Meeting in person with an elected official or their legislative staff can be super effective if you follow a few simple tips:
Before the meeting:
Make an appointment. Contact the legislator’s scheduler well in advance. You should ask for a meeting with your senator, although it’s very likely that the senator won’t be available. That’s ok–it’s very worthwhile to meet with legislative staff.
You can find scheduler information online, or just call the office and ask for the scheduler. Ideally, you’d have this meeting scheduled a week or more ahead of time. But even if you only have a few days, you should call to let them know who you are, who will be attending the meeting, and the reason for your meeting. That will help them be prepared, as well.
Recruit. Invite friends or other organizations in your area who have a stake in affordable health care to join you. The ideal number of people in attendance is between 2-5.
Collect your thoughts on the issue. Look over the talking points below and think about any personal anecdotes you or your peers want to share.
Practice. Meet with the group who is going and decide who is going to say what during the meeting and what questions you want answered. Preparation is best in person, but if necessary you could do it via phone.
During the meeting:
Stay on message. It can be tempting to talk about lots of issues, but you’re more likely to get good results if you stay focused on the Affordable Care Act, and keep it personal–your senator wants to hear how this issue affects you
Make a clear ask. At some point in the meeting (probably near the end), make a firm ask, “Will Senator [X] pledge to oppose any attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act or any of its provisions?” If you’re talking to a legislative staffer, they may not be able to answer right away. Let them know you will follow up.
After the meeting:
Say thank you. Send a thank you note via email that repeats your ask and message about protecting the Affordable Care Act.
Follow up. Odds are good that you won’t get a clear answer during your meeting, so make sure you check in a week later to get a firm answer. Not following up on your commitment can result in losing credibility.
A few other tips:
Build a relationship with your senator’s staff. Staff members have a lot of sway over what issues are communicated to your senator and how they are communicated. It’s worth it to spend some extra time getting to know this person. Also, you may work with them for many months or even years!
Ditch partisanship. Whether you generally agree with your senator (or their party) or not, try to keep the conversation away from party politics and on the issue at hand. The Affordable Care Act provides health care for people regardless of party affiliation.
Tell your story. Statistics have their place, but personal stories from constituents go a long way towards moving elected officials to action.
It’s ok not to know everything. You should do your homework, but it’s ok if you are asked a question you don’t know the answer to. Just say you don’t know and direct the conversation back to your personal concerns and what you DO know, which is that the ACA makes insurance affordable for 25 million people and includes many popular provisions. After the meeting, you can look it up anything you didn’t know and follow up.
Give yourself lots of time on the day. Meet your group early and at a location other than the senator’s office so you can arrive all together ready to go. You could also ask everyone to wear purple so you can find each other more easily if you haven’t met in person before!