The US Congress takes frequent recesses and is often criticized for what is perceived to be a part time working schedule, with the House reporting for duty about one of every 3 days a year and the Senate meeting only slightly more often.
But this part time schedule is actually designed to allow members to maximize their time in the district, where they are supposed to spend the balance of their time meeting with constituents. As constituents, we should take full advantage of the recess calendar to build meaningful relationships with our federal representatives. The following is a list of ways to connect with your member of Congress during recess periods and while Congress is in session.
- Know Who Represents You. The first step in establishing a relationship with your elected representatives is to know who they are and how to reach them. You can look up your member and find their offices’ contact information here: https://whoismyrepresentative.com/
- Call their office. Generally speaking, this might be the easiest but is also the least effective method of communication. Calls into members’ offices get logged as a position for or against a particular issue. There are no supporting arguments relayed with your position and you will not get a response from the member. The only time that calls into offices work is if they are done in mass, potentially encouraging a member who is on the fence.
- Write them letters/ emails. For the activist with limited time, a letter or email can be very effective, especially if you have a unique story to tell. When writing your letter, be sure to let your representative know you are an employer in his or her district and that a vote they are about to take not only affects your ability to run a successful business, but also effects your employees. If appropriate, ask your employees to send letters of their own. Some Congressional offices have a policy to respond to all received correspondence. The response is almost always drafted by a staff member but includes language that is approved by the member.
- Meet with their staff in the district. When I worked in the state offices for Senator Cornyn, we met with constituents all the time. They came to our office; we attended their events; we got to know them. These are the people we would often proactively call for their opinion on a topic. They became opinion leaders for us in their particular field. We would report back to the Senator the perspectives of the business owners, law enforcement, teachers, etc. back in the state.
- Attend events. When you know that a Congressional recess is approaching, call the member’s office and ask if they have any public events you can attend. Unfortunately, because the political climate has gotten so hostile, the public town hall meeting has become a thing of the past. But if you get to know the staff, they will likely be more forthcoming with you. Conversely, if you’re a member of an association or chamber of commerce, ask them to invite your member to speak to your group. Or, invite the member to visit your business and meet your employees.
- Engage the members on social media. Have an issue that’s important to you? Share an article on the topic and tag your member of Congress. If they’ve already voted for or indicated support for your issue, be sure to thank them for doing so. If you don’t know, just ask in your tweet.
- Help the campaign. If you are inclined, attend a fundraiser or volunteer for your member’s campaign. You’ll have to go to the member’s campaign website to get involved politically. That information can usually be found by Googling “John Smith for Congress” or “Jane Doe for Senate.”