In-District Activities with Members of Congress

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Connecting with a member of Congress or their staff in the local district is an essential element to building relationships with Congress. This training walks through the process of planning and setting up a successful activity with your member of Congress back home in your community. Planning an activity allows for a more casual conversation with a member of Congress to learn things we might not in a lobby meeting - what are the stresses they’re facing, like how much blowback do they face on climate, and how do they feel about the current congress. Strengthening your relationship with the office in this way will help position CCL as an ally and resource for members of Congress and increase the likelihood of getting a meeting and making successful asks in the future.  For more information on setting up meetings in Washington, D.C., see Scheduling A Meeting in DC with Congress training.

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TOC and Guide Section
 
Spring 2023 Plans

Each spring CCL traditionally has organized either an in-district lobby drive (pre-COVID) or a virtual lobby week. However, we always want to do what is strategic and what will best build our relationship with members of Congress and their staff. In the context of redistricting and a new Congress, our CCL Government Affairs staff does not believe this spring is a strategic time to ask for lobby meetings. Therefore, CCL national will be organizing a national spring activities campaign this year.

Successful lobbying and advocacy is based on strong relationships. In 2023 we are working in a new Congress with a broader policy agenda, which gives us an exciting opportunity to revisit our relationships with our members of Congress (MOCs) or to develop new ones with freshmen MOCs. Instead of starting the Congress off with a lobby meeting, we are starting with a “get to know you” or re-connecting activity with MOCs for a couple reasons:

1) It’s a way to reconnect after the holidays and start the year off by re-solidifying your relationship as more than just transactional;

2) Early Congress is poor timing for a lobby meeting;

1) Congressional offices don’t yet have committee assignments / agendas, solidified legislative teams and issue areas, nor have they come to know their district constituencies to their fullest. 

The goal of MOC engagement for new members is to introduce MOCs to CCL, not just our specific policy asks but more importantly, who we are as an organization and to begin developing a candid and strong relationship with the MOC by demonstrating that we hope to be as much of a resource to the MOC as we are making policy asks. We also want to find common ground and learn things about the MOC that you might not be able to find in your research. 

The goal of MOC engagement for returning members in which we have a longstanding relationship is to reintroduce MOCs to CCL - we’ve grown and our ambitions have as well. Having a more casual conversation will help us learn things we might not in a lobby meeting, i.e. what are the stresses they’re facing, how much blowback do they face on climate, how do they feel about the current congress, as well as strengthen the trust we’ve already developed. 

Overall, this spring is a time to (re)introduce MOCs to CCL, including our mission and policy agenda, and to strengthen relationships with  MOCs by demonstrating that we are an ally and a resource as much as we are lobbyists. This engagement is not about making an ask but instead a friendly get together or positive event with the MOC. In order to truly listen to advocates and lobbyists, MOCs need to know them and have some level of trust in them. We’ve built that trust over time and this is another opportunity to build it with new MOCs and to strengthen it with existing MOCs. 

Planning the Activity

One of the most important things to think about when planning the activity, especially for new MOCs, is to start with education! This includes information about the district / state (geography, natural resources, demographics) and the MOC (policy interests, background, hobbies, where they’re from). New MOCs often do not have as much legislative and public history, so look for issues, ideas, and topics they’ve promoted/publicized through the election season and in the first couple months of being in Congress. This will help you figure out what type of event might get the interest of the MOC and their team. 

Similarly, it’s important to start with education when working with returning MOC, with a slightly different framing. This is going to include refreshing your research on the MOC (policy interests, background, hobbies) and district/state. Particularly, if you have new district boundaries, look at whether that changes the geography or prominent natural resources or if there is a new particular business or industry that is now under the MOC’s jurisdiction. Also consider if your MOC has any new interests - whether it’s something they’ve started signaling publicly (potentially due to the changing politics or post Inflation Reduction Act passage) or areas that they’ve been excited about which now overlap with CCL’s policy agenda. 

For more guidance on how to conduct this research, check out the Getting to Know Your Member of Congress training!

Another important component to consider before deciding on the type of activity you want to plan is your chapter bandwidth. Remember to coordinate with other chapters if yours is not the only chapter in the district or if you’re planning for a senate activity. Teamwork matters!

If you’re planning to organize a larger event, make sure you have enough people that are interested and available to help plan, as well as attend, the activity. You also want to check with the event venue on capacity restrictions and any insurance requirements. For internal CCL insurance support, contact our Regional Events Coordinator, Kathy Orlinsky, at kathy.orlinsky@citizensclimatelobby.org.

As you’re thinking about what type of activity you want to plan, try to pick a few options to offer the MOC, if possible. Ultimately, you want to land on an activity that the MOC is excited about!

If you'd like support in coordinating across chapters or finding a site to plan an event, you can reach out to your State and Regional Coordinators for help!

Activity Options

Here are some examples of different types of activities you can plan, but don’t feel restricted to just these options! You can be creative when planning activities and find other options that work best for your chapter and your MOC. 

