Visiting your member of congress
|VISITING YOUR MEMBERS OF CONGRESS|
Before the Visit
? Form a group and choose a coordinator to work on the logistics of the meeting.
? Call the Washington, D.C., office (202-224-3121) of your member of Congress and ask to speak to the scheduler.
? Request a meeting for a time that the member of Congress will be in the home district. The recess for the House of Representatives is July 31-September 1, and the Senate recess is from August 7 to September 5, but your members of Congress may be in Washington, D.C., traveling or vacationing some of the recess time. An alternative is to request a speakerphone meeting, where you would go to the member of Congress? local office and be connected by phone to the congressperson or his/her aide in Washington, D.C. The scheduler may ask for a fax or email request for the meeting. This request usually needs to include the names of the people attending the meeting, the contact information for the coordinator and a brief description of the meeting topic [?We would like to discuss increases in poverty-focused development assistance to help poor countries meet the Millennium Development Goals?].
? Be prepared to accept and accommodate the meeting day and time that is offered, particularly if it is with your member of Congress. You may offer times and dates that work for the group at the time you make the meeting request, but once the date is given it is usually a ?final offer.? If your member of Congress is completely unavailable during the recess, try to meet with the Washington-based aide responsible for these issues, chief of staff or legislative director or with the locally-based state director. Washington-based staff are sometimes in the home district/state during the recess or may be available by speakerphone with the local office. These aides play an important role in advising their members of Congress and making policy recommendations, so don?t be discouraged if your member of Congress is unavailable and you meet with a top aide instead.
? Get updates, talking points, and materials to leave with your member of Congress from your regional organizer a few days before the meeting. Prepare a folder with the materials.
? Meet as a group prior to the congressional visit. Choose a main spokesperson for your delegation. This person will make introductory remarks in the visit and ask the others in the group to introduce themselves.
? Using talking points from your regional organizer, decide the main points you want to make. Unless your group is very large, make sure that everyone has something to say. It may be helpful to role-play parts of the visit ahead of time, especially if it is the first congressional visit for many in the delegation.
? Determine if there are actions for which you can thank your member of Congress. Voting records are available on Bread for the World?s Web site, www.bread.org.
? Make sure you are familiar with the contents of the folder you are leaving with the member of Congress. If your meeting is by speakerphone, you may need to fax or email some items ahead of time or arrange to send them following the telephone visit.
At Your Member?s Office
? Be on time and patient?it is not uncommon for members of Congress (or their staff) to be late due to their busy schedules. If the meeting is by speakerphone with people in the D.C. office, be aware that there may be unexpected activity in Congress that could cause them to be late or leave the meeting early.
? Tell the receptionist who you are and with whom you are meeting.
Helpful Lobbying Do's & Don'ts
? Be courteous, affirming and appreciative.
? Be clear and concise, and focus on the decision you want your member of Congress to make.
? Be a good listener.
? State your point of view, and back it up with sound reasons.
? Ask questions.
? Close the deal.
? Don?t have a discussion among the delegation; address your concerns to the congressperson.
? Don?t be combative and unnecessarily argumentative. Be assertive, not aggressive.
? Don?t bring up other issues that are off the topic. They are likely covered by a different aide, and you do not want to dilute your message by trying to discuss too many issues.
? Don?t become disillusioned if your member is not responsive to your concerns. Remember, we are people of hope!
? The group leader should ask people to introduce themselves and mention that you are members of Bread for the World and/or the ONE Campaign. He/she should also make sure you get the names of any aides that are present. Mention that all around the world there are campaigns supporting the Millennium Development Goals, and that the U.S. campaigns support significantly increasing poverty-focused development assistance.
? In case your member of Congress or his/her aide is called away early, make your point succinctly at the start. ?We?re here to ask you to support an increase of $5 billion for poverty-focused development assistance in order to meet the Millennium Development Goals and to work toward fulfilling the president?s promises to double aid.? Remember, you may only have a few minutes with the member of Congress.
? Thank the member of Congress for a positive action he or she has taken that relates to reducing global hunger, poverty or disease. If there is no clear point on which to thank the member, simply move on and state why you think it is important for them to support additional funding.
? If possible, share personal stories about ways you?ve seen development aid have an impact in poor countries and how health care, education or other assistance can make a difference in people?s lives. Also, share your motivations ? why is reducing hunger, poverty and disease important to you?
? Aim for a balanced conversation. Ask questions that will encourage discussion of the issue, but don't let the member of Congress dominate the discussion. Be sure your legislator hears your point of view.
? Remember that you?re not expected to be an expert. If you don?t know the answer to a question, offer to get back to your member of Congress. Make a note of the unanswered question/concern on the report that you send to your regional organizer so Bread for the World staff can follow up.
? Close the deal! Ask the member of Congress for a specific commitment: support an additional $5 billion in poverty focused development assistance for accounts such as Child Survival and Health, the Millennium Challenge Account, and Development Assistance.
? The group leader should close by reiterating the main points, stating any commitments you made and explaining the packet of materials you leave. Thank the member of Congress or aide.
? Have one person in the delegation make notes for Bread for the World about the congressional visit. Include 1) the name of the member of Congress and whether he/she was personally present; 2) names of aides present (or the primary aide); 3) names of the members of your group; 4) your impressions of the visit; 5) unanswered questions or concerns that need BFW staff follow-up; and 6) responses or commitments you received. Please do not work on this report during your visit. If possible, work together on the report notes right after the meeting, which is a good way for the group to debrief. Send the report to your Bread for the World regional organizer.
? Select at least one person to write a follow-up letter thanking the member of Congress and/or aide for the meeting. Remember to include any additional information and materials that were requested. Ask your Bread for the World regional organizer to help you compile any information you do not have.
? Keep the pressure on your members of Congress by using the media. Write a letter to the editor of your local paper, explicitly mentioning your lobby visit and calling on your members of Congress to support poverty-focused development assistance. Stay in touch with your Bread for the World regional organizer for updates and urgent action requests targeting your member of Congress.