Getting to know who your representatives are is the first step toward communicating with them in a way that is impactful. Listen to them speak, ask them questions, track how they vote. Understand your representatives positions and how they speak about the issues so you can learn to craft messages to them that they can hear. Building a personal relationship with your representatives (and with their staffers) is even better, as it leads to a long-term ability to present data and opinions on issues. But these relationships need to be built with care, respect and patience. Remember, your representatives are people too. If they are approached with civility and respect they will be willing to listen to your viewpoints. If they are approached in anger and insult, they may never care to listen to you again. Initiate a relationship with your officials as you would with anyone else. Engage in friendly conversation. Focus on what you have in common. Respect their time. Leave them with a simple one-sheet of good data or a strong personal story about an issue that matters to you.
Here are some tips for how to get to know your representatives at the congressional, state and municipal level.
- Go to town halls. This is a great way to learn where your representatives stand on the issues, how they talk about the issues, arguments they make to counter your viewpoint, places where their knowledge base may be thin and so on. It’s also a great place to meet their staffers and engage in friendly conversations that can lead to important meetings in the future between you and the staff or the representative him or herself. Check out our 12 TIPS for Town Halls for more information.
- Try to meet with your congressional representative. Call your representative’s office to schedule a meeting. If your representative is unavailable, meet with a staff member. Use the opportunity to build a good relationship while discussing your questions, concerns or ideas so that you can contact them again to talk about important issues. Find out who your congressional representatives are and how to contact them by clicking here.
- Get to know these great tools. Several apps and websites can help you navigate the congressional session, track how your congressional representatives vote and help you contact them with your feedback. Countable.us shows you what votes are coming up each week and helps you contact your Members of Congress (MOCs) BEFORE the vote. VoteSpotter lets you know how your MOCs voted and helps you contact them with your feedback AFTER the vote. GovTrack.us provides information and status of bills in Congress and sends you alerts about bills coming up for a vote or changing in status. Plus the site provides voting track records on each congressional representative. CallMyCongress.com is a tool to help you easily call your MOCs, WriteToCongress.org allows you to choose from a list of pre-written letters to send to any of your MOCs, and Resistbot allows you to send a fax to your MOCs by sending a simple text through their system.
- Get to know your state legislators. During the 45-day state legislative session (January-March), legislators may have limited time to meet with constituents, though some are willing to set a side a few moments for a meeting on a specific issue pertinent to the session. After the state legislative session is finished, however, our state legislators return to their daily lives as doctors, lawyers, ranchers and so on, and have more availability to hear from their constituents about your questions, concerns and offerings of helpful information, personal stories and data about issues that matter to you. Reach out to your legislators and have a nice phone call, meet up for an ice cream, bake them some cookies or schedule a meeting so you can get to know your legislator and they can get to know you. Remember, always be polite, look for things you have in common, find ways to build bridges if your opinions differ, and look to come out of your meeting having built a relationship with your legislator you can rely on the next time you want to reach them about an important issue. Find out who your state representative and state senator are and how to reach them by clicking here.
- Check how your legislators voted on the issues that mattered most to you. The state legislative website is a great resource for finding out all about bills that are requested, debated, passed or failed, and funded in the State Capitol. In each bill’s status is a list of votes take on that bill. Check the “3rd reading” (final) House and Senate votes to find out how your state representative and state senator voted on a bill that matters to you. Don’t know what bills to check? Try using this list of bills Action Utah prioritized this legislative session. Then contact your legislators to thank them for supporting good bills, or hold them accountable for supporting bad bills or failing to support issues that matter to you.
CITY AND COUNTY LEVEL:
- Find your City and County offices. This may sound simple, but many people don’t know where their local government meets or how to reach them. Do a simple search online or use CountyOffice.org to find county office info.
- Find out who your local government officials are. Use this great tool from vote.utah.gov or this tool from the League of Women Voters to find out who your state and local legislators are and how to contact them. Simply enter your complete address.
- Learn the best way to contact your city or county council. Rules, ordinances and laws are passed at the city and county levels as well. Call your local city or county council’s general number and ask them if they prefer calls or emails from constituents on specific issues (all cities are different). Also ask how you can participate in the legislative process by adding agenda items to city council meetings, attending meetings and speaking up before the council.
- Find out when your city and council will be meeting. Local websites can be useful sources of this information, but sometimes the best way to find out when councils will meet and what the agenda will be is by calling the general number. You can also check out Voterheads to get notifications about some local city and county meetings. You can use the “free” option to find the date, time, location, and agenda of local city meetings.