Visiting your Member of Congress (MoC)’s district office is an excellent way of directly communicating your concerns to the MoC or one of their staffers. Showing up in person helps show the office that you and/or your group care deeply about the issue and that you’ll be paying attention to their actions going forward. You are encouraged to organize a group visit, but feel free to visit the office individually.
STEP ONE: PREPARE
- Make a plan before you go. If you are going with a group, have a meeting to review the below steps and divide up responsibilities.
- Find the right office. Every MoC lists the physical addresses of their district offices on their public website. You may have to poke around a bit, but it’s there. If you can’t find it, just give them a call and ask. The staff will be happy to tell you locations and hours.
- Pick a day to go. Pick a day and time between 9-5 when as many of the members of your group can participate as possible, such as the beginning of the day or during lunch hour.
- Don’t let “by appointment only” keep you from visiting. It is best to make an appointment ahead of time, but if you are unable to do so, you should try going to the office unannounced. If the office is closed when you show up, make sure to call and express your disappointment before trying again.
- Decide your “ask” and make it relevant. To make your visit count, focus on what Congress is working on now that affects science. Issues are always changing, so make sure to keep yourself updated.
- Decide who you want to speak with and who from your group will talk. Ask to speak with the MoC first, but if they aren’t available (which is likely), accept a meeting with the District/Office Director. Assign speaking roles within your group so that individuals are prepared to cover the points they want to cover ahead of time. If you’re focusing on an issue that personally affects members of your group, then prioritize having them speak (if they are comfortable talking about it).
STEP TWO: AT THE OFFICE
- Establish your legitimacy. Introduce yourselves and your group. Identify yourselves as constituents and scientists, researchers, etc.
- Describe your concern. Talk about how the issue affects you, your job, and/or the community at large. It is very likely that the person you are speaking to will not be an expert in your field, so make sure to explain your research in a way that will make sense to the average person. Anecdotes may be helpful.
- Don’t settle for non-answers. If congressional staff are dodging your question— if they say they have to check back and respond to you—be polite but firm. For example, you might say, “I’m disappointed that Senator Springsteen hasn’t taken a position on NIH funding for biomedical research. This is a serious matter. We’ll be watching to see when he takes a position, and we’ll be back in touch to continue expressing our views.”
- Close the meeting by asking for contact information. An important part of advocacy work is that it is continuous, not a one-shot deal. Make sure to send a follow-up email or phone call to the people that you spoke to, thanking them and letting them know that you intend to remain active on this issue.
STEP THREE: AFTER YOUR VISIT
- Share your visit with colleagues, friends, family, and others. Get a picture or video of you and/or your group at the office. Post the picture on your social media or send it around in an email. Make sure to include your MoC’s name, the issue that you discussed, and the results of your visit.
- Send a thank you letter. This is especially important if you met with your MoC. Be sure to include a brief reiteration of the issue.
- Plan your next action! You can look at other ASCB advocacy action items to figure out how you can continue your advocacy work.
- Be polite, even if they are rude or dismissive. Staffers are used to aggressive or frustrated constituents, so they will likely warm to you if you are respectful.
- If you or your group is consistently denied a meeting, remain persistent. Call or email the office to voice your displeasure. Consider sharing your experience on social media (MoCs hate bad press).
- If your group is large, split into smaller subgroups that can visit at different times to talk about the same issue. This will show that your community is serious about your concerns.