While members of Congress spend a lot of their time in Washington, DC, they’re keenly interested in the thoughts and opinions of their constituents back home.
One way lawmakers get a pulse on what constituents are thinking is to hold town hall meetings when they return to their districts during a Congressional recess. This gives lawmakers and constituents alike a direct line to make their voices heard.
To see if there’s a town hall scheduled in your district, visit the websites, check the social media accounts, or call the local offices of your Senators and Representative. You might also sign up for their newsletters or emails to get regular updates on their activities. Visit our Action Center to look up the contact information for your members of Congress. Another resource is this list of local Congressional events.
If you’ve never attended a town hall meeting before, it might feel a bit intimidating. Here are some tips to help, courtesy of Knowlegis.
- Be prepared.
Have thoughtful arguments, specific points, good data, and a clear agenda.
- Bring your personal stories.
You want to be remembered. They always want to hear your story, whether or not they will act upon it. Think about how the specific policy will affect you, your family, and your community. Limit your story to about 2 minutes and make it genuine and from the heart. Explain why the issue is so important to you personally and how it can make a difference for you and others like you.
- Use numbers if you can.
Often, you represent more than one person. You can be part of a company, advocacy group, or union—just say the number that you are one of. There is strength in numbers, and legislators are always looking for more numbers to vote them back into office.
- Be respectful.
People often show up to these town hall meetings with a sense of entitlement to be heard. While this may be true, it will not help you be remembered in a good way unless you are very respectful to the legislator and his or her staff members.
- Go in groups.
If you show some kind of coalition force, you’re more like a force to be reckoned with. It’s hard for a legislator to ignore a mass of like-minded people with the same agenda. Build a support group of people who are also interested in attending the meeting.
- Find staff members.
They will be there. Find them beforehand, talk to them, and make sure you tell your story.
- Leave paper.
Leave something (talking points, etc.) that can be faxed or sent back to Washington. Staff members at town hall meetings aren’t always directly connected to Washington, so it’s a safe bet to leave something that can forwarded to the legislative assistant specific to your cause.
- Follow up and be polite.
Reinforce your presence and comments by following up after a town hall meeting with a phone call or email to the congressman’s office. And remember, always be polite. It always helps.
- Show that you’re not going away.
Keep showing up to town hall meetings, keep displaying interest. It will be hard for you to be ignored if you stick with it and make your interest known persistently.
If you attend a town hall event, please take a moment to tell us how it went. Your response will help us track our public policy and advocacy efforts.