I ask you. “ARE YOU SPEAKING?”
Today the Examiner reported that Reps. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Jared Polis (D-CO)
….said the House is set to pass bills to provide health coverage for the same-sex partners of gay federal workers and to protect all gay and transgender employees from job discrimination. They said they expect a domestic partner benefits bill to come up for a vote by the end of the year and the employment bill to reach the floor early in 2010.
Baldwin and Polis said they are also confident that the House will include a provision in the military spending bill to repeal the Clinton-era “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, which prohibits LGBT people from serving in the U.S. military.
Both Baldwin and Polis go on to say that President Obama strongly supports all three of these bills. They make the point that Congress must be persuaded and that it is our job to lobby Congress, not just the President. While there is debate about what President Obama could or could not do regarding DADT, one fact remains certain. We have more work to do. Whether we want to do it or not.
The LGBT community donated a lot of money to Obama; many campaigned for Obama. We’ve had this mentality that we voted for him, he won, now it will just happen. It didn’t happen. Now people are mad and I understand why. I’ve read statements that we shouldn’t have to fight for equality. It’s true, we shouldn’t, but the reality is that “Plan A” has not been working so well. We can’t continue to just talk to ourselves. We can’t continue to be outraged only when a law is defeated or repealed. We can’t sit back, thinking that our donations to activist groups will take care of this for us.
We must be proactive.
Stop for just one minute and really think about this: a candidate campaigns on many issues, people vote. When that candidate wins, does she or he know what issues matter the most to which people? You might say, “They should know by polls.” While that sounds logical, a poll does not tell your legislator how strongly you feel about an issue. It is naive to assume that votes and money alone are what persuades the way a representative will vote.
We just watched the New York Senate vote against same sex marriage. If you haven’t read the story of why Sen. Joseph Addabbo voted no, then you need to. As reported Rod on rod 2.0 beta
“I felt that I would get a clear indication of where my district stands on this issue,” said Addabbo, who said that he received more than 400 communications from constituents, 74% of whom opposed marriage equality.
Whether or not Addabbo is using this statistic to justify his vote or as a smokescreen, is unknown. But it led me to research the idea of how to persuade Legislators. In the fight for equality for LGBT people, we must convince legislators to pass laws.
So what do we do?
We must lobby Congress and we must do it now. The best time to lobby is when new legislation is being considered. We must continue the purpose of the National Equality March. October 11th was the start of a long term commitment to equality, not a one day event. We must start a grass roots campaign of phone calls, emails, letters to the editors. We must encourage very blogger, every LGBT group, every straight ally to raise their voice. We must fund people to set up meetings with their Congresspersons. Face to face, in their offices.
I’ve looked at websites of organizations that lobby Congress and pulled together suggestions. They made sense to me. Perhaps they will make sense to you. If you have other suggestions, please leave a comment. Do Senators and Congresspersons listen to their constituents? You bet they do. But they are bombarded with communications. Be brief, specific and knowledgeable. Tell them what action you want them to take. The best time to communicate with them is when legislation is about to be presented or is on the floor.
There are significantly more phone calls from conservatives than from progressives on virtually every issue. Oh wait–it isn’t difficult to fathom why constituent phone calls play a role in congressional decision making. Conservative media outlets and advocacy groups completely dominate progressives when it comes to mobilizing on phone calls. The examples of the public option and cap and trade are just two examples, but across all issue areas conservative domination on constituent phone calls is a general rule.
What can we draw from this statement? Learn tactics that work. We have all seen poll numbers on issues where the American public will have an overwhelming majority opinion on a topic, yet Congress votes the other way. Why? Because if you aren’t speaking, they will assume the issue is not important to you.
How to contact your legislators.
USA.gov can point you to your Senators and Congressperson, and how to contact them.
How to find impending legislation
Does your vote matter to that legislator?
It is usually best to send letters to the representative from your local Congressional District or the senators from your state. Your vote helps elect them — or not — and that fact alone carries a lot of weight. It also helps personalize your letter. Sending the same “cookie-cutter” message to every member of Congress may grab attention but rarely much consideration.
