:48 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  Feinstein (none)
      My experience with Senator Feinstein:

      In early December I started emailing her concerning Social Security.  Since she had voted for the "drug company pork" Medicare bill, I was concerned she would do something similar with SS.  I got nothing back beyond the automatic thank you email.

      Then in early January I read on the Talking Points Memo site that she had sent "selected" constituants a letter detailing her opposition to the Bush plans.  I called twice to her San Francisco office and sent several more emails requesting a copy of that statement - nothing, no response.  I checked her web site at least once a week looking for a statement.  I just looked again - again, nothing.

      Now finally on February 10th I received (in the snail mail) a letter dated January 7th (I'm guessing it is the same letter that perhaps went out to those "selected" constituents) stating her opposition to the Bush plan.

      So my point?  Don't hold your breath waiting for that timely response from some Senators.  It may take awhile.  

      Obviously, even with this letter in hand and with Bush's "first try" plan pretty much in flames, I am suspicious and I am watching her closely (for whatever good that does)

      The media is not our friend. We need change.

      by california jim on Thu Feb 10, 2005 at 03:36:37 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Oregon group (none)
    6 of us who worked together on the Kerry campaign brainstormed a way to get to talk with our senator. We finally had one person make a phone call to schedule a meeting with his chief of staff. We told the scheduler we were a group that wanted to assist the senator in Oregon to stop the privatizing of social security. We have an appointment scheduled in the local office. We have sent a letter in advance of the meeting describing who we are and enclosed our business cards. We plan to be present at the forums he is holding around the state to find out where Oregonians stand on SS.
  •  Alternative: Write something that makes sense. (none)
    A cogent comment. A trenchant question.

    Then, don't send it to your Senator.

    Your Senator doesn't have time to hear everything you have to say, but she does have a network of people she listens to. (Doesn't everybody?)

    Post it in a public place. A Newspaper. A newsletter. A blog. Pipe up at a public meeting. Or share it with somebody on the edges of influence, somebody who doesn't live in 24x7 rush hour on the information highway.

    Somebody will see it. Somebody may say to themselves "good point ... so-and-so should see that". So-and-so will say "maybe my boss could use that". And so on.

    Of course, first you have to write something that makes sense. "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it".

    Since anthrax killed the written letter, and fax/email are jammed with astroturf, there's really no good measure of public opinion on an upcoming measure. Too bad, but that's the world we live in.

    •  do it anyway (none)
      Shouldn't it be sent to both? I always feel like I should communicate my opinion directly to my rep regardless of whether I think it will have an impact or be directly responded to, just for the record. I want to be in the stack, in the tally, to be officially if perfunctorily heard from. Just do it. It's part of being an active citizen, a participant in my democracy. It's the vitamin-taking part of being a citizen. I used to call and/or write the White House, and have actually gotten "responses" before, if you can call it that.

      "I'm George Bush and I approve this message"

      by Hollywood Liberal on Thu Feb 10, 2005 at 02:15:51 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Congress recently disconnected its tollfree number (none)
    what a bummer.
  •  Thanks for the great diary! (none)
    But I have to admit that I'm jealous that your first diary hit the Recommended list!


  •  One of the best Senators... (none)
    One of the best Senators to reply to constituents, and others, was Paul Wellstone.  My sole opportunity to meet him was through the Close-Up program in 1998.  He would listen to us teenagers, tell us how he stood on the positions presented in our questions, and then gave advice on how to improve their argument, whether he agreed with it or not.

    This next story is second-hand. The previous time my school went to DC (3 years previous), he had to cancel because of either a vote or committee hearing.  he later showed up at the hotel and invited groups from the other states, as well.  I suppose it helps that he was the 1960's-70's equivalent of dkos.

  •  Thanks (none)
    for the great diary!  I put a link & list of highlights on my blog. Much appreciated.
  •  Thanks for the Info (none)
    much needed, and the response verifies it. ^5

    click those ruby slippers together 3 times, and you and that dog get your ass back to kansas.. ~@^@~ ?

    by infidelpig on Thu Feb 10, 2005 at 02:28:47 PM PST

  •  Dean (none)
    Ok, that's funny. Speaking of writing letters, I wrote a letter to Howie Dean re: the DNC Chair race, supporting him but with some specific concerns, and I just got a non-responsive form letter back with a bumper sticker......THAT'S frustrating.

    I do, however, have some thank you notes from sending money from WWAAAY BACK before he even had a website, and it's on Gov of Vermont stationery, and it's DEFINITELY hand-signed, with even a little handwritten "Thank you!!" scribbled on the bottom. It's on my fridge....

