Monday, March 24, 2014

Have You Contacted Your Virginia Delegate and Senator? Have They Ignored Your Correspondence? Are You Ready to Give Up or Tell Them Off? Don’t, Rise Above the Fray and Continue Writing, Emailing and Calling Them!

Over the years I’ve heard from many supporters/readers that they NEVER hear back from their State lawmakers when they send a letter, a fax, an email or leave a voice message. Usually in the same note they tell me they aren’t going to continue contacting their Representatives if they can’t be bothered to reply. 

I have been sending emails, leaving brochures and handouts at their G.A. offices and meeting one-on-one with Virginia lawmakers for almost 6 years now and I can tell you that they do read your letters, faxes and email’s and they do listen to your voicemails even though you may never hear back from them. And if you give up contacting them just because you feel they aren’t giving you validation or respect that they have listened to and will consider your views then you are stooping to their level.  

They don’t respond for a variety of reasons including poor time management and a lack of common courtesy.  

But for many of our elected officials they are seriously annoyed that anyone would advocate for this particular platform and until 2009 they NEVER heard from any constituents in their districts telling them about their experiences with the Virginia justice system, how the registry affects their loved ones and that the recidivism rates are the second lowest of any crime but yet millions of dollars are being spent every year to monitor and manage this group and every year more extreme and punitive proposals are presented usually as campaign fodder. When facts are presented to disprove the stance they’ve taken for years a certain segment of our State Legislature becomes sanctimonious, intolerant, hypocritical and vindictive. They purposefully ignore your letters, faxes, email’s and voicemails hoping you will give up and then they can go back to spouting myth, fear, hate and vengeance against registered sex offenders with the legislation they propose and vote for. 

If you give up contacting your one State Delegate and your one State Senator all together then you have encouraged their failure to acknowledge your correspondence.  
Your unanswered correspondence is not being sent in vain, but your complete surrender simply because you never receive a reply or because your few replies have been “form letters” means their ignorance wins and you and your loved ones lose.  

Not only should you contact your State Delegate and Senator during the yearly General Assembly session and prior to an election (every 2 years for Delegates, every 4 years for Senators) but you should contact them throughout the entire year. 

You should signup for their newsletters on their website and attend their ice cream, fish fry, oyster roasts and barbeque socials, plus their Town Hall's during the spring, summer and autumn. 

If you are a registered voter they know, if you aren’t a registered voter you should be. 

If you were convicted of a felony in Virginia and lost your voting rights you can apply to get your rights restored. There is a process through the Secretary of Virginia for restoration of rights that has been streamlined to be quicker and easier. 

If you are thinking no Registered Sex Offender will be allowed to have their rights restored in the Commonwealth, you would be wrong. There are RSO’s who have had their rights restored, some succeeded after the first time they applied and other succeeded the second time they applied.  

There are non-profits throughout Virginia that will assist citizens in the process of having their rights restored if you feel it’s too complicated.  

Here are a few
Virginia’s 100 Delegates and 40 Senators represent you! Your voice, your experiences and your opinion matters. 

Do you know who your two State representatives are? If not, look them up Virginia Delegates and Senators 

Once you know who they are, introduce yourself to them. You can do this in a letter to their district office, in an email, in a voice message or in person if you schedule an appointment at their district office. 

Legislators are more concerned with what their district’s constituents opinions are than the opinions of corporations and organizations. Constituents re-elect them or replace them, organizations and corporations can only help them financially. In the end votes are more important. 

Tell them what issues concern you; ask them what they think about the current Virginia Sex Offender Registry, who is on it, how they are classified and the restrictions that are currently imposed. Have your family and friends do the same with their Districts Representative. 

You need to hope for a positive response but prepare for a negative response, maybe even a significantly negative response like this one. 

