The August recess is always a crucial time for people to connect with their members of Congress. Elected officials meet with corporate lobbyists multiple times every day. August is the time of the year when they spend the longest chunk of time back home, in-district, talking with constituents. It's when they get their best sense of what people really think. Given that the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement and other FTAs are expected to be voted upon this fall, this August recess takes on added significance. It very well could be our last opportunity to see our Members of Congress face-to-face before the votes. For those of us who have been working to defeat the Colombia FTA for years now, it's exciting and energizing, and perhaps even a little scary, to know that what we do over the next three weeks is likely to determine whether we win or lose on this crucial issue.
- Lobby Visits: Requesting a face-to-face meeting with your members of Congress is the best way to ensure that they actually receive the info you're trying to give them and that you get an opportunity to identify and rebut any misperceptions they may have. Obviously, lots of people are trying to meet with their Members this August, so it is crucial that you get a request in now. You do that by calling the district office and asking to speak with the scheduler. Click here to look up their office numbers by searching either by name of the member of Congress or your zip code.
Be prepared to tell them who, beyond yourself, is requesting the meeting and what the topic is. If you have a small group going, it makes sense to have the most powerful person in that group ask for the meeting—someone who represents a constituency the Member cares about. A minister, a union leader, a campaign donor, whomever. Try to have a sense of the best meeting time that works for the group, and know that you'll need to be flexible. You may not find a time that works for everyone in your party. The scheduler is also likely to suggest a meeting with staff rather than with the Member. It's worth pushing a bit to request a meeting with the Member directly. You can talk about how many years you've been working on this, and how a vote is expected shortly after Labor Day. If it looks like there's no way you'll get the meeting, obviously meeting with staff is better than no meeting at all. If possible, try to meet with the District Director or staff from Washington, DC if they're in town, rather than just some intern who takes notes and has no idea what you're talking about. To find resources to prepare for and bring to your meeting, click here.
Call-in Days: We will have multiple call-in days throughout the summer, in which we'll centralize our efforts by having activists across the country make calls on the same day to make sure our legislators know the large scale of opposition to this harmful trade agreement. The first will happen on Wednesday, August 17th. Click here to get instructions on how to make an effective call.
Beyond just making phonecalls yourself, you can encourage others to do so by forwarding around the email about it. Posting it to Facebook. Tweeting it. You could organize a call-in lunch party at your work where you buy a pizza and give folks a slice once they've called. You can do something at your home where you gather folks to watch on of the great YouTube videos about the FTA, lead a discussion group about it, and then have people call and leave messages—and hopefully then discuss what more people want to do together. It's a lot easier to make a call when you see everyone around you doing it. And if you have an extra moment, click here to follow your phone calls up with an email to your members of Congress too.
Speaking Out and Bird-Dogging at Public Events: Most Members of Congress do town halls and other public events throughout the August recess. You want to ensure that they're hearing opposition to the Colombia FTA at each and every one of those appearances. The first trick is finding out when and where they're going to be. Some Members will publish their schedule for the entire month on their website. Others only post events a couple days before they happen. Make sure to check the website often. Sign up for their email lists and Facebook pages. When in doubt, you can also call the office and say you're a constituent looking wondering if there are any public events where you can see the Member.
Then you need to be prepared with what I call a question-statement. Give three or four lines of info before posing a very pointed question like: "I was disappointed to hear that Congress may be voting upon the Colombia Free Trade Agreement when you return from recess this September. As you know, Colombia is the deadliest country in the world to be a union member. President Obama and Colombian President Santos recently offered up a side agreement that is supposed to help address the murders there, but its not binding in the FTA, and Colombian and American unions have called it inadequate. How can we have so-called "free trade" with a country where workers' basic freedoms aren't protected?" You can work on the wording and choose which issue you're going to focus on, but try to get enough info in there and make the question pointed enough that it really puts them on the spot.
And the third trick, of course, is recruiting friends and colleagues to go with you. It increases the opportunity one of you will get to ask a question—or that the member will receive multiple questions.
Get Your Message in the Media: What is published in your local papers and widely-read blogs during the recess can also help to keep the pressure up. You can write Letters to the Editor or if you've got some sort of title or were recently in Colombia, you could try submitting an op-ed. Click here to use Witness for Peace's letter to the editor writing tool online.
Creative Demonstrations: Creativity also helps grab the attention of both your legislators and the media. If you've got a critical mass, you could organize a vigil or a picket or a die-in outside a Member's office. Get everyone in your town to sign a petition against the FTA, make copies, and then have everyone drop by your legislators' offices to deliver the petition one after another along with a verbal message. The sky is the limit!
The important thing is to do what you can. Anyone who is still undecided on the Colombia FTA at this point in time is only going to be swayed by constituent pressure. Our brothers and sisters in Colombia have been risking a lot to fight this thing; but they can't stop it at this point. We can. It's up to us to make it happen.
Note: This text was written by Citizens Trade Campaign with only a few edits from the Latin America Working Group. For more information from CTC, please go to http://www.citizenstrade.org/ctc/