Local visits with your member of Congress can have a more profound impact then visiting them at Capitol Hill. A local visit with your member of Congress is when you schedule an appointment with him or her during Congressional recess when they are back in their state. Please consider scheduling a meeting with your member of Congress.
Let's start with some survey data from the Congressional Management Foundation's report Communicating with Congress: Perceptions of Citizen Advocacy on Capitol Hill—data that are well known around DC:
You will quickly note that constituent visits are by far the most "very effective" type of advocacy. You will also note that these data do not differentiate between local visits and Hill visits. If you try to visit your Congressman or Congresswoman in Washington, DC then you are more likely to meet with a legislative aide. Congress is typically busy with debate, voting, and hearings while on the Hill in Washington. During the days when they are back in their home state they make an effort to connect with their voters. Many have town halls or other opportunities for voters to express concerns, ask questions, or comment on an issue. Bottom line: When the Congressman or Congresswoman returns to their home state, they are trying to connect with you, want to hear from you, and want your vote.
To schedule a local visit with your members of Congress:
1. Find your members of Congress. You have two Senators and at least one Representative. You may have more than one Representative if you live in one district and work in another. You can find your members of Congress using our Contacting Congress interface.
2. Go to their website to find the contact information of the local offices. Senators will have many local offices to serve the whole state. Representatives will have a least one office within the district or more depending on the size of the district.
3. Call or email the local office to setup a local visit while the Congressman or Congresswoman is in the state.
There are three stages to organizing an effective visit: preparation, the meeting, and follow up.
Be prepared. Members of Congress appreciate you coming to them about your issue. They appreciate it even more when you are aware of how they have supported your issue. Before you meet face-to-face do your homework and check their stance on the issue you are talking to them about and look up their voting record on the issue. You can find most of this information from their website.
At the meeting, have a clear concise statement on what you are asking for. Start by thanking the Congressman or Congresswoman for their time. Tell your personal story and explain how what you are asking for directly affects you. Resist the sentiment of entitlement. You may think your research is most fascinating and inspires young scientists, but there is other government funded research that is also fascinating and inspires youth. Answer questions honestly and admit when you do not know the answer. Offer to serve as a resource and invite them to your facility, observatory, or university.
You must follow-up after your visit. Email or write to thank the member of Congress again for meeting with you. You may have been asked a question which you didn’t know the answer. Research the question and answer them in the follow-up. Reiterate your issue and what you are asking for in your letter. Do not let visits or communications be a one-time deal. Keep the line of communication open and make talking with your member of Congress a part of your professional life.
Finally—do no harm. This is the first rule when meeting with a member of Congress. You want to make sure your issue gets a positive reception and that you do not cut your line of communication to your member of Congress.
We are in tough economic and political times. Make an effort to speak to your members of Congress often. Be a vocal constituency. Express support, showing concern and sharing your personal story are excellent ways to engender Congressional support for our science.