Members of Congress

Never underestimate the power of a constituent's letter. A constituent's letter can be very powerful and personal letters show that you really care about the issue.

Congressional Guidelines: Letters

First, familiarize yourself with Leonard Peltier and his case.

We encourage you to contact your legislators at both their local offices and their offices in Washington, DC. Contact information for local offices can be located on members' web sites, accessible through House and Senate portals.

Postal mail to the U.S. Congress has slowed down considerably after increased security. Therefore, we highly recommend that you fax or e-mail the letter. You can still mail a letter, if you wish, but you need more lead time for delivery.

Keep your letter short. Be concise and limit your letter to one or two pages.

Use the appropriate address and salutation. Use the correct title, address, and salutation, and remember to check your spelling after completing your letter.

For Representative:

The Honorable John Q. Smith
U.S. House of Representatives
111 Address
Washington , DC 20515
Dear Representative Smith:

For Senator:

The Honorable John Q. Smith
U.S. Senate
111 Address
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Senator Smith:

Identify yourself. Let your legislator know that you are a constituent.

Be polite. Like most of us, legislators will respond better to positive communication.

Start by recognizing your legislator's support on specific pieces of legislation. You can identify those legislative priorities by visiting your representative's and/or senators' Web pages.

Explain your position. Be clear and concise with regard to your position on the issue you address in your letter.

Ask for a response. Be clear about what you would like your legislator to do and request a reply to your letter.

Write legibly. Your letter is part of a letter-writing campaign, so a handwritten letter will give the appearance of a grassroots "ordinary citizen" communication, rather than a communication from a "special interest group." Handwritten letters can be as persuasive as typed letters, but your handwriting must be legible.

A quick and effective way of letting members of Congress know your position on the Peltier case is a phone call. When legislators get several phone calls from constituents on issues or legislation, they begin to pay more attention.   

Congressional Guidelines: Phone Calls

A quick and effective way of letting members of Congress know your position on the Peltier case is a phone call. When legislators get several phone calls from constituents on issues or legislation, they begin to pay more attention.

When making a phone call to the office of your member of Congress, be sure to include information about who you are. Let the legislator’s office know that you are a constituent, and you may wish to talk a little bit about your credentials where appropriate. Be clear as to your issue of concern and your position on it. Be clear and concise. Let your member of Congress know how to contact you. Remember to leave your address and telephone number so that you can receive a response from your member of Congress.

Congressional Guidelines: Visits

If feasible, you may want to request a meeting with your member of Congress. Find your Congressional District and contact information. Send a fax or e-mail to the scheduler requesting a meeting: Include the date and time of day you will be available to meet with the member, but be flexible about scheduling your visit because members of Congress have busy calendars. Offer to meet with a staff member if the member of Congress is not available (i.e., a Legislative Assistant). Include the issue you would like to discuss. Provide a phone number and/or e-mail address where the scheduler can reach you. Follow up with a phone call in one week's time if you have not heard back from the congressional office.

When the meeting is scheduled, find accurate information as to the physical location for your legislator's office.

Be on time for the meeting. Staff in most Capitol Hill and district offices are busy and work on tight schedules. Remember that their time is valuable.

Establish a rapport. After introductions and handshakes, talk about things or relationships you might have in common. A little bit of research can pay off, so find out all you can about your members of Congress. For instance, maybe you have a mutual friend, or perhaps you both went to the same elementary school. Thank your senator or representative for all that he or she does on Capitol Hill to represent your state or district.

If several people will attend the meeting, select a spokesperson. If everyone there will have a role, select one person to move the meeting along in a timely manner.

State your purpose. For example, you might say, "Congressman Lee, I'm here to talk with you about freedom for Leonard Peltier. Specifically, I would like to have your support for an award of clemency by the president."

Make the issue real. Legislators are people; they are sympathetic to stories about real people. For example, humanize Leonard Peltier by telling the member a little bit about Peltier, the man. If not speaking from personal experience, personalize the events on the Pine Ridge Reservation during the 1970s by sharing published stories. Offer the member a copy of "Incident at Oglala" for viewing or a copy of Peter Matthiessen's book, "In the Spirit of Crazy Horse". Paint the little picture, but also the big picture.

After you discuss how the issue has affected you, talk about the millions of Peltier supporters worldwide. Include names of congresspersons who currently support or have supported Leonard Peltier in the past, as well as mentioning specific celebrities, dignitaries, and luminaries who also support Peltier. You should also mention the legislative bodies around the world who have passed resolutions in support of Peltier (e.g., the European Parliament, Belgium Parliament, and more).

Make a clear request. Tell your member of Congress exactly what you would like him or her to do, and do not leave without learning the legislator’s position on your issue. For example, you might say that you would like your legislator to sign a letter to the president in support of Peltier's clemency. Then, ask the member or his/her staff to outline the legislator’s current position.

Very soon after the meeting, write a thank you letter to your member for taking the time to visit with you.

Last Thoughts

It's common for some congressional members to view the Peltier case as history and unimportant to today's world. Don't be dissuaded by this. Instead, use some creativity to make the Peltier case current and important in light of the issues of the day, as well as the political landscape in Washington, DC. Monitor congressional actions, debates, proposed Bills, etc. Pay attention to current events. 

A political party's legislative agenda can change quickly. Your concerns may become forgotten in the fray. Therefore, a congressional contact — whether by phone, letter, and/or face-to-face — should be approached as an ongoing endeavor. Send follow up letters, place additional calls, and plan more congressional visits so as to keep your issue of concern before your representative and senators.

Learn More

Peter Matthiessen

In the Spirit of Crazy Horse

Meticulously researched, this courageous book is the definitive work on the Peltier case. The author successfully defended against lawsuits brought in three different states, surviving an eight-year litigation designed to block the book's publication.

Jim Messerschmidt

The Trial of Leonard Peltier

Foreword by William Kunstler. A well-documented and researched study, this book examines the orchestration by the federal government of the wrongful conviction of Native American activist Leonard Peltier.

Leonard Peltier

Prison Writings: My Life Is My Sun Dance

Edited by Harvey Arden. Peltier chronicles life in prison. Peltier explores his suffering and the insights it has borne him in the context of American Indians and their struggle to survive.

Spotlight

We the People

We the People have read your Constitution, Mr. Obama.  We also are aware of the clemency application review process (28 C.F.R. Part I, §§ 1.1-1.11) and know that these guidelines do not bind the President. Congress and the Department of Justice (DOJ) cannot regulate or otherwise limit the presidential clemency power. The authority to grant clemency to federal prisoners belongs only to the President of the United States (under Article II, Section 2, of the U.S. Constitution). You have the power to grant clemency to anyone, for any reason, and at any time.