From our friends in TX25 Indivisible EAST Austin
The first section of this document is a cut-and-paste from the Indivisible Guide, followed by some Austin-specific information from folks who have visited his office before.
District office visit – Indivisible Advice
Every MoC has at least one district office, and many MoCs have several spread through their district or state. These are public offices, open for anybody to visit — you don’t need an appointment. You can take advantage of this to stage an impromptu town hall meeting by showing up with a small group. It is much harder for district or DC staff to turn away a group than a single constituent, even without an appointment.
- Find out where your MoCs’ local offices are. The official webpage for your MoC will list the address of every local office. You can find those webpages easily through a simple Google search. In most cases, the URL for a House member will be www.[lastname].house.gov, and the URL for Senate offices is www.[lastname].senate.gov. Roger Williams Austin office address is on private property at 1005 Congress Avenue, Suite 925, Austin TX 78701. http://williams.house.gov/
- Plan a trip when the MoC is there. Most MoC district offices are open only during regular business hours, 9am-5pm. While MoCs spend a fair amount of time in Washington, they are often “in district” on Mondays and Fridays, and there are weeks designated for MoCs to work in district. The MoC is most likely to be at the “main” office — the office in the largest city in the district, and where the MoC’s district director works. Ideally, plan a time when you and several other people can show up together. Roger Williams office is open 9:00 – 5:30 on weekdays. The office is small and they have access to an additional conference room, as needed.
- Prepare several questions ahead of time. As with the town halls, you should prepare a list of questions ahead of time.
- Politely, but firmly, ask to meet with the MoC directly. Staff will ask you to leave or at best “offer to take down your concerns.” Don’t settle for that. You want to speak with the MoC directly. If they are not in, ask when they will next be in. If the staffer doesn’t know, tell them you will wait until they find out. Sit politely in the lobby. Note, on any given weekend, the MoC may or may not actually come to that district office.
- Note that office sit-ins can backfire, so be very thoughtful about the optics of your visit. This tactic works best when you are protesting an issue that directly affects you and/or members of your group (e.g., seniors and caregivers on Medicare cuts, or Muslims and allies protesting a Muslim registry). Being polite and respectful throughout is critical.
- Meet with the staffer. Even if you are able to get a one-off meeting with the MoC, you are most often going to be meeting with their staff. In district, the best person to meet with is the district director, or the head of the local district office you’re visiting. There are real advantages to building a relationship with these staff. In some cases, they may be more open to progressive ideas than the MoC, and having a good meeting with/building a relationship with a supportive staff member can be a good way to move your issue up the chain of command. Follow these steps for a good staff meeting:
- Have a specific “ask” — e.g., vote against X, cosponsor Y, publicly state Z, etc.
- Leave staff with a brief write-up of your issue, with your ask clearly stated.
- Share a personal story of how you or someone in your group is personally impacted by the specific issue (health care, immigration, Medicare, etc.).
- Be polite — yelling at the underpaid, overworked staffer won’t help your cause.
- Be persistent — get their business card and call/email them regularly; ask if the MoC has taken action on the issue.
- Advertise what you’re doing. Communicate on social media, and tell the local reporters you follow what is happening. Take and send pictures and videos with your group: “At Congresswoman Sara’s office with 10 other constituents to talk to her about privatizing Medicare. She refuses to meet with us and staff won’t tell us when she will come out. We’re waiting.”
A little extra general advice
Highlights from this Barney Frank article…
- Make sure you’re registered to vote – lawmakers check (who knew?)
- Know where your representative stands on the issues that matter to you. “If you have contact with an organization that is working on this issue, try to learn if the recipient of your opinion has taken a position on it. When I received letters from people urging me to vote for a bill of which I was the prominent main sponsor, I was skeptical that the writer would be watching how I voted.”
- Communicate – even if you and your legislator disagree. “Legislators do not simply vote yes or no on every issue. If enough people in a legislator’s voting constituency express strong opposition to a measure to which that legislator is ideologically or politically committed, it might lead him or her to ask the relevant leadership not to bring the bill up. Conflict avoidance is a cherished goal of many elected officials.”
- Say “thank you.” (That is good advice for life in general. 🙂
The office is right in front of the Capitol, so you can easily go by before/after any Txlege visits. Capitol garage parking is free for first two hours.
Before you head downtown…
- Plan your specific “ask” ahead of time
- Write it down
- Leave it with the staffer
Before going to the office…
- Huddle with your group at the Starbucks at 10th & Congress
- Lay out your game plan
- List the topics you will address as a group-keep it simple-prioritize!
- The staffers love stories! Stories humanize issues, and nobody can argue with somebody’s story.
- Take a picture of your group beforehand. Pics or it didn’t happen! 😉
Entering the building
- There may be a security guard at the desk-mostly to handle large groups
- Just go right to the elevators. Small groups, won’t have any problems
- Large groups should encourage a staffer to come down instead of splitting up
- Ninth floor, please!
- They may be remodeling the office-expect a mess. They have access to an additional conference room if they decide they need it.
- When you enter, they may invite you to sign their guestbook.
- John (last name unknown) and Aaron (last name unknown).
- John does most/all of the talking. Aaron is the younger, quieter one.
- John travels 70% of the time-often to DC
- Aaron travels the districtr 50% of the time (but he’s never been to DC)
- Hanna, the scheduler in the DC office, may have shared your name John and Aaron
Things John will say, over and over:
- ‘We’re here to listen.”
- “I can’t speak for the congressman.”
- “Asked and answered.” (He’ll say this when he’s tired of your questions.)
- “The Congressman won the last election.” So what? His job is to listen to all of his constituents, not just the ones he agrees with. Your visit to the office is a four-alarm fire for them! They should be nervous, not you. Don’t let John bully you.
- Aaron will be taking notes
- Ask him to write down anything that you feel is especially important. Be sure they get the information straight.
- Sometimes offices allow attendees to film/take photos. If not, ask why. Write down/remember any answers you’re given.
While you’re there…
- Be respectful. BUT…
- Persist until your question is answered
- Ask for an official response from Williams
- Tell them what YOU think and what you expect the congressman to do on your behalf
- Be clear that this is important to the group and that you’re not going away
If you have questions, ask them — just be know that staff may deflect. Don’t let this throw you. They may just not know the answer and may not want to broadcast that. Remember, ask for an official response if they can’t answer your question. Write down any answers you’re given.
Be sure to leave behind your talking points, a postcard, a letter, an annotated picture
Be sure each person takes a business card. We may have met there together, but we are each an individual and we expect individual answers to our concerns.
After the meeting
If Aaron asks to photograph your group. You can decline or agree if YOU can take pictures as well. Get a business card from any staff you meet.
Consider filming a short video after the meeting; debrief. Send videos to firstname.lastname@example.org and post to social media, if appropriate.
You just participated in democracy!!! Wahoo!!!! Treat yourself, you deserve it! And thanks. 🙂