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February Recess: Democracy Defenders Toolkit

Overview

For four years, Indivisibles fought back against Trump and his Republican enablers’ cruel agenda. But we know that Trump was just a symptom of a larger systemic problem designed to rig our democracy and capture and hold power for a small group of rich, white, (mostly) men. If we are going to remake our democracy into one that works for the people and achieve all of our progressive priorities—like affordable healthcare, a green new deal, and economic and racial justice—we need our Members of Congress to use the majority that we built to be Democracy Defenders. 

Congressional Democracy Defenders will fight to pass our bold, structural Day One Democracy Agenda. This includes HR1 (the For the People Act), to get money out of politics, expand voting rights, combat corruption, secure our elections, and more; HR 51, to make DC the 51st state to bring balance to the Senate and make Congress more responsive to the needs of a diversifying electorate; and, in the Senate, eliminate the filibuster, an arcane “Jim Crow relic” that’s time has come.

February recess is coming up, which means it’s time to get loud. From February 13-February 21, members of Congress get a break from their work in Washington D.C. to spend time in their districts talking to constituents (that’s why it’s technically called a “district work period”).

So this Valentine’s Day, we have one ask for our Members of Congress: Will you be our Democracy Defenders? 

Our Asks 

We have a big task ahead of us -- building a truly inclusive democracy! With a Democratic Trifecta we have the opportunity to tackle this head on, so here is our specific ask: Prioritize bold, sweeping democracy reform including HR 1 and DC Statehood as the first non-recovery package, and don’t let anything get in the way (ie* the filibuster).

Strategy and Tactics 

We are approaching recess just a little bit differently this time around. We have two separate but complementary strategies to move these crucial pieces of legislation over the finish line: 1) direct pressure on key Senators and 2) building a national narrative for action. We are asking you to take specific actions based on your state. 

Direct Action

Let’s start with our key Senators. There are nine Senators who could use a bit of extra pressure from their constituents to support our asks. Your goal is to get them on the record supporting our asks.

Our key Senators are: 

  • Angus King (Maine)
  • Kristen Sinema (Arizona) 
  • Mark Kelly (Arizona) 
  • Joe Manchin (West Virginia) 
  • John Hickenlooper (Colorado) 
  • Ben Ray Luján (New Mexico) 
  • John Ossoff (Georgia) 
  • Raphael Warnock (Georgia) 
  • Alex Padilla (California) 

For these key Senators, the most impactful thing you can do is host a virtual town hall or lobby meeting with your Senator (or their staff if you can’t pin your Senator down to a time this recess). This will give you the opportunity to directly address your Senator, explain your position, and give them a chance to commit to building a truly inclusive democracy.

This is no small feat. And most likely, your Senator will not commit to too many town halls or lobby meetings during February recess. Your best bet is to join forces with other Indivisible groups in your state for one powerful event.

Important Note: If you are in a priority state, there is a good chance your organizer and other Indivisible groups are hard at work on a town hall or a lobby meeting. Before you go any further, please reach out to your Indivisible organizer to connect! If you don’t know your organizer, you can fill out this Ask an Organizer form or reach out to supportteam@indivisible.org.

National Narrative

The remaining 91 Senators are either already with us or already against us. So we need to build a national narrative in the media that motivates our supportive MoCs and quiets our opposition. Like all effective narratives, this starts at the local level. Your mission is to generate earned media in support of our asks. 

Earned media is the most important and strategic way to push MoCs on our priorities (remember, the first thing they do each day is read the news about them). The best way to get earned media is through a small district office visit with larger-than-life valentines, a cake, or a car rally. The media loves a visual. 

If you want to do something virtual, the most effective event you can set up is a virtual Letter to the Editor writing party. 

Whether you have the most progressive or the most conservative MoC, creating national momentum around Democracy Reform will help move our priorities forward. 

Hosting a Virtual Event 

During this period of physical distancing, we’ve all been learning that most events or actions that occur in person can in some way be adapted to online. While we may lose some elements of in person events by bringing them online, there are some we gain too - like making events more convenient and accessible for some folks to join. 

We have developed some resources to support groups with hosting virtual events. You can see our Hosting Virtual Events resource for some creative ideas and best practices. Additionally, we have a few guides for new hosts or attendees on Google Hangouts and Zoom that you can see below: 

For larger scale virtual events, it’s really important that you take the time to make sure you understand the technology you’re using, clearly communicate expectations/directions to attendees and speakers and do a run through before. We’ve baked some of these important steps into our event planning step by step in this resource. 

