February 2010

Visiting Congress at Home

Pre-meeting for the group. It is helpful if all members of the delegation get together a day or two before the official meeting to go over what to say and to review handout materials they plan to drop off. Each should rehearse a brief introductory statement of no more than a few sentences, telling who he or she is, where he or she works and the type of research he or she does. Plan to explain research in simple terms; do not use a lot of jargon. In addition, make sure to have an “ask” in mind. Members of Congress expect to be asked for something— to vote for or against a particular bill; or to support or oppose a particular position— so don’t be bashful about having one. The ASBMB staff will be happy to provide you with some possible requests.

The Day of the Meeting

Show up on time. Make sure everyone in your party shows up on time. If you do not arrive as a group (i.e., if you plan to arrive at the meeting location separately), make sure everyone knows the location of the meeting and knows how to get there. Share cell phone numbers in case there is some kind of problem.

Get to the point. After your introductory statements, it is best if you get to the point as soon as it seems appropriate. (The member may want to talk a bit about local matters, sports or other topics as ice-breakers.) Make your case as succinctly and clearly as possible. If the member asks questions, this is good; it is a sign that he or she is engaged and listening. Try to answer the questions as clearly as possible. If you do not know the answer, don’t hesitate to say so, and promise to get back to him or her as soon as possible with the answer.

Ending the meeting. Most meetings like this last 15 minutes or so; if you get a half-hour, you are very fortunate. When wrapping up, leave contact information for all of the group members and a document restating your “ask.” This should be no more than a single page or tri-fold brochure. It is also helpful to offer to arrange a visit to your lab or place of business. These visits are excellent opportunities for the member to get out into the community in a highly visible way and experience a working research laboratory.

Following up is important. After the meeting, your group should go over what was said and make particular note of any commitments the member made. If there were questions you couldn’t answer, make sure you find the answers as soon as possible. You should also write a thank-you note restating your message.

Finally, get to know your member beyond this single meeting. Drop him or her a note occasionally to comment on a public issue. Perhaps make a campaign contribution, if you share his or her politics. At a minimum, make an effort to develop and maintain a friendly and courteous relationship.

2010 Is Important

This year is shaping up to be a very important one politically. There will be a fierce battle fought for control of the House and Senate, and much is at stake that affects ASBMB interests. We hope you will make an effort in 2010 to contribute to the dialogue. Remember, whether you participate in it or not, such a dialogue will be going on.

The ASBMB staff is fully prepared to assist you in any way in arranging such meetings, and we hope you will take advantage of the resources we can provide.

Peter Farnham (pfarnham@asbmb.org) is director of public affairs at ASBMB.

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