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Visiting Your Congressperson
Research the member's voting record. Find out which constituencies and/or industries are important in the member's district. What committees and/or subcommittees does the member sit on? How do they relate to your issue? What power does the member have to give you what you want?
Assemble a Delegation:
A delegation lets the member of Congress know that the issue resonates with the community. A good delegation is between five and eight people. Large delegations should be avoided because you don't want to overwhelm your member of Congress. You will want to begin building a relationship with your congressional representative and her/his staff so that a trust is formed.
Request a Visit:
Visit requests should be submitted to the member's scheduler in letter form, usually via fax. The letter should identify the persons requesting the visit and the constituencies, if any, such people represent. The letter should also specify that you wish to discuss civil liberties in general and a Resolution of Inquiry specifically. Most likely you will have to follow up several times with the scheduler in order to set a visit. Frequently you will be offered a meeting with an aide. Don't be concerned or feel snubbed: often aides have a lot of influence in the area of policy they cover. Developing good relationships with them can be instrumental to having a long-term effect on policy.
Planning and Practice:
Discuss with the members of the delegation precisely what issues you wish to bring up. Keep in mind that most visits last only up to thirty minutes. Determine what, if any, questions you intend to ask and when you intend to ask them. Keep in mind that once a question is asked you cede control of the meeting to a member or aide, who may spend the rest of your thirty minutes talking about an unrelated issue. Sometimes, not always, it is best to leave questions for after you have spoken what you wished to convey.
Based on your research, determine which arguments you think will best sway the member to your position. Bring printed materials from credible sources, the briefer the better, to support each of your positions or to offer information the member is not likely to have. Always ask for something concrete, i.e. to co-sponsor a Resolution of Inquiry, or to promise to vote for it. It is often a good idea to go into the meeting with a back-up query; ask for something that the member would more readily agree to, especially if you think it is unlikely they will agree to your primary request.
Decide beforehand who is going to say what in the meeting. Practice! It may seem obvious, but it is better to go in prepared. Take turns playing the member or aide and acting out various scenarios.
The Actual Visit:
Take notes. You will get valuable information regarding the member's position that should help you in future lobbying efforts. If the member or aide asks you for information you don't have, make a note of it and say that you will get back to them. Be sure to do it. Record any commitments made by the member or their aide. You may well have to remind them of these. If you meet with an aide in the district office, be sure to find out which aide is in charge of your issue in Washington, and indicate that you plan to follow up with that person.
After the meeting, find a place where you can relax with your delegation and compare notes on the meeting. This is important, as different people might have different interpretations of the member’s position. Agree as a group on who will do what follow up tasks, i.e. gathering information, writing the thank you letter, etc. It is customary to write a thank you letter to the person that you met with. One thank you letter per delegation is sufficient. This is a good opportunity to review commitments made, to provide promised information or other materials that support your position. Let us know how it went. Let your experience strengthen the overall effort. We can better coordinate our national lobbying effort when you share your experience with us.