lest by her continual coming she weary me."
- Jesus of Nazareth,
in the parable of the unjust judge, Luke 18:5 KJV
The most effective way to be heard in the halls of the legislature is by visiting your representative at the office in the Capitol. Many circumstances argue against this sacrifice of time and money, whether the office is at Washington, D.C., or in the Legislative Office Building at the State Capitol, but there is no substitute for this impressive mission. The visit to the Capitol office has incalculable influence, especially if it is repeated several times on the same issue during the same legislative session.
It is not necessarily possible to visit the Capitol, however. So a visit to the District Office of the representative creates an all-important opportunity to be heard in person. Letters and telephone calls to the representative are essential, but a personal visit to the representative's office is especially influential. The district office is the place where the representative reaches out to constituents and seeks to show the ability to satisfy the needs and complaints that they bring. And, it is often possible to make an appointment at the district office to discuss an issue directly with the representative, joined by the legislative aide. The important thing is to visit the representative in person.
There are three styles of visit to the representative: the informed individual citizen, the group visit by several members of your organization, and the rally or lobbying day style of visit.
The individual informed citizen can have a great deal of influence if the visit is well-planned and includes high-quality follow-up. The citizen should know exactly why he is making the visit and exactly what he is asking of the representative. He should know his situation or issue well and have a short, well-planned, but flexible, presentation. Finally, it is necessary to have materials to leave with the representative. One original item is worth a stack of hackneyed publications from other groups.
After the visit, a follow-up letter and telephone call are essential to tie down the specific nature of the request and the direction that was discussed at the meeting. Most representatives respond to citizen's letters by sending vague, sympathetic letters, rather than promising action. There is the danger that the visit to the representative will fall into the same trap, the effort of the citizen diffused by empty courtesy.
A request might be that a bill be submitted about an issue or that the representative intervene on a matter involving unjust treatment by a regulatory agency. The possibilities are numerous. The requests that property rights activists bring to a representative are more challenging for the official to satisfy than common constituent requests related to government benefits. The citizen should be able to knowledgeably discuss the ideas for a bill with the legislative aide.
The follow-up is as essential as the initial visit. With rare exceptions, the representative will drop the ball unless the citizen continues to visit, telephone and write letters. At the same time, the appearance of news articles about the issue or the grassroots group's activities, or letters to the editor, are like fertilizer on the ground that will grow the action by the legislature to deal effectively with your issue.
Whether involving three or thirty individuals, group visits are a big plus! The group visit demonstrates the strength and coherence of your organization. Even if the group carefully plans its spokespeople and the order of the meeting, a group visit tends to be less structured. Something may go wrong from the leader's point of view, such as a member being discourteous as a result of the intensity of the issue, but your organization will have validated its importance by successfully making a group visit to your representative.
A rally at the Capitol where a hundred or more individuals fan out and visit the offices of selected representatives is the ultimate lobbying event for a grassroots organization. Busloads of citizens at the Capitol to attend a hearing or lobby their representatives are an event. The leaders should exploit the event to strengthen the organization. Clear goals, advance notice to media, advance appointments with the representatives, and materials for the grassroots to distribute at the offices of their representatives are some of the key aspects of successful a Capitol rally. Follow-up after such an exciting event must be unstinting. A cause of the magnitude to attract hundreds of citizens to the Capitol can succeed if the leadership is committed to the legislative process from beginning to end.
Here are some essentials to consider before embarking on the visit to your representative and to check off after you have taken that first step toward your goal.
Before Your Visit Questions to Ask Yourself
During Your Visit
Immediate Follow-up after Your Visit
Follow-up to Accomplish Your Goal