Generating letters to members of Congress

In Wisconsin, a group meets monthly for coffee, conversation and meaningful written dialogue with their representatives

By Alyson Schmiesser

Like small towns everywhere, my little town is full of busy people who are concerned about climate change, but don’t know what to do.  It didn’t take much persuading to convince several of them to join me in a letter-writing group.

Once a month we meet at our friendly local coffee house. We chit chat while we get coffee,  (How’s the kitchen remodel going? How’s that new grandson? Seen the new grocery store? Small town stuff.) and then we get to work.

To get started we accepted the CCL mantra (appreciate, inform, respect), but this was hard for us. Ok, yes, I’ll admit it…  really hard.  Our frustration level with two of our MoCs was pretty high. So we brainstormed at the beginning of each meeting, paid attention to the news, and started our letters with something of appreciation, though frankly, it was pretty lame at first.  With low expectations, we sent off our passionate concerns and calls for carbon fee and dividend.

We went on for several months like this until it started to dawn on us that we were actually having a real conversation with our Congressman.  His office was very good about responding, and it became apparent. that, at the very least, they were actually reading our letters . (“Thank you for contacting me, again, about climate change.”  Again! He knows I wrote to him before!)   These were not just “check mark letters” that count as a tally mark of consituent concern. This was a long term campaign.

When our Representative — an “A” last year on the CCL scale — announced in one of his replies that “I don’t believe that we should ignore climate change,” we cheered  and doubled down.  Now we have real issues to address in response to his letters. And we really do appreciate his willingness to engage with us, so that is easier, too.  In between meetings some of us look for news articles, science studies, and human interest to bring to our next letter meeting.  We use these meetings now as strategy planning sessions and often finish our letters at home.

Lessons learned:

  1. The best letter is the one that gets mailed.  It doesn’t have to be great literature to be effective.
  2. If  I don’t want to be sitting alone at the coffee house for an hour, I’ve got to make reminder phone calls, not just emails.
  3. There are an amazing number of people out there who want to do something and are willing to give an hour a month. You just have to ask.
  4. One well-crafted message can often be quickly and easily adapted to fit another MoC, so we get three or four letters out of one effort.
  5. People care, but they are busy. It is my job to make this easy for them. I write my letters beforehand and pass one out at the meeting.  This serves as a model for appropriate tone (I am getting good at that!) and includes some pieces of relevant information that they can easily adapt for their own letters. My group says this is helpful, and they have plenty to say on their own, so I don’t worry about the “form letter effect.”
  6. Coffee, conversation, and commitment are all it takes.

Last year from May to December, we accounted for over 100 letters and postcards (Those “check mark letters” are important, too). We started with a group of four writers, and now we have ten.  Sometimes people can’t come to the meeting, but they’ll write letters anyway. Sometimes they are too busy to write, but they come back the next month.  One hour a month, we make a difference. (Ok, yeah, it’s really closer to an hour and a half, but that’s because we like each other.)


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