Schedule a Sit-Down with Your Lawmaker or His/Her Staff
Why It Works
Every member of Congress has at least one local office, and scheduling a face-to-face meeting is by far the most effective way to catch their attention. This is without a doubt one of the most impactful ways you can push your senator or representative to do the right thing on an issue you care about. And this is definitely one of those times when bigger is better, so bringing a group of like-minded people will increase the impact of your visit dramatically.
How to Do It
BEFORE YOUR MEETING
1. Gather your posse. Reach out to like-minded family, friends, coworkers, and neighbors to see if they want to join you at the meeting.
2. Find the best office to visit. Look up your members of Congress here, and decide which office makes the most sense for you and your group to visit. Write down the address and phone number—you’ll need them.
3. Coordinate your schedules. Identify a few days and times that most members of your group are available to meet with your elected official. It can save you time and hassle to use a free online scheduling tool like Doodle.com to determine the best options for your group. Some things to consider in picking a visit date:
- Respect the work week! Plan to visit on a weekday between 9 AM–5 PM and double check your member of Congress’s website and/or call the office to make sure it's open then.
- Shoot for a congressional recess. Both the Senate and the House have frequent recesses when members are back home meeting with constituents. Before you schedule your visit, find out if there’s an upcoming recess you can take advantage of (look for a House “District Work Period” or a Senate recess). You can also call your district office and ask.
4. Pick your issue. Elected officials have a lot of demands on their time and a lot of people clamoring for their attention, so your meeting will be most effective if you stick to just one topic and one set of demands related to that topic. Learn more about our top priority issues for congressional visits right now and pick whichever one feels most important to you and your group:
5. Call your lawmaker’s office to say you’d like to come to discuss the issue you’ve chosen and offer the dates and times that work best for your group. Ask to meet with your elected official. If he/she is not available, your next request should be to meet with the District Director or Office Director. If he/she is not available, you’ll meet with a legislative aide—ask for one who is familiar with the issues you wish to discuss.
If the office refuses to give you an appointment, you can still show up to have everyone in your group fill out a comment card, take photos to share on social media, etc. Here’s exactly how to do that.
6. Put together your talking points. It will be important for everyone in your group to stay on topic and emphasize the key points you wish to make. The talking points linked to above should provide a helpful guide, but we strongly suggest that you share your own stories to frame the issue in personal, human terms. Also, do your research. Poke around online for any public statements your lawmaker has made on the issue and any votes they may have taken on it. If there’s a conspicuous silence on the issue, note that as well.
7. Decide who will say what and when. The meeting will be much more impactful if you assign speaking roles and determine what order you wish to go in beforehand. If some members of your group will be sharing personal stories; we recommend that you put them first to emphasize the impact the issue has on the lives of real people in your district/state. It can be helpful to appoint someone (maybe YOU!) as the group’s leader.
AT YOUR MEETING
8. Introduce yourselves. Establish your credibility by introducing yourselves by name and sharing what you do for a living and where you live, along with a very brief explanation of why this issue matters to you.
9. Tell your stories. Again, emphasizing the impact that the issue has on the lives of real people who happen to be your lawmaker’s constituents is very important. Try to keep your personal stories brief and to the point, though.
10. Make your requests. Clearly state what you’d like your elected official to do and why you believe it is the best choice.
11. Push for real answers. Politicians (and their staff) tend to be masters of evasion—which makes it all the more important not to settle for any artful dodging of your tough questions. You can say things like, “We’re very disappointed that Representative X has refused to take a position on the issue so far. We’ll be watching to see what s/he does and would like to schedule a follow-up meeting to discuss her/his position at that time.” It may help strengthen your position to let whomever you’re meeting with know that you are all on your elected official’s email list and follow her/him on social media.
12. Document your meeting. If you don’t document the meeting, it’s like it never happened. Here are suggestions for how you can throw the doors of your behind-closed-doors meeting wide open:
- Take photos of your group (potentially with your elected official or the legislative aide if they’re willing)
- Record the meeting in video or audio, or, if that is not allowed, assign a member of your group to take detailed notes.
- Ever used Facebook Live? This could be an exciting time to start! A number of citizens' groups have gotten quite a bit of attention by using Facebook Live to document their visits to lawmaker offices. Here’s a short tutorial on how to use Facebook Live to broadcast your meeting.
AFTER YOUR MEETING
13. Post photos and videos of your group/meeting on social media. Use hashtags related to talking points for your issue and feel free to tag us at @NRDC_AF. You should also tag your elected official in your posts, both to thank them and to let them know you’re a force to be reckoned with (multitasking!).
14. Send a thank-you email or letter to your elected official and the aide you met with or who helped you arrange the meeting. You’d never know it from President Trump’s Twitter feed, but civility is important to lawmakers and helps raise your stock with them! Use the letter as an opportunity to reiterate your requests and let him/her know you will be watching and how best to reach you.
15. Debrief with your group and make a plan. Take the time to talk about what went well and what did not and to decide what your next steps should be. Perhaps you can rinse and repeat with your other two lawmakers! This is also a good time to check out other Deeper Dive actions together as a group.