Advice on how to get members of Congress to actually listen to you

In this video for Mic, former Congressman Steve Israel explains the best way to get your representatives’ attention. Calling is good, but talking to them in person is better.

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  1. A kind word and a $5,000 campaign contribution speak louder than a kind word.

    1. Contact the right level of government. Don't call Congress about your city sidewalks, don't call your state representative about the Affordable Care Act, and don't call the city about education funding.

    2. Contact your own legislator and include your address. If you really want to target another legislator (chair of a key committee, for example), organize your friends and relatives who live in that district to contact them. Out of district contacts are ignored.

    3. Be specific, polite, and brief. No need to get into a long explanation of why you do or don't support the issue-- staff should already be familiar with it. Stick to one issue at a time.

    4. Email, call, or go in person to a townhall. Members of Congress attend lots of community and party functions where you can say a few words to them (Labor Day picnics, MLK Day celebrations, etc). You can also request a face-to-face meeting with a legislator or their staff, especially if you organize a whole group of people. Don't be shy-- the worst that can happen is they say they are busy.

    5. Faxes and paper letters are better than nothing, but less likely to get a timely response.

    Edited to add: 6. Understand who controls what. Unless your legislator is the committee chair for the bill, they can't schedule a hearing on it. They can ask the committee chair to do that, but that isn't likely to help if the chair is from the other party. Likewise, only the Speaker can bring a bill up for a vote on the House floor-- and is not likely to listen to minority members in setting those priorities. At a minimum, check which party your legislator belongs to and which party holds the majority in the state or federal legislative chamber they belong to. Committee chairs belong to the majority. Otherwise, you will not have a realistic picture of where to apply pressure.

  2. Talking to them assumes that they actually show up where the public can get at them. From experience, the only times my "representatives" appear in their districts have been either invitation-only fundraisers or prepared-speech events with no provision for anyone but the Great Man Himself allowed to say a word.

    There are websites that let you search for "town hall" events for your State or District -- I looked for years for Schweikert to have a "town hall" that wasn't invitation-only. McCain, of course, basically flew from Sky Harbor to his wife's ranch.

  3. Which is why even a well-intentioned congressperson is more likely to be influenced by the people who can afford to attend lavish fundraisers where they get face time with the representatives. Who we interact with most largely shapes our perceptions.

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