    "I'm George Bush and I approve this message"

    by Hollywood Liberal on Thu Feb 10, 2005 at 02:44:00 PM PST

  •  Some figures to ponder (4.00)
    When I was on the hill, my office did a tally for one year of total, non-repeating correspondents as a percentage of the total number of consitutents.  When I asked the staff what they thought the percentage would be, I received answers ranging from 10% to 50%.  The answer was .5% of total constituents.

    If you subtract the bullshit pressure mail postcards from the right-to-lifers and the NRA it was .22%.

    Responding to mail takes up far to much time and resources for a member's office, since the vast majority of the incoming mail was of the "you're an asshole for having this view" type, but responding to thoughful letters was actually rewarding on a personal level.  At least to me...

  •  Here's how to get your state level rep's ear (none)
    Catch 'em in the barber chair
    Virginia lawmakers dropped their droopy-pants bill Thursday after the whole thing became just too embarrassing.


    The bill's sponsor, Democratic Delegate Algie T. Howell, declined to answer reporters' questions Thursday but issued a statement saying the bill "was in direct response to a number of my constituents who found this to be a very important issue."

    He has said the constituents included customers at his barber shop who were offended by exposed underwear.

  •  one footnote to all this (none)
    Legislators don't change their mind simply to be nice.  And most of us aren't writing such brilliant letters that the sheer force of our prose will sway them.

    Instead, each call or letter is an implied threat - if you do the wrong thing, you may lose my vote, and those of others like me.

    Ultimately, the threat is only good if you make good on it.  Calling or writing is just a small portion of making good.  You also have to:

    • tell friends about the issue, so that the implication that every call is worth 10 votes, every letter worth 100, holds true;
    • find out afterwards how your legislator voted;
    • tell your friends how your legislator voted;
    • take the issue into consideration when you vote.

    I get lots of action alerts from one organization in particular, which will go nameless.  But they have never followed up and told me how my legislators voted.  So there is absolutely no chance that any of them pay any price for their votes.  That kind of letter/phone campaign is completely useless.

    On a different issue, I think this is why campaign reform doesn't go very far.  Lots of us moan about it, and even write letters about it, but few are actually willing to vote a Democrat out of office (and this goes for Republicans too) because of their actions and votes on campaign reform.

    •  from a former senator's mouth... (none)
      I was told by a former senator (very prominent) that you must tell your senator/congressman that they will NOT get your vote if....etc.

      He said they pay attention to this.  Don't imply the threat, actually threaten, in a matter-of-fact manner.  

  •  I think email is rising in effectiveness (none)
    I know that when I go to my senators' web sites they have a disclaimer that paper mail has to go through a decontamination process (part of the anthrax scare from a couple years back) and so can be delayed by as many as 1 to 3 weeks. On the other hand, when I mailed Senator Murray about the Abu Gonzales nomination fight I got a reply from her saying she had decided to vote against confirmation. It looked a lot like paper-mail replies to faxes I've sent her in the past, and of course it was as canned as a dozen Vienna sausages, but at least I got a reply indicating that someone, somewhere had read it.

    It probably still ranks below phone calls in effectiveness, but I would't be surprised if it's as effective as faxes these days.

    You do have to go through their web form, but that's understandable, considering that it slows down spam.

  •  40 Letters.... (none)
    At an organizing retreat on Global Warming a few years ago, a staffer from the Governors office in Massachusetts said that it took just 40 letters on a topic to get that issue on the Governor's weekly list of issues that constituents care about.  So if you're at any Meetups, or meetings of like minded folks, a short letter writing session can have a huge impact.
  •  Your Email subject line (none)
    If you're looking for an up or down vote on a bill that's already "cooked," include the Bill number in the subject.

    If your concern is a bill still in committee, and your Rep is on the Committee, include the Committee Name in the header, upping the chance it's sent to the staffer responsible for Committee business. In the longer run, get this staffer's direct email address, and monitor the Committee's webpage for upcoming items. With both my Senators, and until this term my Rep. on the Judiciary CommitteesI kinda evolved into a 1st line of defense on Fed drug policy statutes over the last 7 years.

    The Republican Party: We get government off your back, and drop it on your head.

    by ben masel on Thu Feb 10, 2005 at 04:55:45 PM PST

  •  my congresswoman (none)
    I interned at my congresswoman's district office and can say that email and letters were treated about the same.  Either way, we interns sorted through all of it and filed "opinion expressed" forms for each one received, summarizing the constituent's opinion.  These were sent to D.C.  I can't say what happened to them from there though.
  •  Thanks for this Diary (none)
    You simplified the one I was writing here.  I've been trying to explain a lot of this in comments here and there but now think we need a few diaries on this.  This is a great start.
  •  E-mail response (none)
    I don't know how unusual this is, but my husband has e-mailed our Congressman on two occassions this past year and received personal responses each time.  The responses addressed the wording of his e-mail specifically so we're sure they weren't canned.

    The last one was the strangest because my husband sent the e-mail on a Friday evening and received a response day after next on Sunday afternoon!

