Visit Members of Congress
If feasible, you may want to request a meeting with your member of Congress:
- Find your Congressional District and contact information.
- Send a fax or e-mail to the scheduler requesting a meeting:
- Include the date and time of day you will be available to meet with the member, but be flexible about scheduling your visit because members of Congress have busy calendars
- Offer to meet with a staff member if the member of Congress is not available (i.e., a Legislative Assistant)
- Include the issue you would like to discuss (Freedom of Information Act reform, for example)
- Provide a phone number and/or e-mail address where the scheduler can reach you.
- Follow up with a phone call in one week’s time if you have not heard back from the congressional office.
- When the meeting is scheduled, find accurate information as to the physical location for your legislator’s office.
- Be on time for the meeting. Staff in most Capitol Hill and district offices are busy and work on tight schedules. Remember that their time is valuable.
- Establish a rapport. After introductions and handshakes, talk about things or relationships you might have in common. A little bit of research can pay off, so find out all you can about your members of Congress. For instance, maybe you have a mutual friend, or perhaps you both went to the same elementary school. Thank your senator or representative for all that he or she does on Capitol Hill to represent your state or district.
- If several people will attend the meeting, select a spokesperson. If everyone there will have a role, select one person to move the meeting along in a timely manner.
- State your purpose. For example, you might say, “Congressman Lee, we are here to talk with you about hearings on the long-term effects of COINTELPRO. Specifically, we would like to have your support for hearings on the ‘Reign of Terror’ on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in the early 1970s.”
- Make the issue real. Legislators are people; they are sympathetic to stories about real people. For example, humanize Leonard Peltier by telling the member a little bit about Peltier, the man. If not speaking from personal experience, personalize the events on the Pine Ridge Reservation during the 1970s by sharing published stories. Offer the member a copy of “Incident at Oglala” for viewing or a copy of Peter Matthiessen’s book, In the Spirit of Crazy Horse.
- Paint the little picture, but also the big picture. After you discuss how the issue has affected you, talk about the millions of Peltier supporters worldwide. Include names of congresspersons who currently support or have supported Leonard Peltier in the past, as well as mentioning specific celebrities, dignitaries, and luminaries who also support Peltier. You should also mention the legislative bodies around the world who have passed resolutions in support of Peltier (e.g., the European Parliament, Belgium Parliament, and more).
- Make a clear request. Tell your member of Congress exactly what you would like him or her to do, and do not leave without learning the legislator’s position on your issue. For example, you might say that you would like your legislator to sign a letter in support of clemency for Leonard Peltier. Then, ask the member or their staff to outline the legislator’s current position.
- Very soon after the meeting, write a thank you letter to your member for taking the time to visit with you.
It’s common for some congressional members to view the Peltier case as history and unimportant to today’s world. Don’t be dissuaded by this. Instead, use some creativity to make the Peltier case current and important in light of the issues of the day, as well as the political landscape in Washington, DC. Monitor congressional actions, debates, proposed Bills, etc. Pay attention to current events. Use the opportunities presented to you to couch your comments and concerns about the Peltier case in such a way that they compliment your member’s legislative priorities. You can identify those priorities by visiting your representative’s or senators’ Web sites.
A political party’s legislative agenda can change quickly. Your concerns may become forgotten in the fray. Therefore, a congressional contact—whether by phone, letter, and/or face-to-face—should be approached as an ongoing endeavor. Send follow up letters, place additional calls, and plan more congressional visits so as to keep your issue of concern before your representative and senators.