How to Contact Your Legislators

Identify your elected officials by searching your zip+4 of your home address on congress.org or votesmart.org.

From www.legis.ga.gov you can view the biographies, legislation sponsored, committee assignments and contact information for your representatives and senators.

GRASSROOTS ADVOCACY

What is grassroots?

Grassroots is individuals coalescing around a specific issue using a common argument and/or message to achieve a common goal guided by a singular strategy.  Grassroots lobbying activities by Georgia Bikes! members are a means of providing decision-makers and the general public with information and opinions on issues affecting cycling, transportation and road safety within the state of Georgia.

Why should I get involved?

Your involvement is important because members of the Georgia General Assembly are concerned about the views and interests of all of their constituents, because support from constituents equals votes during elections.  Legislators believe that you represent the interests of their cycling constituency.  Therefore each Georgia Bikes! member who contacts their legislator contributes to the credibility and strength of our bicycle advocacy efforts.

How could I make a difference?

Your elected officials don’t necessarily know more about complicated cycling, transportation or non-motorized vehicles than you do.  As legislators cast hundreds of votes every session, it is impossible for them to become experts on every issue that comes to a vote.  Your involvement in the Georgia Bikes! and in your community makes you an authority on cycling.  The personal experiences and thoughts you are able to share with your representatives and senators help them understand the effect their votes on policy have on your issues.

Communicating with decision-makers regarding public policy

Office Visits

Visiting your legislators is the most direct way to have your voice heard.  It can also be very intimidating.  Keep in mind that legislators and their staff are people just like you; spouses, parents, businesspeople that care about the community in which they live.  They rely on your support and your vote to keep them elected.

  • Contact your state legislators when they are at the state capitol during legislative sessions and at their district offices during the interim.  Remember the legislative session always begins on the second Monday each January and continues for 40 legislative days, usually adjourning in late March-April.
  • Inform their secretary, legislative aide or staff about the topic you wish to discuss and who will be accompanying you.  If you are in a small group, be sure to discuss your remarks and discuss the agenda before the meeting.
  • Due to your legislators demanding schedule, have two talks ready:  one that is 10 minutes and one that is 90 seconds.  This will ensure that you will be prepared if your meeting is interrupted.
  • Familiarize yourself with your legislator’s voting record and his/her position on the issue you will be discussing, if such information is available.  It is also helpful to have a basic knowledge of the legislator’s background and biographical information for the purpose of developing your relationship.
  • Have the background information with you and know the specific legislation related to it.  A one-page summary of legislative priorities will assist you in preparing talking points for your issue prior to the meeting.
  • At the visit, be clear, positive and constructive.  Use examples from your personal experience.
  • Before leaving provide a definite request.  Leave a short, one page written summary of our position and supporting materials.  Make sure your legislator knows how you want them to vote on a particular issue.
  • Politely thank them and their staff for their time and leave your contact information or a business card so they are able to follow-up with you in the future.

Constituent letters and email

A well-written and constructed letter to policymakers is an important part of influencing legislation and can be written to voice support or opposition.  IT IS HIGHLY RECOMMENDED THAT MEMBERS WITH AN INTEREST IN THE PARTICULAR LEGISLATION SEND INDIVIDUAL LETTERS RATHER THAN FORM LETTERS.  This does not mean you have to slave over your computer for hours coming up with a long-winded letter.  A paragraph or two will suffice as legislators have hundreds of letters and emails to read daily.

  • Write early

o   Begin to encourage approval or disapproval of a bill while it is in committee, if possible.

  • Identify yourself

o   Let the reader know if you are writing on your own behalf or as a representative member of an organization.  Put your return address on the letter because envelopes are often discarded.

  • Identify your issue

o   Do this up front.  Include the bill number and subject matter.

  • State your position

o   Also do this up front when you identify the issue.  For example, “I am writing to request your support of House Bill ### which will establish 3 feet as safe passing distance of a vehicle around a bicycle on the roadway.”

  • Establish your credibility and expertise

o   Let them know your credentials, years of experience and involvement with the Georgia Bikes Alliance.  Be sure to communicate that your are a registered voter from his/her district.

  • Be brief

o   Keep the letter to one page.  If your background information or supporting materials are lengthy, attach it as a separate, supporting document to the letter.

  • Use facts

o   Facts validate your position.  Numbers and statistics are very persuasive, but don’t overload the letter with them.

  • Be reasonable

o   Be firm, confident, positive and courteous.  Never give the reader an ultimatum or threat.

  • Use personal, human terms

o   Don’t fill the letter with jargon, it will distract the reader.  Add a short, personal story to tie the issue to a real problem.

  • Ask for a reply

o   Indicate that you would appreciate a reply or a phone call containing the reader’s position on the issue.

  • Follow-up

o   If the decision-maker proceeds in a manner that pleases you on an issue, express your gratitude with a thank-you letter or offer to provide support to them on other issues.  On the other hand, if you believe the decision-maker has acted contrary to your interest, let them know and be polite.

Effective phone calls

State legislators can be reached at the state capital during the legislative session.  If the legislature is not in session, legislative staff will have phone numbers for contacting your elected officials in their districts.  It’s a good idea to get a legislative directory or “white book” at the beginning of each legislative session.  Copies can be picked up in the Secretary of the Senate or the House Clerk’s office at the capitol for no charge in Georgia.

  • The administrative assistant will probably be the one to answer the phone.  You can leave your message with him or her or talk to the legislative aide working on your issue.  Make sure you get the name of the person with whom you are speaking.
  • Identify yourself by name and current hometown.  Make sure you state that you are a constituent and member of Georgia Bikes!
  • Keep your call short and to the point.
  • Identify the issue or bill number you wish to address.
  • State your position and how you want your legislator to vote.
  • Leave your name, phone number, mailing address or email address even if the secretary says it is not necessary.
  • Follow up your phone call with a short note to the staff member with whom you spoke, emphasizing your position and your appreciation of his/her attention to the issue.  This can help build your relationship with the staff and the legislator.

Feel free to use our handy Guide to Grassroots Lobbying!