Calling and writing is important, but sometimes nothing beats a face-to-face meeting. Meetings with your elected representatives aren’t just reserved for fancy lobbyists, corporate bigwigs, and political insiders. Your representatives and the staff who work for them meet with constituents (that’s you) all the time. Here’s what you need to know.
Don’t You Know Who I Am?
When you reach out to your member of the city council, state legislature, or Congress, start your email or phone call with this important introduction: “I’m a constituent.” That means “I’m a person who lives in your district and you represent me.” Same goes for calling your governor’s office.
All of these folks should be open to meeting with you if you live in the state or district they represent. Remember, meeting with the elected official is great, but sitting down with their staff is often just as good. The important thing is to build a relationship with someone in the office who gets things done.
Eyes on the Prize
If you have a clear goal in mind for your meeting, that’s great! Is there a bill you support or oppose? Is there an issue that you don’t think is getting enough attention? Do you want your representatives to use their clout to influence someone or something?
Maybe you don’t have a clear “ask” but want to build a relationship with your representative or their staff. That’s great, too! You can absolutely request a “meet and greet” to get to know the people who represent you. This is a great opportunity to get a sense of what their priorities are, find out where they stand on the issues you care about, and talk about how you can work together.
Put It in Writing
Most offices ask that you put your meeting request in writing. No need for snail mail – an email will do the trick. Here are a few tips:
- Explain what you’d like to talk about. Details will help the office prepare.
- List the people who will attend. Bringing a group, big or small, gives your meeting extra oomph, but don’t hesitate to go on your own.
- Offer a few dates and times, and give as much lead time as possible.
- Choose a preferred location. Your state and federal representatives will have local district offices as well as an office in Washington, D.C. or your state capital. If a virtual meeting works for you, suggest that as an option.
- Note who you’d like to meet with. Do you want to meet directly with your member of Congress, state senator, or city council member? Or would a meeting with a staff person be just as effective? Don’t assume that a meeting with staff means no one is taking you seriously – building a relationship with a staff member can be a huge asset.
Offices are generally good about responding to meeting requests, but feel free to follow up if you haven’t heard anything after a week or two.
What if They Say No?
It’s worth asking why, respectfully. Maybe there’s a fair reason, like the state budget is due in two weeks and the office is swamped until then. But if not, be persistent. The people who represent you can’t do it well unless they hear you. Keep requesting that meeting, and encourage your friends and neighbors to do it too. If you can’t land a meeting on your own to talk about, say, funding for schools, maybe you’ll have better luck if your entire PTA asks.
Great, you’ve got a meeting on the books! Here’s how to make it a great one.