“When a person takes time to write you a letter, you’ve got to pay attention to that person.” — My grandfather in The Morning Call, January 26th, 1985
I care deeply about many issues, and I have the email log to prove it. I think Harrisburg and Washington have had to upgrade their email servers just to handle my correspondence. In fact, my state representative’s chief of staff, who sadly passed away almost two years ago, once offered to make me a certificate for being the constituent who sends the most frequent email communication. In retrospect, I wish I had not succumbed to false modesty so that I could have something from him. I would have loved to have it, but could not publicly acknowledge my vanity. I have since learned that it is selfish to not accept gifts offered by others, and I truly regret if I hurt him in any way.
More recently, I was at a workshop about lobbying at which a state senator, not from my district, audaciously told us to not even bother sending email form letters to his office because they don’t read them. They don’t count.
When I receive a call to action by email, I often use the online systems created to generate email correspondence to legislators as this is an efficiency that saves me time. While it may be able to send my emails with ease, my intentions for doing so are anything but casual.
I thought deeply about what this senator said, and possible ways that I could change my behavior to be a more effective advocate. I considered limiting my areas of interest and focusing on just a few critical issues. But then I realized that doing so would result in poor citizenship, as a legislator doing so would result in poor public service. I considered going to the legislators’ website and submitting my letters directly there, and I sometimes do this. I now pay more attention to the content of the suggested language provided by organizers to make sure it is aligned with my values and intentions. I don’t demand, I educate.
While I am grateful that he provoked this line of thought within me, I still kind of think he was too brazen about it. Elected officials should welcome correspondence from constituents, in whatever form they are able to produce. Many people do not have the ability to write effective letters or the time to do so because they are raising families and working multiple jobs. They still need to have the opportunity to genuinely and clearly express their opinion. How dare someone being paid by taxpayer dollars denounce the good intentions and engaged citizenship of those whom she or he was elected to serve.
I also spoke to a friend who works for one of my U.S. senators. She told me that many senators use a computerized system to categorize letters and tabulate the wishes of constituents. Perhaps state legislators do not have the resources or capacity to organize correspondence in this way.
Yet, I am reminded of the sincere kindness and dedicated service of my friend Leon. I wish all other offices had the same respect for constituents that he did. I am grateful to have known him, and will remember his example as a model of public service and leadership.