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Self Advocacy- Communicating skills


The most effective thing you can do as a citizen to influence policy is meet with your Member of Congress. Elected officials and their staffs regularly meet with constituents to hear their views on an issue. Yet the majority of congressional visitors are paid lobbyists representing industry and corporations, so itís critical to counterbalance those voices with opinions of concerned citizens.

You can approach a congressional office by yourself, with friends, or members of other groups that share your stance on an issue. You can arrange a meeting in the district office or to their office on Capitol Hill if you will be in Washington, D.C. Remember, your Member of Congress is their to represent the views of the people, and anyone can request a meeting!

Before the Meeting:

Make an appointment. Simply call your congressional office and tell the staff member that you are a constituent and youíd like a meeting with your Member of Congress. If you canít get an appointment with your Member, ask to meet with the staff person who works on the issue you are concerned about. Donít take "no" for an answer.

Gather a delegation. Your Member may be more open to meeting with you if you go beyond the usual one-person meeting. For example, pair taxpayers and environmental advocates, or religious and business leaders. You will have a greater impact if you can demonstrate that not just a small segment of the population is sympathetic to your cause.

Preparing for the meeting:

Establish your agenda and goals. Decide what kind of commitment you are asking for (i.e., voting for or against a specific bill or co-sponsoring legislation that you support,)

Check your Memberís stance. Call his or her office or check out the following web sites:

Select someone to act as the group leader and make a list of points to be made and questions to be asked by each person. A rehearsal is a great idea, if you have time.

Prepare materials. For greater impact, bring a packet to the meeting with materials such as: fact sheets from various organizations, supporting op-eds, editorials, and letters to the editor or news items that illustrate your issue. Include your name and phone number so that your Representative can contact you for more information.

During the Meeting:

Be concise and diplomatic. Keep your presentation short and to the point, as you will only be allotted a few minutes. Make clear exactly what action you wish your Member to take. It is important to listen to your Member even if his or her view differs from your own. Donít be argumentative or confrontational.

Put a local and personal angle on the issue. Stress why this issue concerns you and others the Member represents. Be specific. Cite local statistics, give examples of communities that will be most affected by this issue, or mention who supports your issue locally.

Press for a commitment. Donít let your Member of Congress evade the issue or change the subject. Ask specifically for his or her position on the issue. If they agree with you, ask them to co-sponsor legislation, make a floor speech or sign a "Dear Colleague" letter on the issueóall of these can help sway other legislators too.

Donít be intimidated. If you are asked a question that you do not know the answer to, simply say that you donít know, but that you will find out. Get a fax number and a staff contact and be sure to provide the necessary information as soon as possible.

After the Meeting:

Thank your Member of Congress and/or the staff members for their time, summarize the key points you made during your visit and include any information you promised to provide.

Provide follow-up Information. If your Member asked questions, or was particularly interested in one aspect, seize the opportunity to follow up with a letter, fact sheet, phone call, or second meeting. Elected officials will respond better if they see you as providing information useful to them, rather than just pushing your own agenda.

Share the knowledge you learned. Tell friends, family and other advocates what you learned about your Memberís position.

Build a relationship. A first visit should never be the end of contact. Make sure you or someone in your group stays in touch with the staff on the issue