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Our favorite stories about public lands and opportunities for you to get involved in protecting your outdoor experiences.


What Really Happens When You Write to Congress?

Tania Lown-Hecht

We know that it’s easy to be cynical about politics, to think that big money and powerful private interests control the conversation. You might wonder how a few people who love the outdoors can compete with huge industries and their army of lobbyists. We may have to do things differently than the Koch brothers, but with the right strategy, the voices of even a few dozen paddlers or mountain bikers or climbers can have a huge impact on legislation. Here’s how:

  • Know what motivates your lawmaker. Ultimately, every politician wants is to keep her or his job. The desire to keep their job is what keeps politicians hyper attuned to what their constituents are riled up about. Whether you do that through social media, by writing a letter, or by calling their office, make sure they hear from you about what you care about. One state staffer told us that her boss, a Senator, calls the state office several times a day just to ask what they are hearing from people who are calling and writing the office.
  • A few people can make a big difference. Lawmakers make decisions on behalf of their constituents, so they are always trying to figure out what people think. If there's a big issue, your Congressperson might hear from a couple hundred people. If it's something less high profile (like a lot of the smaller policy issues we work on), they might only hear from 20 people. So if you and your friends all take five minutes to make a call or write a letter, you can definitely move the needle.
  • It’s okay even if you don’t change your lawmaker’s mind. Most members of Congress are working on a bunch of different things at once and so their attention is always divided. They might not think anyone cares about your issue, but you can help them to make it a higher priority or encourage them to call in a favor. Let’s say your representative is championing an issue you disagree with. If you reach out to express your opinion, your rep could come away thinking that the issue is more contentious than she originally thought, and she would rather work on something else. Even if you don’t change their vote, don't think that the outreach doesn't matter. Consistent messages over time pay off because they leave your representatives looking over their shoulders thinking, “If I vote a certain way, what are the kayakers going to say about it?”
  • When you’re deciding how to reach out, something is better than nothing. The more personalized your contact, the more impact it has. A hand-written note kicks the hell out of a form email or a petition signature. But those things count, too. As we’ve written about before, social media might be the exception, but it’s the most effective when you tag the congressperson so they know you're talking about them.

Next, we’ll share our best tried-and-true techniques for writing a kick-ass letter or making a great phone call to your rep’s office.

Check out the other posts in the series:

Part 1: Why Slacktivism Matters