by Pat Veitch
The prospect of meeting with your senator or representative may seem intimidating, but it is one of the most effective ways to get your message across. You don't have to be an expert on a topic to express your concerns in person, but knowing what to expect and how to prepare will alleviate much of your anxiety - and maybe even make the visit fun and rewarding. So take a deep breath and read these tips. With a little persistence, you'll get to meet with at least an aide, if not the real-live legislator. Who, as you'll remember, works for you.
Making the Appointment
Set up an appointment well in advance by calling your legislator's home district or Washington office, depending on where you plan to meet. District offices are listed in the white pages under the legislator's name. Washington, D.C., offices can be reached through the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121. When making the appointment, and at the meeting, list the groups you represent. You'll probably meet with a legislative aide, but don't worry: Legislators generally consult staff before making a decision. \
Do your homework. Understand the legislation, where support and opposition lie and the status of any related bills. Decide what to say ahead of time. If several people plan to attend with you, choose one person to make introductions, speak for the group and make each point.
Know beforehand what action you want the legislator to take. Research the legislator's voting record and other background information including the committees he or she serves on. (The Web site http://thomas.loc.gov is a good resource for this information.) Prepare a fact sheet; you can refer to it during the meeting and then leave it with the legislator.
At the Meeting
Dress conservatively and be professional and friendly. Introduce yourself and any coalition partners you take along. Thank the legislator or aide for taking the time to meet with you and state what you want to discuss.
Be concise: Take no longer than five minutes to cover the major points. Get your facts down cold and include information on how the legislation will affect local constituents. Share any stances taken by other groups in support of your position, and request specific action from the legislator; ask politely for a commitment. If the legislator is on your side, you can tell them what more they can do. If the legislator cannot support the issue, be polite; remember the importance of developing a productive relationship in the long run. Leave your fact sheet or a business card.
After the Meeting
Immediately after your meeting, write down specific information you learned and important details of the meeting. Follow up with a thank-you letter restating your position, the action you want taken or any agreements made.
If you would like training for meeting with your legislator, contact your chapter or field office. For information on your nearest Club office, contact the Office of Volunteer and Activist Services, (415) 977-5674.
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