Contacting Your Elected Officials
Find Your Elected Official
Elected officials are most responsive to communications from their own constituents. The Illinois State Board of Elections offers this tool to find your federal and state level elected officials and their contact information: https://elections.il.gov/ElectionOperations/DistrictLocator/AddressFinder.aspx
For local officials and others, try the official website of the governmental unit or a quick google search (ie “Find my school board member”).
Sometimes, the time to engage on an issue is when a bill enters committee. To find the members of a legislative committee in Springfield, use the Illinois General Assembly website. House committees are listed here, while senate committees can be found here.
Contacting an Official Office
After you’ve decided who you intend to talk to and located the relevant contact information, you’re all set to pick up the phone or write an e-mail. Although it can seem intimidating to speak with your representative, it’s not.
The step you’re about to take is foundational to our democracy. Thousands do it every day.
You don’t need to be a policy expert to voice your thoughts on an issue. In fact, you will be most effective and make the most impact on office staff if you focus on being authentic and telling your personal story.
When interacting with office staff or elected officials themselves, assume positive intent on their behalf.
Although they may disagree with us on a particular issue, we should treat everyone with honesty, dignity, and respect. Legislators, activists, and voters have value and are human beings. Never engage in personal attacks.
Assume that the people we interact with are honestly concerned with making their communities, their state, and their country a better place, and will listen honestly to the concerns of their constituents.
When we take this approach, we find more success.
Anger never changed someone’s mind on policy. When we act or speak with disrespect, we allow our opponents to write us off as unprofessional, unserious, or worse.
Tell Your Story
Be authentic and speak from experience.
You have decided to engage in the policy process in a way that most people haven’t. There’s a reason for that.
Consider why you support or oppose a particular policy. How would it affect your life? Your family? Your livelihood?
Elected officials have heard the talking points already. Large, well-funded organizations can deliver those talking points better than we can. If we try to do that, we make it easy for our opponents to dismiss us out of hand.
While our discussion of public policy often focuses on the how, stories speak to the why and allow us to translate our values into action. In talking with elected officials, we want to engage both elements.
Our stories are built around choice points. What was the moment that led you here, ready to contact your elected official?
Often our stories follow a consistent format:
Building from that choice point you’ve identified, consider why did you feel challenged in that moment? What was challenging? Why was it your challenge?
A challenge doesn’t need to focus on your own misfortunes.
Then, consider the choice you made in that moment. Maybe you chose to get involved in the political process, but maybe it was something else. Why did you make the choice you did? Where did you find the courage to make that choice? Did anything you learned from your parents or grandparents lead you to that choice? How did it feel?
Finally, consider the outcome. What happened when you made that choice? How did it feel? What did it teach you? What do you want to teach us?
Crafting a personal story might feel overwhelming, but it shouldn’t. We all have compelling narratives that have led us to get involved. It doesn’t need to be long and it doesn’t need to be extreme. Authenticity is the key.
A short personal story is our most effective tool when engaging with our elected officials.
Finally, remember that our elected officials and their staff are busy. They’re engaging on many pieces of legislation, policy questions, and constituent concerns every day.
When you call their office, you will likely either speak to a staffer or leave a voicemail.
While that might sound discouraging, it’s not!
It means you should feel no pressure.
Share the reason you’re calling and your quick personal story about why the issue matters to you. The staffer will likely keep a tally of how many constituents called the office in support or opposition of the issue and a list of compelling anecdotes.
Your call doesn’t need to be perfect. Don’t be nervous!
Bringing It All Together
When you call or email your legislators office remember to be polite, be brief, and to tell your authentic, personal story. Here is an example that hopefully helps bring it all together, but remember, there isn’t a script or specific language you should use. Just tell your story
“Hi, my name is Mark, I’m a constituent of the Senators, I live over in the Prairie Green neighborhood on Johnson street. I’m calling because I know the General Assembly is considering increasing pension benefits for government employees and I was hoping I could share my opposition to that measure, is that okay?
Thank you! I am sure you get these calls all day, so I’ll be brief! I graduated from the University of Illinois last May and two of my closest friends had to move out of state to find jobs. When I talk to my friends and family, it seems like everyone knows a business or family that has left Illinois and the number one reason is high taxes and pension crisis fueling them. So it is personal for me. When I look at my future, and the prospects of all the future debt and taxes due to the pension costs, it is scary and makes me think I will have to leave Illinois. Does that make sense?
Thank you very much for the time and I appreciate you passing along my concerns to the Senator. Have a great day!
Put It Into Action
Now it is your turn. Head over to https://www.illinoisopportunity.org/petitions, pick an issue and call your Legislators about it. Then let me know how it went by commenting on our slack channel or emailing me at [email protected]. Together, we will change minds, change policy, and ultimately change the state.