The first step to getting Congress to change a law is to get involved in the process. Begin by contacting your members of Congress. Remember, they represent you; so it's essential that you let them know where you stand on an issue of concern. Calls, faxes, letters, and emails from constituents can greatly influence the actions of their elected representatives.
First, find the contact information for the House member who represents your area, as well as your state’s two senators. There are many online sources that can help you get this information.
Contact your elected representatives in writing. You can do this via email, fax, or a regular letter. Preparation is important at this stage. Be sure to state clearly the purpose of your letter and your concerns. State clearly why you are writing, your position on the issue, and what you would like your elected representative(s) to do. Remember also that congressional staff receive thousands of letters, emails, and faxes, and that letters that address specific issues or legislation receive more attention than general observations.
Contact your members of Congress by phone at their Washington, D.C., offices or at their state offices. You can call the U.S. Capitol’s switchboard (1-202-0224-3121) and ask for the representative or senator by name. You are far more likely to talk to a staff member than to the representative or senator, but this is another way of making your voice heard and asking your representatives for help.
Get your friends and neighbors involved. Ask people you know who share your concerns call and write to their elected representatives. The more people you get involved, the more impact you will have.
Expand your networking and lobbying efforts by seeing if there is a state or national interest group whose priorities address issues of concern to you. Like it or not, lobbying is what gets things done in politics. There are literally hundreds or interest groups dedicated to all types of issues. Get involved with groups that share your concerns, as they often have resources that enable them to directly lobby members of Congress.
If there is a pending change to an existing law, ask your elected representatives to consider co-sponsoring the bill. The more co-sponsors a bill has, the better its chances of passage. If legislation comes up for a vote, contact your legislators to urge them to support your position on the bill.
Politeness is key to successfully communicating with members of Congress and their staff. Make sure to let your representatives know that you are a constituent. In all written communication, be sure to put your return address on messages and letters; envelopes tend to get thrown away.
Be patient and stay involved. An old maxim holds anyone who likes sausage or law should never watch either one being made. Well, it’s true. The legislative process through which laws are made is a lengthy, complicated process. Stay informed, be patient, and make sure your voice is heard.
Shane Hall is a writer and research analyst with more than 20 years of experience. His work has appeared in "Brookings Papers on Education Policy," "Population and Development" and various Texas newspapers. Hall has a Doctor of Philosophy in political economy and is a former college instructor of economics and political science.