Is your middle schooler fired up about politics, but disappointed that he’s not old enough to take a trip to the polls? Sure, he may be a preteen, but that doesn’t mean he lacks the passion to do good in his community.
Here’s a quick guide on how to write a letter to your local politician:
Identify what moves you: What community issue(s) are you feel passionate about? Do you dislike how drivers speed on a particular street? Would you like to see a healthier food selection in your school cafeteria? Do you think kids in your neighborhood would benefit from a skateboarding park?
Think big: Create a list, jotting down anything that irks or upsets you about your school, neighborhood, city, or home. Let’s say, for instance, you’re turned off by the plastic trash that accumulates on the street and in your household. Perhaps you’d like to see supermarkets and restaurants do a better job at cutting down on waste. But how?
Research rigorously: No matter what issue you decide to investigate, you need to look through newspapers and magazines at your library and search online news archives to understand what your local officials have done – or not done – regarding this issue.
Search for key terms and phrases – “recycling,” “waste management,” “speeding,” “skateboarding” – on the websites of local and regional newspapers. Narrow your search by including your city’s name.
Browse business websites and community bulletin boards in your neighborhood stores – Whole Foods and Starbucks, for instance, maintain wall spaces for community flyers. Do any businesses discuss goals relevant to your cause? If you’re psyched about recycling, for instance, do any businesses maintain green or sustainable programs?
Network with the right people: Check in with your local Boy or Girl Scouts troop for suggestions on networking with groups that may be active in your cause. Chitchat with a small business owner or store manager about their organization’s goals. Talk to an employee about what they like (and don’t like) about the way their employer runs their business. Approach a police officer in his or her downtime and ask questions about the rules and laws of your neighborhood.
Locate your contact: Search for your city government’s website – Googling “City of” and the name of your city and state usually works. Click on tabs for “government,” “city council,” or “contact information” and read the bios of your city officials to get a sense of what they’re about (or insert their names into a search engine). Choose one politician and take note of their snail mail address.
Devise a specific plan: ActNow, an activist website, suggests zooming in on a specific proposal in your letter. Your “pitch” to your politician should be clear and succinct, but supported with details validated from your research. Here are examples of strong pitches:
“I urge you to consider creating a law to ban the use of Styrofoam in all businesses in Boulder, Colorado.”
The residents of Marina Del Rey, California, would like you to reduce the speed limit on Lincoln Boulevard to 25 mph.”
“I encourage you to implement a program by fall 2009 in which restaurants in your district are required to compost 40 percent or more of weekly waste.”
“The kids in the Hawthorne District of Portland, Oregon, would benefit from a skateboarding park, which would decrease the number of skateboarders on busy Hawthorne Boulevard.”
Support your stance: Cite the strongest research you’ve gathered: Mention local organizations working on current legislation and key players you’ve met in your neighborhood. Provide examples that illustrate the change you’d like to see: Maybe the Safeway down the street has decided to stop using plastic bowls at their Chinese takeout counter, or the organic bakery on the corner has received statewide media attention for its composting efforts. Also, mention what kids in other cities are doing regarding similar issues (check out sites like YouthNoise.com and DoSomething.org).
Write your letter:
Opening: Your pitch should be in your first paragraph, if not your opening sentence. Introduce yourself and why you are qualified to speak on this issue.
Supporting paragraphs: Pick at least three strong reasons why your local government must listen to your proposal. You can explain each reason in a single paragraph, or present all three in one long one.
Last words: Restate your pitch and thank your politician for taking the time to read your letter. Leave contact information (email address, school name, etc.). Sign your letter!
Quick Writing Tips:
Keep your letter short – definitely not more than a page.
Use accurate facts, quotes from community members, and statistics – but don’t overuse them. (A few sprinkled in each paragraph is a good amount.)
Provide real-life examples in your neighborhood to illustrate your reasons.
DON’T TYPE IN CAPITAL LETTERS IN THE HOPE OF CONVINCING YOUR READER. It’s not only hard to read – it’s unprofessional.
Write in a respectful and positive tone.
Follow Up: Politicians are busy people! If you haven’t heard from your official or one of their representatives in a few weeks, send an email to thank them again for reading your letter. Say that you hope someone will respond to your query when possible.