CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Practical Tips on Making a Difference, Part One

Sep 21, 2010

We are in the midst of a great battle over ideas, beliefs and values. Much of this conflict is played out in the political, social and legal arenas. While all battles ultimately have an underlying spiritual dimension, we also must fight the good fight on these other levels as well.

Thus some basic knowledge of how we can make a difference in the political realm, in the media, and in our culture is important. We want to be effective in contending for the values and beliefs which are important to us. We need to take the pro-life, pro-family and pro-faith battles into the public square if we want to see real progress in these areas.

An important part of any effective pro-faith or pro-family strategy is learning how to successfully deal with the media and how to lobby politicians. Lobbying is not just the work of professionals, however. Anyone can become an influential pro-faith and family activist. The following tips are offered to help you to become more effective in lobbying on behalf of values which are worth fighting for.

Writing letters to newspapers

Getting a letter published is a numbers game. Editors receive many more letters than they can possibly use. Get several of your friends to write letters at the same time. Letters’ editors usually count the letters they get on each subject and then select a representative few. Mentioning a politician’s name in a letter is one good way to get his or her attention. Public officials are especially sensitive about what is said of them. Here then are a few pointers:

-Address your letter as: Letter to the Editor.
-If you are responding to a previous letter, editorial or article, state the title, author and date of it early in your letter.
-Strike while the issue is hot – no later than a day or so if possible. Indeed, with emails, texting and other forms of instant communication so much in use today, you really do need to respond on the very same day.
-Cover only one topic in a letter.
-Be as brief as possible.
-Where possible, use humour.
-Offer a positive solution, or end with a good solid punch line.
-Always sign your letter and include full address and phone number.
-You can ask to remain anonymous in your printed letter, but you still need to provide the editor with your full name and contact details, for possible verification purposes.

Remember, it is difficult with even the best of letter writers to get in print. A lot depends on the newspaper and its particular slant. Sometimes a polite but firm call to the letters’ editor will help. Do not overlook your local paper. You can still reach a lot of people that way. Besides, your local member often reads those smaller papers.

Talk back radio

This is an important way to get your views across to a wide audience. Tens of thousands of people can be reached by a short comment made on talk back radio. Many of the suggestions made above apply here.

-Keep a list of the talk back phone numbers of radio stations near your telephone.
-When an invitation for calls is given, call in as soon as possible, to get in the queue.
-Try to listen to what the previous callers are saying.
-Begin with a friendly “hello” or “good morning”, etc.
-If possible, rehearse what you are going to say beforehand.
-Always be polite and respectful.
-Do not call if you are in the heat of emotion. Wait until you are cool and rational.
-Make sure you have your facts right.
-Keep it short. Make sure that your presentation can be made in a minute or less. The radio announcer may ask you for more, so be ready for that possibility as well.
-Keep your comments relevant to the topic at hand.
-Be very specific in your remarks. Do not try to solve all of the world’s problems in one hearing.
-Do not be discouraged if you do not get on. Keep trying!

Writing to politicians

The impact of letter writing should not be underestimated. As one politician put it, “If we get as few as five letters from individuals on one piece of legislation, it gets our attention.” Moreover, there is an unofficial rule of thumb which states that for every letter or call a politician receives, he expects that it represents several hundred votes. Here are some hints on how to write effectively to politicians.

-Be selective. Find out which Minister or Member is most directly involved in the issue you are addressing. Make sure you get his name and title correctly spelled and make sure to get the correct address.
-Be legible! It is surprising how often politicians receive letters they can’t even read. Politicians sometimes respond better to a hand-written letter. But if your hand-writing is atrocious, if possible, use a computer.
-Be specific. Write about one issue per letter. It is better to write to an MP on separate issues as some MPs may not answer one of the tough issues raised by you.
-Be brief. No more than one page if possible. MPs receive a large amount of mail in writing, fax or email every day and many MPs do not have time to read everything. Some items are read thoroughly, some are skim read and some – especially longer letters – are never read at all.
-Be courteous. No matter who you write to, write in a constructive, positive manner.
-Be personal. Write in your own words. Do not use form letters or copy someone else’s letter word for word – paraphrase if you must. Explain how the issue will affect you and your family.
-Be informed. Make sure you have your facts straight. Do not rely on rumour or hearsay. Enclose newspaper clippings, etc., to back up your point.
-Be timely. Don’t delay. Follow up an issue as soon as it breaks, or you will miss out.
-Be tenacious. Ask specific questions that must be answered by a specific person. Send follow-up letters if necessary.
-Be authoritative. Use expert opinion and literature with facts and figures. Make sure your arguments are well researched and supported by the facts. If you can document your evidence, or provide reliable data, statistics, etc., your case will be much stronger.
-Be supportive. After a vote is taken, write back and say thanks if your advice was followed.
-Remember, if your MP is a member of a political party, they will have a standard response provided either by a Minister, Shadow Minister or a public servant. Thus you can expect a standardised response on many issues. However, let the MP know that you are interested in his or her position, how he or she will vote, and not just what the party line is.
-Do not take a fob off reply for an answer. If the MP has not answered the matters raised by you write or ring again, pointing out that they have not answered you. Keep persisting until you get an answer. If they have not answered within a reasonable time, contact them again and request a reply.

