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The Planet

Dear Legislator...

Activists' TOOLCHEST

The Planet, October 1995, Volume 2, number 7

Since Congress is working overtime to undermine environmental protections, it's more important than ever to keep your legislators from caving in to polluters' interests. Writing a letter is a simple and effective way to let your representative know your views. The following are some time-proven guidelines:

The Basic Letter

Paragraph 1: State what you are writing about and what you want your elected official to do. If your letter urges legislators to vote for/against a piece of legislation, make sure to include the bill number.

Paragraphs 2 and 3: Give your reasons, emphasizing the bill's impact on you and on the legislator's district.

Final Paragraph: Restate your position and the action you want the legislator to take.

Eleven Tips for Effectiveness:

1. Write to your own representative. Correspondence from outside a legislator's constituency is often ignored if you want to express concerns about an issue coming before a committee and your representative isn't a committee member, ask that your views be forwarded to the appropriate person.

2. Focus on one subject. Letters are filed by issue. Those that cover many topics are delayed because they have to be routed to staff members assigned to respond to each issue.

3. Identify the bill or issue. Thousands of bills are introduced each year, so it's important to be specific. Identify it by name, number and what it will do. If possible, give the author's name(s) . 4. Be timely. Find out when your legislators are due to consider a bill, and time your correspondence accordingly.

5. Be courteous. Steer away from emotional outrage-stick to the facts. Don't attack the per- son, attack the issue. Legislators won't be bullied into voting your way.

6. Be brief. Limit your letter to one page. Concise, articulate statements are always appreciated given the high volume of mail.

7. Give reasons. It's not enough to say you're opposed. Support your views with rational, convincing arguments. Your delegate may not know all the effects of the bill and its potential Impact on you.

8. Ask for action. Offer alternative approaches or specific calls to action. Help your legislator become focused and responsive.

9. Share expert knowledge. Write to inform. A legislator doesn't have the time or resources to be an expert in all fields. A scientist's professional opinion may move a letter from a staff member's desk into the congressperson's hand and facilitate intelligent decision-making.

10. Follow up. Praise a positive action, point out a negative one. Legislators appreciate being thanked by their constituents for a job well done--they need to hear your constructive criticism on issues they didn't address correctly.

11. Mention community affiliations. Avoid being pigeon-holed. You're a citizen who votes, not "just another environmentalist." Are you a parent, teacher or small-business owner? Do you belong to community groups? Say so. Your letter may carry more weight if a legislator assumes you represent others within the community.

Where to Write

Write your senators at:
U.S. Senate 
Washington, DC 20510

Write your representative at:
U.S. House of Representatives 
Washington, DC 20515

Or call your senators and representative at the the Capitol Switchboard: (202) 224-3121.

Join the Sierra Club Activist Network. Receive Urgent action alerts on the issues that concern you most. Write: Campaign Desk, Sierra Club. Or e-mail:

For more information on national legislation, call the Sierra Club Legislative Hotline: (202) 675-2394

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