Even though Congress failed to pass the American Health Care Act, no one believes that health reform is going away. In fact, after emotions settled down, many national policymakers already were talking about re-visiting the issue in the near future.
Health reform is important to all Americans. It represents nearly one-sixth of the U.S. economy and it touches everyone in very personal ways. And, it’s not just Congress that is dealing with health policy. The Minnesota Legislature is considering several issues that could have far-reaching impact on Minnesotans.
Time and again, you will hear that on complicated and contentious issues like health reform, your voice matters. But does it really? That’s the question Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Kathryn Schulz tackled in a recent article in The New Yorker (“What Calling Congress Achieves,” March 6). She found that Congress is being flooded with constituent contacts like never before. Is it having an effect? According to Schulz, “The deluge of constituent pressure…is a viable long-term strategy only if it is a long-term strategy – that is, only if those doing it to choose to sustain it.”
She also points out that in specific cases and on particular issues it’s hard to measure the impact calls, letters and emails have on policymakers. But, she says, “We all do plenty of things without knowing if or when or how or how much they will work…So, too, with calling and e-mailing and writing and showing up in congressional offices: it would be good to know that these actions will succeed, but it suffices to know that they could.” And, in her article, Schulz documents many examples of issues where grassroots actions – both organized efforts and the spontaneous calls of concerned citizens – made a difference.
How can you increase your chances of being effective? A few tips, whether you are contacting city hall, state legislators or your members of Congress and whether you are communicating by phone, email, letter or in-person.
- Be polite. Threats, shouting or abusive language not only doesn’t work, it often backfires.
- Keep your message brief and to the point. Take time to know your subject and to practice your message. You don’t have to be the expert on an issue; you do have to be able to articulate the issue and your request clearly.
- Identify your connection to the policymaker. (For example, “I live in your district” or “My business is located in your state”).
- Speak in personal terms. Why do YOU care about this issue? If you have a personal anecdote related to the issue or some expertise on the topic, share it (briefly) in your communication. But it also is effective to simply say, “I care deeply about this issue and that’s why I am contacting you.”
- Ask for the policymaker’s involvement in ways that are relevant – a vote on an upcoming piece of legislation, for example).
- Provide your contact information for follow-up (day phone, email, mailing address).
Finding out who represents you
- Every Minnesotan is represented by one state Senator and one Representative. You can find out who represents you using this tool on the Legislative Coordinating Commission website. When you click on your legislators, you will be directed to their official Senate or House of Representatives site. There, you can find contact information; any town hall meetings they have scheduled; sign up for their legislative updates; etc.
- In Congress, there is one member of the House of Representatives that serves your district. Minnesota has two U.S. senators, Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken.
House of Representatives: Email addresses for members of the House can be found by going to the House of Representatives website and entering the ZIP code for your residence or business
And remember, as The New Yorker’s Schulz points out, persistence matters. Democracy can be slow and frustrating, but don’t give up!