advice for contacting politicians

How to contact

Politicians can often be contacted via mail, email, telephone, social media, or by arranging an appointment to meet them at their office. Some ways of contacting them are more effective than others. You can read about varying communication channels, and their effectiveness, here: Emily Ellsworth, ‘How to effectively talk to your member of congress‘ (US focus); and here: EFA, ‘How to Contact & Effectiveness of Methods‘ (Aus.).

What to say

I’ll deal with this in a moment; but first, some important things to remember:

How to say it

The UK website WriteToThem gives useful advice on contacting government representatives, which is also relevant to other countries:

  • Please be polite, concise and to the point …
  • Use your own words …

Of course, being ‘polite’ should go without saying for a disciple of Christ (1 Peter 2:17).

EFA comments on concision and brevity:

Keep it brief: Letters should be no longer than one page and should be about one issue only. Be as concise as possible. Politicians receive many letters on many topics every day. Long letters are likely to be put aside to read on a less busy day and that day may never come.

According to WriteToThem, using your own words (rather than copying and pasting someone else’s) is ‘much more powerful [and effective] … , tell… [the] representative about your own beliefs and experiences’. (Also see the comments on EFA’s website.)

EFA has some advice for when you are phoning a politician, writing them a letter, or sending them an email. Campaign Against the Arms Trade has tips about meeting with a politician.

What to say

In this section I’ll focus on email/letter writing. See here for tips about phoning a politician. and here for tips about meeting with politician.

EFA has the following advice:

 

  • State the topic clearly: Include a subject line at the beginning of your letter. If it is about a specific piece of legislation (an Act) or a proposed law (a Bill), state the full name of the Act or Bill in the subject line, or at least in the first paragraph.
  • Start with a clear statement of purpose: For example:
    “I am writing to urge your support for / opposition to…”
    “I am writing to ask you to support / oppose …”
  • Focus on three important points: Choose the three points that are most likely to be persuasive in gaining support for your position and flesh them out. This is more effective than attempting to address numerous points in a letter.
  • Ask your representative to take concrete action: For example, in relation to a proposed law (a Bill), ask them to raise the matter in their party room and seek to have their party oppose the Bill. Point out that the issues are important enough to warrant amendments to the Bill, and/or for the representative to cross the floor and vote against the Bill if their party supports it.
  • Ask for a response to your letter: While the response will usually be a form letter, written and authorised by their political party, you will know you have had an impact on their office. Party politics in Australia are such that few elected politicians are likely to tell you whether or not they personally share your views/position. However, a well-written letter can be instrumental in prompting them to take action behind the public scenes to inform and potentially change their political party’s position.
  • Personalise your letter: When possible, include a personal story and/or information on how the issue affects you, your family, your business, or people around you. This can help your representative understand your position and can be very persuasive as he/she forms a position on an issue. The more personal your letter, the more impact it is likely to have.

Here are some examples of letters written to politicians:

 

Who to contact

Apologies for the Western-centric focus of the following information (below is info for the UK, the USA, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand). Things will work differently in different countries, and people with knowledge of governmental systems in each place will be able to advise about who and how to contact there.

It’s worth working out who’s the right person to contact. In the UK, for example, ‘It’s a waste of time writing to MPs other than [the representative of the area you live in]; your message will be ignored’ (WriteToThem). However, in the UK at least, other politicians can also be contacted if the communication is about their own ministerial/shadow responsibilities, or those of governmental departments and committees they are involved with (or perhaps if they have particular interest in/sympathies with a particular issue*).

UK

If you are in the UK, you can find information on the following webpages about who to contact (while parliament is dissolved [i.e., when an election is happening], these links won’t work because there aren’t any MPs until the new ones are elected):

a.) The UK Parliament website has information about who and how to contact (and what sorts of things they can be contacted about):

‘Contact an MP or member of the Lords’
http://parliament.uk/get-involved/contact-an-mp-or-lord

In the first instance, the person to contact is probably the MP that has been elected to represent the area (i.e., constituency) in which you also live. You will be able to find the contact details of that MP on the Parliament website (or by going directly to http://parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/mps ).

To contact a minister for a government department, visit this directory:
http://parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/government-and-opposition1/her-majestys-government

Other directories for finding MPs (and Lords) involved with particular issues:

Also see the Northern Ireland Assembly: http://niassembly.gov.uk/your-mlas ; National Assembly of Wales: http://assembly.wales/en/memhome/Pages/memhome.aspx ; the Scottish Parliament: http://parliament.scot/msps.aspx

Any of members of the House of Lords can be contacted about any issue, although it may be wise to work out who would be best to contact regarding any particular topic, based on the interests and involvements of each House member (WriteToThem has more info on contacting members of the House of Lords: http://writetothem.com/about-lords ). A directory for members of the House of Lords is here: parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/lords (By the way, ‘Members of the House of Lords have a number of different titles, with different ways to address them’. You can find out more here: http://parliament.uk/business/lords/whos-in-the-house-of-lords/how-to-address-a-lord )

b.) While using the contact information from the Parliament website is probably the best way to go about contacting MPs, WriteToThem is another website that helps people contact MPs: http://writetothem.com (there is also an experimental part of the site for contacting members of the House of Lords: http://writetothem.com/lords ). This site has the advantage of listing representatives from all levels of the UK government: councillors, MPs and MEPs (Members of the European Parliament). A page gives info about the different responsibilities of the various levels of government so that you can make sure ‘your message goes to the person who is best placed to help’: http://writetothem.com/about-yourrep

