Letters to the editor might not seem like the flashiest way to get your Member of Congress’s attention. But there’s something about a sharp letter to the editor in a hometown paper that can really get under the skin of the most powerful lawmaker.
In this resource, we will cover:
- Why your MoC cares about letters to the editor
- How to submit a letter to the editor
- Some tricks to make sure your letter really leaves an impression with your MoC’s office
We’ll be focused on how to write letters that criticize or praise your MoC for a political position. That’s just one type of letter. Sometimes, a letter to the editor might be a smart way to respond to a negative news story. (Check with your group leadership before writing those.) Sometimes, Indivisiblers have had letters published that simply celebrate what a great new community they’ve found in their Indivisible group. (You can never have too many of those!)
WHY YOUR MOC CARES ABOUT LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
The humble Letter to the Editor has stayed influential in politics even as social media platforms have come and (some) gone. Here are a couple reasons why.
- You MoC will likely see your letter in the morning “clips.” Every morning, Members of Congress and their staffs start their day reading “the clips,” an email with links to all of the stories that mention the MoC by name. In most offices, these include Letters to the Editor, and a letter that’s about an MoC will definitely be noticed and discussed.
- Newspaper editors see your letter, and your MoC cares what they think. Editorial boards are important local institutions for your MoC. They interview and endorse candidates during campaign season, and their opinions carry lots of weight all through the year.
- Seniors see your letter, and your MoC cares what they think. Seniors are seen as one of the big audiences for letters to the editor. They also vote in big numbers, something MoCs are also very aware of.
HOW TO SUBMIT YOUR LETTER
- Find your local newspaper’s Letters to the Editor submission email on their website.
- Be sure to check that you are obeying your newspaper’s word limit, sometimes as low as 150-200 words.
- Write your letter! See more below for our tips on how to make it compelling.
- Paste your letter into the body of your email.
- Note that many newspapers will require that letter writers submit contact information with their letter. Phone numbers won’t be published. This is just to verify your identity.
- Submit to smaller local papers, not just the nearest big city paper. You’ll have a better chance of getting published. And, it maximizes that feeling that the whole district is paying attention!
WHAT MAKES A GOOD LETTER? THE BASICS.
- Focus on one topic. If you have two, write a second letter.
- Obey those word count limits. If your letter gets long, write a second letter.
- Be clear and concise—you only have around 200 words or less to make your point.
- Be yourself. You don’t need to talk like an academic or a policy expert. Remember, you’re a smart, passionate constituent who’s paying attention, one who other constituents might identify with—and that’s the most powerful thing you can be.
WHAT SHOULD GO INTO A LETTER TO THE EDITOR?
You’re already generating tons of ideas for letters to the editor in the course of the other Indivisible work you do.
You’ll notice that many good letters to the editor sound similar to the call scripts we send out: a couple of points, a statistic, and a personal note. Using a call script is a great way to get inspiration!
Here are some other things you can recycle:
- Shared a story at an empty chair town hall? Turn it into a letter to the editor!
- Wrote a postcard at a postcard party? Turn it into a letter to the editor!
- Wrote a thank you note on a poster? Turn it into a letter to the editor!
- Wrote a message to your MoC on Facebook? Turn it into a letter to the editor!
HERE ARE SOME WAYS TO REALLY GET UNDER YOUR MEMBER OF CONGRESS’S SKIN:
Many of us who worked for a Member of Congress remember this one time a Letter to the Editor really bugged our boss and they wouldn’t let it go. Here are some of the ways to write that letter!
1. QUESTION THEIR “BRAND.”
Go to the “Biography” page your MoC’s websites to see how they describe themselves. Then play on that.
- “Congresswoman Sara prides herself on being an independent voice that’s above the fray in Washington. But so far this year, she’s been a rubber stamp across the board…”
- “Congresswoman Sara ran for office as a fiscally-responsible conservative. That’s why it’s ironic that she’s considering voting for this bill, which ___.”
2. KNOW THEIR RECORD.
Search around on the “issue” pages of your MoC’s website to learn what they’ve said in the past on an issue.
- “Congresswoman Sara has said that she would only vote for a bill that did ___. This bill does the exact opposite: it ___.”
- “When Congresswoman Sara was running for office, she pledged to ____. Unfortunately, it looks like she’s going to be falling in lock-step with her party and voting to ____. “
3. CALL THEM OUT-OF-TOUCH WITH THE DISTRICT.
- “Does Congresswoman Sara think that (residents) are all ____? What she doesn’t seem to realize is that we are also __. Her decision to ____ was extremely out-of-touch.”
- “Congresswoman Sara must be behind the times if she thinks people from ___ are still going to let their Representative in Congress say that ___ …”
4. SHOW THEM YOU HAVE A LONG MEMORY.
Talk about an issue that’s not in the headlines to show your MoC you’re still paying attention.
- “This Fourth of July, I am still shocked remembering Congresswoman Sara’s un-American comments on the Muslim ban, and I’m disappointed she has never apologized.”
- “Congress may not be in session, but families around the state are still holding their breath to see what will happen with ____ bill.”
5. PUT YOUR LETTER IN LOCAL TERMS… AND PUT YOUR MOC ON THE SPOT.
- “My family has always gone to ____ Hospital. I’m really concerned about what would happen to it under the new bill Congresswoman Sara is considering.”
- “With this spring’s flooding, (Town) is already feeling the effects of extreme weather. It’s amazing that Congresswoman Sara still raises any doubts about the science behind climate change..”
6. DEFY STEREOTYPES.
Many papers have frequent letter-writers who are very liberal or very conservative. Those writers can be easy to brush off. So stress any ways that you’re different.
- “While I may not always agree with Congresswoman Sara, I have always admired her commitment to making herself accessible to constituents all around the district. That’s why I’m so disappointed that___.”
- “I’ve supported candidates from both parties in the past. But Congresswoman Sara has really lost my respect with her steady shift towards ___.”
HOW ABOUT SAYING “THANK YOU” TO YOUR MOC?
To write a memorable letter in praise of your MoC, try these exact same tricks, but in reverse.
You will make an MoC’s day and help keep them fighting the good fight if you thank them and reinforce their brand, speak knowledgeably about their record, or praise them for being tuned in to their district.
WHAT IF A LETTER ISN’T PRINTED?
If you’re letter didn’t get printed, don’t sweat it! It’s not personal. Newspapers and only take a few letters at a time and often get hundreds of submissions. They may have gone with other topics today, but they may still print a letter of yours next week. Your letter may have helped boost the signal on others’ letters even if it wasn’t published, too. When editors see a lot of letters coming in on a particular topic, they are often more likely to print at least one on the topic.
In the meantime, post the content of your letter on social media, tagging your MoC and your local newspapers.
Ultimately, letters to the editor are a long game. Keep trying, and keep trying it with all the local and statewide papers. Your voice on these pages makes a difference.