Tuesday, August 8, 2017

How to advocate in Congress

At Sunday’s forum, Susan Forsburg (whose weekday job is professor of molecular biology) described how she works with one of her professional societies to advocate Congress for science funding, including trips to Washington, DC to meet with Congressional representatives.

Here’s Susan’s list of ways to advocate for issues that you care about.  It is essential you let them know what you think--Congresspeople are responsive to their district constituents.   It’s just as important to let your Rep know you are happy with his/her votes and stands on the issues, as it is to try to persuade them to change. They need to hear from you even if you know they are voting as you wish.

1) Call your representative! The telephone is the most effective way to let them know what you think. Of course, it can be hard to get through, but keep trying!  And don’t forget to contact the local office, which is often easier to reach than the Washington office. The Senators both have offices in the major cities throughout California. Representatives have one or two offices depending on the size of their district.

 Not sure who your representative is? You can look up your district by zip code. https://www.house.gov/representatives/find/

To get you started, here are some telephone numbers.  Be prepared to identify yourself and provide your address and contact information.  But don't bother to call reps other than your own--if you don't live in their district, they aren't interested in hearing from you.

  • Senator Dianne Feinstein     DC: (202) 224-3841     local (619) 231-9712
  • Senator Kamala Harris    DC: (202) 224-3553   local (619) 239-3884
  • Rep Susan Davis     DC: (202) 225-2040   local (619) 280-5353
  • Rep Duncan Hunter     DC: (202) 225-5672   local (619) 448-5201
  • Rep Darryl Issa     DC: (202) 225- 3906   local (760) 599-5000
  • Rep Scott Peters     DC: (202) 225-0508   local (858) 455-5550
  • Rep Juan Vargas:     DC:  (202) 225-8045   local (619) 422-5963

2) If you can’t call, fax or stamped mail is the next best. Email is much less effective (unless it is part of a huge blast) and those online petitions have very little effect than to give other people your email address.

3) Visit your Representative or their staff, either locally, or if you are in Washington. You can stop in on the spur of the moment, but that is less effective than calling for an appointment. Ideally, you will be able to meet with a more senior staff person and not just the receptionist. Prepare for the meeting so that you are most effective in the limited time.

  • Research your representative’s record, so that you know where they stand. They all have web pages at house.gov or senate.gov that describe their positions. Are they on a committee that has a direct vote on your issue of concern?
  • Be clear what you want your Rep to do. Share your story.  
  • Provide materials that may bolster your position, or help them make the argument. Keep them short and to the point.
  • Follow up with a thank you note or email, and provide further information if needed.
  • Stay in touch!
If you do visit Congress, you will go through a metal detector to enter the House or Senate office buildings, but they are open!   No demonstrations or signs are allowed in the  office buildings, and neat professional dress is best.  Your Senator or Rep's office can also give you passes for the Gallery above the House or Senate chamber in the Capitol building (you can just stop in for those) but be prepared for a long line if you want to visit the Gallery.  

4) Attend town halls when your Representative is in the district.

5) Educate others in your cause and recruit them to go with you!  There’s power in numbers!  Write letters to the press and use social media to stay in touch with your member

There’s a saying: if we want better government, we need to be better citizens.  Don't be a silent majority--get active!

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