At least once per week, the National office sends out a NMA Alert to a specific city or state where a particular piece of legislation or an ordinance will soon be considered. When we send out these alerts, we send out information on whether the NMA supports or opposes the measure and talking points on why. The NMA also asks our members to write an email or letter directly to their elected representative.
Members often write back and ask if we could send out a sample letter. To have an impactful letter or email, however, the writer needs to write from their own voice and explain why they support or oppose a piece of legislation, law or ordinance in their own words. Chain letters are not effective and degrade the issue under discussion. Writing your own letter or email is not always easy but once you do a few, you will become a pro.
Of course, writing a letter will have more overall impact because taking pen to paper takes much more effort than firing off an email. Both though have merit and you should use whichever technique you are most comfortable with at the time. The most important idea here is to have your voice heard!
The timing of the letter or email is everything. Sending an issues letter too soon will be forgotten but sending the letter after the vote is too late. If you don’t have that much time before an all-important vote, an email can be just as effective as a letter because it is important to be heard and counted. Remember though to search and find out if your elected official would prefer an email that is written as a message inside the elected official’s website or as a general email sent to his or her office.
Brevity is key. Keep your letter to one page only and your email to no more than three paragraphs. Keep your letter or email to one topic only—one piece of legislation or an ordinance at a time. Many elected officials receive a multitude of letters on a daily basis and the letter or email will likely be read if it is well constructed, brief and informative.
Founder of the NMA, Jim Baxter is a champion letter writer and some of his ideas on letter campaigns can be seen in this October 2015 NMA Newsletter #354 “Cutting Through the Clutter.”
Remember to place at the top of your document in the subject line, the reason why you are writing which includes the bill number and/or the bill or ordinance name. Also, make sure you properly address the correct elected official.
Most cities have a website available with the city council members’ names and contact information. Same for the county or parish board of supervisors. Check out their website and follow how the elected official would like to be contacted. For elected local officials, always best to address him or her formally with either Mr. or Ms. or City Council Member XXX.
For Statehouses, The NMA website has a gateway to contact your house/assembly and state senate elected representatives and leadership. Click here for the list of the states on the NMA website. When you reach this page, click on your state and notice on the right hand side of your state’s page, a link to your state legislature and bill tracking. State Legislative members should be addressed Representative XXXX, Assembly Member or State Senator XXXX. With the correct address. Even if this is an email.
The website www.citizenredress.com has a great cheat sheet on how to write a letter or email to your elected Congressional Representative or U.S. Senator. This cheat sheet also works as a guideline for local and state officials as well.
Learning about the issues and voting in every election are the cornerstones of a democratic society. Writing letters and emails is the next great step we have for our individual voices to be heard by our elected representatives. The NMA encourages every one of our members and supporters to advocate for motorists’ rights by writing letters or emails to your elected officials.
Recently on LAST WEEK TONIGHT, the host comedian John Oliver did a piece on the NRA. No matter how you feel about the NRA, Oliver pointed out that the reason why the NRA is so effective is because their members always write letters. Not just one letter, but they keep writing letters over and over again. In order to have impact, motorists, who number over 250 million in America, need to do the same in order to get our voice heard loud and clear above the din of the anti-car bicycle lobby and the Vision Zero proponents.
Here is some additional advice if you want to become an effective letter writer and be counted:
- Write that letter or email to your elected official from your own voice and your own experience.
- Keep up with what happens to this piece of legislation or ordinance.
- If your elected official sends a reply to your first letter or email, reply back and start a dialogue.
- If the elected official votes your way, write or email back and thank them.
- If your elected official does not vote your way, don’t get discouraged. Write or email them again explaining the impact their vote will have on your life.
- Keep writing letters and emails. Have your voice heard! Don’t ever give up!
Next week, I will discuss how to write an effective letter to the editor.
Be safe and have fun driving!