Never visited your Congressperson before? Don't worry! It's August - your Senators and Representatives are in their home districts for the month and want to meet with you. It's also election season, so they are even more willing to listen. Here are a few Q&As on meeting with your member.
Who are my Congresspeople? Where do I find them?
To find your Representative go to: www.house.gov and enter your zip code. It will link you to his/her website where you can find the contact information for his/her district office.
To find your Senator go to: www.senate.gov and do the same thing.
Who Do I Call?
Call the district office (see above). Usually an intern or secretary will answer. Say your name, your town, and ask to set up a meeting with either your representative or the staff person in charge of international affairs or, more specifically, issues regarding the World Bank, IMF, and international debt. They might ask who you are representing or what you want to discuss specifically.
Should I meet with my Congressperson or a Staffer?
Try to meet with your Congressperson if possible. Your member of Congress is the final decision maker. It is important to realize that your meeting will probably be brief. You should call a few weeks in advance as they are very busy. The best times to try and meet your Member are during August recess and other in-district work periods which usually take place around holidays. If you are not able to secure a meeting with your Member, set a meeting with the relevant staff person. Often the staffer will know more about debt cancellation and will have more time to listen. The staffer will then brief his/her boss on your issue. Often you can establish a relationship with this staff person, which can create powerful advocacy.
What do I do when I get there?
Be on time, but don't expect them to be. It is not uncommon for a Congressperson to be late, or to have a meeting interrupted because of his/her very busy schedule. Make sure you are courteous and flexible.
How Should I Prepare?
Learn About Your Congressperson: You should know a little about their political record and what issues they are passionate about, which you can find on their websites. For example, if your Representative is a health care advocate, then make sure you mention and provide an example that canceling debt improves healthcare in impoverished countries. Also, you should also know of their involvement with any Jubilee campaigns. If they have co-sponsored the JUBILEE Act or the Haiti Resolution, thank them.
To find out whether your Representative is a co-sponsor of the JUBILEE Act see thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d109:h.r.01130:
To find out whether your Representative is a co-sponsor of the Haiti Resolution see thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z;
Learn About the Issue: Make sure you understand the issue you are presenting. The Member or staffer you are meeting may not know very much about debt cancellation, so it helps to be knowledgeable and passionate. Often they will ask you questions. While it is important to be prepared, don't feel like you have to know everything about the issue. It is fine to follow up later with more information.
Connect the Issue: Members of Congress want to represent the best interests of their district or state. Try to demonstrate the connection between what you are requesting and the interests of the member's constituency. If possible, describe how you or your group can be of assistance to him/her. At the end of the meeting, it is always appropriate and essential to ask for a commitment. As in "Will you co sponsor bill xyz?" If the answer is "I don't know," it is important to follow up with the Member or staffer. It sometimes may be necessary to continually follow up until you get an answer; remember: you are their constituent.
Bring Materials: Bring extra information for the member/staffer to look at once you leave. Press clippings and media coverage helps, especially if it appeared in a local paper. What if I don't know the answer? If you can't answer a question, make a note of it and call back or send the information. It gives you an opportunity for further engagement.