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If you are anything like the rest of America, then you have an opinion about today’s political landscape. I have seen more tweets and Facebook posts about Congress and it’s agenda, but I do not know many people who have taken the time to express their opinions to their state representatives or U.S. Congressmen. The number one thing prohibiting people from contacting their congressmen is that they do not know how. Read on to find out the most effective way to make your voice heard.

First, be sure to contact your own elected official. Do not contact someone who does not represent your area. If you live in Tennessee and call an Alabama senator, he or she will likely throw out your opinion because you are not his constituent. Your opinion would taint the information he has of his own constituents’ opinions. The best way to do the most effective work for the least amount of time is to contact your own congressman.

The website Common Cause is a great tool for finding all of your local, federal and U.S. officials. If you view the page on your phone, you can click the phone number to directly call a representative’s office.

Be sure that you are contacting people who can do something about your concern. There are different issues that the different levels of government deal with. Your United States Senator cannot pick up your trash; likewise, your city mayor cannot get you a passport.

Contact your representative’s professional office and not his campaign office. There are numerous rules that require the separation of offices so government funds are not used to run a campaign. Make it easier on everybody and be sure to call the professional office.

1) Phone Call

Calling on the phone is the most effective way to contact your elected official. Most congressmen have more than one office: one in Washington, D.C. and at least one or two in his state. State offices are usually less busy, so try calling the one nearest you.

When you call, do not ask to speak directly to the congressman. You will not reach to the representative or senator. His or her schedule is completely packed, so the odds of him answering phones are slim to none.

The person who picks up is likely a staff assistant or intern who answers phones all day. If you’re calling after hours, there may be a voicemail set up.

Do not ramble. Get to the point. Here’s an example of what to say that you can fill in and recite if you need a guide:

“Hi, my name is [Name]. I live in [City, State] and I’m calling Representative/Senator [Name] because I want to share my opinions about [topic]. I urge him/her to [action] because [reason]. My address is 1234 First Street, City, State 12345. Thank you.”

Yes, you should give your name and address. The staff member needs to confirm that you live in the congressman’s area. Otherwise, he or she may not enter your opinion into the system for risking of tainting the opinions of the congressman’s confirmed constituents. Some offices may accept only a zip code if you are reluctant to give your whole address; however, you must give them at least one way to contact you if you want a response. Congressional phones at the federal level have caller ID, so they likely already have the phone number you called from and the name associated with it.

When you are on the phone, do not scream or curse. You are speaking to a person, and that person may hang up if you are not acting in a respectful manner.

If you are calling about an issue that is a hot topic at the time, the phone lines or voicemail may be busy or full. When I was interning for my U.S. Senator, we once received over 450 calls about gun control in the course of one work day. Be understanding of the staff that answers your call.

Feel free to ask the congressman’s opinion about a topic. If he has publicly spoken about it, the staff member on the phone will share it with you. The assistant will not share his or her personal opinion about the issue; this person is there to represent the official’s beliefs, not preach about their personal viewpoints.

2) Email or Web Form

The second most effective way to contact your elected official is via email. Most websites will have a contact form that you can fill out on the website. If a contact form is not available, there might be an email address listed somewhere that you can write to. When you draft the email, be sure to include the same information given above.

3) Mail 

Sending letters is a common method, especially among the older generations, but it takes significantly longer for the congressman to hear your opinion. By the time the official receives your letter, the situation may have drastically changed or become irrelevant altogether. The process for filing your opinion and information also takes longer.

Once you leave your opinion, no matter how it is sent, the staff files each opinion into a database. Each office has a different system, the majority of which are online today. After filing, the office may create a profile for you. Those profiles will have your name and whatever contact information you provided. Your opinion is then matched up with your profile, making it easy for staff and the official to see what you have communicated to them about various issues. It is also easier for them to submit a new opinion if you call again in the future.

You may or may not get a response. Most offices are backlogged in getting back to constituents who contact them. Some offices send a “thank you” for contacting the official. Some do not respond at all. However, if you ask a question or ask for a response, they likely will respond as soon as they can.

At the end of each day, most congressmen receive statistics and numbers of what people called about and what the different opinions are. My U.S. Senator reads each and every opinion at the end of his work day so he can be completely informed about the feelings of his constituents.

Your online posts have no purpose if there is no action behind it. Your congressman is not anxiously refreshing your Twitter page to find out your opinions. Take charge and contact your elected officials today to share your thoughts.

Sure, your opinion may be entirely different from mine, but that doesn’t mean that I do not want there to be a conversation. Your voice should be heard by your elected officials, no matter where you stand politically.

The world does not need more tweets. It needs more actions.

Tori G