How to Raise Issues at Public Meetings
Legislators regularly make public appearances in their home district or state, particularly during congressional recesses. Many of them hold public forums or "Town Hall" meetings where they speak to, and accept questions from, the public. Town hall meetings are a great opportunity for you to have direct, personal contact with your policy makers and their aides. Even better, by asking a question and requiring a response on the spot, you can sometimes get your policy maker's position on the public record. Here are some tips to help you find out about meetings, prepare, and ask good questions:
- Find out about upcoming meetings. Call the local office to find out when and where the policy maker will be appearing. Confirm this information as close to the event as possible. Legislators' schedules change frequently. Some legislators list public meeting on their websites. Others have "newsletters" which list public appearances. In addition, some will list "Town Hall" meetings in the local papers.
- Prepare in advance. Spend a few minutes prior to the meeting identifying the exact question you want to ask and any information that you want to raise. You may also want to prepare a "second choice" question, in case someone else in the audience asks a similar question first.
- Be clear and concise. Think through your comments in advance, and do not give a speech. Remember to keep your question brief.
- Introduce yourself, ask your question, and make a specific request that requires a specific answer. Say your name and where you are from so the legislator knows you are a constituent. If you have expertise on the issue you are speaking about, note that in five words or less. Then, make one or two statements about the issue you are concerned about and why it's important to you and your community. Finish by asking the legislator to give his or her position on the issue or to state whether or not he or she will take a particular action.
- If possible, introduce yourself to the staffer accompanying the legislator. It's important to try to establish personal connections with your legislator's staff. After the meeting is over, try to briefly introduce yourself to the staff member if they are available.
- When appropriate, follow-up. If you were able to ask your question, send a thank-you note with any additional information that might be helpful. If you were unable to ask a question, send a note telling your policy maker you were at the meeting, but didn't get a chance to speak. Ask your question and request that the legislator gets back to you with the answer. See UCS's tips for writing an effective letter.
- Let us know how it went. Be sure to let us know the results of the meeting. The more details you can provide us with the better.