    These were to Congressman Ted Strickland in Ohio.
    Somebody is on the ball there.

  •  How about! (none)
    Could I just write a $250,000.00 to get access?
  •  Current Experience (none)
    I worked with David Price last year and am working with Bob Etheridge this year. It depends on the congressman.

    DP had us write comments from everyone who called and photocopied and stapled and placed on his desk for him to read each day. BE I have only been with for a few weeks so I dont know the MO quite yet.

    I just want to say that today, the best way to ge tin touch is by email or phone, with email being better probably. Snailmail is a nice show of you caring but in terms of a mixture of ease (on both sides: electronic filing versus photocopying and scanning to files internally) and convenience, email is the best possible way.

    Also, I dont know if you know this or not but all the mail gets routed through a center in Minnesota  to screen for biological and chemical contaminates . The idea is that if a incident occurs, it will be far away from the mail room and the government can continue at will to do what it wants.

    Never ever ask to talk to the congressman. He is too busy. Always ask to talk to an LA (legislative administrator). If you want to make sure that they talk to you, ask when they have free time to call you back next or something like that.

  •  Do they ever use Caller ID? (none)
    One idea I've had is to personally pursuade folks at the office, in the neighborhood, wherever, to call their reps/senators about the issue in question right there on the spot, and actually give them my phone to make the call.

    For Senators, this would mean a bunch of calls coming from one phone number.

    I'm curious if the recipient of the calls would be dismissed as some sort of fraud, even though each call truly was from a different constituent.

    Any thoughts?

    •  no (from my experience) (none)
      At the congressman's office where I interned, caller ID wasn't used that way.  We were trained to ask for the phone number of each constituent. It's possible someone could be using a line at their office for example, and we wouldn't want to put that one in our database.  As long as each person using your phone is a constituent and gives their own address and phone number, the calls should be handled the same as if they all came from different numbers.

      Talent is widely distributed but wealth and privilege are concentrated. We must remedy this mismatch. - Martin Eakes

      by Pulp300 on Fri Feb 11, 2005 at 07:33:08 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  campaign workers (none)
    I sent an email via web form and also called my US rep on the election challenge issue. When I got an email response saying "he supported election reform" I answered back "yes, but I mean I want you to vote to challenge this election now.

    I had volunteered in his office this year when he ran for reelection, and I mentioned that, and also that I had friends who had also done so, and that I wanted to see him participate in the challenge.

    In the end he did vote to challenge. It was not out of character for him to do so, but he had given no indication that he would.

    so I wonder...Do Senators and Reps listen more to constituents who have volunteered, or donated to their campaigns? makes sense....

    I certainly plan to donate to this Reps campaign next time, as well as volunteer!

  •  Catch them while they're peeing? (none)
    An activist friend of mine once told me that if you ask a man something while is urinating he HAS to answer you!:)
    Vulnerability perhaps? ;)

     But short of hounding and persuing pols or LAS or LCS into the bathroom stalls, I have found making consistent, polite, well written letters, emails and faxes DO matter.  Even here in the Deep South, I will get quick replys from Republican legislators even if I disagree strongly with them.  I occasionally even win on an issue!

    A knowledgable, clear and diplomatic message WILL be counted --it is like a mini-election!  

  •  group constituent meetings (none)
    Back in my Amnesty International group letter-writing days, we used to plan congressional visits with groups of people to sit down with staffers or reps, if possible. I think it would be a good practice whenever we get some issue (maybe we should be doing this on Social Security) and in whatever way we can manage, be it our Dem club, our DFA chapter or create a DKos meet-up group, and try to sit down with people from our rep's office. I'm going to try to encourage that with the grassroots groups I'm working with in Hollywood. Let's encourage it here. Someone suggested up-thread about finding a way to link people here by region (zip code?) Maybe that can be used to find people to go as a group for constituent meetings in your area.

    "I'm George Bush and I approve this message"

    by Hollywood Liberal on Fri Feb 11, 2005 at 08:08:30 AM PST

  •  For the current "This Week in Fascism" (none)
         I used this diary in my most recent "This Week in Fascism" Please come take a look and le t me know what you think. Please keep in mind that more then likely I recommended your diary. Hint! Hint!

              There is hope! Here are some articles on a way to fight back.

         Demand Caring gave us an excellent How to be effective about contacting your senator: What Really Happens When You Call? That prompted DC Mike to place his diary on Effectively Talking to the Hill 102 earlier then he had intended. The bottom line advice is to phone your Representative often. Get to know who works on what in the office. Get a personal rapport with an aide during recess. Jonathan added How to contact the government: another perspective which concentrates on contacting government agencies.

    "It's about the accountability, stupid." Thomas Davis 2005

    by Tomtech on Sun Feb 13, 2005 at 07:35:24 PM PST

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