OK. You’re ready to take action to stop the Trump agenda, and you’ve found others who are ready to act with you. Now it’s time to channel that energy towards making your Members of Congress (MoCs) listen.
The first step to getting started is planning your first action. We recommend starting with a visit to one of your Member of Congress’ local district offices. Below, we’ve put together a quick cheat sheet on how to make your first district office visit a success. For more details, check out Chapter four of the Indivisible Guide which covers how to keep tabs on your MoCs, how to conduct office visits in more detail, and other actions you can take.
Planning Your First District Office Visit
Why visit a district office? Because these visits work.
As we discuss in the Indivisible Guide, every MoC has one or more local offices, but constituents very rarely visit them. The Tea Party understood this, and they knew they could make their voice heard by going in person to those offices, often unannounced. This seems simple, but it can have an enormous impact—the whole congressional staff will be talking about that group that showed up and demanded answers about Trump’s agenda. It also demonstrates to them that you, their constituents, care very much about the issue you’ve come in to speak about and that you’ll be watching what they do going forward.
1. Planning a district office visit.
Find the right office. Every MoC lists the physical addresses of their district offices on their public website. You may have to poke around a bit, but it’s there. If you can’t find it, just give them a call and ask—the staff will be happy to tell you locations and hours.
Pick a day to go. Pick a day and time between 9-5 when as many of the members of your group can participate as possible—for example, at the beginning of the day or during lunch hour.
Don’t let “by appointment only” cramp your style. If your congressional office is listed as being open “by appointment only”, you can either call ahead to make one, or you can try just showing up. If you decide to just show up, be ready if the office is closed—plan a creative action your group can take a video of, or take a picture of the closed office and post it to social media.
2. Decide your “ask” and make it relevant.
Congressional staff regularly take meetings with folks who want to talk about stuff that’s happening next month or next year. But a typical staffer can’t see much beyond today let alone beyond the next couple weeks. To make your visit count, focus on what Congress is working on now. This changes constantly, but we’ll be sending out regular email updates with suggestions on some issues to focus on.
3. Decide who you want to speak with and who from your group will talk.
Your MoC likely won’t be in the local office, although you never know. The best person on his or her staff to meet with is the District/Office Director. You should first ask to meet with the MoC directly, and only accept a meeting with the District Director if the MoC is unavailable. They may try to get rid of you—don’t take “no” for an answer. If you show up in a group, they will be more likely to see you. Don’t let them pawn you off to an intern—they will try.
Assign speaking roles within your group so that individuals are prepared to cover the points they want to cover ahead of time. If you’re focusing on an issue that personally affects members of your group, then prioritize having them speak (if they are comfortable talking about it).
4. Prepare talking points so that you have a plan for what to say.
Here are some ideas for talking points to help you have an effective office visit.
- Establish your legitimacy. Introduce yourselves and your group. Identify yourselves as constituents and talk about where in the district or state you live.
- Say what you stand for. For example, you could say that you are standing indivisible against the corruption, authoritarianism, sexism, and racism of the new administration.
- Focus on one issue. Right now, the repeal of the Affordable Care Act is one of the primary issues before Congress. You could say something like this:
“We are very concerned that Republicans are trying to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, leaving 30 million Americans without access to health care. Where does the representative/senator stand on this issue? What is s/he doing to stop this from happening?”
- Tell your stories. If this issue would affect you, your family, or your friends and neighbors, talk about how and why.
- Don’t settle for non-answers. If congressional staff are dodging your question—if they say they have to check back and respond to you—be polite but firm. For example, you might say “I’m disappointed that Senator Myers hasn’t taken a position on this—health care coverage for 30 million people is a serious matter. We’ll be watching to see when he takes a position, and we’ll be back to let him know how we feel about it at that point.”
- Close the meeting by planting your flag in the office. Not literally! But your MoC works for you. Say you will be coming back regularly to make sure the MoC is listening to you and representing his or her constituents. Get the contact information of everybody you talk to, and send a follow up email after.
- Record it or it didn’t happen. Get a picture of your group at the office. Even better yet, get a video of your group before, during, and/or after. See the media cheat sheet for more details on how to do it and why it’s so important. Bottom line, your voice will be louder and better heard if you get documented evidence. If you’d like us to help amplify, send your media to firstname.lastname@example.org. Include these three pieces of info in that email:
1. Short description of photo/video
2. Name of group w/ applicable links to social or web
3. Names of people in the video/picture