Writing Letters to Congress
Identify yourself as a constituent. Members of Congress are accountable to voters in their home state or district, so giving your address is important, especially in emails. (It is also why it is not generally effective to write members of Congress who do not represent you.) Additionally, many offices need your address to send a response.
Stick to one issue per letter. Staying focused keeps your request clear. Also, congressional staff are assigned different issues to track, so one person may get the Iraq letters, and another may get the letters about U.S. oil dependence.
Include a specific ask: Communications that make a specific request for congressional action (including a bill number, if available) often have more impact than those that express only a generalized concern. Asking your congressman to call the State Dept. to ask after the TRO abductees is more effective than asking them to support peace in Sri Lanka.
Keep it short, simple and polite. Congressional staff get piles of mail each day, so make your letter brief and to the point. Keep the tone respectful no matter how frustrated you feel with a Congressperson's votes or activities.
Include relevant personal information. If you have loved ones affected by the war, mention that in letters about issues that affect them. If you are a teacher, describe what you know about the educational challenges in the NorthEast. These kinds of personal links boost your letter's power.
Send thank you letters. Many constituents write when they are unhappy, but few write when they are pleased with their member of Congress. Recognizing a vote or speech lets your Congressperson know that constituents support such actions.
Personalize sample letters. Many organizations provide sample letters. Personalize them and use them to guide your own letter instead of copying them word-for-word.
Sample letter to congressional representative:
Dear Honorable Congressperson,
Re: Condemn Civilian Killings in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka has been the site of indiscriminate attacks on civilians in recent weeks. This can be seen in the extraordinary murder of a prominent Member of Parliament while he attended Christmas church services, the daily violence of assaulting women ,and the killing of students. These attacks have unequivocally targeted the minority Tamil population, as Sri Lanka approaches the brink of war.
Investigations into the rape and murder of Ilayathamby Tharshini, a 20-year old woman in Jaffna whose mutilated body was found in a well adjacent to a Sri Lankan Navy base, have further asserted the guilt of Navy personnel in this heinous crime. Incriminating belongings of Navy soldiers were found around the site of her gang rape and killing, according to human rights groups in the area. These reports come as women in other Sri Lankan Army-occupied areas describe daily harassment from Army personnel. Such crimes by government soldiers have grown so commonplace as to be expected by civilians: after finding Tharsini's brutalized body in the well, villagers felt compelled to camp the night next to the well to ensure the Navy could not further destroy her body before the postmortem the following day.
This week Sri Lanka's Human Rights Commission reported the disappearanceof 16 Tamils after being arrested by security forces in Jaffna. Attacks on the Tamil minority are endemic across all areas of Army control: while celebrating the New Year, five students were shot in Trincomalee 'execution style 'according to Norwegian peace monitors, and eye-witnesses attribute the killings to Navy soldiers.
Peaceful protests against these attacks have been met with Army aggression, as soldiers violently threaten those who dare speak out against the oppressions of occupancy. The media has even been attacked for reporting on these injustices: a reporter for the Associated Press petitioned for a redress of grievances to Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse after being beaten by Army personnel for covering non-violent protests by University of Jaffna students and faculty against government occupation. The offices of two Tamil daily papers in Jaffna have been repeatedly searched without any provocation.
The security situation in Sri Lanka is clearly deteriorating, as December saw the most bloodshed since the start of the 2002 ceasefire. However, attacks on unarmed women and students must be firmly condemned irrespective of the country's security conditions.
We are asking you to demand that the Sri Lankan government stop the slayings of Tamil civilians.