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Perspectives on Civility: Resources

Tips for "friending" an elected official

Citizenship is a verb! As Christians, we should view it as both a privilege and a responsibility to participate in the democratic process that supports our government. Choosing and supporting candidates and then elected officials requires intentional effort to be informed about both the issues and positions held by those who run for public office.

As with every human endeavor, mankind's sinful nature will reveal itself. However, this reality is never a valid reason for dismissing the importance of being an engaged citizen.

Register to vote

Being a registered voter is the first step to constructively engaging in the political process. It demonstrates your commitment to participate as an active citizen and establishes credibility when speaking to elected officials. If you're not part of the solution of helping choose the men and women who will serve in public office, then you're part of the problem.

Get to know your elected officials

Be knowledgeable about who represents you. As a constituent, this helps you speak to your specific representative. You can find your representative here:

"Friend" your lawmaker on Facebook or follow them on Twitter

Communications rapidly evolve from one election cycle to the next. Social media sites are now popular ways in which candidates and elected officials directly connect with their supporters and the general public. But don't limit yourself to only having a "virtual" relationship. Be willing to step out and use traditional methods of relationship building as well.

Call your elected officials

Taking time to call about issues you care about is important. But don't be someone who only calls to complain or point out areas where you have disagreement. Elected officials need to hear from constituents who congratulate them on a job well done or encourage them to stand up on issues which you hold in common. Additional suggested guidelines include these:

  • Prepare what you want to say prior to your call. You should limit your remarks to about a paragraph of text.
  • In Canada, ask to speak to the MP directly, but do not be surprised if you must speak to a member of her staff instead.
  • In the U.S., you will speak to one of the legislator's staff members. Ask to talk with the assistant responsible for your issue (e.g. foreign policy). If they are not available, you may leave a message with the receptionist or leave a voicemail.
  • Identify yourself as a constituent. (E.g. "Hello, my name is John Smith, and I am a constituent from Anytown, postal code ___.")
  • State the issue that you are calling about. Include a bill number whenever possible (e.g. C-123 or S-123 in Canada; H.R.1234 or S.1234 in the U.S.).
  • State what you would like the legislator to do. Be specific and have a precise request. (E.g. I urge you to vote in favor of H.R. 1234.) Briefly explain your position and reasoning in 1-3 sentences. (e.g. "As a person of faith, I believe that..." or "This bill is essential to my community because...")
  • Ask for your legislator's position on this issue. You may request that your legislator send you more information about his or her position in the mail.
  • Always be positive and courteous. Thank the person who takes your call.

Write or e-mail your elected officials

Written communications can be powerful tools to connect with elected officials and provide lawmakers to learn more about issues from the people it affects most, their constituents. Simple guidelines for writing an effective letter:

  • Letters can be neatly hand-written or typed.
  • Use a formal business style. Use the proper address and salutation to begin your letter (e.g. Dear Senator/Representative [Last Name] in the U.S.; Dear Mr./Ms. [Last name] in Canada).
  • Identify yourself as a constituent and include your name and return address on the letter.
  • State the problem in the first paragraph. Include a bill number whenever possible (e.g., H.R.1234 or S.1234.)
  • State what you would like the legislator to do in the first paragraph. Make your request for action as specific as possible (e.g. "I urge you to vote in favor of H.R. 1234").
  • Be informative. Explain why this issue is important. Elaborate your position and reasoning. If you are asking your legislator to oppose a bill or issue, explain why you prefer an alternative.
  • Personalize your letter. Explain how the issue affects you, your family, church, or community. You can include how your experience and Christian faith shapes your concerns.
  • Be concise. Express yourself clearly in one page or less. Only discuss one issue and limit yourself to a explaining a few key points.
  • Restate your request (e.g. I urge you to vote in favor of H.R.1234) at the end if the letter is longer than a half page.
  • Ask for a response. Ask for a commitment from your legislators on the issue, and request that they explain their position to you. If he or she sends you a response that is vague or does not directly say what the legislator has done about the issue, feel free to write again and politely ask for clarification.
  • Thank the policymaker for devoting time to your issue and for past action.
  • Always be courteous, even if you disagree with the legislator's position. Show your passion and politeness at the same time!
  • Follow up! If the legislator acts on what you requested, write a thank you letter. If the response is vague or does not directly say what the legislator has done about the issue, feel free to write again and politely ask for clarification.

Schedule a time to meet in person

Meeting with lawmakers is often easier than people think, especially among state-level officials. Informal settings such as local restaurants and coffee houses are common and often regularly scheduled. Town Hall meetings and other public forums can also provide opportunity in group settings. But don't hesitate to request a time for meeting with an elected official in their office. This is important especially when you wish to discuss larger issues that cannot be effectively communicated in a letter. Please also keep in mind that such meetings may end up being with staff who play very important roles in meeting with constituents on behalf of their bosses and maximizing their ability to work on important issues. Also, consider scheduling a meeting to be held jointly with others who have the same view. Strength in numbers can be helpful, but do not ambush the official or turn the meeting into a hostile setting. If you do, you will not help your cause, and you will likely never get an audience with the official again.

Be willing to provide financial support to a candidate

Laws differ by state or at the national level, but be aware, there are legal and ethical methods through which you can support a political campaign. While there are high-profile examples of abuses that occur involving money and politics, an overwhelming majority of candidates use these funds for the intended purpose - to effectively communicate with the masses. These funds are used to pay for various expenses relative to running a campaign. They include things such as paid campaign staff, websites, radio and television ads, social networking advertisements, transportation and hotel costs, newspaper advertisements, billboards, and the ever important food to feed hungry campaign volunteers.

Get involved in a campaign

Warning, this section is not glamorous or for people who always need to feel appreciated. However, the reality is that all candidates for public office need ground-level support. Giving of your personal time can provide needed support to a candidate that is critical to an election and may enable them to fight for the causes in which you believe. This could include getting involved in a national or state political party, or by volunteering at a candidate's local campaign office making phone calls, stuffing envelopes, or performing any office support function. You can also consider hosting a fundraiser or a debate viewing party at your house, posting comments or news stories on your own social media sites and holding discussions with friends and family. (Note: It is still probably best to avoiding such activity at the Thanksgiving table).

Pray

Prayer is the ultimate act of genuine submission, recognizing our weaknesses, uplifting others, and providing support through divine wisdom and understanding.

 

Upcoming Event

October 4, 2012; 4 p.m.
Panel discussion with group members in the Commons Lecture Hall. Refreshments and lively discussion provided. Contact sbuist@calvin.edu for more information.
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Civility