Following your Member of Congress: Chapter 4 of the Indivisible Guide begins with some ways to monitor your Member of Congress (MoC) in the news. Appoint a team member to be your news monitoring lead, and have them take these steps and help make sure the rest of the group is informed. Google Alerts can be especially helpful. Go to alerts.google.com and enter your MoC’s name (e.g. “Rep. Sara Smith”) and your email address, and follow the steps to confirm the alert by email.
Your MoC and Trump: See if you can find favorable public statements your Member of Congress has made about Trump in the past. Save them in one place in case you want to reference these later. This list of Trump campaign endorsements may be a good starting place.
Get familiar with local reporters
As news stories come out, keep an eye out for the local newspaper reporters that write about your Member of Congress the most. Twitter is an excellent tool for finding and communicating/building a relationship with reporters.
Start building a basic media list: A media list is your contact list of the emails and phone numbers of the media that cover your area. Someone in your group may already have one handy from a past project. If not, you can start building one now.
- Look up the main phone numbers of your four local TV stations (ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX); news radio stations (NPR, maybe others); and the main newspapers in your area, big and small.
- Call the main phone number, ask for the news room, and ask them for the main email addresses to send “media advisories” to. Add those emails to your list.
- Start adding specific reporters’ names as you meet them at events or follow them in the paper.
Without Pictures or Video, It Didn’t Happen.
Always always always get a video or picture of your action: Whether this is a local group meeting or a visit to your Member’s office, the way to show Congress that you’re taking action is to literally show them. Capturing your own video and photos and then sharing them with media is the single best thing you can do to amplify your voice. If you want help amplifying, send your videos/pics and your stories to firstname.lastname@example.org.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
Technical tips: Smart phone cameras work just fine for these purposes. Hold your camera horizontally. Don’t forget to come with a full battery and some storage space. Higher-res is always better. Try to keep your videos short and sweet—we love your five minute videos, but others may not watch the whole thing.
At an event or town hall: Appoint a member of your group to be the documentarian for the day. Think ahead and have your documentarian find a good spot to see both a question asker and the Member of Congress.
Visiting a congressional office: Take photos of your group on your way to the office that highlight your group’s size. Take selfies next to signage and doorways that show where you are. Filming video while you are entering an office can feel aggressive, and the office may have a policy against it. Instead, we’d recommend filming a “selfie” video just afterwards, describing how the visit went in a few sentences.
Getting Media Attention
We recommend that groups appoint a single media lead to be the clearinghouse for interactions with press, particularly over email. Many different people may serve as “spokespeople” on different days, but having one logistical point of contact for press is a best practice we definitely recommend. If others hear from reporters directly, they should let the media lead know before speaking with them.
When it comes to interacting with media, as with all parts of taking action, trust your instincts. If the political environment where you live makes any of these steps uncomfortable, go slow and try things out.
Getting Media to An Event
The day before your event if possible, or the morning of—send your media list an email (BCCed) with the basic information about what’s happening. This email is called a “media advisory.” You can look up formal templates online if it suits your group’s style. The main thing is to communicate the who, what, when, where, and why. Give your media lead’s cell phone number and mention how many people from your group will be there.
Ahead of the event, also Tweet at the local reporters who are active on Twitter and cover your area—let them know what’s happening and that you’ll have video/pictures if they’re interested. Twitter is a secret weapon here—a great way to connect directly with the journalists.
The morning of: TV stations generally have a meeting around 9am to decide where they will be sending cameras for the day. Call them around 8:30am if possible. Ask for the “assignment desk.” Double check that they received your email, and make sure they have all the details they need before that meeting.
Getting coverage without getting media there
You should also email photos and videos to your media list after an event has happened. Summarize the facts of what happened and give the contact info of someone who can answer questions. Ideally, send this out within an hour or two of the event happening.
Preparing for Interviews
Different members of your group may be the best choice to speak with reporters on different days. Depending on the issue, an older person or a younger person, a veteran, a member of a marginalized group targeted by the Trump administration, or a person impacted by the ACA might be the best “spokesperson” for the day. There’s no need to be perfectly polished. “Indivisible” is all about regular local people taking action locally. The most impactful thing you can do is be yourself and bring your own style! Here are some tips as you think ahead.
- Keep it local: if you have a chance, drop in the names of towns your group hails from or specific locations relevant to the issue. That localizes your impact and makes it extra hard for your MoC and their allies to dismiss you as outsiders.
- Think about one sentence you’d like to say and just practice saying it a couple times.
- Unless you are recording a live interview, it’s usually OK to pause and restate something if you find yourself tongue-tied. Ask the reporter about this before the interview begins. Chances are they are not trying to “gotcha” you. You are working together to create a nice, short interview’s worth of footage for their story.
- …That said, always assume that if you say something on camera, it can be used later, and if you write it in an email, it could be published. So keep off-color comments and other distractions to yourself, even if it seems like the interview is over.
#StandIndivisible on Social Media
Every movement needs a hashtag. #standindivisible is ours. Take a selfie and tell us why you stand with your friends, neighbors, and colleagues to resist the Trump agenda. When your local group meets and takes action, share your #standindivisible stories, videos, and photos. Other groups around the country are excited to see each other in action, so feel free to show a little local pride with photos that highlight your part of the world. You can tag us on Twitter @IndivisibleTeam or on Facebook: IndivisibleGuide.
Reporters at national media outlets may reach out to us with questions about groups around the country. We’d love to put them in touch with those who are interested. We will always reach out to you first. Likewise, if you hear from a national reporter unexpectedly, feel free to reach out to us with any questions at email@example.com.
If a situation comes up where a local or national reporter’s behavior raises concerns, please also feel free to let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will do our best to get back with ideas, but again, we trust your judgement and urge you to do what’s best for your group.
Our goal is to give local groups effective tools to do local advocacy themselves, and media coverage is a part of that advocacy. We can’t wait to see the great stories you get!
Your First Visit to Your Member of Congress
As the Guide suggests, there are several different ways that you can get your message in front of your Member of Congress effectively. A visit to your Member of Congress’s office is a good first action. If this is your first visit, here are some tips to keep in mind:
- Introduce your group: Say where you’re from and what your core values are, and introduce everyone in the group.
- Raise one issue to focus on. For example, you might choose to talk about the Affordable Care Act. You could say something like:
We are very concerned that Congress is taking steps to repeal the Affordable Care Act without having a replacement plan—that could take health care coverage away from up to 30 million Americans. Where does Representative Bill stand on this issue? What would he say to residents of our community who currently get coverage under the ACA about what he’s going to do?
- Raise up powerful voices from your group. Encourage those in the group that have been directly impacted by an issue to speak about their personal experiences, if they are comfortable.
- Be specific. Ask specific questions about your Members of Congress’s position on an issue, and try to get clear answers. If a staffer suggest that they don’t know their boss’s position, you can politely ask whether someone in the DC office might know. You’d be happy to wait while they check. If staff continue to have no answer on an issue, you can reiterate that you will look forward to hearing more and keeping in touch.
I’m surprised that he hasn’t taken a position on this—health care coverage for 30 million people is a serious matter. Please let us know as soon as you can what he has decided on this issue.
- Be courteous and persistent. Be honest about the things you are passionate about. Don’t be afraid to be emotional. You don’t need to be an expert and have all the answers. The most valuable thing you can do is speak as a constituent about how a bill will impact your life and what you feel based on your values.
- Rinse and repeat. Make clear that you are looking forward to coming back a lot to make sure your representative is listening to you and representing his/her constituents.