If you read yesterday's How Canadians Govern Themselves you would've learned a thing or two about what an MP is.
Here's a breakdown via CPC, LPC and NDP (candidates chosen randomly) of what they can do for you.
But, for our purposes, we've got questions and concerns - so how do we contact them?
Believe it or not, one of the best ways is one of the oldest: writing a letter.
In Pen (and in cursive, if you know how).
Yes, I know, if you're anything like me, you probably scoffed rather hard at that idea.
And I don't blame you.
On the surface - especially these days - it seems like a silly, futile effort. (At best.)
But it's actually one of the most brilliant things you can do.
See, by themselves, 'letters' aren't exactly known for giving us 'change' -- and they certainly don't give us anything near the kind of instant gratification that we get when calling up or confronting a politician in person (or complaining about them on the internet).
But that's the point:
Writing a letter is actually a very, very important part of the process if you'd ultimately like to help keep your Government accountable.
Important not for them, but for you.
One of the great things I discovered about the letter writing process is that at a base level it's an expression of your commitment to the issue at hand. Not only does it show the intended party that you're serious but it also makes YOU think about why you're writing in the first place.
Do you really care enough to write a letter about it?
Writing it down not only makes you think about the issue but makes you articulate why you're upset about it and what you'd like to see done about it.
Why does it matter to you, personally?
Where all these internet form letters fall down is that they're simple, thoughtless actions.
All you have to do is have a momentary blip of 'oh, I agree' and you click a button and you move on - if you even remember what it was you just signed up for.
That is 'push-button' Democracy and, as such, it cheapens not only your voice but the voices of all who take part.
Want a perfect example of this?
Look at what happened with the Robocalls complaint - the media went wild because 31,000 'complaints' were filed with Elections Canada. But when it was revealed that they were all pretty much 'form letters' from an activist site, what happened?
Your voice was brushed aside.
It didn't matter that 31,000 Canadians expressed their outrage over the Robocall issue, all that the media saw was that 31,000 people pushed a button and swarmed Elections Canada with spam emails.
In the end those form letters were forgotten and they didn't matter to anyone because it wasn't your voice.
But imagine if it was.
Imagine if 31,000 people took the time to take a single, lined sheet of paper and write a letter to Elections Canada.
Imagine being in that mail room when 31,000 pieces of mail show up from Canadians all across the country.
Brush THAT away with a sneer.
See, the other benefit of writing a letter is that simply by taking part you become, even if just a little bit, emotionally invested in the outcome.
Imagine if you were one of those 31,000 Canadians who invested their own personal time to write a letter and then watched the media collectively brush your voice away.
To sneer at you.
You'd be, rightly, outraged. You'd kick up a proper fuss.
Along with about 30,999 other people.
That is what gets people's attention.
Writing a letter is never a waste of time - it doesn't matter if it's a 'great' letter, it's your voice.
It's your approval or disapproval - and it has value.
When I first started my letter-writing campaign to the Governor General - asking for a Royal Commission into the Robofraud scandal - I was really excited by the idea that the Governor General (or, more realistically, someone affiliated with him) would sit down, open my envelope and read my hand-written words.
Every day, seven days a week, from March 26th, 2012 to May 3rd, 2012, I wrote the Governor General a letter, by hand, in cursive.
I was polite, I was respectful and I followed every respectful standard to a T. In each and every letter I asked for the same thing: for A Royal Commission into the Robofraud scandal.
I wrote my last letter to the GG on May 3rd after a combination of work, life and utter disillusionment finally pushed the pen from my hand.
I couldn't write any more letters to this man who seemed to jet-set around the world on our behalf but couldn't be bothered to even send a form letter in response.
Was I pissed? You know it. But that's a good thing.
That's what letter writing does: It makes you give a damn.
And 'Giving A Damn', my friends, is the gateway drug to Democracy.
Imagine if the Governor General got 31,000 handwritten letters, by mail, every day for 40 days?
You think someone would notice?
Do you think you'd let them tell you that they all went into the garbage because 'oh, it was just a bunch of "radicals"'?
Democracy requires personal investment - and that's what's missing from our culture right now.
The thirst for Democracy, for debate, has been, largely, bred out of us. We don't get angry at the utterly insane scandals that are happening all around us, daily, because how could we?
Most of us don't know, or care how our Government works because it's a thread that's been largely unwound from the tapestry of our daily lives. We have more important things to do.
And if we weren't invested in the Democratic process in the first place, how can we even have the chance to give a damn when it's being taken away from us?
By taking the time to write a letter you're planting a seed within yourself - one which may grow and even spread seeds into others around you.
You giving a damn about the maintenance of your Democracy will cause others to as well.
So, on that note, here's a small primer on how to get started:
- Find out who your MP is here. (if you want to write to the Governor General, look here)
- Decide on an issue that's important to you - perhaps something you'd like an answer to.
- Write a first draft on your PC - this way you won't get frustrated at making mistakes on paper (like I did).
- Re-read and edit (now's an excellent time to research any points if you want to make them stronger)
- Grab a sheet of lined paper, take a pen and write it down - keep it a) personal and b) to one page if possible, no more than two.
Name of MP - (use full title, find proper style of address here)
Address of their Constituency
Polite greeting/Brief introduction.
Pointedly state the issue and your stance for or against
Evidence for or against, if you have it.
What resolution you'd like to see.
(If you wish to ask for a chance to meet, this is a great time.)
Thank them for their time
Sign off with a Signature.
Nothing too complicated, lots of room to move and make the message your own.
You can read a couple of sample letters here: 1 2
So... give it a shot. Try writing it down, see how it feels, say what only you can say - you can be angry, but be respectful.
I know it doesn't seem like much but in building that foundation, in learning to stand strong, learning how powerful you are as a citizen, it opens a whole swath of other doors.
Which we'll be getting into as the week moves on.
Thanks for taking the time to get involved!