How to Influence Washington, D.C.: Contact Your Congressperson

You don't have to live in Washington, D.C., to participate in U.S. policymaking. Almost all citizens, no matter where they live, are already represented in the policymaking debate through their local House member and senators (sorry, D.C. residents and Puerto Ricans).

The most basic and fundamental way you normally influence the policymaking debate is by voting. By pulling that lever or punching that chad (don’t leave it hanging!), you are taking a clear stand on what policy direction you want the country to move in and whom you want to represent you in Washington.

But voting isn’t always enough. Regardless of what was debated during a political campaign, Congress is always grappling with a barrage of new issues and decisions. The easiest way to let your senator or representative know what you want her to do is to tell her by picking up the phone and calling her office.

As you may expect, you probably won’t get your senator or representative on the line; in fact, the person you speak with very well may be a part-time, unpaid college kid who’s happy to be out of class. But most offices will have the courtesy to hear your position, take down your name, and thank you for your time.

You can also contact your legislators via e-mail. If you know your senators and House member, simply Google their names and their websites will come up with contact information on the home pages.

If you don’t know who represents you in Congress, Google “Members of Congress” (or go to the House of Representatives website) to identify your representative, and Google “Members of the Senate” (or go to the Senate website) to identify your two senators.

If you’re concerned that your single voice won’t have any influence on what your elected official actually decides, you may be right. But making your opinion known is still crucial because collective constituent opinion is an important factor in congressional decision-making. Congressional offices really do go through the letters from their districts and take note of what voters are saying.

Mail from slick lobbying campaigns and from crazies are par for the course, but individually written letters from constituents stand out — and can be extremely effective tools for expressing your opinion to policymakers.

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