Here are some important “don’ts” to remember:

-Do not use form letters or standard letters as these are easily identifiable by MPs. These will usually result in a standard response or a fob off. Often they are simply discarded.
-Don’t use threatening language or be abusive and disrespectful.
-Don’t be a pen pal. Quality, not quantity, is important. Don’t wear out your welcome by writing every day on every issue.
-Don’t be afraid to point out your qualifications or expertise in an area, where possible.
-Don’t give up! You won’t always get a good response, or get a positive outcome, but keep trying.

More practical tips can be found in Part Two of this article: billmuehlenberg.com/2010/09/21/practical-tips-on-making-a-difference-part-two/

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6 Responses to Practical Tips on Making a Difference, Part One

  • Thanks Bill.
    I agree with your observations re letters to the editor, and letters to politicians. But when it comes to talk-back radio my patience ran out years ago. I used to phone in to Neil Mitchell, but he, like all the others, is only interested in put-downs of their callers, and promoting his own ego. Again, can you seriously tell me that Jon Faine is going to let a “right-wing” view go unchallenged and its proponent not in some way maligned or sneered at? I have witnessed this until I became sick and tired of of it and switched off the ABC Morning Show. Life has been smoother ever since: I don’t get “aggro” and upset at his conceit and prostitutions of logic; I don’t have to endure the sycophantic fan club of callers; and I can get on with my own work in a positive vein.
    Talk-back hosts are all the same: they are leftist hacks; pompous prigs; self-obsessed ego-trippers; conceited snobs; and practitioners of every “smart-alec” subterfuge imaginable. That goes for Jon Faine, Neil Mitchell, Derryn Hinch; Ross Stevenson, Steve Price, et al.
    Murray R Adamthwaite

  • Thanks Murray

    Yes, well, I never said taking a stand would be easy, or pleasant, or without a lot of ugly responses. But sometimes that is the price we must be willing to pay if we want to see truth get out into the public arena. I have suffered my share of abuse over the years in all these forums. One does tire of all the hatred, abuse, and death threats, but one must keep on going on, because some things are too important to allow the other side to cower or threaten us into silence.

    But I certainly share your frustrations and concerns about all this.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • I so agree with you that taking a stand is never about our own comfort. If we find our emotions rise then we need more fruit of the spirit patience. The best way to keep someone talking even when they hate everything you say is to modulate your voice, speak respectfully, pray between each breath and trust God to give you the last word, given in love it will have eternal value. When living in Vietnam i said to a communist uni student, love is a more powerful weapon then all your communist propaganda, weapons of war etc., we came from Australia because we love you; I said it so quietly he had to strain to hear; he gave his heart to the lord at the end of the year; the same with the professor of politics, she collapsed with a mitral heart valve defect and her peers said she would die. God gave us the opportunity to love her, witness to her, raise money for her operation, a miracle at the time and she gave her heart to the lord before we left. Its about having a willing heart each minute of the day, being ready in season and NOT taking it easy, life is too short for that. We were never meant to be comfortable even if you see millionaire preachers; we need more apostle Pauls, glad to be used by Christ; dead to the worlds taunts but alive in Christ!
    Ilona Sturla

  • It was interesting to see this, as I was just reading the “Your Say” column in the in the Herald Sun and came across a letter which was signed with a familiar name – it was from one of your frequent readers and commentators.

    Lauren Dymke

  • Christianity contributes a lot of ‘social capital’ to society (but are they aware of this?)and a positive approach makes a stronger impact than a negative one. Just have a ‘Christian’ approach as a ‘right wing’ approach can grate on people that dont share that political ideology. Look at the ‘Get Up’ campaign, they have taken on the banks in a class action (banks thriving to rip people off ;unfettered capitalism?)however, I dont agree with everything ‘Get Up’ support . Have faith and go for it, God is a God of justice and our values come from our Christian heritage, nothing to be ashamed of. Just get over your nerves! Write everything out before going on talk back radio. I used to go on ABC talkback radio quite some time ago now and nearly always got on the air. The local papers are another arena of ideas in the Letters section, Blue Mountains Gazette Letters to the Editor really gets exciting and a fantastic opportunity to witness in a rational, thought out manner bringing the Word of Truth to a confused world.
    In the last edition someone wrote in to say that non-Christians were more caring than Christians; we need to be careful not to come across as self righteous and judgmental as we have been ourselves saved by grace.
    Angie Volmensky

  • I admire your writing ability & the truth of your story however I find them too long & don’t have time to read them all. I have had thirty or so stacked up to read later but in many cases have not had time to do so. Headings & stark points could be better in some cases. I agree with all you say in those that I’ve read. I also agree with most of what Andrew Bolt has written. I’ve tried to get some response from our church members in writing letters but little action. I have written a few but none published. Blessings Cecil.

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