In-District Meetings: an Offline Tool for Defending Your Online Rights
In the EFF Action Center, we provide you tools to defend online civil liberties. But if you really want to make a difference, one of the best things you can do is have an in-district meeting with your Congressional representative.
In fact, Congress is on recess this week and again at the end of April. That means now is the optimal time to contact your elected official for an in-district meeting to emphasize the importance of PATRIOT Act reforms.
What's an in-district meeting?
Senators and Representatives don't spend all their time in Washington; they also head home to visit with their families and constituents. This happens frequently -- in fact, Congress is only in D.C. about 137 days per year. When they aren't in D.C., they're at home - and you can go visit them! You can either schedule a meeting with your elected leaders in person or engage them in a public event, like a town hall meeting or fundraising event.
When can I catch my Senators and Representative at home?
Why do in-district meetings matter?
Congressional representatives care about what their constituents have to say; after all, constituents are their bosses! And in-district meetings are particularly important. Every in-person meeting has an exponentially bigger impact than a letter or email. It engages them in a way no other form of communication can.
How do I schedule an in-district meeting?
There are two ways to meet your representatives in person. The first way is to find a public event during which they'll be taking questions from the audience. Alternatively, you can schedule an in-person meeting, which means you should:
- Find out who schedules in-district meetings. You need to request the meeting. Meeting with a representative is great, but meeting with a staffer is also good. You'll want to call the member's office in D.C. (try the switchboard at 202-224-3121 or look the number up here) and find out who handles scheduling of in-district meetings.
- Send the scheduler a letter. Address the letter to the person from step one. The best way to do this is faxing the letter (use directories services here or here), but you can also try mailing a letter. (Don't have a fax machine? Look at some options by doing an Internet search for an email-to-fax service.) Explain in your letter that you are a constituent and describe what issue concerns you (try to mention the bill number, if possible). It's also helpful to mention specific dates you'd like to meet.
- Confirm the recipient got the letter and then follow up. Be persistent! Every moment you spend on this is worth it. It generally takes just a few phone calls and emails to get this settled.
- Confirm the meeting. Double-check that you have the right address, and be on time – or, even better, a few minutes early! Meetings in Congressional offices are tightly scheduled and you don’t want to waste a minute by being late.
- Bring friends who care about the issue!The more concerned citizens your elected official sees, the better. Feel free to contact EFF if you are scheduling a meeting, and we'll see if other EFF members or readers would like to accompany you.
- Have a great meeting with your elected official. Wear professional business attire. Bring a one-page explanation of your concerns and/or relevant materials from EFF's site. Be clear and polite in your concerns, and emphasize that you'd like them to represent your concerns on the Hill. See more tips here.
- Send a follow-up note. Thank your representative for taking the time to meet you and remind them what your concerns were.
Remember: be persistent! This meeting is worth every moment of time you put into it!
But....that seems like a lot of effort. Can't I just tweet about it?
We want you to tweet. Tweet, post to Facebook, send emails, make videos, write editorials to your local newspapers, talk to your friends -- it all helps. But when it comes to changing the opinions of your Congressional representatives, there's nothing like an in-district meeting.
If you are passionate about digital rights, then taking the time to attend an in-district meeting can be the best way to advocate for these rights.
But I'm nobody special. Why would they listen to me?
Au contraire! You are a taxpayer and a constituent! You are the reason these elected officials are in office -- you are the boss.
Let us know about the meeting!
If you are going to meet with a representative, then please let us know! Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. We'll be happy to help you formulate your arguments and we'd love to hear how it went.