How to Snailmail Congress – Results from my Campaign

I’ve posted about snail-mailing the United States Congress (in my case, in favor of a genuine public
option for health care — er, health insurance reform!), and now I’m finally following up on my results, as suggested.

The main result was that I learned more about the United States government, apparently a bureaucratic republic instead of a representative democracy, but anyway. Besides clarifying my own thoughts about the topics I sent letters about, I learned how to send letters — and make phone calls — more effectively. And I gained informal, experiential knowledge of what happens when you do contact Congress.

I posted one of my letters almost in its entirety; if you want, you could use it as a template for your own letters: basically, three paragraphs, 1) who you are and what action you wish the elected official to take — the more specific the issue and action, the better; 2) why you support that action — in addition to giving abstract argument you can remind elected officials of their statements with a Google News Archive search or with a regular Google search such as “max baucus” “public option” and you can remind them of pertinent poll numbers; 3) restate the action you want the elected official to take, and maybe conclude with a kicker.

Although I’d planned — unrealistically and expensively — to snail-mail all 535 federal Congress members (should’ve been less; it would’ve been worthless to snail-mail Republicans, with the short-lived exception of Olympia Snowe, as it quickly became apparent none would vote for the reform legislation, and none did), I only wound up snail-mailing about 10. No Congress members replied to my letters, if I recall correctly. The President sent a form-letter back.

Some questioned whether sending snail-mail to Congress was effective at all. As I mentioned in a previous post, in 2009 The Washington Post persuasively reported that a professional lobbyist firm snail-mailed astroturfed (fake grassroots) letters to US Representative Tom Perriello. So if they expect fake letters to work, you should expect real letters to work. By the way, Shakespeare knew astroturfing:

[Cassius:] I will this night, In several hands, in at his windows throw, As if they came from several citizens, Writings all tending to the great opinion

Another question: if you live in Texas and mail a Congress member representing, say, Maine, do they see your Texas return address and trash the envelope posthaste (even if the issue has directly nationwide consequences)? Some friends argued so; others argued just as vehemently otherwise — it’s amazing, this is one of those issues on which everyone’s an expert. I don’t know the answer, but I did find a partial answer to another question: how long does it take snail-mail to reach a Congress member’s office from the time you put the envelope in a drop-box forward? This is important for letters concerning timely issues. Several government websites act as if post-9/11 security measures cause eons of delay, but since I had third-hand word that the delay warnings are simply smokescreens for decreasing letter volume, I emailed the Postmaster General my question. The response:

September 18, 2009
Dear Douglas Lucas:

This is to acknowledge your email to the Postmaster General, for whom I am responding.

The time for a letter to arrive at a Congressional office can vary for a number of reasons, and the total time (from the time a customer deposits their letter until it is received in the specific Congressional office) is not something we can measure with certainty as we do not operate the mailrooms of Congress or other governmental agencies. Instead, we only handle the mail from the point of origin to the tender of the mail to those mailrooms.

The length of time a letter is in our control will vary, depending on the current flow of mail as well as other factors (including accuracy of addressing) but as a guideline all of the functions we are performing should be completed in less than two weeks. Please let me stress, however, we cannot estimate and do not maintain records for the total time until delivery in the Congressional representative’s office.


Robert MacCloskey
Postal Service Headquarters

When I was in DC on my honeymoon, I really wanted to stop by a Capitol Office Building (e.g., Hart) and ask the mailroom there what they do once a letter arrives. But I didn’t have time. If anyone out there does this, please leave a note in the comments!

I’ll post about my experiences telephoning Congress soon.


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