Two weeks ago, I said yes to writing to my representatives in government for the first time in fifteen years. On August first, President Obama gave a speech encouraging all Americans to take part in our democratic government by writing to our representatives about a little issue that I won’t name, but will allude to by saying that if I had handled my allowance that way as a child, my parents would have taken it away faster than you can say “bipartisanship.” But, my point in this post is not to get into politics but to generally encourage anyone who cares how federal government decisions affect their lives to get involved in the process that makes us some of the lucky few in the world who get to directly express our opinions to our leaders.
When I was eight years old I made an impassioned appeal to the Utah state governor to make owning ferrets legal. It was a handwritten letter, and I included some pictures that I had drawn on tracing paper by visiting the library and tracing pictures of ferrets out of “dangerous pets” books. The wonderful thing was, someone in the governor’s office took the time to answer my letter, even if it was just a photocopied sheet explaining why ferrets are illegal to own as domestic pets (they are considered feral animals). Sadly, this experience did not inspire me to continue communicating with my representatives in government, and I hadn’t done so until now.
It took me becoming a working tax-payer (I am currently one year out of college) plus a very frustrating situation, which shall still remain unnamed to avoid political partisanship within this post, to incite me to contact my representatives for a second time, fifteen years later.
After President Obama’s suggestion that we all communicate our opinions to our representatives on said issue, I decided that it was time to jump back into the political fray that I left when I was eight years old, so I turned on my computer and, like 3 million other Americans that night, tried to log onto the federal site that connects you with your representative. Fail. The site was overloaded and I couldn’t use it.
Plan B: spend ten minutes searching the Internet trying to find out who my California representatives are because yes, shame of shames, I had been living here for ten months and didn’t know who they were. Once I found U.S. Congressman Mike Thompson and Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, I simply had to visit their websites and find the “Contact” page, which was very easy because they want their constituents to contact them.
I also did a five minute Internet search on the best way to format your letter to a representative, and the consensus was to address him or her with his or her proper title (“Honorable” for congressmen and congresswomen, and “Senator” for senators), give details about yourself and the bill or issue, and be brief and professional. A very good resource that I found was an article written by Congressman Morris Udall on how to write to a member of Congress. It can be found here.
So, I composed my brief message, hit send, and felt self-satisfied for the rest of the night. But really, it was very empowering to feel that even if the office staff and not the representatives themselves read my letters, I had still exercised one of my rights as a citizen and that I had made my voice heard, however small a voice it is. I don’t know when the next time an issue will move me enough to write another letter, but it was the work of all of ten minutes, so I’d like to make it a more regular way that I participate in society, and I’m glad that I said yes to writing to my representatives.
If you’d like to write to your representatives about an issue, or just to tell them that they are doing a good job, this government website makes it about as easy as it can be.