There are a number of ways that people can act to influence decision-makers and public officials. One way to make your voice heard is to write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper sharing your story.
Better yet, host a letter writing party and get your community involved. Sending letters to the editor can achieve other advocacy goals because they:
- reach a large audience.
- are often monitored by elected officials.
- are often monitored by reporters and the newspaper's editorial board.
- can bring up information not addressed in a news article.
- establish broad grassroots support for or opposition to an issue.
The Anatomy of a Letter to the Editor
- Make it short and sweet: Letters to the editor should be very short and to the point. There is usually a strict 150 to 300 word limit. Check your paper’s guidelines before submitting.
- Tell a story: Share your own story or experiences - don't worry about trying to be an expert. The more personal your letter, the more people will understand your perspective. Ask yourself how the proposed legislation will affect you, your family, or friends.
- Problem, Solution, Action: In each letter, you should include the problem, the solution, and the action that you want taken. Example:
- 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.
Tips and Tricks
Send letters to weekly community newspapers too.
Policymakers usually monitor all publications in their district and it's important your friends and neighbors hear about your ideas as well.
Be sure to include your contact information.
Many newspapers will only print a letter to the editor after calling the author to verify their identity and address. Newspapers will not give out that information, and will usually only print your name and city should your letter be published.
Make references to the newspaper.
Some papers print general commentary but many favor letters that refer to a specific article. Here are some examples of easy ways to refer to articles in your opening sentence:
- I was disappointed to see that The Honolulu Star-Advertiser editorial "..." omitted some of the key facts in the debate.
- I strongly disagree with (author's name) narrow view on women's reproductive rights. ("Name of Op-Ed," date)
- I am deeply saddened to read that Congressman Doe is working to roll back affirmative action. ("Title of Article," date)
- Or for a general letter: I urge everyone in Hawai'i to learn more about HB1, an important bill pending in the state legislature that impacts our land and our water.
How did it go? Should we be on the lookout for your letter in the paper? Click here to report back to us about your experience writing a letter to the editor.