Planning Your First District Office Visit
(Why visit a district office? Because these visits work.)
Planning a district office visit.
Find the right office. Every MoC lists the physical addresses of their district offices on their public website. Pick a day and time to go between 9-5 when as many of the members of your group can participate as possible.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.”Don’t settle for non-answers.
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. Close the meeting by planting your flag in the office.
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 email@example.com. Include these three pieces of info in that email:
Short description of photo/video
Name of group with applicable links to social or web
Names of people in the video/picture