HOW TO INTERACT WITH YOUR MEMBERS OF CONGRESS
To start with, remember this key point: Keep it Simple!
As you can probably imagine in just your own interactions with friends, coworkers and neighbors, trying to describe the intricacies of Amateur Radio can sometimes be a challenge. When you hear "Yagi" you think "antenna." On the other hand, most people probably think of a cartoon bear robbing picnic baskets. Technical equipment and operating issues that are the everyday norm for a ham may never register on the radar screen of a Member of Congress or their staff. Remember that whenever you speak with elected officials or their staff, you are serving as an ambassador of Amateur Radio. These people will be looking to you for guidance on ham radio issues as much as you will be looking to them for their support. Be patient in serving as a resource.
Although there maybe no legislation pending before Congress on your destired issue, Members of Congress can still contact the FCC and express their concerns. However, they will not do this unless there is a recognized need emanating from their constituents.
Unless your Member of Congress works directly with Telecommunications related Committees and Subcommittees, most Members and their staff are probably not even aware of the issues. When writing or speaking with Members of Congress and their staff, you will likely need to describe some background to the issue and why it is a problem for amateur radio. Think basics.
Also, remember that the ARRL website (www.arrl.org) offers an excellent array of resources and information if you are not sure of some specifics or are looking for additional points to raise.
WRITING LETTERS AND EMAILS TO YOUR MEMBERS OF CONGRESS
- Remember to include an address:
The most important, yet often most overlooked, aspect of a written correspondence to a Member of Congress (especially e-mails!) is including a mailing address. Without this incredibly important piece of information, their Member of Congress, or more likely his staff, will immediately stop reading and file it in the trash bin. With so many contrived and mass mailings these days, legislative staff only has time to address letters and e-mails that are certain to have come from their district.
- Make sure you send your correspondence to the right person:
When sending a letter to a Member of Congress, be sure it is to the person that represents you. Contacting a Member who does not represent you may be a bigger waste of time than failing to include an address.
If you are unsure of whom your Members of Congress is refer to the search options on the following websites: www.house.gov and www.senate.gov. Each site includes complete contact information for every Representative and Senator.
- Be brief, but not too brief:
Take a few sentences to describe the issue you wish to discuss and how it impacts amateur radio. Describe the important role amateurs play in emergency communications as well. Avoid the use of jargon and be "professional" in your comments.
- Include credentials and let them know you are an ARRL member:
Be sure they tell the Member of Congress that you have been licensed by the federal government as an Amateur Radio operator. It will add some additional credibility to any technical aspects you may bring up in the letter. There is no need to provide an extensive resume of all of your Amateur Radio activities, such as your Extra Class license and ARES activities. Remember--be brief. Also, be sure to mention that you are a member of the ARRL. It is important for Members of Congress to know that you are part of a larger group that has an interest in the issue.
CALLING YOUR MEMBERS OF CONGRESS
- With whom to speak:
Speaking directly with a legislator may not be feasible, especially if you do not have a prior personal relationship with him or her. Making a phone call to their office can be an important first step, however.
Explain that you are a constituent and that you would like to speak with the staff person that handles telecommunications issues.
- Make sure you are ready to talk:
Some people get a little stage fright when put on the spot. Staff has very limited time, even for constituents, to focus on an issue. Tell them who you are and that you are a constituent and licensed amateur and then briefly express your concerns/opinions about the topic at hand.
Ask that they look into the matter and offer to fax or email them a written follow up on your concerns. Also ask again that their boss (the Congressman or Senator) consider the effects of this issue on Amateur Radio and Public Service communications and ask that they support your request
PERSONAL VISITS WITH YOUR MEMBERS OF CONGRESS
- Keep Leadership Informed:
Before making an appointment let your Division Director, Vice Director or Section Manager know your intentions. A meeting may already be in place for your Representative or Senator which you could attend. If one isn't, you may be asked to take the lead. Also, you do not want to inundate your elected officials with too many meetings on the same issue, it may become overkill.
- Make an appointment in advance:
Call your Senator or Representative's office and ask his or her staff about the possibility of setting up a meeting. Let them know about the issue that you would like to discuss, and signal to them that you will keep the meeting brief. Be patient and open to scheduling an appointment several weeks in advance.
You should certainly feel comfortable meeting on your own; however, if it would make the situation more relaxed, arrange to bring one or two other amateurs from the state or district to the meeting. Avoid walking in with a large group; it may be distracting. One or two people should be sufficient to deliver your message.
- Have a plan:
In advance, know who will speak and how you will approach the legislator. You should be brief but concise in your issue. Having a handout with some key bullet points will help the legislator focus and understand the issue. Members of Congress and their staff are usually inundated with material that is hard to follow and never gets read. Do not offer something that will not be useful. Make your material stand out. If you need some assistance in developing a handout, contact ARRL Headquarters for assistance. Try to keep the meeting focused as well. Legislators are very busy and will appreciate a well-timed meeting.
- Get an answer before you leave:
At the conclusion of your meeting, ask your legislator if they will support amateur radio operators on this issue. Also ask if they will send a letter to the FCC expressing thier concerns.
KEEP THE ARRL INFORMED
Whenever you make a contact with a Member of Congress or their staff, be sure to keep the ARRL informed. Any response or feedback you receive, please pass this information along to your Division Director, Vice Director, or Section Manager. Relaying responses will help the Washington Team develop a more precise agenda as to who needs to be contacted and targeted for opposing BPL. You should also copy your letters and emails that you send to Congress to your Division and Section leadership so the ARRL can ensure that the correct staff receives your correspondences in a timely manner and can follow up.