A Step-by-Step Guide to Legislative Visits
This is a general advocacy guide for meeting with members of Congress about a worker justice issue. The framework also works for meetings with state legislators, county commissioners, and city council members.
Why should I plan a legislative visit?
There are times when you want to meet with your legislators asking them to support or oppose legislation that’s been introduced, but there are times that you may be looking for champions or supporters who will work with you to draft legislation that will help workers in your community.
Our legislators need to hear from their constituents. Meeting with them in person is a very effective way to engage them on the issues that are most important to your community, organization, or congregation. It is also a fantastic way to develop leadership skills of workers, faith and community leaders.
A Step-by-Step Guide
Step One: Defining Your Delegation
Find your Legislator(s). If you want to find who represents you personally or the area in which your organization is located, or you want to search for their contact information, you can call your town clerk, or go online to www.usa.gov and search the federal database.
Decide who should be present. Legislative visits can include as many people as there are chairs in your legislator’s office or can also be limited to just a few select people. Whatever the size, your delegation will be more powerful and impactful if the following people are present:
- Workers who can tell their stories. If you are working to pass a tough law against wage theft, bring a worker whose wages have been stolen. If you are trying to pass a jobs bill, bring unemployed workers.
- Worker advocates who can provide more general information about conditions workers face in the community and how current worker protections are inadequate.
- Clergy committed to supporting workers, whether working under unfair and exploitative conditions or unemployed. Members of Congress usually respond well to leaders from the faith community. Try to include religious leaders from different faith traditions.
- Business owners who support your issue.
Step 2: Getting a Meeting
Ask for a meeting with your Senator or Representative in their local office, in order to bring a strong delegation of local faith leaders and workers.
Pick a good time to schedule a visit. There are times that Congress is out of session, sometimes for lengthy periods (for example from late November through mid-January) during which your members of Congress will be in-district and should be available to meet.
Get on the schedule. When working with your legislator’s scheduler, and the legislative aide who handles labor and worker issues charge of follow these steps:
- Be sure to e-mail and fax a concise and direct letter asking for a meeting with a delegation of faith leaders and workers to discuss the issue.
- Begin the letter by stating that you are a constituent. Legislators are most responsive to the voters that can keep them in office.
- Include a brief description of your organization and offer several possibilities for a meeting time and emphasize that you will try to accommodate their schedule.
- Call the scheduler three of four days after sending the letter. If you haven’t received a reply, be persistent. Call again until you get an answer. You should ask that they get back to you with a firm response from the legislator within two weeks.
- Be creative. Congressional offices have the capacity to set up phone or video conference meetings if the member cannot meet in person. Interfaith Worker Justice can provide a conference line number if you need to conference in religious leaders who cannot be physically present at a meeting.
- If you cannot meet with the legislator personally, ask to speak with their District or State Director or another key staff person.
- Try to know ahead of time who will be there (some offices will ask ahead of time the names of those attending). If possible invite a board member, community person, or religious leader already known to the legislator.
- If you can bring a few of your members to Washington, DC, you can also try to get a meeting with the legislator or his or her Chief of Staff, Legislative Director, or Legislative Assistant in charge of labor issues.
Step 3: Be Prepared!
Know who you're talking to. Do a little research about the legislator before the meeting if you don’t know much about him or her. Learn where they stand on your issue, similar issues, or the mission of your organization. Look at the demographics and history of their district in order to best connect your issue to your community which they represent. Learn their background, alliances, religious affiliation and key personal events in their lives that could help motivate their actions.
Know your issue. Be sure to provide clear and brief statements about the issue and the legislation you are proposing (or opposing). Make sure you have prepared facts and personal testimonies to support your case. Be prepared to explain how your organization can influence voters. Be sure to prepare a fact sheet or information packet about your organization and the legislation.
Prepare the participants. At a pre-meeting (which could happen at a restaurant or office close to your legislator’s office immediately preceding the delegation):
- Review the purpose of the delegation’s visit, select a facilitator, review the proposed agenda, decide on roles (who will say what). If necessary, have participants prepare scripts and do role plays.
- Plan for visits to last 30 minutes, though be prepared to go longer.
- Make arrangements for translation if necessary and make sure time is allotted for translation in the agenda.
- Remind participants to bring some form of identification if they are entering a government office building.
- Normal business attire is usually appropriate for these visits. Clergy may wear vestments that signify their position and religious affiliation, as they choose.
Step 4: The Visit
A typical meeting might look like:
Designate a delegate to open the meeting with prayer. (Be sensitive to interfaith representatives in the room.) Have the facilitator thank the member of Congress (or legislative aide) for his or her time and outline how the group would like the meeting to proceed.
Each person should introduce himself or herself. This is not a time to be humble! Give all relevant titles, community connections, and reasons why you could influence other constituents.
This is a chance to educate your member of congress on the issue by presenting stories from workers and information about the extent of the problem for their constituents. Interfaith Worker Justice will provide issue specific resources you can use.
Support for Our Issues
The rest of the delegates should describe their reasons for supporting or opposing legislation. Faith leaders should emphasize the teachings of their religious traditions about respecting human dignity and the rights of workers.
Question to Member of Congress
The meeting facilitator should ask the representative or senator if they will support your position on legislation. Are there questions or concerns that we can speak to? You will want to ask your member of Congress to step up and sign his or her name as a co-sponsor of the bill. The more co-sponsors, the better the chance of moving the legislation forward. You can also ask your Representative or Senator to talk to other members or send them a letter asking them to sign-on as cosponsors.
Member of Congress Response
Open the conversation to allow the Senator or Representative to discuss his or her position, what s/he thinks can happen at this time and what role s/he intends to play. Sometimes the member of congress will have questions. Answer them if you can. If not, promise to get back to him or her with answers.
If they support you: Thank them again and again! Ask if you could provide any additional information, and try to get them to commit to a bigger ask. For example: asking other legislators to support the bill, speaking at a public event, or any other action they could do to move the legislation forward.
If they oppose you: Thank them and move on to someone who will support you.
If they are undecided: Try to understand their hesitation and ask them if you could provide some additional information on the issue. Think about who they care about the most and follow up with someone from that constituency to speak on behalf of the legislation.
Thank the elected leader for the meeting. Confirm the next steps (such as that you will get back with information to answer a particular question). Close with prayer.
Step 5: After the Visit
- Be sure to follow up with a thank-you note and any of the information you promised to send.
- Keep in touch with your legislator and their key staff with letters and e-mails, updating them on the legislative campaign and other issues that are important to your organization. Use any opportunity to continue to cultivate the relationship.