AASV advocacy in action

From armchair advocacy to grasstops lobbying ... the first step is writing an effective letter

As swine veterinarians, you are aware of the proliferation of regulations and legislation related to animal agriculture at the local, state, and national levels. While it is true that activist groups with thousands of members and millions of dollars will initiate many of these issues, it is also true that you will have an opportunity to participate in the debate and influence the outcome.

Most activist groups use grassroots lobbying, rallying their members to submit thousands of form letters on an issue. Although the AASV does not have the number of members or the budget that an activist group may have, it has member veterinarians who are leaders (ie, grasstops) in their community and knowledgeable about animal-related issues. A well-argued, well-written letter on an issue carries more weight with an elected official than hundreds of form letters generated by less knowledgeable constituents.

So how do you move from armchair advocacy to active grasstops lobbying? It is as easy as writing a letter to an elected official about an issue - whether it is about a zoning regulation in your community or legislation on sow housing in your state.

Letters are the most commonly used method for communicating with elected officials. They are the easiest way to voice your opinion and to get involved in the political process. The following tips will enhance the effectiveness of your letter.

  • Identify yourself. Make sure that your name, address, and telephone number are included in your correspondence (letters, faxes, and e-mails). This information identifies you as a constituent. Your letter will count only if you live in the state or district your official represents. If you are active in the community or hold an organizational or local office, mention it.
  • Use proper form to address your elected officials.
    • To a Senator:
      The Honorable John Doe
      US Senate
      Washington, DC 20510

      Dear Senator Doe:

    • To a Representative:
      The Honorable Jane Doe
      US House of Representatives
      Washington, DC 20515

      Dear Representative Doe:

  • Visit www.congressmerge.com for the names and addresses of your congressional representatives. Call your local voter registration office for your state representatives.
  • Snail mail or e-mail? Each office is different. You might wish to call the official's office to ask what the preference is. If you use e-mail, use the same form that you would in a formal letter.
  • State the reason for your letter. If you are writing about a particular piece of legislation, state the bill number and title, sponsors, or both.
  • Limit your letter to one issue. How often have you heard: "Doc, while you are here ..."? Enough said.
  • Personalize your letter. Explain the issue as it currently exists. Use examples to illustrate the benefits or harm that would result from provisions of the legislation, and how the issue affects you or the swine industry.
  • Be sure of your facts. If you are using facts and figures to emphasize your point, be sure that they are correct. Keep in mind that the points you make in your letter could be used by your elected official.
  • Avoid technical language or jargon. If you use an acronym, spell out its meaning.
  • Be concise. Confine your letter to two pages.
  • Ask for something specific. You may be asking for the official's opinion on the issue, or for his or her support of your position.
  • Follow up. If you do not receive a reply, or get one that is unsatisfactory, write again. If the official votes your way, write a note of thanks. If the official does not vote your way, send a note of thanks for considering your position. Either way, the official will know that you are watching.

Your primary purpose in communicating with elected officials is to influence their views and to build a relationship with the official so that you will become a resource for future issues in the swine industry. Your active involvement in an issue can make a difference.

Next issue:

Suggestions for meetings with elected officials