The abridged August recess has arrived. Washington D.C. is a ghost town, as Congressional representatives return home to “work” in their states. This doesn’t mean you have to put your advocacy work on hold. Here’s how to make the most of congressional events in your area.
1. Scour available events.
Confrontations with protesters have become commonplace for Republicans returning home to discuss the repeal of Obamacare. In response, lots of them have ducked the town hall circuit entirely. But some of the more brave/masochistic members of the GOP are still going out there to gab with constituents. The crowd-sourced Town Hall Project is the best resource out there to see a comprehensive list of events.
Don’t see any local events there? Check the calendar of events on your member of congress’ website and social media channels. If nothing is listed there, give his or her office a call and ask for a schedule of public events.
2. Do your homework.
Review the details of an event online before you attend in person. This will allow you to better tailor your remarks to the event’s format, topic, and audience. Generally speaking, the smaller the gathering; the more informal the Q&A format will be. In larger settings (which tend to be the norm nowadays) questions and comments are sometimes screened in advance.
3. Ask the right question.
Launching into a political diatribe *might* make you into a viral sensation (like this 16-year-old girl who slayed Senator Jeff Flake (R – Az.) over women’s health care issues). But it also runs the risk of getting your message stepped on.
A safer strategy is to ask a pointed question that presses our elected officials on their policies and embeds your argument. For example:
- How do you plan to fund the changes you’ve proposed to the Affordable Care Act so that our children won’t have to foot the bill?
- With corporate profits at an all-time high and the rich in this country continuing to get richer, do you think middle class families can afford another tax cut for the wealthiest Americans?
To make sure your mic isn’t cut, another good strategy is to weave your personal experience – or the biography of your representative – into your question or comment. Take like the pediatrician of Sen. Jerry Moran (R – Ka.), who confronted the Senator about shortcomings in the legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
4. Get social.
If a town hall happens in the forest, and no one tweets about it is, does it make a sound? Perhaps. But promoting your advocacy message on social media can dramatically increase the number of people who see it.
Come to any local event prepared with Facebook and Twitter downloaded on your phone, and a full cell phone battery. Also make yourself a cheat sheet of your elected’s social media accounts so you can easily tag him or her. For Twitter, note any popular hashtags around your issue.
Bring a buddy to record your interaction on a cell phone camera. This will ensure that you have video and audio snippets to share it with a wider audience.
5. No events with electeds in your area? Put on a different kind of show.
Clint Eastwood may have popularized the idea of confronting political opponents via empty chair. But the Left has now institutionalized it. “Empty chair” and cardboard cutout town halls are now a mainstay of local activist efforts.
Representative Devin Nunes is a no-show at his Fresno town hall event so voters question a cardboard cutout of him. pic.twitter.com/fq9rVIX9pK
— Mike Sington (@MikeSington) June 1, 2017
Run out of cardboard? There are even more ways to confront elected officials who go AWOL:
- The Indivisible Guide publishes a Missing Members of Congress Action Plan, which includes ideas, like posting “Missing” signs around congressional offices, high traffic areas (local squares, parks, stadiums, etc), and social media.
- The Bernie Sanders-inspired Our Revolution oversees a large database of local organizing events, sit ins (or “die ins” for repeal efforts around the Affordable Care Act), and other grassroots efforts.
Remember: Advocacy organizations are your friend.
You are far from alone in this effort. Many groups publish toolkits, newsletters, and other resources designed that will arm you for these kinds of events. One recent favorite is the #ProtectOurCare toolkit from Families USA. But these kinds of prep materials are virtually limitless. So follow your favorite organizations, get out there, and put those congressional representatives to work – while you still can.