Adding a virtual event to this campaign helps include people with disabilities. Planning these events are an opportunity for folks with disabilities to lead or show up when they might otherwise be excluded because of lack of accessibility. When we host an event, especially when people with disabilities have ownership in the planning process, we can make sure to address the needs of folks across the disability spectrum and include people who might not be able to take action.
 
When you’re setting up your event, here are some accessibility recommendations to think through. Please reach out to your organizer or to supportteam@indivisible.org with questions. 

  • Closed captioning will make your event accessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing. There are services that will caption your live event which you can use distributed fundraising funds for.
  • You could also include an ASL interpreter, which could be a good choice for a larger virtual rally. 
  • Follow these tips to make slide decks, powerpoints, and other handouts readable for all of your participants:
    • If you have multiple handouts, consider creating a QR code with links to all materials at the beginning of the presentations
    • Create a view-only or PDF copy of your materials and email them to your attendees 24 hours before your event
    • Use one of the Google Slides and Powerpoint pre-set accessible slide layouts, there are collections for each
    • Use sans serif fonts like Arial or Helvetica
    • Use bold for emphasis, avoid italics and underlines
    • Do not rely on color to tell the story. Enhance with labels, icons or other visual markers
    • Avoid text-heavy slides, transitions, animations and GIFs
    • Use high color contrasts, like white and blue

If you’re new to hosting virtual events, check in with your Indivisible Organizer or supportteam@indivisible.org and we’ll be able to help talk you through it and provide more resources. 

Planning a Virtual Town Hall or Lobby Meeting 

Planning Your Event 

While there are some key differences between planning an in-person event and a virtual event, don’t forget you still need to put plenty of time into planning. You may not need to deal with some of the logistics like booking a venue or arranging chairs, but there are some important additional steps when planning a virtual event.  

Consider the scale of your event. There is a lot on everyone’s minds right now and individual groups are assessing their capacity. Before diving into an event, spend some time thinking about what makes sense for your group -- a big scale event, medium, something small? It’s also important to consider what you think will be more effective with your particular Senator. Are they someone who already needs a lot of public pressure at a town hall or do you want to start with a more intimate event? 

Coordinate with other local Indivisible groups and other progressive groups. This is also a good opportunity to join forces with other groups in the area and strengthen regional coordination. This will make it more likely that your MoC will say yes to, will help distribute the work and will improve your regional coordinating ties. 

Invite your Senator. Start reaching out to your Member of Congress as soon as possible! Start by sending them a valentine-themed invite and follow it up with a call. Their schedules fill up quickly, so sooner is better. Plus, if they say no the first time you can keep up escalating pressure until you can get a commitment. 

Pick your platform. Based on the scale/scope of your event and what your group is accustomed to using, you can determine your platform. Check out some of the resources above for details on different options. You can also talk this through with your Indivisible Organizer! While this toolkit is mostly focused on virtual events, your group can also consider other safe, physically distanced events as well. We’re looking forward to seeing the creative ideas that emerge!  

Set a date and time. Start by figuring out when you’re going to have your event. Most likely you will need to coordinate with your Senator’s office before confirming a time. Remember to check in with group members and potential speakers to see what’s most convenient before finalizing a time. As always, consider what times will be most accessible for folks in your community particularly around work and parenting or care-taking schedules. 

Register your event on the Indivisible map. Once you have your event set, register it on the Indivisible map (including February Recess as the event issue focus). That way we can help push out your event and help recruit attendees.  

Delegate and determine roles. Any event is a great opportunity to develop leadership within your group and empower folks to take on new responsibilities. Depending on the scale of your event, you may want to create teams or just have one point person for specific duties. Some areas that you can consider delegating include: tech, recruitment, new member follow-up, speaker recruitment, press liaison, and visuals. 

Start recruiting. Even though you aren’t asking folks to show up in person, it’s just as important as ever to really invest time in recruiting. Indivisibles know the best practices by now and what works in their communities. Make calls to invite members/new members, send emails, send out texts, make a Facebook event, etc. This is something you can get your full group involved in too by reaching out to their networks or all taking a few potential new members to reach out to. Compliance note: Depending on how you message your event, spending to promote your event may have campaign finance implications. We recommend sticking to email and unpaid social media to promote the event unless you consult with a lawyer or are already familiar with political spending. 

Set your agenda and invite speakers. A town hall or lobby meeting tends to follow a relatively typical agenda: Welcome and Introduction (this section should include an overview of our priorities and a direct ask), MoC Introduction, MoC speaks, MoC takes questions. But you can get as creative as you want with how you set up your town hall and what creative hooks you include. Virtual Valentines? Themed zoom backgrounds? The sky is the limit! Just make sure you make your direct ask.