Small, Less Formal, Activity Options 

  1. Chapter members sign a card and drop it off at the MOC’s district office

Within the card, offer an appreciation and indicate that your chapter is excited and looking forward to working with the office!

  1. Attend a chapter meeting (can be virtual) 

Plan meeting agenda that isn’t policy focused but instead focuses on introductions of group members and introduction of CCL values/mission. Potential topics can include a discussion of outreach you’re doing in the community or discussion of the outreach you’re doing to other organizations. A chapter meeting gives the MOC a chance to introduce themselves to your chapter while also giving them a glimpse into what your chapter is working on in their district/state. 

  1. Arrange a coffee & pastries get together at a CCL volunteer’s house

This is less formal than a chapter meeting and would be more open and flexible, allowing people to drop in and get to know one another. You can also broaden it beyond your CCL chapter to invite more community leaders / members / neighbors. 

  1. Join your chapter on a hike, visit to local park/nature center, or park cleanup

Pick a location that is likely to appeal to your MOC and keep it lowkey (short hike, short park visit) with the goal of getting to know the MOC and the MOC getting to know members of your chapter while enjoying the outdoors. 

Larger, More Formal, Activity Options 

  1. Partner with a local business (renewable energy companies, etc.) for a site visit to showcase to your MOC what the business is doing on clean energy (local jobs tied to clean energy) and highlight the climate tie to your district/state. 
  2. Partner with a local farm for a farm tour or visit to learn about the impacts of extreme weather they’re facing and their response. 
  3. Community forum on local environmental/climate impact. 

Community forums are more likely to be successful when coordinated and co-hosted with other local groups/orgs. Have confirmed panelists/speakers from a range of backgrounds that reflect the constituency and allow the MOC the opportunity to participate at their desired level (pushing them to have too big of a role may make staff say no). Your MOC may want to give opening remarks and then just listen or leave or they may want to moderate. When organizing forums, be aware of political sensitivities when choosing topics and other outside groups to work with. 

When planning an activity for Senators, pick a location closest to your strongest chapter(s). We want to make sure we have enough volunteers who can help plan and attend an event. After determining where the chapter is strongest, if there still is a question of where to host, pick a location that is either 1) closest to the largest district office or 2) closest to the district office nearest the Senator’s home. 

Scheduling the Activity

When to reach out depending on the type of event?

If you’re planning a smaller activity, like dropping off a card at the district office, you don’t need to reach out to the office very far in advance. This will help give the office some breathing room right now as they are setting up their offices, so you can wait until mid or late February to start reaching out.

For larger site visit events or activities that require you have a good number of people available to participate, you’re going to want to start thinking about reaching out at the end of January / beginning of February. 

Specifically for  planning site visits, you want to be thinking about how long it’s going to take to coordinate with the venue. We also want to offer flexibility to the office as much as possible, so reaching out at the end of January / beginning of February to get information site availability will be helpful. yYou can then go back to the MOC office with a couple options and get a final date solidified weeks in advance. 

For more guidance on the process of planning a site visit, check out the Hosting Successful Site Visits training! 

Who to reach out to?

These types of activities will most often be coordinated within the MOC’s office by their district scheduler or their DC scheduler if they don’t have one dedicated to the district. The scheduler will work with the district director or a specific district staffer to arrange the rest of the details. 

If your liaison has an extremely strong relationship with a legislative staffer, start with them to maintain that strong relationship which can elevate your request for the MOC to join an activity to the top of the scheduler’s pile. 

If you don’t have a particularly close relationship with the legislative staffer, no worries! You can email the district scheduler if there is one, or the DC scheduler if not. You can also cc or also include the district director on that email to the scheduler.

For new MOCs, it’s important you include the district director on the email since many schedulers for new MOCs are overwhelmed and they don’t yet know what the office’s event priorities are. 

Who to expect will join the activity?

We are ultimately hoping for the Congressperson to join the activity. It is also likely the district director or another district staffer will join, since MOCs usually travel to in-district events with at least one staffer. 

If you are planning an activity without the option for a virtual component and are unable to confirm that the MOC will be able to attend, you can invite someone from the district office to build or continue building the relationship with the office in this more casual setting. 

Executing the Activity

What to do during the activity

During the activity, the goal is not to push a specific policy or bill but instead to host a positive experience and highlight our focus on building bridges and supporting bipartisan legislation in this divided Congress. 

For new MOCs, focus on who we are (our volunteers) and what our mission is, with some introduction of our policy agenda. Remember, CCL works on policies that are effective in reducing emissions and building bridges in Congress and in our community. It can be helpful to provide a topline overview of our policy agenda: “carbon pricing, healthy forests, building electrification, and clean energy permitting”. After researching your MOC, there might be one policy area that you think will appeal to them more than others - you can dive a little deeper into that area with the goal of gauging their interest and finding common ground. 

Be sure to introduce who you are in your community (teacher, mom, business owner, etc.) - new MOCs love to meet their constituents! It’s important to start building a relationship and finding common ground. Do this by having normal interactions, getting to know the MOC on a more personal level and sharing your background. Ask open ended questions to learn more about your MOCs interests in the environmental space (not just policy but how do they approach environmental issues - are they a hunter, do they worry about their children’s future, etc.), we want to draw them out. Take note of any topics/interests the MOC shares that relate to one of our policy focus areas 

Keep in mind, they are new to this and might not know where they stand on the issues - this is why the personal connections and conversations can be most helpful when engaging with a new MOC. 

