Vancouver Chapter of the Council of Canadians
At our May chapter meeting, we did a letter writing workshop in two parts. Our aim was to help members improve skills that will support their activist work. For the benefit of those who weren’t able to attend the workshop, we’ve summarized the two presentations below.
Writing Letters to the Editor
Our special guest Murray Martin gave a presentation on writing letters to the editor. Murray has had a very high success rate in getting his letters to the editor published in local and national papers, so his talk was a great opportunity for chapter members to learn from a pro. Murray shared the following points:
◦ Don’t make your letter too radical for the newspaper you’re writing to.
◦ Keep your letter short (100-200 words for major papers, up to 500 words for local papers).
◦ Be concise. Focus on only one point for major papers, 2-3 points for community papers.
◦ Use Google Alerts for key words to see your topic coming up in the local papers of other communities, then write to those papers as well.
◦ To find addresses for editors, Murray uses the Write a Letter to the Editor page on the BC Liberals website.
◦ A letter written in response to an article is more likely to get published than a letter that introduces a new topic.
◦ Do not be overly critical of the person (concentrate on their idea’s merits or lack of), and refrain from character assassination.
◦ Don’t assume background knowledge of the reader. Set up your point in 2-3 sentences.
◦ Find factual support on sites such as the Council of Canadians website and the CCPA Monitor.
◦ Newspapers like to publish articles of students and youth, so if you fit into one of these categories mention it (if appropriate).
◦ Include your phone number and address in your signature.
Effective communications with your elected representatives
Chapter member Paul Cech shared his ideas on effective communications with politicians. At a later date, Paul provided the summary below.
Your MP/MLA is your elected representative, the person through whom you communicate with the party. Your MP/MLA may or may not be able to support your cause or issue directly, depending on how their leadership views the issue. Although this is a source of great frustration, your elected representative still needs to know your concerns, and be in a position to pass on the concerns of their constituents.
Letter writing is an effective way to communicate with your MP/MLA, if the letter is original in content (ie not a form letter or petition, as there is no way to prove that the signatories have read the statement) and that your full name and address are provided at the bottom of the letter. Form letters are, however, a great place to start. Most of us have pretty busy lives, and don’t have the time or inclination to do all the research ourselves, so taking a form letter that you agree with and changing the first and last paragraphs is a fast way to create original content. You can also join the MP/MLA’s party, and include your party membership number in your contact information (joining a federal party cost me $10).
A letter is most memorable if there is some type of personal contact. If possible, arrange a short meeting with your MP/MLA to discuss your concerns (bring “bullet point” notes), then follow up with a letter that refers to the conversation that the two of you had. The person you are dealing with will remember meeting you. MPs I contacted stressed that a personal meeting was still the most effective way for them to communicate with their constituents. Preparing a hand written letter is also a way to make your letter stand out. I personally prefer email, as you can keep an email thread of your conversation going, and it’s easier to organize. At the time of this writing, MPs I contacted appreciated communications in any form.
If possible, start your letter with a positive. Be polite, brief and concise (clarity and brevity may be your best friends here!). Use yourself as a gauge – how do you prefer being approached? Do you react better to reasonable people, or people on a tirade that clearly have an axe to grind? Do you prefer the issue being described in a short, clear statement, or do you prefer long rambling diatribes full of every possible connecting fact in the first contact you receive? If possible, also end with a positive. It is extremely effective to write a similar letter to your local paper while engaging your MP/MLA. The MP/MLA’s offices do read all the editorials in the well known local papers.
Build a relationship with your MP/MLA’s office staff, or with staff in the opposition’s office. Keep in mind that not all of the Portfolio holding Minister’s staff are elected, and will be there when the MP/MLA is replaced. If you can get into a courteous working relationship with senior staff, you effectively have the ear of whomever is the appointed MP/MLA holding the portfolio at that time. Keep in mind that emails are vetted by the staff.
If your MP/MLA cannot support your issue because of the stand that the party leadership takes, find an MP/MLA(s) that belong to an opposition party that does support your views. Make sure that your MP/MLA gets a copy of your letters to the opposition party, to show them that you are willing to move forward with your issues, with or without them.
When letter writing is not enough
Hold a rally at your MP/MLA’s office. Let the MP/MLA know well in advance that you will be having the rally, and what the rally is about. If the MP/MLA is sympathetic to your cause or issue, they will quite often provide support. This can look like posting information about your rally on their website to help you get the word out, and/or providing hot beverages on the day of your event. If your MP/MLA is not sympthetic, you can tell interested parties (the media or curious pedestrians) that the MP/MLA had an invitation to the event, and was given the opportunity to state an opinion. Let local media know when you are having your rally, and why. Don’t expect media to appear, but let them know. Create social media to promote your event. Make big signs! Create media that people can add to, for example banners, which can be left on the MP/MLA’s doorstep, full of individual statements created by the people at the event.