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Witness to Congress

RESEARCHING YOUR MEMBER OF CONGRESS TRACKING LEGISLATION CALLING YOUR MEMBER OF CONGRESS
Use the Congressional Directory to find information about your representative or senators

The Library of Congress maintains comprehensive voting records, legislative sponsorship records, and text of congressional debates. thomas.loc.gov

Check the Latin America Working Group’s scorecards, which ranks every member of Congress for their voting records on key Latin America issues. www.lawg.org

Contact National WFP or your Regional Coordinator with questions concerning your member’s position.

Keeping up with the latest legislation and vote dates are important elements in influencing policymakers, and following up on previous contacts.

Try online databases, such as the Library of Congress’ search engine. Get the complete text of legislation and see how many cosponsors a bill has obtained. http://thomas.loc.gov

Know the important dates that legislation will be voted on in Congress. Contact your members of Congress in the weeks beforehand.

Watch for WFP Action Alerts. In the days leading up to important votes, WFP sends out notices on our Network. To join the Action Alert Network, email
witness@witnessforpeace.org
Call your member of Congress. The district office number is in your local phone book. To reach the Washington office, call the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121.

Ask to talk with the legislative aide working on your issue. If the aide is unavailable, leave a message.

Identify yourself by name, hometown, and organization, if applicable.

State your position, ask what your legislator’s position is, and tell how you would like him/her to vote.

Follow-up with a short note to the aide, emphasizing your position and your appreciation of his/her attention to the issue.

WRITING TO YOUR MEMBER OF CONGRESS

Congressional staffers maintain that one letter from an individual is viewed as representing the concerns of ten other constituents!Get a group together for a letter writing party!

Handwrite your letter or with a personal tone write it on the computer. Include your name and address in the letter; envelopes are often thrown away.

Use letterhead if you are writing on behalf of an organization. Include specifics about the organization you are representing such as statewide, regional, number of members, etc.

Be brief but personal. Share your knowledge and experience, but do not exceed one full page.

Ask him/her to take specific action. Be specific about what you ask such as cosponsoring legislation, voting for/against legislation, or signing a dear colleague letter.

Send e-mail. Although e-mail is not as effective as a letter, it’s better than nothing!

Follow Up! Check to see if he/she has responded to what you asked. Members of Congress should confirm receipt of your correspondence. If not, then write again.

3 KINDS OF MEMBERS: TIPS
1. A sympathetic member of Congress.
  • Thank him/her for supporting your issue.
  • Ask him/her to write letters to other members of Congress for their support.
  • Encourage your member of Congress to make public remarks on the issue.

2. An opposition member of Congress.

  • Ask your representative or senators the reasons why he/she opposes your issue. Look for areas of agreement and confirm them.
  • Explain your reasons for supporting the issue. Do your homework. Use plenty of legitimate evidence to make a strong argument.
  • Have patience. Your member of Congress will probably not change his/her stance over night.
  • Send a clipping of your published letter to WFP and your members of Congress. Be sure to include the date and name of the newspaper.

3. A member of Congress that is a “swing voter.”

  • Ask your representative or senators how he/she feels about the issue.
  • Explain your reasons for supporting the issue. Use lots of evidence to back your position.
  • Personal stories and experiences are powerful. It brings the topic closer to home.
  • Use a variety of tactics. The more he/she hears your position, the more your member will remember it at crucial voting time.
  • Be as friendly as possible. Remember, you want this person on your side.

VISITING YOUR MEMBER OF CONGRESS

Visiting your Congressperson demonstrates your level of concern for an issue. The more people you have with you and the more groups you represent, the better.
  • Get in touch with your WFP Regional Coordinator (RC) or the WFP National Office. They may have advice for you as you prepare.
  • Call your member of Congress. Ask to speak to his/her scheduler, and set up a meeting for yourself. Ask to meet the member or a top aide.
  • Go prepared. Be aware of the counter-arguments. Know their voting record and position on the issue you will be discussing. Have the exact name and number of the legislation that concerns you.
  • Be brief. State your position, present your evidence, and ask your representative to take specific action. 
  • Have two talks ready: one that is 15 minutes, and another that is 90 seconds.
  • Be passionate (not emotional). Never leave in anger. 
  • Before leaving, get a definite response regarding his/her position on the issue.
  • Leave a brief summary of your position and relevant supporting materials.
  • Mail a thank you note with a summary of your position, and follow up on any information you agreed to provide. Following up is key in building a relationship!
DO’S AND DON’TS OF WORKING WITH CONGRESS IN THE PUBLIC EYE

DO’S

Learn members' committee assignments and their specialties.

Build a relationship with the aide(s) that handle your issue.

Relate legislation to situations in their home state.
Use voting records to ask why the member voted the way they did.

Show openness to and knowledge of the counterarguments.

Admit what you don't know. Offer to find out and send information back to the office.

Use a variety of tactics – call, write, visit, etc.

Build a broad-base coalition to attend meetings.

Think long term. Your members of Congress will take notice when they realize this issue is important to their constituents.

DON’TS

Don’t overload a congressional visit. Introduce only one or two topics per visit.

Don't threaten, pressure, or beg or speak with a moralistic tone.

Don't be argumentative: speak with calmness and commitment so as not to put them on the defensive.

Don't overstate the case. Members and staff are very busy.

Don't expect members to be specialists: their schedule and workload make them generalists.

Don't make promises you can't keep.

Don't leave the visit without leaving a position or fact sheet.

Don’t forget to follow up!

Sources: Latin American Working Group, Common Cause, Friends Committee on National Legislation, the Episcopal Church Washington Office, and the Stop CAFTA Coalition.

Use events and forums in the public sphere to your advantage. Reach as many people as possible!

Invite your Congressperson to an event. “Public Accountability Meetings” can be a great forum to ask them to take a public stance on issues.

Thank your member of Congress publicly if he/she has done something positive to address your issue.

Write a letter to the editor in your local newspaper stating the position of your senators or representative.

Organize a sit-in or nonviolent protest outside the office of your member of Congress.

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