USA

See ‘How to Contact Your Elected Officials‘: https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials

Canada

See ‘Contact Information for Politicians‘: http://democracywatch.ca/contact-information-for-politicians/

Australia

See ‘Contact Ministers, Members and Senators‘: http://www.australia.gov.au/about-government/contact-government/contact-ministers-members-and-senators

New Zealand

See ‘Contact an MP‘: https://www.parliament.nz/en/get-involved/have-your-say/contact-an-mp

A final word

A miraculous work of God

The wisdom or petitions we give as members of God’s nation to the rulers of other nations might be accepted or ignored. If it is accepted, that is wonderful! In that case, it might be similar to the time the Ninevites listened to Jonah’s message. Because Jonah was speaking God’s message, ‘The Ninevites believed God’ (v5). For all the work we might put in, we cannot bask in the glory of any moments of success. Rather, the God who worked through us is to be praised and thanked. This was recognised by those of us who worked tirelessly in the past to secure the UK government’s recognition of our stance as conscientious objectors. About their experience, they wrote:

Humanly speaking, deliverance was impossible. … Deliverance has come, and men have been instrumental in bringing it about. But over and above all human effort, whether by those inside the Body or those without, there stands out clearly and unmistakeably the supreme fact of God’s protective care. Again and again the way seemed barred; difficulties arose which humanly speaking seemed insurmountable; everything that could be done by human thought and endeavour had been done, and yet failure seemed inevitable: but the “way of escape” was provided in every case.<1>

The odds were stacked against us in that instance, and there were many obstacles in the way. The success of the hard work was recognised as the work of God — a miracle.<2> We might think that it is pointless engaging with politicians of the world about issues we feel are important. We are a small, weak people and we’re likely to be ignored (or maybe worse, considering what happened to John the Baptist). But, while we are weak, God is strong and, as we have witnessed in the past, he can work miracles. ‘The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will’ (Prov. 21:1). Perhaps, like Daniel, we feel we should express our concern over the way the rulers are mistreating their people (Dan. 4:27). Like Daniel, we might be ignored (4:29ff.). Or, perhaps God might work a miracle and the words of God’s people might be heeded. If this is the case, we declare, ‘as the ancient Jews did with the pagan king[s] Cyrus’ and Nebuchadnezzar, that God is at work (cf. Isa. 44:24-28; 45:1-13; Jer. 25:9; 27:6), ‘whether the rulers know it or not’.<3>

We do not know how things will work out. But — along with Moses, Daniel, Jonah, Esther, John the Baptist, and other godly people (including Robert Roberts, John Thomas, and all the ‘friends of the truth’) — if we do engage with the rulers of the day, we will be joining in a noble task, ‘performing a great act of duty, which it is an honour to have … the opportunity of performing, giving a testimony for the purpose of God … “whether they will hear or whether they will forbear” [Ezek. 2:5,7; 3:11]’.<4>


* This was perhaps the case when brothers and sisters approached Arnold Rowntree MP, a member of the Quakers (a religious group who’s members were also conscientious objectors during the wars [A. Kramer, Conscientious Objectors of the First World War (Barnsley: Pen & Sword History, 2013), p. 7,35]), to present one of our petitions to Parliament (F. G. Jannaway, Without the Camp [London: self-published, 1917], p. 34-35). Mr Rowntree was in fact one of the three Quaker MPs involved in drafting the ‘conscience clause’ in the Military Service Act 1916 that enabled people like ourselves to claim exemption from military service (see ‘Quakers and WWI’ on Quakers in Britain: quaker.org.uk/about-quakers/our-history/quakers-and-wwi ).

1. Christadelphians and Military Service (London: LSC of Christadelphians, 1918), p. 2

2. The first chapter of Christadelphians and Military Service is titled ‘A Modern Miracle’.

3. Tom Wright, God in Public: How the Bible speaks truth to power today (London: SPCK, 2016), p. 72. For more on the idea that God uses modern world leaders (even if they don’t realise it) like he used ancient ones, see S. Levett and G. Henstock, The Sign of His Coming (Birmingham: CMPA, 2013). In one instance (p. 104), the book highlights that The Testimony (Vol. 34, No. 399 [March 1964], p. 91,94-95) asked if the US President Lyndon B. Johnson could be ‘a latter-day Cyrus’.

4. R. Roberts, The Christadelphian, 1877, p. 174–175. In 1890 Brother Robert also communicated with Lord Balfour (well-known for his involvement with the Balfour Declaration of 1917) — presumably another occasion he sought to influence the work of a politician. (S. Levett and G. Henstock, The Sign of His Coming [Birmingham: CMPA, 2013], p. 24)