and City Hall and Everywhere Else

Be concise, informed, and polite. When you write, visit, or call public officials, whether they're in Congress or the local parks department, always say exactly what you want them to do. If it involves legislation, cite the specific bill's name and number.

Humanize your facts. Let experts cite statistics. You'll make more of an impact by talking about the experience of people you know. For instance, if you're discussing children's issues and you are a parent, child-care worker, or teacher, say so.

Be generous with praise as well as criticism. Constant or harsh criticism makes it easy for public officials to dismiss you as a crank or a sworn opponent. Thank them for recent actions that you support.

Building rapport with a decision-maker, even one who does not share all you values, increase your effectiveness as a citizen lobbyist.

Be creative. Anything out of the ordinary can draw special attention to your message. A citizen group in Illinois protested a cut in funding for school lunches by writing letters on paper plates.

Make the most of phone calls. If the public official is not available, ask to speak with a staff member who is responsible for the issue in which you are interested.

Make the most of letters. Ask for a reply in which the public official states his or her position on the subject.

Recycle your efforts. The preparation you put into a phone call can be used again in calling another public official or a radio talk show. Letters can be sent to several public officials and reworked slightly to become an op-ed column or a letter to the editor in your local newspaper. This background will also be helpful in talking to neighbors about the issues and in speaking at public meetings.

Don't focus exclusively on politicians. Letters and phone calls to business and civic leaders can be equally effective in setting the stage for political change. Most large corporations have toll-free numbers, which you can get by calling 800/555-1212.

Don't expect immediate victories or hope to win every time. The bigger the issue the more complicated it is to win. Take the long view.

Share the fun. Working with friends and neighbors on political causes is not only more enjoyable--it's more effective.

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