Every MOC needs a reintroduction based on our policy agenda, and this is a great topic to discuss with returning MOCs. Use the same strategies as we will for returning MOCs:

  • Remember, CCL works on policies that are effective in reducing emissions and building bridges in Congress and in our community. 
  •  It can be helpful to provide a topline overview of our policy agenda: “carbon pricing, healthy forests, building electrification, and clean energy permitting”. 
  • After researching your MOC, there might be one policy area that you think will appeal to them more than others - you can dive a little deeper into that area with the goal of gauging their interest and finding common ground. 
  • Highlight our focus in this divided Congress, to build bridges and support bipartisan legislation

It’s important to keep strengthening the relationship and finding common ground with MOC. This is also a good opportunity to have casual conversation with your MOC and learn if anything has changed with them after the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and after the election. 

For all MOCs, we want to make it known that we are an ally and a resource as much as we are lobbyists. It has been crucial to CCL’s success that we have created authentic and trusting relationships with MOCs - a lot of that is due to the fact that we want to work WITH a MOC, not against them, if they don’t agree with us. We want to reinforce that message at these events - we are here to work with Congress on environmental and climate policy, not against them.

How can you communicate this? Considering using these sample questions during the activity:

General Questions

“Are there environmental policy items you’re working on that we can be helpful with?”

“What kind of feedback do you get on climate/environmental policy issues? We do a lot of community outreach and want to be sure our efforts are helpful.”

Republican Specific Questions

“I know working on this issue can result in blowback for you in an area like ours. We appreciate you being willing to do the work! Are you getting a lot of negative feedback or pushback on climate policy?”

“Far too often the smaller policy work MOCs do in Congress is not covered by the media even though it may be tremendously impactful for our community. Is there anything you’re working on that is huge for our district but you don’t think many constituents are aware of? We do a lot of local LTEs and always want to highlight positive steps forward!”

After the Activity
  1. Log your activity!

Designate someone on your team to submit the activity through the Action Tracker. This is a critical step because this is the first time we’ve all participated in this type of campaign, and submitting your actions will help CCL staff get a sense of the impact of your work, and it will provide a useful tool for your team to have a record of the activity and a summary of some of the topics that came up during your activity.

Since these are not lobby meetings, and we don’t have a field in the Action Tracker that’s going to encompass the variety of activities you are all planning, we're asking that you submit this action through the “log a general actions report” option in the action tracker. Please include the following information in your report:

  • Identify the action as part of the spring in-district campaign with the “name of the event or activity”
  • Include your district, representative, and CCL & office attendees 
  • Submit notes that describe the activity and summarize any notable topics the MOC or office brought up 

Our government affairs team is going to review the action tracker submissions and will reach out if something came up during the activity that would be good to specifically follow up on. You can also email our Senior Director of Government Affair, Jennifer Tyler, at jennifer.tyler@citizensclimatelobby.org or our Legislative & Constituent Engagement Manager, Kesten Bozinovic, at kesten.bozinovic@citizensclimate.org if you would like to share something that happened during your activity. 

  1. Submit a success story! (optional)

If you would like to share a success story or photos from your activity with CCL staff and other volunteers, you can use the success stories form to submit that information. Just a note that if you use this form, we’ll also ask you to use the action tracker as the official way to record the activity 

  1. Follow up with the office

Follow up with the office after the activity! Send the office a note or email with a thank you, reference something interesting or specific that came up during the interaction, and follow up on any actionable items if appropriate.

Length
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https://vimeo.com/showcase/5694168
Video Outline
To skip ahead to a specific section go to the time indicated in parenthesis.
  • (0:00) Intro & Agenda
  • (2:14) Legislative Strategy for Spring 
  • (10:30) Planning the Activity
  • (16:46) Examples of Activities
  • (26:27) Scheduling the Activity
  • (38:54) After the Activity
  • (42:12) Conclusion
Instructor(s)
  • Jennifer Tyler
  • Kesten Bozinovic
Downloads

Download or view Google Slides presentation.

Download the video.
Audio length
Press play to start the audio (45m 32s)
Audio embed code
Audio Outline

To skip ahead to a specific section go to the time indicated in parenthesis.

  • (0:00) Intro & Agenda
  • (2:14) Legislative Strategy for Spring 
  • (10:30) Planning the Activity
  • (16:46) Examples of Activities
  • (26:27) Scheduling the Activity
  • (38:54) After the Activity
  • (42:12) Conclusion

 

Instructor(s)
  • Jennifer Tyler
  • Kesten Bozinovic
Downloads

Click here to download. 

Find similar audio trainings on CCL’s iTunes channel.

 

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Go Deeper

If you haven’t attended a lobby meeting before, consider viewing the Lobby Meeting Practice Scenario training.

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Lobbying Congress
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