Pro-tip: Make sure you coordinate with your MoCs team on how much time they’ll join for and how many questions they’ll take. For additional support, your organizer can connect you with our policy team for more information on where your Senator stands on our key priorities. 

Prepare with event support volunteers. You’ll likely need some time to check in with everyone who is helping make the event happen to ensure all bases are covered and everyone is clear on their roles. This may be best accomplished in a briefing with all volunteers or in separate check-ins.  

Invite reporters. Invite reporters who have covered your Senator. Read recent stories about them looking for the “bylines” of people who’ve written them. Check in with any guest speakers to make them aware media are invited, and see if they can offer any help bringing them. If reporters are able to make it, mention at the beginning of the event they are there, so participants are aware.  If they can’t make it, send them the press release afterwards.

Do a run through. A run through or multiple run throughs are absolutely critical! This is an opportunity to make sure you work out any tech issues, that everyone knows their role and that there won’t be any surprises on the day. Ideally, a full run through should include everyone who will be speaking and supporting the event (so try to get outside speakers to join too even if just for part of it and see if someone from your MoCs staff can join). Mimic conditions of the actual event as much as possible. That is, use the same technology, run through the sections as if it’s the real thing and test out any tricky technical elements like live streaming or polls. 

Confirm your attendees. How many times have you RSVP’ed for an event and then forgotten about it? Don’t let that happen to all the attendees you spent so much time inviting to the event! Send a reminder email, make phone calls and send text messages. 

Hosting Your Event 

Finally, the day of the event has arrived! Hosting a virtual event, like an in person event, is a lot of fun and at points can be stressful. 

Have your event volunteers and speakers arrive early. This is a virtual event, so it’s likely you’ll have to troubleshoot some technical issues -- ask your volunteers and speakers to arrive 30 minutes early to work out as many of those as you can before other attendees join. You can make sure everyone’s mics/cameras work, confirm volunteers are clear on their roles and get folks excited for a great event.  

Confirm your attendees. While event volunteers and speakers are arriving, this is a good opportunity for a final round of texts or emails to remind folks about the event. Especially since they don’t need to go anywhere, that final reminder may get them to open up their computer. 

Welcome event attendees. As attendees join, you can welcome them and let them know when the program will get started. Depending on the scope of the event and the platform, this can be an opportunity to build community and for attendees to introduce themselves in the chatbox.  

Go through the event agenda. Once you hit the time of your event, you get to watch all your hard work happen.  

Thank attendees for joining and ask them to take action. At the end of the event, don’t forget to once again thank everyone for being there and provide clear calls to action. Some ideas include:

  • Do coordinated LTEs about Democracy Reform. 
  • Have everyone tweet about their Senator after the event. 
  • Ask folks to sign up for future events. 

Follow Up from your Event 

The thing that distinguishes the great organizers from the good organizers is follow up!

Send a thank you email. It’s a good practice to send a quick follow up email a day or so after your event to reiterate your appreciation for joining, share any resources that came up during the event and remind folks about your call(s) to action. 

Thank speakers and volunteers. Send a specialized follow up and thank you to your event volunteers and to any special speakers you had at the event. This can be a handwritten note, phone call or email depending on what makes sense in the circumstances. 

Follow up individually with attendees. After you do outreach to all your attendees, make a plan to follow up with folks individually -- especially those who haven’t been to events with your group before. Recruit others in your group to help call through the attendees to thank them for joining, build a relationship and see how they want to get involved in your group. 

Send reporters a press release, photos/screenshots, and stories. Even if no reporters make it, which happens, you can package up some highlights for them afterwards in case they can use them in their coverage of the race later. Write a press release. Get quotes from any guest speakers. Send screenshots. Transcribe and share constituent testimonials. One long email with a bunch of attachments is OK. 

Planning a District Office Visit 

Every MoC has one or more local offices, but generally constituents don’t visit them. Over the last few years, that’s changed quite a bit with local Indivisible groups showing up (often once a week) to district offices all over the country. Showing up at district offices seems simple, but it can have an enormous impact. It also demonstrates to them that you- their constituents- care very much about the issue you’ve come in to speak about and that you’ll be watching what they do going forward. 

Plus, you can make these really fun and themed -- and bring fun “Be my Democracy Defender” themed items like valentines, candy, or a cake!

