Running a great local group meeting takes skill and experience, but there are a few general rules you can use to help make it a success.
- Prepare! Get an agenda ready; think about what you’re going to say and how you want group members to participate. Try to start on time, move efficiently through your agenda, and end on time.
- The parking lot. People may bring up lots of things—including good ideas—that are not related to what’s on the agenda. If something off topic is raised, ask if you can put it in the parking lot and come back to it later.
- Aim for balance. If some group members don’t have much to say, try to ask questions to help them participate. If someone has been talking a lot, consider asking them to hold tight so the group can hear from everyone. Be mindful of power dynamics that might make it more difficult for some people to speak up.
Thinking through questions ahead of time. Part of having a successful meeting and developing an effective local advocacy strategy is being prepared to answer tough questions and keep your meeting on track. Here are some questions people might ask and some potential answers, but remember: this is your group and it’s up to you and your fellow group members to decide how you want to run it and what you want to do.
What is our plan? Why haven’t we decided to participate in this action or that rally?
There are a number of very important protests and actions happening on different topics around the country. There’s no need to confine your activism to just one kind of advocacy, or one kind of event.
That said, the most important thing about being effective as a local group is making your advocacy a habit. Your voice in your district will grow each time you show up. That’s the key to success: keep showing up. If your group visited your Members’ offices a couple of times per month this year, you’d be one of the most vocal, active groups in the country, and you’d fundamentally change your relationship with your representatives.
So look around for coordinated actions other groups are planning and join them if you like how they sound. Find phone scripts for calling your representatives online. Come up with creative ideas for your office visits – Get Well Soon cards for an always-absent congressperson, maybe. If you do those things you’ll keep your advocacy fun and engaging, and you’ll stick with the habit, which is what really matters. It’s like an exercise regimen: the exercise of democracy.
Why are we working on local, defensive congressional advocacy?
One of the things we’ve learned from studying the Tea Party and from our own experience is that local, defensive congressional advocacy has a powerful impact.
When you’re doing congressional advocacy, the best way to maximize your leverage is by focusing on what’s happening right now in Congress. If you talk to your Senator about something that they won’t vote on for another six months, they’ll say what you want to hear and then never back it up. If twenty of their constituents ask them tough questions about a vote happening today, it could affect the result.
All of us at Indivisible care deeply about a wide range of progressive issues, so we’d never say that defensive congressional advocacy is the only activity your group should be doing. There’s lots of important work to be done on the local, city, and state level, as well as on different issues, and it’s all critical to building a progressive future for this country. But we do believe that the Indivisible strategy of focusing on your own Members of Congress and what they are doing right now, is the highest-value way to lobby your representatives – which makes it a strong defense against the Trump agenda.