January Recess 2019 Toolkit

Overview

It’s the first recess of the new congress! Whose House? Our House! Local Indivisible groups across the country have been known to make a real splash during the many congressional recesses they’ve participated in—whether by making noise at town halls, setting up creative empty chair town halls, showing up at district offices or asking tough questions at public events. This recess will be January 21st - 25th.

What is recess? Recess is not exactly what it sounds like. During congressional recess, Members of Congress get a break from their work in Washington D.C., but they’re not taking a walk in the park. Well, at least they’re not supposed to be. Recess is an opportunity for MoCs to spend time in their districts talking to constituents. However, sometimes when MoCs know their constituents are not happy with their votes, they’ve been known to go into hiding.

This is the next step of our 100 days plan. As a reminder, the first 100 days of the new congress are an important moment where the Democrats will be communicating what they are for and what they will deliver if they take back power in 2020. That means, it’s also our moment to set the tone with congress and influence that agenda.

We showed up in a big way on our National Day of Action. On January 3rd (the first day of the new congress) there were over 160 events all across the country. Local Indivisible groups told their MoC that we are here, we are paying attention and we will hold them accountable.

We need to keep up the momentum. We showed up in November, we showed up on the day of action—now it’s time time for recess. And then in a month we have another recess! Being on offense is exciting and it takes some extra planning. If we keep up the pressure throughout these first 100 days, we could make an impact on not just the agenda for 2019, but on the real policies we can pass when we retake control in 2021.

This toolkit includes everything you need including the specific asks to make to your MoCs, tactics and how to do them, press support and a variety of resources to make January recess a huge success for your group.

Our Asks

Now that we’re on offense, we have more ability to tailor different asks over recess to specific MoCs. We’ve outlined issues we recommend bringing up over recess, and offered some guidance on which your group should focus on based on your House member’s party, committee assignments, and other factors. This list could change as we get closer to recess, so we’ll adjust this accordingly.

The most important ask this recess is for your Senators on the government shutdown.

The Senate shouldn’t take up any other bills until after the government has reopened. Every Senator should be hearing from their constituents that reopening the government is their top priority. Democrats need to continue to hold strong and stop Senate business until a funding bill passes, and Republicans should vote to reopen the government—just like they did unanimously in December 2018. This issue applies to all Senators, so if you’re making other asks below you should mention this too.

This is the longest government shutdown in history. Why? Because Trump refuses to back down from his $5 billion for the wall and because Mitch McConnell refuses to put the house-passed legislation to reopen the government on the senate floor.

McConnell wants to pretend it's business as usual in the Senate, and he wants to continue voting on other legislation even while the government remains shut down. This is not business as usual—800,000 federal employees are going unpaid, tax refunds are going to get delayed, and national parks are filling up with trash. Your Democratic Senator should oppose any vote on additional legislation in the Senate until the government reopens, and your Republican Senator should make a public statement asking Mitch McConnell to schedule a vote on legislation reopening the government.

Don't forget about the House! There are important issues there too.

Saving our democracy.

This issue is best for groups to focus on if your House Member hasn’t yet cosponsored HR 1 (you can check on that here).

After January recess, the House of Representatives is likely to hold a floor vote on H.R. 1, a comprehensive package of democracy reforms that includes voting rights and empowerment, campaign finance reforms, and anti-corruption measures. Passing this without breaking it up or watering it down would help set the agenda for a bold and progressive future and would stand in stark contrast to Republican attempts at voter suppression, power-grabbing, and rigging the rules in favor of the wealthy and powerful. Ask your Representative to co-sponsor H.R. 1 to demonstrate their support. 

Stopping Trump’s racist border wall (next year) and defunding hate.

This issue is best for groups to focus on if your House Member is a Democrat on the Appropriations Committee (that list is here).

It’s hard to believe Congress is already working on next year’s funding bills, even while the current year is still a mess. But, that work will get underway in February. Now that Democrats control the House, they can pass aggressive funding legislation that actually cuts funding for ICE and CBP—and, of course, has no money for the border wall or fencing. While legislation funding the government for FY20 won’t likely pass until December, it’s being written right now through what’s called the “appropriations process.” If you have a member of the House Appropriations Committee, learn more about the appropriations process here and ask your House member to make a reduced appropriations request for ICE and CBP.

