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.
- Make a plan with your group. During a regular meeting or special planning meeting, review the below steps with your group and divide up responsibilities.
- 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.
- 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).
AT THE OFFICE
- 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.
- Stand Indivisible...literally. Many offices have been trying to break up large groups by bringing three or four people inside at a time. They’re trying to divide and conquer—the office thinks this will soften the impact of your protest. Don’t let them get away with it! If congressional staffers try this, demand that they bring everyone inside or have them send the MoC outside to meet with you there.
- 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:
- Short description of photo/video
- Name of group with applicable links to social or web
- Names of people in the video/picture
AFTER YOUR VISIT
- Post photos and videos on social media. Send your pictures to email@example.com as well.
- Send a thank you letter. Particularly if you have a meeting with your MoC, send a thank you letter, reiterating briefly the main ask you discussed and thanking everyone for their time.
- Debrief with your group. Discuss what went well and what you can do better next time.
- Plan your next action. Figure out how you’ll keep up the momentum moving forward.
TIPS FOR REGULAR VISITS
Regular visits can have a huge impact. If your group has the capacity to send people once a week, your group’s presence will be felt in a big way, whether whether you’re welcomed in every time, stuck outside holding signs, or something in between.
Here are some tips from groups that have been making weekly visits:
- Be persistent! Multiple groups have gone from protesting in a parking lot to being invited inside to have meetings with staff.
- Have people take shifts. It doesn’t need to be the same people every time.
- To avoid burnout, set end times for your visit to make it clear that no one is expected to linger all afternoon. (e.g. 12:00-12:30)
- Make nice with the security and building management. It may pay off in the future. In one district, when a congressional office complained to a newspaper about its Indivisible visitors, the office’s building management told the paper the group was consistently polite and friendly. In another district, security personnel had our group’s back when their visits attracted conservative counter-protesters.
- Regular office visits can be a big inconvenience. Make this a part of your message on social media. (e.g. I’m a single mom with a busy job. My lunch breaks are precious. I’d really like to share my story with the Rep. Sara. I’m really disappointed her staff won’t give us a real meeting.)
- Be appreciative of staff with thanks when they’re helpful.
- Be polite to staff even if they are rude. If a staffer is initially frosty, they may well warm up when they realize your group is friendly and civil. They may have been told to beware of rude, aggressive protesters: prove them wrong. If a staffer is being repeatedly hostile, remember that they may be looking for an excuse not to engage with your group: don’t take the bait.
- Problem: The staff have scheduled a meeting with us, but they’ve said that only 3 or 4 members of a group are allowed to attend a meeting in person, though the office could clearly accommodate a dozen of us in their conference room.
If the office is clearly enforcing an arbitrary cap on your group, point that out in person and online. District offices take meetings with big groups of visitors throughout the year. Ask the staff if they could clarify whether that cap applies to all visitors, and if not, why your group is being treated differently.
- Problem: We can’t record video or take photos during our visits because the staff all insist they don’t want to be photographed, or because the office is in a federal building that restricts cameras.
There is a lot of content your group can create before and after a visit that has a big impact. Here are some that have garnered media attention on their own:
- Take a cell phone video outside right after your visit summarizing what happened.
- Take group pictures outside by doors and signs.
- If you’re delivering any items or letters, take photos in advance.
- Problem: Our congressional office keeps asking us to submit a formal meeting request, but they never get back. They are clearly giving us the bureaucratic runaround.
Keep submitting those meeting requests as you’re asked to, and keep a record of them. Do it regularly but not too frequently, like once a week. You don’t need to put much thought into the content of your messages. The point is just to develop a record.In the future, your group might appear at another public event and your MoC’s office tells the press that your group didn’t go through the proper channels to see them. If that happens, you’ll be able to say: “We’ve been submitting request once a week for the past three months, exactly as requested.”
- Problem: Our group has gone to our MoC’s office seeking a meeting, but we’ve been shut out multiple times and we’re getting fed up.
Persistence pays off! Some groups have had staff start to invite them in to speak after several weeks of not being allowed past the lobby. They’ve then had good meetings. Keep track, take photos each visit.