In many cases, advancing youth rights requires a change in the law, which means working with politicians. While this can seem overwhelming, it’s important to remember that it is an elected official’s job to respond to the needs and concerns of the people they represent, including those who aren’t yet able to vote. Here you’ll find how to contact your representative through phone calls, letters, and how to meet with them in person.
Who to Contact
Before contacting anyone, you have to figure out what are you asking them to do. Is it to create new legislation or to support something already proposed? Is it something within their power to change? At what level of government are your efforts going to have the most impact? Most representatives are only interested in hearing from people who live in their district, but occasionally it might be a good idea to reach out to politicians that have shown support or concern for similar issues. For example, if you are working on lowering the voting age, you can reach out to politicians who have supported voting rights in general.
How to Find Your Representative
Finding the people that represent you is as easy as knowing your address. Here are some helpful websites:
At the federal level
At the state level
At the city or county level
- Finding your Local Government
- You can also search specifically for your city or county’s website
Most elected officials have a preferred way to contact them, and this should be found on their web page. (Some have different addresses whether the legislative chamber is in session or not, for example.)
When to Contact
Contacting your representatives consistently throughout the year can show that your issue matters to you. However, many state legislatures don’t meet for months at a time, so if you want your representative to introduce or support a bill, you should be aware of the legislative session dates in your state. You can look up the legislative session dates for all states on this website.
Making Phone Calls
Phone calls are the most useful when an issue or bill is under current consideration and are considered more effective than letters. If you call a representative’s office, you will most likely be speaking with an aide or an intern. This doesn’t matter though, as elected officials keep extensive records about who calls their office and why. If enough people call about an issue, it will gain the notice of the politician. Keep your phone call short; explain exactly what it is you’re concerned about and what you hope the politician will do. Ask your representative’s staff to respond to your request and to update you on the outcome of the issue.
Sample phone script:
Hello, my name is __________. I am a constituent in ________ [the name of the representative’s district] and I’m calling today to urge Senator ________ to support __________ [the name and the number of the proposed bill]. This bill will increase voter turnout among both young people and their parents and will make politicians more responsive to the needs of young people. [Name up to three positive effects of the bill, no more than a sentence or two on each.] I am also requesting support for this bill because, as a high school teacher, I am aware that my students possess the critical thinking skills and interest to participate in local elections that affect their daily lives. [You should also add a message about how the bill will affect you personally, if you can]. Thank you for sharing my message and I would like a reply on how the Senator will be voting on this issue. [Make sure to give your contact details.]
Writing Letters and Emails
If you are nervous about talking on the phone, you can still write a letter. Here are some tips:
- Keep it formal and under a page. Letters should be printed, not handwritten.
- Personalize your letter – don’t write the same letter to everyone.
- Include the following:
- Your name and address and that you are a member of NYRA (and any other relevant organizations)
- How the issue affects you personally
- Nonpartisan evidence to support your argument
- Acknowledgement of their efforts on similar issues (if applicable)
- A direct request for action. Include the name and number of the bill, if applicable request for a reply
You can also use our template for writing letters here.
While typed letters are more likely to be noticed, an email is better than nothing. The same rules apply and make sure to include your mailing address.
Meeting you representatives or local officials in person is a good way to show that you’re passionate about an issue and that you have the skills to build a campaign around it. The following tips will help you present your case, either in a personal meeting or in front of your city council.
Before Your Meeting
- Schedule an Appointment. You can usually do this by calling your representative’s office and asking when they are available to meet with a constituent. Some representatives also have an online form to request a meeting on their webpage, usually under “Contact.” Be prepared to wait weeks or even month for the meeting to happen. If they don’t respond within several weeks, don’t be afraid to follow up.
- Know Who You’re Meeting. Get to know the politician you’re contacting, including their voting history, what committees they serve on, and how they feel on similar issues. Think about ways to tie your issue to something that they already care about. In some cases, especially at the federal level, you may only be meeting with staff members, but it is generally the staffers who write laws, propose ideas, and advise the elected official, so treat them in the same manner.
