Members of Congress are elected by their constituents and their main responsibility is to vote on behalf of their constituents. As such, your legislators can play a significant role in the effort to reduce drug abuse by supporting community anti-drug coalitions in the districts and states they represent. One of the best ways to ensure that legislation of importance to you, your coalition, and your community is supported by your members of Congress is to build relationships with them. The following information is designed to provide you with some Capitol Hill Basics when forming a relationship with your members of Congress.
Meeting with Your Representative or Senator
Personal meetings with policy makers are among the most powerful opportunities to make the case for substance abuse prevention, treatment, and recovery. Lawmakers need to hear from constituents and experts that prevention and treatment are more effective and economical than law enforcement and incarceration, as strategies to address a wide range of community health and safety problems. You can help by reinforcing this message on the local level, including examples and factual information during meetings with your Representative or Senators.
Meeting with a legislator presents particular advocacy challenges. Generally, members of Congress are charismatic and charming people, eager to hear the views of their constituents. However, their purpose while meeting may be different from yours. You will want him/her to act, or make a commitment in support of your goals. On the other hand, the member may be inclined to avoid controversy and balk at making a clear commitment to you. Expect ambiguity, but don't give up.
1. Designate one person to be the primary spokesperson for the meeting.
2. Be brief with your introductions.
3. Discuss the major accomplishments of your coalition—highlight outcomes, key groups involved, and number of volunteers.
4. Use the supporting fact sheets in the CADCA Legislative Kit to educate your legislators.
5. Mention that CADCA represents your coalition in Washington, DC.
6. Ask how you can foster a continuing relationship with the Member of Congress and their staff.
7. Invite youth to share their role in the coalition and what they feel the coalition does to prevent substance use.
Advocacy Do’s and Dont's
DO be brief.
DO share your expertise and insights.
DO highlight important facts and outcomes.
DO thank legislators.
DON’T overwhelm your legislators with too much information or jargon.