An Opportunity To Visit Your Congressional Representatives
An experience that will keep you coming back to Veterans for Peace
If this is the first time you are visiting our web page, congratulations to you and let me be the first to welcome you aboard. Something has aroused your curiosity and brought you to this location. I’ll bet you’re wondering: “What kind of an organization are we and why would I want to join?” I know exactly how you feel because I was in the same position about 8 years ago.
Well let me start by telling you what we aren’t. We aren’t a group of old veterans sitting around drinking beer and telling each other war stories. Quite the contrary. We’re activists and get out and actively promote the five goals that we have set out for ourselves. By the way you can find our five major goals on this web page.
One specific thing that we do is to engage our five local congress people in dialogue on issues that are important to our cause. So if you’re the type that likes to roll up your sleeves and get directly involved in issues that relate to our veterans than you have come to the right place
Here’s another thought: Have you ever found yourself yelling at the TV? I’ll bet you were watching the national news and trying to digest, in one night, all the bad news without going completely nuts. You turn off the TV and continue to mutter to yourself or worse take it out on a family member. The dialogue goes somewhat like this:
“What the hell is going on with our government. Why can’t they see what needs to be done and why aren’t they doing something to correct the total mess and inaction that is dragging our country and its people down?”
Your head hits the pillow that night and a profound feeling of hopelessness overcomes you. I think most of us have experienced this or something very similar but don’t become discouraged. You can constructively use some of that pent up emotion by finding out who your congressperson is and with the support of our organization go pay him/ her a visit.
The whole process is pretty straight forward and can be exhilarating and at the same time be discouraging if they don’t buy into what you want them to do. But I do guarantee that it will be an experience that you won’t quickly forget.
Here is a sample of some of the issues that we have campaigned for with our five representatives in San Diego County:
- Agent Orange legislation (Hr 2634)
- School of the Americas (HR3368)
- Veterans for Peace Sleeping bag project
- Alarming amount of suicides amongst duty service personnel and veterans
- Incompetence of the Department of Veterans Affairs
- End the wars and reduce defense spending
From our experience of interacting with our five congress people we came away with an overriding conclusion that you must have an extra amount of tenacity in order to get an audience with them. We have five congress people in the county of San Diego and Imperial County and we do have some that are very accommodating. But for the most part, they attempt to avoid you because they are “busy elsewhere.” My thought is what can be more important than meeting with your constituents.
A lesson we learned is that it is not enough to just make a presentation when meeting with them. What we should require from our representatives is that they take action on our requests. Put another way, we want deliverables from them.
Keep in mind that in many cases you will have to repeatedly email and call them to get an appointment. In some cases, we actually picketed their office and embarrassed them into meeting with us. (See the accompanying picture of the Veterans for Peace picketing outside the office of Representative Brian Bilbray.)
I hope I didn’t make the experience sound impossible. It is not but it does take a lot of tenacity to get an appointment so when we do pin them down and get a date for a meeting we do our homework and come prepared to make it productive for ourselves and hopefully the congress person as well.
Here is how the process works:
1. First, get a firm commitment from your chapter or organization that the members will support all the effort required to interact with your congressional representatives. If the support is there than proceed to the following steps:
2. Create a complete, accurate listing of all the congressional representatives for your city/county. For example in San Diego we have a total of five congressional representatives. Information to include in the listing is such things as the Washington DC office address and all the staff that report to the congress person. Make sure that the spelling of the names is accurate. Include their titles and get to know the staff so that you can freely communicate with them. Make the same type listing for the local office and include telephone numbers and email and fax numbers. It is important that the information is periodically updated so that you have the ability to contact the right person at the right time.
3. Set a goal as to how often you want to visit your congress people. For example, we meet at least once a year with each of our representatives.
4. Contact your first representative and make an appointment to visit with them. Determine how much time they will allocate to you. Typically it is one half hour to forty five minutes.
5. Develop an agenda and include in the agenda the deliverables you want from your representative. It is not enough to simply provide your opinion on a subject and then leave. You should indicate the importance of the issue and than specifically tell them what action you want them to take.
6. Follow up with a thank you letter and indicate that you will follow up with them to determine what action they have taken. In most cases they will “blow you off” and not respond to your calls or emails. You must be persistent and let them know that you will not go away until they give you a decision regarding your requests.
1. Research their voting record and come prepared to discuss those areas that concern you.
2. Narrow the discussion down to one or two topics.
3. Leave the congress people with what I call leave behind material. It should further explain the points that you made at the meeting and state what specifically you want them to do.
4. Make every attempt to keep the environment cordial. No sense making enemies.
5. Have a written agenda and list all attendees, both your organization and the congress person and his staff.
6. Those members assigned to speak should display brevity. Encourage them to practice before the actual meeting to ensure that they don’t go over their allotted time.
7. Encourage feedback. Don’t allow the congress person or his staff to go mute.
8. Keep the verbiage and visual aids down to a minimum.
Here is some important information that will help you get started:
If you don’t know who your representative is and it can get tricky with the new redistricting that is going on you can call the capital switchboard at 1-202-224-3121. You will get a live person and they will ask you to provide them with your zip code. Be prepared to give them the 9 digit zip code. With this information they will tell you who your representative is and will immediately put you in touch with their office.
If you want to know how your representative is voting on the important issues simply go into the internet under “mega voting” and you will be informed of the current bill being pushed through congress and how your representative is voting on each of the issues.
Keep in mind that “they work for us” rather than us working for them. Be persistent because most of them unfortunately are representing “other interests” and most often their interests do not match your needs and expectations.
Grace Paley, a short story writer said the following: “One of the strange things about our democracy is that people don’t use it.”
Please join us and you will discover that we are not one of the people that Ms. Paley refers to.