6 Ways to Make the Most of a Congressional Recess

July 29, 2013

Every August, Congress goes on recess. Returning to their home stomping grounds to connect with constituents, elected officials often spend their recesses in town halls, forums and in-person meetings with local constituents who find Congress hard to reach while in Washington. 

Congressional recesses are a critical time for advocates to get up close and personal with lawmakers and to help present issues in a new light.

There's a lot you can do for your advocacy when your elected official is in town. The best ways to connect with your senator or representative during recess is to give yourself the opportunity to speak face-to-face with your official. You can do that by attending and asking the right questions and public forums and town halls, and by scheduling an in-peson lobby meeting with your senators and representatives. 

Why is this important? Congressional staff report that face-to-face lobby meetings have the biggest impact of any advocacy strategy on members of Congress. If you can't get to D.C. on a regular basis to speak with your official, the recess is your time to take charge

Before you get started, do your research: Find out how your Congressperson has voted on the issues that are important to you in the past so you can prepare the best resources and talking points for your conversation. Plus, be sure to have some clear, convincing materials on your topic to leave with your Congressperson..

Talking directly to your official can be intmidating. Not sure where to start? Below are six toolkits and guides to help arm you with the right approach, questions and attitudes to make a difference.
 

  1. August Recess Planning Field Guide (PDF)
    This resource from the Coalition on Human Needs includes step-by-step suggestions on how to get started. It includes sample meeting request templates, important questions and key leave-behind materials on human needs and poverty in the U.S.

     

  2. The Activist Toolkit: Developing the Skills to Become a Trained Citizen Advocate
    The activist toolkit by RESULTS is a step-by-step guide to introduce yourself, new volunteers, and other community activists to concrete actions you can take to develop skills as effective citizen activists. They provide the tools necessary to achieve success as an advocate and as a group.  This toolkit includes two particularly relevant milestone guides: How to ask the best questions at a Town Hall meeting and meeting face-to-face with Congress.
     
  3. How to Ask Questions that Make a Difference
    This how-to piece was published by YES! magazine during the 2012 election and was aimed towards talking to political candidates, but it has includes very solid and specific advice on how to get noticed with good questions at a town-hall or forum for any political figure.
     

  4. Toolkit for Early Care and Education Advocacy
    With the Obama administration's particular focus on early education in his last term, the Five Years Fund compiled this toolkit of resources, questions and guide specific to issues related to early care and learning including pre-k and Head Start access, home visits and evaluations, child care and more.
     

  5. Communicating with Congress: How to be an Effective Citizen-Advocate
    Research from the Congressional Management Foundation shows what kinds of communication with Congress is the most effective. Keep this data in mind as you leverage your efforts for the August recess and plan for you follow-up for the Fall.
     

  6. Send a Message Anytime
    Can't make it to a town hall or in-person meeting during a Congressional recess? You can send a note to your elected official any time using this zip code-activated messaging tool. Just enter your zip code, write your message and hit send, and your note will go straight to the offices of your elected official. Act now!

 

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