Many of us have spent hours over the past few months making calls, writing letters, sending emails, marching, and making visits to our Members of Congress. The new administration has kept us all busy, but it’s hard to know if our actions are making a difference. Are our voices and concerns being heard by the people who represent us in Washington?
To get clarity, we invited Andy Schultheiss, Jared Polis’ previous Chief of Staff to sit down with us and answer the question, “What’s the best way to reach our Members of Congress?”
The conversation was enlightening. Below, I’ve shared a summary of the discussion. Some of this information might be familiar to many of you, but for those of us who are new to the activism game, the recommendations Andy gave might help you find focus in your attempts to get the ear of your Congressman.
How to Reach Your MoC
- Show up at an event. More than any other form of outreach, this is the best way to get the ear of your representative. Attend town halls, fundraising events, and meetings that the
- Build relationships with Congressional and District staff. Building relationships with the staff that support the MoC is a great way to make your voice heard. The best way to build a relationship is to become an issue expert for a member of the staff that represents your issue. If you’re an expert in the environment, sciences, women’s rights, business, economic, etc. areas, reach out and offer your insights. Over time staff might look to you for guidance and supporting information.
- Make calls but in a coordinated way. Individual calls are fine, but they don’t make much impact unless the offices are being inundated on a specific issue. Coordinate with groups to make calls on a specific issue ON THE SAME DAY.
- Attend events and marches. But work hard to drive a large turnout. Small groups of 10 or less can often hurt the issue you’re representing as it gives the impression that the volume of concern for the issue is low.
- Donate. If you have the means, get your representatives ear by donating. You can also create a group of donors to contribute to the representative or hold a fundraising event for them and invite them to attend.
- Join an interested-oriented group. Large, respected groups in Washington get meetings with representatives and are more effective at lobbying and informing legislation. Examples are EDF, NRDC, AARP.
- Fund investigative journalism. Fund the journalistic outlets that are doing good investigative journalism and following the issues such as Talking Points Memo and The Nation.
- Get involved at a local level. Legislation starts at the local level. There is a lot happening at the state level where citizens can have a more immediate impact. Attend Town Halls, go to the State Capitol, and follow your representatives to stay abreast of the issues being discussed and the outcomes being determined in your state. For those in Colorado, I recommend signing up for updates from Steve Fenberg.
What Not to Do
- Try to lobby your MoC in DC. Their staff is run by people who are overworked, distracted, and not as connected to the local issues. It’s also highly unlikely that you will be able to connect with your MoC in their DC office.
- Approach your MoC using hyperbole. The staff and the MoC can recognize an issue being spun. Approach issues with your representative with logic, facts, and real stories.
- Just send off a bunch of emails. Letters and emails are combed through, but frequently filtered by a computer system and the topics and content in your outreach are only presented to those MoC’s who request reports to see trending topics that constituents care about.