Letters and emails are a very useful advocacy tactic.
State legislators usually have an office manager and legislative aides during session. When you write or call their office, you will likely speak to their staff. Don't let this discourage you. Legislators vary on the role they give their staff, but all rely on them to field constituent correspondence and make their actions go over well in their district. The amount of mail a legislator gets on a certain issue can help determine its importance in their eyes. For example, if a legislator is getting a ton of emails and letters saying “vote NO on this bill,” it’s bound to make a big impression.
As with any other meeting or communication with your legislator, building a rapport is key! Be courteous, be honest, and share your personal story. Facts are important, but personal and relatable stories can play a powerful role in changing hearts, minds, and votes.
A note on hand-written correspondence:
All legislators have a state email address; most list their home address and telephone number. Keep in mind during the legislative session they spend the majority of the week in Honolulu, so if you’re sending physical/snail mail they may not receive your letter in time for key votes. The Hawai'i Legislature is only in Session for 60 days, so late in Session, mailed correspondence is likely to be overlooked in the rush.
State Who You Are and What You Want Up Front
In the first sentence tell your elected official that you are a constituent. Identify your name and address. You should also clearly identify the issue about which you are writing. If your letters pertains to a specific piece of legislation, it helps to identify it by its bill number (HB ___ or SB ____) or simply state the issue in general terms.
- Example: Dear Senator, My name is Jane Smith and I live in your district at 111 Rainbow Lane on Molokai. I am writing to you about SB 5 to make our employment practices more fair. I urge you to support these values and this important bill.
Hit your three most important points
Choose the three strongest points that will be most effective in persuading policy makers to support your position and flesh them out.
- Example: I encourage you to support this bill because it impacts me and my ohana, it is important to our economy, and fairness is a value we all hold dear.
Personalize your letter
Tell your elected official why this legislation matters to you, your family and your community. Feel free to briefly share your personal story. Policymakers use these stories in debate and in making up their mind about how to vote. This is about educating your elected officials to see things from your point of view.
Personalize your relationship
Have you ever voted for this elected official? Have you ever contributed time or money to his or her campaign? Are you familiar with her through any business or personal relationship? If so, tell them. However, you don't have to big a big donor to make a big difference. In fact sincere personal stories are always the most powerful.
You are the Expert
Always be courteous and to the point. Don't be afraid to take a firm position. Remember policymakers are learning on the job too-you have a valuable experience and expertise that helps them learn and cast their vote wisely. Don't use all caps and don't use profanity under any circumstances.
Tips for writing to your legislators:
- Make it short and sweet: If your legislator is receiving a ton of mail about certain hot-button issues, you’ll want to make your point quickly.
- Tell a story: The more personal your letter is, the more compelling it will be to your legislator. Tell your legislator how bills will affect you, your family, or your friends.
- Problem, solution, action: In the letter be sure to include the problem, the solution, and the action you want taken (i.e. “Vote no on HB 1234!”).
Problem: Legislators have introduced a bill that would fund the construction of a new jail. There is increasing misinformation on jails and this project and legislators think they are protecting the public by introducing this bill.
Solution: Win hearts and mind so that people understand how wasteful and ineffective this bill is at advancing public safety. Get people to write to their legislators and understand that this bill impacts communities of color and incarcerated people in negative way.
Action: Urge legislators to vote NO on this bill. Tell legislators you want them to spend time on things that address police violence, community services, and housing instead of measures that contribute to mass incarceration.
A well-written, personal letter or email is an invaluable way to make your voice heard.
We want to know how it went. Click here to report back on your action.