How to write effective letters to Congress

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The US Capitol Building. (photo: US Capitol Police)

Short-and-sweet, specific, and personal carries the day.

By Robert Longley | ThoughtCo. | Nov 13, 2017


  1. Be courteous and respectful without “gushing.”
  2. Clearly and simply state the purpose of your letter. If it’s about a certain bill, identify it correctly.
  3. Say who you are. Anonymous letters go nowhere. Even in email, include your correct name, address, phone number and email address. If you don’t include at least your name and address, you will not get a response.
  4. State any professional credentials or personal experience you may have, especially those pertaining to the subject of your letter.
  5. Keep your letter short — one page is best.
  6. Use specific examples or evidence to support your position.
  7. State what it is you want to be done or recommend a course of action.
  8. Thank the member for taking the time to read your letter.

People who think members of the US Congress pay little or no attention to constituent mail are just plain wrong. Concise, well thought out personal letters are one of the most effective ways Americans have of influencing the lawmakers they elect.

Members of Congress get hundreds of letters and emails every day, so you will want your letter stand out. Whether you choose to use the US Postal Service or email, here are some tips that will help you write a letter to Congress that has an impact.

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Protect free speech

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The US Constitution is the oldest document currently governing a nation. (photo: iStock Photos)

A message from faith organizations in the United States.

Friends of Sabeel North America


As faith leaders, we have long used the nonviolent instruments of boycott and divestment in our work for justice and peace. These economic measures have proven to be powerful tools for social change. . . . Anti-BDS legislation is an extremely grave attack on free speech that threatens the use of boycotts, divestment, and sanctions for other peace and human justice causes.


We are members of faith communities in the United States whose congregations or denominations have adopted resolutions to boycott products made in Israeli settlements—built on occupied Palestinian lands in violation of international law and longstanding official U.S. policy—or have implemented a screen to divest from companies that profit from the 50-year-old Israeli military occupation of Palestine. These resolutions affirm our commitment to a just peace for all Palestinians and Israelis.

We are alarmed by legislation recently passed in a number of states penalizing  participation in the nonviolent, grassroots Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights and by similar legislation that is proposed in the U.S. Congress. In August, the Kansas State Department of Education used the state’s anti-BDS legislation to bar a member of the Mennonite church, a math teacher and curriculum coach in Wichita, Kansas, from participating in a program to train other math teachers.

This is a dangerous precedent that threatens to extend repression of Palestinians living under Israeli military rule by muzzling the right of Americans to free speech.

Accordingly, the ACLU has filed suit against the Kansas Commissioner of Education in defense of this school teacher and her right to boycott.

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Gaza is still under seige: Please support the Ahli Hospital campaign

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(photo: AFEDJ)

A letter from our brothers and sisters at the American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem.


“Gaza is still under siege. All borders are closed. In Gaza’s crisis, Ahli Hospital is a place of refuge and hope. Everyone who comes to Ahli for help is equal. We are living Christian values every day. People know this. They know that at Ahli they will be treated with dignity and respect. We are so thankful for your generous support of our mission.”
— Suhaila Tarazi, Ahli Hospital’s Director


Dear Friends,

I just returned from a trip to Gaza. I visited three Community Based Organizations that work in the poorest neighborhoods of Gaza, identifying families who need medical care and arranging treatment for them at Ahli Hospital’s Free Community Clinic.

The clinic serves the poorest of the poor in Gaza, one of the most desperate places on earth. The conditions I saw people living in is appalling. No clean drinking water, raw sewage polluting the water and land, and for most families, just two hours of electricity every day. Yet the Palestinian people living in this political tinderbox remain hopeful for their future.

Ahli Hospital needs your help. Your gift of any size will help keep open the doors of Ahli Hospital’s Free Community Clinic and continue to provide life-saving care to the desperate families and children living in Gaza. Continue reading

Maria Cantwell, Please Reconsider Your Support of Anti-BDS Legislation

The following is an open letter from The Right Reverend Cabell Tennis, retired Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Delaware, in response to Maria Cantwell’s sponsorship of Senate bills S.170 and S.720.*

The Rt. Reverend Cabell Tennis

May 22, 2017

Senator Maria Cantwell
915 Second Ave
Seattle, WA 98174

Dear Senator Cantwell,

This letter comes from a Seattle resident who greatly respects and appreciates your work as a United States senator for Washington. I am a retired Episcopal Bishop, a lifelong Democrat and progressive.

I especially salute you and your colleagues in the Washington State delegation for your steadfast alertness to the sometimes threatening proposals from the Trump administration and the Republican majority.

There is, however, one matter that seems to me to be outside of progressive and fair-minded legislation. I am referring to the present move to constrain the use of boycott, divestment, and sanction (BDS). From my perspective, and I would urge you to join me, BDS is a nonviolent, peaceful means for people to support the oppressed and take a stand against violations of international law when they are occurring and our government does not act.

In this case, I am referring to the Palestinian people who have been under military occupation for more than 60 years while we have consistently supported the State of Israel by financial contributions and vetoes in the United Nations. The pattern is clearly that of apartheid as it was practiced by South Africa during the long night of oppression there.

