With August upon us, capitol buildings across the nation are starting to empty as lawmakers in Washington and state capitals head back to their districts. Smart advocacy organizations will follow them home.
Reaching lawmakers in their district, when they are free of the hustle that comes with a session, is a solid opportunity for organizations that want a more serious discussion of policy and issues. Lawmakers simply have more time.
“Any district work period is a great time to connect with legislators and staff when they aren’t as busy,” said Bethany Dame, senior director of political engagement, advocacy and grassroots at the American Property Casualty Insurance Association (APCIA). “Your voice can be just a little bit louder in the district.”
How to effectively communicate with lawmakers outside the session was the topic of Phone2Action’s latest free webinar, which covered strategy and tactics for making the most of the summer doldrums.
Dame was joined on a panel by Stephanie Shweiki, a marketing specialist in the advocacy space; Sara Lasure, communications director for Senator John Boozman (R-AR); and Martyn Griffen, a customer success manager at Phone2Action and former House staffer.
Take Advantage of the Slowdown
Whether in Congress or a state legislature, the time spent in session is frantic. Meetings, votes and hearings jam the schedule. “It’s really about being pulled in many different directions all at one time,” Lasure said. “It’s not a nine-to-five job. It’s really a breakfast to dinner and beyond role.”
Lawmakers will always make an attempt to meet with constituents, but they have limited resources to do so. As Griffen described it, “every single 30-minute block of time was accounted for.”
Yet that changes dramatically when lawmakers head back to the district. Most will take some time off and then shift their focus almost entirely to communicating with the people they represent.
“They’re going to be traveling around the state talking with their constituents, whether that means tours of manufacturers or meeting with constituents in the office, or hosting office hours and mobile office hours in a town hall type format,” Lasure said. “They are really out and about in the state.”
Create a Local Event
While there are many ways to get a lawmaker’s attention, one effective strategy is to invite them to visit your facility. A manufacturing company, for example, might invite a lawmaker to tour a factory. An association can invite a lawmaker to the office.
“It could be as simple as inviting them to your office location and providing them with a chance to sit down with 20 employees and share what’s happening in Congress and give those employees the chance to ask questions,” Dame said. “Ideally, you’ll have talked to them beforehand about the issues that matter to your company and where the legislator stands on those issues, so they can have a good conversation.”
Lasure said invitations like this are often welcomed by lawmakers, who are eager to speak with large groups of constituents. “When an event is organized by an outside group that comes with a built-in audience, that is key,” she said. “That’s what the members want to do. They want to talk with a lot of people all at once … the bigger your audience, the better.”
National organizations can help state and local affiliates create these events by providing sample materials. A sample invitation letter to send to lawmakers, a list of talking points and policy guidance, a sample press release and other materials can make it easier for state organizations to organize.
Combining these events with grassroots advocacy that encourages constituents to contact their lawmakers and reinforce your organization’s message can also be extremely effective.
“We’re definitely seeing an increase in events being coordinated outside of Washington,” Shweiki said. “It’s a great way for anyone looking to advocate on a particular issue to connect more directly.”
Of course, there are many tactics that advocacy organizations use to advocate when lawmakers are in their districts, from paid advertising and to targeted social campaigns. To learn more, watch the Phone2Action webinar.
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