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In Honor of Valentine's Day...

… try not to hate your legislators too much. Usually I’d say “show them a little love.” But I feel like you’d stop reading right there.

Yes, I know there's another shut down looming. Yes, I know there are some truly reprehensible people in Congress. And I recognize the likely futility behind this advice. But hey, Valentine’s Day is coming up and I just have to put in a good or at least neutral word for Congress. I’m not suggesting that you buy your legislators flowers or chocolate. (That’s not allowed under the ethics rules unless the flowers are less than $50 and the chocolate is eaten standing up. Long story. Don’t ask.) Conversation hearts might be possible, but I’m too concerned people will add a “you suck” message to those before sending them so I’m not going to really suggest that either.

I know there's very little love for advocates to show. So this Valentine's Day I'm asking people to at least stop showing the hate and loathing for a few days. I’ve been surfing a lot of legislator social media sites lately as part of an effort to encourage citizens to advocate online. These sites are a really effective way to get a sense of what the legislators is interested in -- a key to effective messaging. But WOW, the vitriol out there is amazing. I found very few sites where anyone said something like “hey, I agree with that” or even “I respectfully disagree.” Sure, only 20% of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing – and legislators certainly need to know that we’re not really thrilled with what’s going on. That said, could we all dial down the disgusted outrage? Seriously. It’s not helping.

You don’t have to ask your representatives to “be mine” (some might take that too literally). But how about a “Let’s Talk” to indicate you’re willing to have a conversation with them? The good news is that you can have those conversations in-person while they’re home during district work periods. Most elected officials schedule forums and town hall meetings where they can connect with constituents and hear their views. And I can’t tell you how many times one conversation at a town hall meeting has resulted in a member of Congress supporting a bill or program. It’s certainly far more likely to be successful than some of the approaches I’m seeing out there right now. Just look up their district offices through a site like write your rep (enter your zipcode on the top right side) and call. It's that easy.

I hope this plea for just a little bit more love (or a little bit less hate) doesn’t fall on deaf ears. Or, at least, I hope I don’t get a bunch of really cranky responses – I prefer chocolate.

Stephanie Vance