Civics 101: Let’s Talk to a Congressman

Many of us have never gone to meet with our representatives in person. CCC member Janet Canino has some tips for making that first visit effective. 

 In the case of mobile office hour events, it’s a pretty low-key affair. Here are some things to keep in mind to make it a positive experience for everyone.

Any overall tips? 
Be friendly. It’s a no-brainer. The staffers are people more like us than not, with families and loved ones, too. Being kind is a great way to have our concerns and questions taken seriously.

Doing this kind of thing makes me nervous. How can I prepare? What do I say? 
Visit a site like to learn what this particular congressman is voting on and which way he is voting. This will give you a topic or two (or 5) to share during the meeting. For example:

“I saw Rep. Banks voted against the Stream Protection Rule (H.J. Resolution 38). That bill seems to protect the coal mining companies. It appears that coal companies can pollute nearby streams with their fracking and mining run-off contaminants without any concern for the health of the stream and the wildlife supported in that ecosystem. I want to know why he voted against protecting the streams from this pollution.” It helps to bring the Bill number, but it is not required.”

What will the visit be like? Any tips? 

  1. Guess what? Our congressman is unlikely to be there. It will be one of his* staffers.
  2. Don’t let point #1 discourage you from going! It is still important to go! So just go.
  3. You will have a chance to share concerns and ask questions.
  4. Expect it to be like a customer service call. You will be asked for your name and address. This is to a) verify you are an actual constituent of his and b) provide him with a way to respond to your concern/question.
  5. Sure you can bring children. Those who are school-aged can learn a lot about how our government works. They can learn about what concerns other people have. They can even voice their own concerns and, boy, that can be empowering when you’re young!
  6. You may end up waiting for a bit (e.g., 15 minutes) before your concerns will be heard. In that case, use it as an opportunity to listen and learn about what fellow constituents are talking about. Or you may be the only one in there and you can be in and out in 5 minutes if you so choose.
  7. Don’t be surprised if you meet some neighbors that you didn’t know before or neighbors that you didn’t know they shared your views!
  8. Bring a pen and some paper; you may want to exchange emails. Bring this information to share with others. Print it 5 or so times per page and be ready to hand it out to those who want it. Don’t worry. It’s pretty easy to tell who will be interested after listening to the people ahead of you share their comments and questions.
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