Pagan Politics -- What You Need to Know

By Lloyd

People often say that, in a democracy, decisions are made by a majority of the people. Of course, that is not true. Decisions are made by a majority of those who make themselves heard and who vote -- a very different thing. ~ Walter H. Judd, MD and Congressman

It is every American's right to make their opinion known to their elected officials. Unfortunately, it is the manner in which this contact is made that most often determines whether or not your opinion or issue position will actually make a difference in the vote or position of your representative.

I have served as a staff person for a State Representative, a State Senator, and a U.S. Senator. I can tell you from experience that the way in which you present yourself to your representative's staff goes a long way in whether you get the "standard reply letter" or a chance to actually meet with your representative. In this primer, I will give you a few do's and don'ts to help you with your political advocacy.

Right from the start, you have to understand that your representative, whether they are a Democrat, Republican, or Independent, is a person. As a person, they have strong moral, religious, and political views and biases that, if they are a good representative, they try to set aside when looking at the "hard" issues and in dealing with constituents that they do not necessarily see "eye-to-eye" with. They, actually their staff, hear from literally hundreds of constituents, lobbyists, and activists on a weekly basis.

Professional lobbyists and activists have not only cultivated a relationship with the representatives, or with their political parties and caucuses, but approach their contacts with these officials in a very professional manner. Most, if not all, professional lobbyists were either former legislators or legislative staff. This is the professional world that they have been a part of for most of their career and they know all of the "ins and outs" of advocating for their clients and their clients' positions. Unfortunately, the average constituent does not and makes all manner of errors in the way that they approach their representative.

Some rough percentages:

• 99.99% of elected officials (and their staff) will either be some denomination of Christian or Jewish
• 95% will have an unfavorable view toward Pagan religions (mostly due to ignorance)
• 50% believe that Pagans are "weird" or "kooks"
• 70% or so will have an unfavorable view of gays and lesbians
• 90% do want to call it a Christmas tree (no matter how they voted)
• 25% of them will be extremely fundamental in their religious views
• 99% will always vote with their party on an issue, that is why they are in that party (which has always made me wonder about Log Cabin Republicans)
• And 100% of them want to be reelected

So, what do these figures tell us? That as a Pagan constituent you will be facing an uphill battle in relating your position to your elected official. However, as a constituent you will have a much easier time in getting your views and opinions heard.

Let's start with some basics on what to do and what not to do:

Do use your legal name, not your Craft name, and your address and phone number. Legislative offices track and respond to their constituents and keep a database of all contacts. So, if they ask for your name and address, don't worry, they won't be using it against you, it is common practice.

When you try to contact your legislator by phone or in person at their office, accept the fact that 95% of the time, you're going to end up speaking to their staff. Don't get upset if the staff person does not connect you immediately to your representative. Staff people are the gatekeepers and one of their primary functions is to speak with constituents, take their issues, and then work on the issue for their boss. Staff people deal with all types of constituents and constituent contacts on top of their other duties and getting rude with them will never help your cause.

Be polite and respectful, I cannot stress this enough. If you want someone to listen to your concerns and either relay them to your representative or actually act on them, you need to treat them as you would wish to be treated yourself. Do not be demanding -- yes, they work for you, but being respectful of their time will go a long way in increasing your chances of actually having your issue acted on.

Unless it is absolutely necessary, try to keep your religious persuasion out of the discussion. Even in cases where religion is the main point (i.e., State Xmas/Holiday Tree, prison chaplain, etc.) the main issue is not your religion, it is the violation of the First Amendment (usually either the Establishment Clause or the Free Exercise Clause) or whatever the issue may be. Starting off by telling your legislator or their staff that you are Wiccan, Pagan, etc. will do nothing to help your cause.

9/1/2009 4:00:00 AM
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