Taking Political Action
Meeting With Your Members of Congress
Page Two: Planning and Following-Up on Your Meeting
The guidelines included in this section are separated into two parts. The section below is the second section, providing tips on what to do before, during and after your meeting. The first step is scheduling your congressional meeting. Concrete steps for scheduling your meeting are included on page one. Click here to return to page one.
At the end of this section are further resources for use at your meetings, including the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation’s Congressional Report Card which grades each senator and congressperson on his or her voting record in regard to peace in Israel/Palestine. Click here to view these links and resources.
After you have scheduled your congressional meeting, follow these steps to make sure you make the most of the experience:
Before the Meeting
- Consider Bringing a Group of People. You can meet with your representatives alone, however, you may want to consider organizing a small group of people to attend the meeting with you. Your group should be diverse and represent a wide swath of your representative’s constituency. Identify people in your community working on your issue and work together to set up a meeting. Representatives of ethnic or religious communities may be wiling to accompany you to the meeting. Bringing more than four or five people can be hard to manage, however, so keep it small.
- Do Your Research. Research your representative’s politics and voting record on Israel/Palestine. You can find his or her voting record on the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation’s Congressional Report Card. Use your representative’s voting record to craft talking points for your meeting.
Also identify which committee(s) and which caucuses your representative sits on and study what issues currently are pending before Congress and the committee(s). This information can be found at here.
- Identify Your Goal. Decide what you want achieve. Do you want your member of congress to vote for or against a particular bill? Introduce or co-sponsor specific legislation? Asking your legislator or his or her staff member to do something specific will help you know how successful your visit has been. Discussing your representative’s past voting record is also important and will give you good background for future meetings.
- Rehearse Your Talking Points and Messages. Meet well ahead of time with everyone who is participating and plan out your meeting. Choose one individual to be your spokesperson. Choose an order of who will speak and which person will discuss which issues. Rehearse your talking points and messages well. It is best to keep your message focused on 1-3 main points. You will need to be brief and clear as you generally will have only 10-15 minutes for the meeting.
- Practice. You may want to have someone role play the Member of Congress or staff person and ask difficult questions. Anticipate the kinds of questions you may be asked from both supporters and opponents and be prepared to answer such questions in the meeting.
- Provide a Personal Story or Real-Life Illustration from your Delegation. Personal stories are more easily remembered than statistics. As necessary, briefly cite evidence or statistics to support your position, however, be careful not to overwhelm the representative or staffer with too many statistics or references to studies (this kind of information will be in the materials you leave behind or can be sent with your thank-you note). Also, keep your personal story brief. Discuss how the policy change will have an impact on your community or the communities you met with in Israel/Palestine (for instance, you may want to focus on what local educational or community initiatives can be funded with the more than $3 billion of aid sent to Israel annually).
- Prepare a Packet of Materials. It is always good to leave your representative or staff with a small packet of information. Try to keep your packet small and focused on the issues you discuss in your meeting. You may want to use the Institute for Middle East Understanding’s Background Briefings or the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation’s resources. Other resources are also available online.
Include information on any local group you are active with on this issue, people you met in Israel/Palestine, copies of relevant legislation, and a flyer for the upcoming IFPB delegation which you can download here. Encourage your representative or staffer to attend a delegation.
At the Meeting
- Dress for Success and Be on Time. Wear business clothes. For better or worse, you and your message will be taken more seriously by your Member of Congress if you are dressed professionally. Members of Congress and their staff are very busy. Be respectful of their time. Open the meeting by thanking the Member or staffer for his or her time.
- Introduce the Group. Have the lead spokesperson briefly introduce him/herself, your local activist organization (if relevant) and IFPB. Then have the other participants in the meeting introduced themselves and their affiliations. Mention where you live or work in the district or state so the representative is clear you are a constituent.
- Bring up any personal, professional or political connections to the elected official that you may have. If the policymaker/staffer has been helpful in the past or has taken action that you appreciate, be sure to say thank you and acknowledge this up front.
- State Accurately how many People you Represent. Don't over-inflate your numbers. Members of Congress will be making their decisions about your request in part on how many people you can mobilize.
- Make your "Ask" up Front. This is the most important part of the meeting and the reason why you came. You are asking the Member of Congress to do something for you. Don't be bashful about asking. They are expecting an "ask". An "ask" is something specific, such as "We would like you to sign on to the Rachel Corrie Resolution." It is not general. "We would like you to support a just peace" is not an "ask". Explain why the Member of Congress should support your "ask".
- Be Polite and Listen Carefully. Even if you disagree with the representative or staffer’s views and positions, it is very important to be courteous. Be flexible, consider the opposing view, and avoid being argumentative or threatening. You may agree to disagree on an issue now and find that you can agree and work together on another matter in the future. Much of advocacy is about building and maintaining relationships over time.
Address Members of Congress correctly by calling them "Senator" or "Representative", unless otherwise directed by the Member of Congress. Take notes to show your representative that you are serious about the meeting and follow-up.
- Be Calm — Don’t be Intimidated or Fooled. People wielding power can be scary sometimes. Odds are that you know much more about the issue than does the Member of Congress or his/her staff person. Keep this in mind when making your points.