- Invite Others to Attend. Not everyone you ask has to be a member of your chapter, but they should support the issue you want to discuss. In fact, encouraging people from other types of groups who have the same position as you, even if for different reasons, can show that your issue has a wide base of support. Limit the number of people to 5 and meet with each other beforehand to make sure everyone in your group knows what they are going to say and that people aren’t repeating each other.
- Dress professionally. Wear clothes you’d use for an interview.
What to Bring
You should always prepare material stating the main points relevant to your issue and bring extra copies to give to any staff. Ideally, it shouldn’t be more than 1-2 pages. Things to include:
- Who you are: Make sure they know you are from the National Youth Rights Association and provide your contact details so that they can get in contact with you or follow up at our national office for more information on the issue. If you are representing other groups, mention them as well.
- What you want: Are you asking them to draft or co-sponsor a bill?
- Previous legislation: Did someone try to pass a law in favor of this issue? Try to find previous examples of similar legislation. If your examples include legislation from your area or state and from the same political party as your representative, great, but anything similar is fine.
- Talking points: What are the main points that support your issue? Put them in a concise list. Use nonpartisan evidence and statistics where appropriate to support your claims. Mention politicians that support your issue. Cite your sources.
- A draft of the new legislation: If you are asking your representative to write an entirely new piece of legislation, provide them with a draft. If you’d like us to help you write one, let us know.
- Details of the current bill: If there is a bill already introduced, note the bill, its name and number, and state its current status (including how many people are currently cosponsoring it).
What to Say
- Build a relationship. What your representatives thinks of you can determine how seriously they take your suggestions and concerns. Be polite, even when you disagree. Express appreciation for any work they have done on pro-youth or similar issues and thank them for meeting with you. Even if they don’t support your issue now, they may in the future.
- Ask them to take some action. State exactly what you want your representative to do, such as author or co-sponsor a bill.
- Explain why this issue is important to you and your community. Talk about how it affects your daily life and why you are campaigning about it. Make it clear that you are also representing a need in your district and explain how your issue will help address that need. Tell them about the community outreach you’ve done and the support you have.
- Address their concerns. Listen to what they care about and try to give honest answers to any questions they have. Acknowledge the downsides to a bill if it comes up, but state how you think the pros outweigh the cons. Politicians need to explain to their constituents why they are supporting an issue and you should help them find suitable answers to the difficult questions posed by people who oppose your issue. Get back to them if you don’t know the answer.
- Try to reach some middle ground. If your representative isn’t supportive, ask what is holding them back. Do they need more information or are they looking to hear from more constituents? Ask them what they are willing to do in order to address the issue. Ask them how you can make what you want a reality.
After Your Visit
- Send a Thank You note. Send a thank you email to any representatives or staff who were present at the meeting. Restate your request for action and include any relevant information, such as a link to the bill discussed or a PDF of your materials or draft legislation.
- Report back to your community. Share the outcome of your meeting with us at NYRA and with your community. Any support will help to increase awareness of your issue. You can write an op-ed for your local newspaper, contact the media if you haven’t already done so, conduct a letter-writing campaign, and post on social media.
- Follow up. If your elected official makes a promise, it is a good idea to check up on them in a couple of months. If they’ve done what you’ve asked, send another thank you note. If they haven’t, feel free to send them a friendly reminder.
Speaking at City Council Meetings
Many state legislatures and nearly every city council allow members of the public to speak at hearings on legislation. In addition to the above, you should:
- Find out where and when the council meetings are. This is usually on your city’s website.
- Practice your speech. Typically, speakers are allowed two minutes to address the council. Practice with a timer to ensure you make the most of your time.
- Come early and fill out a speaker card, if required.
- Remember to introduce yourself and where you live before you speak.
- Be flexible. Even though you will have prepared a speech, there might be other people speaking on the same issue. If you can address their concerns or build on what they’ve said, feel free to do so.
- Follow up. You can send any relevant written materials to the council after the meeting.