Thursday, July 16, 2009

How to write a letter for the Department of Peace (or any issue you are passionate about):

There are lots of reasons to write letters to your congressional reps. First, you may have never done it before. Well, participation is fundamental in our democracy. This is a great way for kids and adults to see how that really works.
Second, staffers in each office count the number of phone calls and letters they receive about a given issue. Each letter written in counts for a certain number of constituents' opinions. For example, the government has figured out that if one person feels strongly enough about something to write in about it, they assume that maybe 100 people in their district agree. 3 letters = 300 people. Not too shabby, huh?
Third, writing a letter gives you the opportunity to think about how larger social issues relate to you. We are all familiar with donating our money or volunteering our time, but we rarely have the opportunity to sit down and write about why a certain law or program is important and how it will effect our lives.

That being said, here are some tips:

1. Choose a story or personal example.
We all come to the table with different experiences and reasons for wanting peace. Spend some time thinking about an anecdote that you are comfortable sharing that explains why peace is important. Strong stories are true and heartfelt and are related to the goals of the legislation.

2. Highlight your story with a statistic.

Find some statistics that relate to your story. The Peace Alliance has compiled some here. If you look up your own stats, be sure to include where the statistic was from and make sure that it is credible. Statistics help staff members who are reading your letter connect your personal story to the larger social needs of their constituency.

3. Mention the part of the bill that would support a solution to the issue in the story.

This allows a staffer or representative to see exactly how the bill would address the issue you are most connected to without having to wade through the legislation, which they may not be willing to do at this stage in the Bill’s life.

4. Close with a statement about the imperative need for supporting peace and nonviolence
in this country and thank the Senator or Representative for his or her service or work. Make sure you mention HR 808.
This is just common courtesy. Even though we as constituents often feel distanced, remember that these people are in office WORKING FOR YOU. When you write a letter or make a phone call, you aren’t burdening your congressional representatives, you are helping them do their job more effectively. By mentioning the bill by its number, HR 808, you make it easier for staffers to find the legislation if they want or need to look at it more closely.

5. Include your full name and address because staffers keep track of which constituents are carrying on correspondence with the office.

Here is an example letter I wrote containing a story I shared while I was in DC on the Hill talking directly with a Staffer for Senator Kennedy’s office.

Dear Senator,

I am writing you to ask you to introduce a bill that would create a Cabinet-level Department of Peace in our government. Currently, HR 808 has been introduced in the House and I am hoping that you will be the person to carry that legislation into the Senate.
I would like to share with you a story that shows why we need a Department of Peace. Domestic violence has a devastating effect on the children and families of this country. While I was teaching in an elementary school, I learned that one of my students witnessed her own father attack her mother and try to kill her by cutting her throat. While her mother survived, both mother and daughter were irreversibly impacted by the attack. My student would bully and attack other kids. Several times she wrote notes or stories about killing herself. As a teacher, I did not have the power or resources to support her and her family as they struggled with the consequences of the violence she had witnessed.
According to the American Psychological Association, a child's exposure to the father abusing the mother is the strongest risk factor for transmitting violent behavior from one generation to the next (Violence and the Family: Report of the APA Presidential Task Force on Violence and the Family,1996). The costs of perpetuating abuse patterns add up, the Center for Disease Prevention and Control estimates health-care related spending alone at $4 billion a year. As you can see, the cost of domestic violence is exponentially high.
The Department of Peace Legislation is 80% domestic and focuses on giving police officers, teachers, families and community members the tools they need to give people nonviolent alternatives to violent behavior. By supporting HR 808 and legislation like it, you will save money and save lives.

Thank you for your time,

Good Luck!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this outstanding post, Etta! You offer some very good tips. Would you be willing to re-post this on the DoPeace site? It's a social network recently created by the Peace Alliance to help get word like this out to peace activists across the country. Check it out at
    Violence B. Gawn