It is more likely that you will receive a warm and friendly reception - it is in your representative’s interest to seem engaged and interested in what you have to say as a constituent. One comment we’ve heard several times after recent lobbying days goes something like this “I can’t believe how nice the staffer was; they listened to me, asked questions, and seemed interested in what I had to say.”
Don’t be overwhelmed by their interest in you. Try not to let them steer you off your main talking points. Be prepared to meet your goals for the meeting. You want the representative or staffer to not only be polite but to respond to your ask. And even when you may have a less tangible goal than supporting a specific piece of legislation, don’t let your representative off the hook. If your goal for the meeting is to build a relationship, make it clear that you expect your representative to engage in dialogue with you and explain past and present positions
- Saying "I Don't Know" can be a Smart Political Move. You need not be an expert on the topic you are discussing. If you don't know the answer to a question, it is fine to tell your representative that you will get that information for him or her. This gives you the chance to put your strongest arguments into their files, and allows you to contact them again about the issue. Never make up an answer to a question -- giving wrong or inaccurate information can seriously damage your credibility!
Set Deadlines for a Response. Ask directly, and politely, for the policymaker’s views and position on the issue and what he/she plans to do about it. Stay on message and on topic as politely as possible and be sure to make your “ask.” However, if the Member truly is undecided, or the staffer is not familiar with the Member’s position on the issue, do not force an answer. Often, if an elected official hasn't taken a position on legislation, they will not commit to one in the middle of a meeting. If he or she has to think about it, or if you are meeting with a staff member, ask when you should check back in to find out what your legislator intends to do about your request.
Reiterate your interest, offer to answer any questions or provide additional information, and request a written follow-up letter from the Member once a decision has been made. If you need to get information to your legislator, set a clear timeline for when this will happen. That way, you aren't left hanging indefinitely.
Leave your Contact Information and Get a Card for the Representative or Staffer. If you leave a business card, make it clear that you are visiting on your own time and not representing your employer, unless you have received such clearance. If you do not have a business card to leave, make sure you give your home/personal contact information so the office can follow-up. Be sure to get a business card from the Member of Congress/staffer so that you know how to reach them. Ask the Member/staffer their preferred mode of communication (e.g. e-mail, fax, voicemail/phone).
Summarize your Requests of the Member of Congress. Leave the meeting by verbally recapping the commitments you have made to the Member or staffer and the commitments that he or she has made to you. Summarize any responses the Member or staffer has provided to ensure you are clear on where they stand on the issues and recap the Member’s or staffer’s requests and indicate how you plan to respond. Express thanks and appreciation for their time, interest, and courtesy.
After the Meeting
- Compare Notes. Right after the meeting, compare notes with everyone in your group to understand what the elected official committed to do and what follow up information you committed to send.
- Send a Thank You Letter. Each person who took part in the meeting should promptly send a personal thank you letter to the representative. This letter should be addressed to the Member of Congress whose office(s) you visited with a cc: to the staffer with whom you met, referencing the date of your meeting, who was in attendance and the issues you discussed. Your follow-up letter should express appreciation for the time and consideration extended to you during your meeting. Reiterate your request(s) and ask for a written response from the office. Keep in touch with the Member/staffer to maintain and strengthen your relationship. Click here for a sample thank you letter you can adapt to your purposes.
- Follow up in a Timely Fashion with any Requested Materials and Information. If you e-mail or mail follow-up materials, call the representative or staffer directly to make sure they received it. Schedule a follow-up discussion if appropriate. If the elected official or staff member doesn't meet the deadline for action you agreed to during the meeting, ask him or her to set another deadline. Be persistent and flexible!
- Establish a relationship with your Members of Congress and their Staff. Keep your relationship current by phoning and faxing your representative or staffer when there is pending, relevant legislation. If your initial meeting is in Washington, D.C., be sure to schedule a similar meeting with the staff in the district or state office. Check in with your representative when she or he is at home to reinforce the relationship and follow up on your issues of priority.
- Consider Joining the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation as a Congressional District Coordinator. The US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation watches congress and works with constituents to promote peace and justice in Israel/Palestine. If you want to build your relationship with your congressional representatives, you may wish to join the Campaign’s Congressional District Coordinators network. Click here to read more about it.
Resources for Working with Congress
- The US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation
The US Campaign has a number of resources available for congressional action, including distributing periodic Action Alerts. As a member organization of the Campaign, IFPB will forward Alerts directly to delegates. However the Campaign has a number of other resources available: Check out your representatives’ voting records at the Congressional Report Card and find Background Resources here.
- The Institute for Middle East Understanding
IMEU mainly provides journalists and editors with information on Palestine and Palestinians. Their Background Briefings can be used as fact sheets or research for meetings with Congressional representatives.
- The American Association for Palestinian Equal Rights
AAPER is a new initiative formed to provide an institution for those millions of Americans who believe in equality in Israel and Palestine, peace in the Middle East and an equitable U.S. policy toward Palestine that upholds the interests and ideals of the American people. Their site includes a number of resources as well as tips for working with congress.
- A number of groups send out periodic Action Alerts, including:
- US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation - Sign up for Action Alerts
- Jewish Voice for Peace - Sign up for Action Alerts
- J-Street - Sign up for Action Alerts
- Americans for Peace Now - Sign up for Action Alerts
- Churches for Middle East Peace - Sign up for Action Alerts
- Amnesty International - Sign up for Action Alerts on Israel/Palestine