by Caroline Selle, St. Mary's College of Maryland, HYATTSVILLE, MD
Are you not much of a politics person? Do you think lobbying is kind of a waste of time? So did I. Honestly, I thought the whole thing was kind of silly until the first time I went to my representative’s office. After all, why would all of the men in suits listen to me, a college kid with a propensity to talk about the environment?
It turns out that there are a lot of reasons why Congress should listen to you.
1. You’re a voter.
You’re a constituent, and that makes you important. If your Congressperson doesn’t listen to you, they’re not doing their job. Plus, they’ll lose your vote in the next election. Here is where we gain power in numbers. If enough of us change our votes, well...young people are a pretty big proportion of the population. Your Congressman might want to start thinking about his next job.
2. You know more.
Did you think that you had no credibility because you were still in school? Think again. You probably know more about the issues you care about than your Congressperson does. Take that knowledge and use it to make your Congressperson change his or her mind. Worried you’ll slip up? Bring a sheet of paper with all the facts written out. As a bonus, you’ll have something to leave behind. And leaving a reminder of your visit certainly doesn’t hurt.
3. You’re awesome.
No, really. You’re coming from how far away, just for a meeting? That takes dedication. Did you bring handwritten letters from other constituents? Photo petitions? Great! You’re representing all the other constituents who care but who couldn’t afford the plane ticket or take time off from work. Use your power! Explain that you have five, ten, twenty friends who feel the same way, and show your Congressperson the evidence.
Their office says so.
Actual Congressional staffers were asked what had the most influence on a Congressman’s stance on an issue. Below are the results.
- Most of the staff surveyed said constituent visits to the Washington office (97%) and to the district/state office (94%) have some or a lot of influence on an undecided Member.
- When asked about strategies directed to their offices back home, staffers said questions at town hall meetings (87%) and letters to the editor (80%) have some or a lot of influence.
- Constituents who make the effort to personally communicate with their Senators and Representatives – except via fax – are more influential than lobbyists and news editors.
Voting is just step one of the American political process. Once the candidates are in office, they have a lot of decisions to make. And they’re going to rely on information from you to make some of them.
Hey -- even Congress can’t read minds. No one will get that information if you don’t share it. That’s what lobby days are for.
Join me on Capitol Hill this April 18. Let’s meet with our Congresspeople and tell them what matters. We need a clean and just energy future -- now.
(Want to make sure you have a meeting set up? Email me at email@example.com with your Congressperson's name and district in the subject line).