Back in 2011  there was a Delegate (who is no longer a lawmaker) in a one-on-one sit down meeting during the General Assembly session who actually yelled at me (and my husband) for not just opposing his/her vengeful bill but for having citizens calling and emailing his/her office opposing it. The Delegate then admitted to us that there were no plans for the bill to even make it to its first step (sub-committee) that every Delegate and everyone in Legislative Services knew the bill was questionably unconstitutional and wouldn’t go anywhere. The Delegate knew the bill was not only morally wrong but legally wrong and for him/her to actually hear that from regular citizens of the Commonwealth was more than the Delegate could take and so we were the brunt of his/her pent-up frustration at that moment. And we took the Delegate’s anger, we remained calm, we reinforced why the reprehensible bill should have never been proposed with facts and we finished the meeting with smiles on our faces. That upset the Delegate most of all. 

We all need to have thick skin in this fight.  

This is an uphill battle and most lawmakers aren’t going to get on-board immediately and some might even attempt to shame, humiliate and discredit you. 

When you send e-mails or leave voice-mails:
  • They need to be factual, don’t make numbers or facts up. If you don’t know or you aren’t sure about specific issues say that and next time do some prep work ahead of time.
  • You can be blunt but don’t be rude, condescending or threatening. Be polite.
Caller fined for profane message to AG’s office(Virginia), April 21, 2014
  • Your responses should be about public safety and citizens in general, not about your personal plight
  • Whining is a waste of time; they don't want to hear it
  • Never ask them to oppose or support a bill or a proposal because of your specific situation, it needs to be about others, the public and the children
  • Selfishness will be ignored and even despised by the lawmakers but selflessness will be respected and they will listen. Your experience matters as an RSO and that's how you connect the two.
  • Always remain professional. You might feel better when you send a sarcastic or belittling e-mail but in the end you are actually doing damage to the platform and confirming some lawmaker’s ignorant assumptions that RSO’s are uncontrollable sub-humans who should not be released back into society.
  • You can use their own words against them from stances they’ve taken on other issues but for this platform they’ve developed amnesia
As a constituent, if you ever ask to sit down with your two representatives you should feel proud about any past e-mail’s you’ve sent and they should want to listen to what you have to say not either avoid you or feel compelled to punch you in the face.  

My anger and frustration boils over more than any of you can even imagine, but I let it out at home not onto the Legislators. In 2012; I publically opposed the increase of a mandatory minimum sentence in a sexual crime bill and because of my opposition statement a few weeks later a Virginia Delegate vindictively attempted to smear my character and my platform with a Virginia newspaper. The false statement was so severe that it would have possibly put my safety as well as my other family members in the state in grave danger. Because I retain the audio of all my public statements I was able to prove to the reporter that the slanderous statement was completely false and because I stood my ground the Delegate retracted his claim before publication. I could have been vindictive and advised the reporter of  past statements the Delegate made to me in private that would have proven him a complete hypocrite, but I didn’t because that won’t benefit the mission to reform our laws.

I am not a doormat but I will never stoop to insults because that would just unravel all the headway that has been made over the last 5.5 years. 

When we see small changes and concessions to proposed legislation (bills) we need to acknowledge them. I’m not "kissing” anyone’s “butt" but if I act as though those changes in opinion or to a bill aren't good enough then they will never do it again and we'll never see another concession. Small, positive steps are better than no steps.

Also keep in mind for future punitive proposals against Virginia RSO’s, just because a bill does not affect you or your loved one directly is not a reason to turn a blind eye on bad legislation. We are all in the same boat and if we don't defend and support a successful life for each and every one of us on these issues that's unforgivable. We need each other to rise above this damn label so we can move on with our lives.  

Just because you're angry and frustrated don't allow yourself to have an outburst that harms the entire mission we are all fighting for. That one minute of relief or vindication you may have will result in months or years of obstinate and/or vengeful refusals by the lawmaker to consider anything other than more hate driven and punitive laws. 
Lawmakers will come and go over the years. Some will retire, some will win re-election and some will lose and I'll still be advocating. Every time a new lawmakers takes office that's a fresh start to educate them on the issues.

I hope you will continue to correspond with your Delegate and Senator and if you haven’t done so before today that you will make the effort very soon.

Mary Devoy