At least a good half of my work day is spent dealing with correspondence from constituents. I read it, I group it, I scan it, I enter information about it, I even sometimes get to help write the responses to it. Basically, anything you can do with a letter, I do. Such is the life of an intern.
(Side note- this is not to say that Members of Congress aren’t aware of constituent issues. But no, they don’t read every form letter mail they get.)
When you see that much mail, you see it in every shape and size. I get typed letters, hand written letters, postcards, letters typed but with handwritten contact info, letters of odd sizes, letters with and without address blocks, etc. I get them in email, snail mail, fax, and through phone calls that are written down and logged into reports.
When mail comes in so many forms, there are a lot of steps that staffers must take to get everything into the Congressional offices’ correspondence database program. And while all mail gets logged, there are some precautions people can take to ensure that their letters don’t make the interns want to scream. And really, aren’t you doing yourself a favor by getting your concerns quickly processed? The faster we can be, the faster your concerns get through!
So I’ve drafted a simple guide, for anyone out there who is politically active and likes to correspond with their representative. Because who doesn’t love efficiency?
1. Make sure that you are writing to the person who is in fact your representative. Reps have enough to deal with from their own constituents, and the best way to make your voice heard is through them.
2. On choosing your medium of communication: email has the fewest steps from your submission to the letters’ properly categorized entry into the system. Fax is the next quickest, followed by snail mail in last place.
*Side note-you can also call in issues, though if you are going this keep in mind that only the general idea will be transmitted (ie, Bill Number/topic, for or against).*
3. Now here is the most important step if you are sending snail mail: The kind of paper you use and where you put your address on it. You know how there’s all that weird business letter formatting? Well, it was news to me too, but apparently there is a purpose. Use standard sized paper and put an address block for yourself on the actual letter (at the top right corner), not just on the outside envelope. This way, the envelope can be thrown out and the letter can be fed through the nice slot on the fax machine that only accepts standard sized paper.
(Also, if you hand write a letter, you’d better darn well make sure your handwriting is legible. And you’d better not write front and back. Yes, this happened. I have opened multiple handwritten letters that were more than 4 pages, plus the backs. I fantasized about ripping them into tiny pieces throughout the arduous process of scanning them in.)
4. Some matters of courtesy: Clearly state your issue and your stance. Keep your letter brief, no one wants to read a ten page rant. Also, don’t write your letter in all caps. Not only is it shouty, it makes it more challenging to read.
So there you go! If you follow these guidelines, you can make your concerns’ journey to your congressperson a smooth one!
And I promise it isn’t that hard, I just read a perfectly done snail mail letter from a 10 year old boy scout earning a merit badge in Citizenship. Standard paper, was brief in stating his concern, used proper punctuation and grammar, and used business format. If he can do it, anyone can!
With all that said, there are some oddities that make me laugh instead of cringe when I see them. I love colloquialisms, especially when people use phrases like “hell in a handbasket” or “going to the dogs”. I’ve also seen some hilarious improper capitalization of nouns in order to prove points. The letters look like those old documents teachers make you read in history class for first-degree sources, instead of values, it is “Values” in a high and mighty sense, and instead of discrimination and politician, “Discrimination” and “Politician”, turned to emblematic pillars.
I’ve also learned of some excellently well-kept government secrets-did you know that the government is developing levitation devices that they plan on using against the people? Or that Mexico is planning to invade the United States, kill us all, and then move into our cities? Or that the government is developing devices that measure our brain waves to read thoughts?
Yeah, neither did I. Watch out, Americans!!
But even though the conspiracy theory letters are hilarious, they didn’t win the award for the least expected piece of mail. Instead, today I had to give that prize to a large envelope that arrived with the office mail today (separate from constituent mail). We get a million magazines and advertisements for issue areas, like education, the military, science, foreign affairs, health, etc.
Much to my surprise I pulled out a copy of “Hustler” with a nearly-naked woman posed seductively on the front. Apparently the magazine sends a free copy to all the representatives every summer. (And according to the cackling staffers, they also send Christmas cards.). And yes, they send the magazine to female reps as well. Just when you think you’ve seen it all!
Anyways, I hope that my guidelines helped you and my anecdotes have amused you! Remember, keep it short, standard, and to the point, and you’re good to go!