Be specific, brief and courteous. If you are comfortable giving out personal information, that will add to the legitimacy of your call. If you are contacting your representative, be sure to let them know that you live in their district or state. The same logic applies to a telephone call as with a letter; check out the suggestions under writing a letter.
If a real person answers the phone, and they do, ask them to please WRITE DOWN your message. Ask for their name. Follow up your telephone call with an email, thanking “Mary Jones” for taking the time to write down your message.
Hello. My name is Jane Smith and I live in Topeka, Kansas. I am calling to ask you to support H.R. 3017 Employment Non-Discrimination Act. In this economy, no one should have to worry about being fired for their sexual orientation or gender identity. Please encourage Chairman Miller to bring this to the Senate floor quickly.
Writing a letter or an email? Keep it Simple
A personal letter shows you are sincerely interested. Use your own words, not a cookie-cutter letter. Email is also effective, but again write the email in your own words. Your letter should address a single topic or issue. Since all mail is screened due to security reasons, some legislators actively encourage email as a way of reaching them.
Typed, one-page letters are best. Write on personal letterhead (if you have it) and be sure to sign your name if the letter is typed. Put your return address on your letter. Envelopes get thrown away.
Many Political Action Committees recommend a three-paragraph letter structured like this:
- Say why you are writing and who you are. Be sure to let them know if you are in their district. Provide your name and address so they will take you seriously. If you want a response, you must include your name and address, even when using email. List your “credentials.” Do you belong to an activist organization? Are you a physician, lawyer, clergy, parent, human resource director, teacher? Use your occupation or activism to lend credibility to your position.
- Provide more detail. Be factual not emotional. Provide specific rather than general information about how the topic affects you and others. If a certain bill is involved, cite the correct title and number whenever possible.
- Close by requesting the action you want taken: a vote for or against a bill, or change in general policy.
The best letters are courteous, to the point, and include specific supporting examples.
Addressing Members of Congress
To Your Senator:
The Honorable (full name)
(Room #) (Name) Senate Office Building
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510
To Your Representative:
The Honorable (full name)
(Room #) (Name) House Office Building
United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
Here are some key things you should always and never do in writing to your elected representatives.
- Be courteous and respectful without “gushing.”
- Clearly and simply state the purpose of your letter. If it’s about a certain bill, identify it correctly. If you need help in finding the number of a bill, use the Thomas Legislative Information System.
- Say who you are. Anonymous letters go nowhere. Even in email, include your correct name, address, phone number and email address. If you don’t include at least your name and address, you will not get a response.
- State any professional credentials or personal experience you may have, especially those pertaining to the subject of your letter.
- Keep your letter short — one page is best.
- Use specific examples or evidence to support your position.
- State what it is you want done or recommend a course of action.
- Thank the member for taking the time to read your letter.
- Use vulgarity, profanity, or threats. The first two are just plain rude and the third one can get you a visit from the Secret Service. Simply stated, don’t let your passion get in the way of making your point,
- Fail to include your name and address, even in email letters.
- Demand a response.
Petitions are not as effective, especially cookie cutter petitions. At least that is what I have read. I don’t know that they hurt. I think the message here is that when you take the time to contact your legislator directly, they know you really mean it. It is your voice and you feel strongly about an issue. Think about what persuades you more.
For your legislators to represent you, you have to tell them what you want and what will make you vote for them. The squeaky wheel can get the grease.
Last, but not least – some current legislation before Congress relevant to the LGBT Community
H.R. 3017 Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
H.R. 1283 Repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.
H.R. 2132 Family Medical Leave Act, amend to include same sex couples and other family members.
H.R. 3001 Ending LGBT Health Disparities Bill, including eliminating the taxation of medical benefits.
H.R. 2517 (also S.1102) Benefits for Domestic Partners of Federal Employees.
geekgirl: Jude is a straight woman, a mom and has been married for 32 years to the same wonderful man. She believes in Buddhism and attends the United Church of Christ. She is a molecular biologist, her best friend is a lesbian, and she believes that every human deserves equal rights, respect and a life free from hate, fear and discrimination. The only thing she hates is pickles. Her science blog can be found at LGBT Latest Science.