Get Involved

In Federalist #52, James Madison wrote:

“As it is essential to liberty, that the government in general should have a common interest with the people; so it is particularly essential, that the branch of it under consideration [the U. S. House of Representatives] should have an immediate dependence on, and an intimate sympathy with, the people.”

Madison saw frequent elections as the chief method of securing a strong linkage between the people and the national legislature. In the eighteenth century, travel was slow and expensive, and communications networks were primitive.

Today, technologies like Facebook, MySpace, and YouTube make it possible for Americans to organize thousands of fellow online activists overnight, and to call, write, protest, or send video messages to their elected officials, all with the click of a mouse. Democracy in America has never been more direct, though not all Americans are equally able to use these new tactics. In a fast-changing world, where new applications are invented each month, there are a number of ways to bring your voice to Capitol Hill.
Find out who your representative in the House is, and who your Senators are.

Visit http://www.house.gov/ to look up your representative in the U.S. House of Representatives. (You may need your zip code +4. If you do not know that information, you can look it up at http://zip4.usps.com/zip4/welcome.jsp.)
1a. Who represents you in the U.S. House of Representatives?
Now find your senators at http://senate.gov/.
1b. Who represents you in the U.S. Senate?
Once you have found your representatives and senators, you can access more information about their backgrounds, voting records, interest-group ratings, and campaign finances.

Use Project Vote Smart to look up your member of Congress and his or her position on an important issue to you. To do this, you can explore your representative’s votes on legislation, ratings interest groups have given him or her, position papaers, and/or speeches.
2a. What issue did you select?
2b. How did your elected representative in Congress vote on that issue?
Armed with the above information, take the first step and write an e-mail to your House representative, using the online service Write Your Representative: https://forms.house.gov/wyr/welcome.shtml

You might encourage your representative to support a particular issue of concern to you, or to ask more about what his or her position is. The best letters are short, sincere, and refer to only one or two subjects. For one set of guidelines for how to write good letters, see the website Consumerist.com.
3a. What topic did you select to write about? Do you think you will receive a response back?
3b. Do you think your letter will be influential? Why or why not?

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About This Exercise

This exercises provides resources that will help you participate in the political process.