In Unit 8 we discussed the thought process into scheduling a legislative visit. Now you’ve got your ideas, your time slot, you’re all ready to go. And now you might be getting more nervous! For some people, this is really out of their comfort zone. I’m hear to assist you with that and reassure you…these staffers and legislators do this all day, every day. No reason to be nervous, they are expecting you to do this.
Reviewing your Planning (formal, scheduled visit)
First, review your planning. Have your date and time scheduled. I always send another confirmation email 24-48 hours before I am going.
Look at walking maps (particularly if you are going to state capitol or DC) as they are huge compounds of office buildings. Know where to park. Know where the handicapped entrance is if you need it. Expect to go through a security checkpoint and screening. Depending on your timing, know if you need to pack a lunch or snacks (especially if you are bringing kids!) and check the weather reports for that city. TRUST ME, there is nothing calming about waking up in DC to a few inches of snow and having to push 100+ lbs of kid and stroller up Capitol Hill. Not that there is anything I could have done about it, but I likely would have been calmer if I had known that the snow was coming.
Give yourself plenty of time for traffic, missed trains, getting lost and bathroom breaks.
For State Capitols and DC, just judging by seeing Harrisburg and DC, I would say, give yourself one hour for each visit. Not that they will schedule you for an hour, but give yourself an hour. Walking from a House to a Senate building can be 1/4 to 1/2 mile or more, and you also want to have time to go to the bathroom in between, change a diaper, regroup, etc. You also don’t want to be a sweaty mess and have to run (been there, done that, not fun!) because you scheduled your train too close and it was late. It is much better to have a little extra time to horse around, check your phone, enjoy the scenery, post to Instagram, than to be jogging to your next visit. And if I am going to the Capitol, I will plan to see as many legislators as I can since I am there.
What to wear to a legislative visit
Many groups and non-profits have t-shirts or scarves for people to wear. It’s up to you the message you are trying to send. I have had many staffers compliment me on my visits, as far as being just an “ordinary citizen” coming in to visit. They do grow weary of the groups, both paid and upaid, who are totally coached and rehearsed and all regurgitate the same message. But I also recognize that there is strength in numbers, and showing numbers isn’t a bad idea. You have to decide what you want to do.
Other options are lapel pins or pins you can put on a tote bag, or a tote bag with a logo on it, if you are representing a group.
My kids have t-shirts that say “One day I will vote” and they wear them to the visits. Mom’s rule, not up for discussion! I just keep buying them in bigger sizes every time I go to DC.
But for the most part, I’d say business casual, with more of an emphasis on business than casual. Washington DC and most northern capitol cities are still pretty formal–most men wear jackets and ties every day. Wear something professional, comfortable and something that you know you look good in so you are confident. You may or may not be asked to pose for a picture, so keep that in mind too. No hoochie-mama outfits and tattered stuff, even if it is trendy.
Wear comfortable shoes! These days entail a LOT of walking.
Arriving at the office
Assuming that you arrive at your building with time to spare, do not enter the office more than 15 minutes early. The waiting areas for some offices are surprisingly small and they often have back to back appointments scheduled. You don’t want to make them nervous or uncomfortable by being in their waiting area for 20 or 30 minutes or more. If you are too early, use the restroom, weather permitting sit on a bench outside or wait in a more centralized larger lobby area.
When you do arrive, just walk up to the counter and announce who you are and your scheduled time. Have the staffer’s name memorized or handy so that you can tell them who you are meeting, not just “Oh, uh, I don’t know…the education staff person?” Know the name!
You’ll be led into a meeting room of some point. Introductions first, and then either they will say, “So what did you want to discuss today?” or you just say, “Here are the concerns I wanted Senator so-and-so to know.” And go through your list. You should only have 3-4 main items, no more. You don’t want to overwhelm them with a litany of complaints. Also, again, make sure that some of it is still actionable. It’s perfectly fine to say “And I was disappointed that Senator So-and-so voted yes for XYZ legislation…” But what you don’t want to do is give them a whole list of things they should have done, instead of things they still can do.
How will they respond?
This is why the earlier units on learning about your legislators and their history and positions is important. I know which of my legislators’ office visits are just going to be a big love-fest because we’re all on the same page. And I know which ones are not. Some of those staffers just politely nod and take notes, some push back, restating their boss’s positions. It can go either way. I was told, “Well, you know Senator Toomey supports school choice…” when I voiced some concerns.
That’s ok–this isn’t about starting an argument. I then politely listed all the reasons I do not support school choice in it’s current format and why I feel reforms are necessary. He took notes, and that was it. As you make more visits, you will learn which visits you can expect some pushback, which ones just nod and take notes, and which ones are the lovefests. It’s about building those relationships.
I was trained to always have a leave-behind for a legislative visit. But, in life there are no absolutes, so if you don’t have one, don’t fret it and don’t let it preclude you from doing the visit.
A leave behind is a small token-rubber bracelet, card, note, bumper sticker…something to leave behind to reinforce your message. I have little patriotic sneakers on key rings (shoes for A Day in our Shoes, get it?) and then to the keyring I either attach my business card (hole punch in corner) or a small note card with my main talking points. Try to think of something small, fun, cute, that reinforces who you are or your message.
There’s a website where you can purchase little plush stuffed animals, except that they are germs or diseases. It’s pretty cute, actually. So one time for Shot at Life we left behind little plush Polio viruses and this year they left measles. Polio is no laughing matter, but it helps break the ice to hand someone a stuffed animal and say, “here, we’re giving you polio.” Drawings and notes written by kids is a good idea too. And always have your contact information with it. Think of it this way–if measles hits your area and your local politician wants to speak with some moms, he’s going to go back to that plush measles virus and see if he has anyone who can do it, right? Building relationships and establishing yourself as the go-to person for that cause…it all intertwines.
And that’s it. You get there, you speak, you leave your leave-behind and then you either go home, go sight-seeing or go to your next visit. Next up: following up, and….kids or no kids?