How to initiate communication.
Nina Babiarz, Public Watchdogs Board Member
In our first article I showed you how to identify and contact your elected officials.
Depending on where you live you can Google your District for a link to your various elected officials to identify their websites. If you save the websites for your convenience as a ‘Favorites’ in your browser, it will increase your accessibility and get you into the habit of tapping this resource.
Sign up for their newsletters
Since most elected officials have an option on their websites to sign up for their electronic updates, this is an easy way to stay informed and build your relationship. After all, communication is a 2-way street and this may offer you the option to respond to them vs. initiating that first conversation.
Find out who the key staffers are
Put each politician in your contact list. All of them have staff members that specialize in your areas of concern. Be sure to put the names of key staff in your contact list. Note which staffer is responsible for your topics, such as nuclear waste, corruption, legislative reform, etc.
As Tip O’Niell said, “All politics is local,” but it can be very personal as well. A good way to start to hone your constituency skills would be to first pick a topic related to your home and of concern in your neighborhood or something that will directly impact your family, children or elderly parents. Personalizing the politics gives you chance to compare your own opinions with those of your public servant.
How you can benefit from making contact
You may be pleasantly surprised by the number of different ways your elected officials can be of help to you and your family. For example, Congressional District offices offer constituent services in everything from planning a trip to Washington D.C. with tours to the Capital and White House to help with Federal agencies including letters of support for federal grant applications by local nonprofits, plus things like flag requests and internships. I’ve been to D.C. many times for business but one of my most memorial trips was having a front row seat in the Senate Chambers arranged by my Congressman.
Last year a friend became a naturalized citizen. I grappled with a way to commemorate such a special occasion and had the idea of securing a flag from my Congressman that had been flown over the Capitol and came to find they had a small inventory at the District office. I was able to run over and pick 1 up for the cost of the flag which came boxed with a Congressional certificate. Needless to say my friend was ecstatic to receive it.
I have two nieces who have traversed the globe for educational experiences in foreign lands; one in Japan, China, and Great Britain, and the other in Costa Rica. Some of their parent’s concerns were calmed by calling their Congressional rep to secure the Consulates’ contact information in advance. In the event of an emergency, they would not be scrambling but could be prepared to expedite communication on their child’s behalf. Fortunately, they never needed the help of the U.S. Consulate, but it was a comfort knowing they had this vital information.
Try to understand their world view
Be informed. Do your homework by reviewing the websites for your elected representative’s position on issues. The California Assembly and Senate just voted to approve reforms at the California Public Utilities Commission (see our analysis of these somewhat ineffective first steps). Here’s your chance to find out if your lawmakers are pro-corruption or anti-corruption.
Sometimes in reading or discussing voting records, it gives you useful information on where your politician’s loyalties lie.
Reluctant to call? Do it anyway, if only to say “thanks”
If you’re hesitant to pick up the phone, do it anyway. It may help by finding something nice that your elected official did recently that benefited your community or a subject close to your heart. Call to thank them for supporting something that matters to you. Expressing appreciation is a sincere and upbeat way to begin a dialogue. Believe me, they don’t get many of those calls, so it’s also a way to be remembered in a positive way.
Thank You is a great place to start and it’s also a good place to end this second segment in our series and move on to the face-to-face meeting.