I urge and encourage you to not support legislation that seeks to limit or suppress BDS. It is a fundamental right of the people of this country to petition their government through peaceful and nonviolent means including acts of protest.

Sincerely,

Cabell Tennis

 

* Senate bill S.170, the “Combating BDS Act of 2017,” prohibits “measures by State and local governments to divest from entities that engage in commerce-related or investment-related boycott, divestment, or sanctions activities targeting Israel.”
Senate bill S.720, the “Anti-Israel Boycott Act,” prohibits “boycotts fostered by international governmental organizations against Israel.” 

Please Oppose the Israel Anti-Boycott Act

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(image: wiredforlego / Flikr)

New bill in Congress aims to thwart international measures to hold Israel accountable for settlements built on occupied Palestinian land.

By Josh Ruebner / The Electronic Intifada
May 18, 2017

[Ed. Note: U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D. WA) is a co-sponsor of a related bill, S.170, Combating BDS Act of 2017.]


“Settlement businesses unavoidably contribute to Israeli policies that dispossess and harshly discriminate against Palestinians, while profiting from Israel’s theft of Palestinian land and other resources.”
— Arvind Ganesan, Human Rights Watch Director of Business and Human Rights


US Senator Ben Cardin is once again trying to pass legislation designed to suppress the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights.

During the last Congressional session, the Maryland Democrat succeeded in sneaking language into a must-pass trade bill making it a “principal negotiating objective” of the United States “to discourage politically motivated actions to boycott, divest from or sanction Israel” while negotiating trade deals.

This discouragement of BDS extended to boycotts of products originating from settlements in what the bill euphemistically referred to as “Israeli-controlled territories.” All of Israel’s settlements in the occupied West Bank and Syria’s Golan Heights are illegal under international law.

With BDS continuing to gain momentum, Cardin went back to the drawing board and introduced the Israel Anti-Boycott Act (S.720, H.R.1697) on 23 March, designed to coincide with the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. The powerful Israel lobby group duly made the bill one of its top legislative priorities.

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Celebrating a New Jewish Diasporism

A Sermon for Rosh Hashanah 5777

Rabbi Brant Rosen
October 4, 2016


“While we appreciate the important role of the land of Israel in Jewish tradition, liturgy and identity, we do not celebrate the fusing of Judaism with political nationalism. We are non-Zionist, openly acknowledging that the creation of an ethnic Jewish nation state in historic Palestine resulted in an injustice against its indigenous people — an injustice that continues to this day.”


As I’m sure you know, Tzedek Chicago has received a great deal of attention — some might call it notoriety — for calling ourselves a “non-Zionist” congregation. But contrary to what our most cynical critics might say, we didn’t choose this label for the publicity. When we founded Tzedek Chicago last year, we used this term deliberately. We did so because we wanted to create an intentional community, based on specific core values. Our non-Zionism is not just a label. It is comes from our larger conviction to celebrate “a Judaism beyond nationalism.” [Continue reading here . . . ]

The Clash of Ignorance

Labels like “Islam” and “the West” serve only to confuse us about a disorderly reality.

This classic article by Edward W. Said, originally published in The Nation on October 4, 2011, is worthy of a fresh reading.


Samuel Huntington’s article “The Clash of Civilizations?” appeared in the Summer 1993 issue of Foreign Affairs, where it immediately attracted a surprising amount of attention and reaction. Because the article was intended to supply Americans with an original thesis about “a new phase” in world politics after the end of the cold war, Huntington’s terms of argument seemed compellingly large, bold, even visionary. He very clearly had his eye on rivals in the policy-making ranks, theorists such as Francis Fukuyama and his “end of history” ideas, as well as the legions who had celebrated the onset of globalism, tribalism and the dissipation of the state. But they, he allowed, had understood only some aspects of this new period. He was about to announce the “crucial, indeed a central, aspect” of what “global politics is likely to be in the coming years.” Unhesitatingly he pressed on:

“It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations. The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.”

Most of the argument in the pages that followed relied on a vague notion of something Huntington called “civilization identity” and “the interactions among seven or eight [sic] major civilizations,” of which the conflict between two of them, Islam and the West, gets the lion’s share of his attention. In this belligerent kind of thought, he relies heavily on a 1990 article by the veteran Orientalist Bernard Lewis, whose ideological colors are manifest in its title, “The Roots of Muslim Rage.” In both articles, the personification of enormous entities called “the West” and “Islam” is recklessly affirmed, as if hugely complicated matters like identity and culture existed in a cartoonlike world where Popeye and Bluto bash each other mercilessly, with one always more virtuous pugilist getting the upper hand over his adversary. Certainly neither Huntington nor Lewis has much time to spare for the internal dynamics and plurality of every civilization, or for the fact that the major contest in most modern cultures concerns the definition or interpretation of each culture, or for the unattractive possibility that a great deal of demagogy and downright ignorance is involved in presuming to speak for a whole religion or civilization. No, the West is the West, and Islam Islam.

Continue reading the entire article here.