Hot tip: Indivisible wants to help you pay for your props and visuals. Want to construct a larger than life valentine? Reach out to your organizer and we can likely reimburse you for expenses. Note: we cannot reimburse for items that you give to your MoC like a cake- but we are all in for visuals!

Please note: Due to the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic, we recommend keeping district office visits and any in-person events small. Design your events for 3-5 people and make sure that everyone involved commits to wearing a mask and practicing social distancing.

Before the Visit

  • Make a plan with your group. During a regular meeting or special planning meeting, review the below steps with your group and divide up responsibilities.
  • Find the right office. Every MoC lists the physical addresses of their district offices on their public website. If you can’t find it, just give them a call and ask—the staff will be happy to tell you locations and hours.
  • Pick a day to go. Pick a day and time between 9-5 (since that’s when the offices are open) when as many of the members of your group can participate as possible—for example, at the beginning of the day or during lunch hour. 
  • Try to make an appointment. Since this is during recess and we have a few weeks to plan, there’s a chance you can get an appointment with your actual Member of Congress. The earlier you reach out, the more likely the MoC’s schedule is still open. So start planning early and see if you can get a meeting. 
  • That said, don’t let “by appointment only” cramp your style. If you can’t get an appointment or would prefer an element of surprise—you can try just showing up. If you decide to just show up, be ready if the office is closed—plan a creative action your group can take a video of, or take a picture of the closed office and post it to social media.
  • Prepare any props or setup needs. At the very least, you need a few signs with your demands. But this is a great opportunity to be creative. Remember, Indivisible can likely  reimburse you for prop and visual expenses. Just work with your Indivisible organizer or reach out to supportteam@indivisible.org to make a plan.
  • Decide who you want to speak with and who from your group will talk. Your MoC likely won’t be in the local office, although you never know. The best person on his or her staff to meet with is the District/Office Director. You should first ask to meet with the MoC directly, and only accept a meeting with the District Director if the MoC is unavailable. They may try to get rid of you—don’t take “no” for an answer. If you show up in a group, they will be more likely to see you. 
  • Assign speaking roles and practice your ask. This recess, we are asking our MoCs to prioritize bold, sweeping democracy reform including HR 1 and DC Statehood as the first non-recovery package, and don’t let anything get in the way (ie* the filibuster). 
  • Reach out to local media. Remember, your goal is to generate earned media. Press outreach is most effectively handled by one person who can build relationships over time. If you already have a media liaison, great! If not, this is a perfect event to choose a point person and start developing relationships with local press. Need help? Your organizer can connect you with Indivisible’s press team for additional support and coaching. 

At the Office

  • Set up your visuals. The media loves visuals so make sure you arrive at the office at least fifteen minutes before the media so you have time to set up. Hold your banner, show off that cake, and prep your valentines. 
  • Greet the media. Before you get started, take a few minutes to introduce yourself to any reporters who attend your event. Just a quick, “Hi, how are you?” can go a long way to building ongoing relationships with reporters.
  • Establish your legitimacy. Introduce yourselves and your group. Identify yourselves as constituents and talk about where in the district or state you live.
  • Tell your stories. If this issue would affect you, your family, or your friends and neighbors, talk about how and why.
  • Focus on the asks. This recess, we are asking our MoCs to prioritize bold, sweeping democracy reform including HR 1 and DC Statehood as the first non-recovery package, and don’t let anything get in the way (ie* the filibuster). 
  • Close the meeting by planting your flag in the office. Not literally! But your MoC works for you. Say you will be coming back regularly to make sure the MoC is listening to you and representing his or her constituents. Get the contact information of everybody you talk to, and send a follow up email after.
  • Record it or it didn’t happen. Get a picture of your group at the office. Even better yet, get a video of your group before, during, and/or after. Bottom line, your voice will be louder and better heard if you get documented evidence. If you’d like us to help amplify, send your media to stories@indivisibleguide.com. Include these three pieces of info in that email:
    • Short description of photo/video
    • Name of group with applicable links to social or web
    • Names of people in the video/picture

After Your Visit

  • Post photos and videos on social media. Send your pictures to stories@indivisible.org as well.
  • Send a thank you letter. Particularly if you have a meeting with your MoC, send a thank you letter, reiterating briefly the main ask you discussed and thanking everyone for their time.
  • Follow up with the media. Email any reporters who showed up at the event to say thank you and send your press release to any other media outlets on your press list.
  • Debrief with your group. Discuss what went well and what you can do better next time.
  • Plan your next action. Figure out how you’ll keep up the momentum moving forward.

Check out How to Have a Successful Office Visit for more tips and troubleshooting common challenges. 

Additional Resources