Laying the groundwork for a single payer health care system.

This issue is best for groups to focus on if your House Member is a Democrat on the Energy & Commerce Committee (that list is here).

Democrats have already said they intend to build on the success of the Affordable Care Act. They have legislation ready to go that expands the number of people eligible for tax credits to afford health insurance and increases the amount of the credit, increases the assistance with co-pays and deductibles low-income families receive, and generally stabilizes the marketplace following years of Trump sabotage. That legislation is a good start, but it’s clear that the only way to truly guarantee health care that is accessible and affordable to every Americans is through a single payer system. This will likely be a point of fierce debate during the 2020 presidential campaign, but Democrats in the House can start doing the leg work now: convening experts, holding hearings, and drafting legislation to sort through policy debates and iron out big questions. If your Democratic House Member is on the Energy and Commerce Committee, they should make a public statement that they want E&C Chair Frank Pallone to hold a hearing on moving to single payer to get this work underway. 

Getting Trump’s tax returns.

This issue is best for groups to focus on if your House Member is a Democrat on the Ways & Means Committee (that list is here).

The urgency in seeing President Trump’s tax returns dates back to his days as a candidate for office, when he broke decades of precedent and his own repeated promises by not making them public. But recent concerns raised by the October 2, 2018 New York Times investigation detailing the president’s use of “dubious tax schemes… including instances of outright fraud” in order to reduce his family’s tax obligations over decades once again underscore the need for transparency. He and his businesses also have numerous financial entanglements that could present a conflict of interest as he conducts foreign policy on behalf of our country. Fortunately, the House Ways and Means Committee has the authority to obtain Trump’s tax returns. The problem? W&M Chairman Richie Neal doesn’t want to do it—he’d rather Trump volunteer them.

Tactics

Some of our favorite recess tactics are back for this January recess! Get your red and green signs ready, because it’s time for town halls. In particular, we’ll be encouraging Indivisibles to:

Town Halls

Any time that Congress is back in their home state/district on recess presents a good opportunity to demand that they hold a town hall. If your MoC is hosting a town hall, your group should absolutely attend to ask the tough questions. These are a great opportunity to show your local power, get facetime with your MoC, and remind them that they need to uphold our values.

Tips on How to Use Town Halls to Influence Your MoCs

Before the Town Hall

  1. Find out when your MoC’s next public town hall event is. Sometimes these are announced well in advance. But sometimes, although they are technically "public," only select constituents are notified about them shortly before the event. If you can’t find announcements online, call your MoC directly to find out. When you call, be friendly and say to the staffer, “Hi, I’m a constituent, and I’d like to know when his/her next town hall forum will be.” If they don’t know, ask to be added to the email list so that you get notified when they do.

  2. Recruit your group members. Make sure you have a solid contingent and distribute whatever information you have on your MoC’s voting record, as well as prepared questions, to all group members.

  3. Prepare several questions ahead of time for your group to ask. Your questions should be sharp and fact-based, ideally including information on the MoC’s record, votes they’ve taken, or statements they’ve made. Thematically, questions should focus on a limited number of issues to maximize impact. Prepare 5-10 questions and hand them out to your group ahead of the meeting.

  4. Get connected to local press. Research on Google News what local reporters have written about your MoCs. Find and follow those reporters on Twitter, and build relationships. Before you head to the town hall, reach out and explain why you and your group are attending, and provide them with background materials and a quote.

During the Town Hall

  1. Get there early, meet up, and get organized. Meet outside or in the parking lot for a quick huddle before the event. Distribute the handout of questions, and encourage members to ask the questions on the sheet or similar ones. Review your ground rules: you’re going to be respectful, polite, and non-confrontational in all of your interactions with the MoC and their staff.

  2. Get seated and spread out. Head into the venue a bit early to grab seats at the front half of the room, but do not all sit together. Sit by yourself or in groups of two, and spread out throughout the room. This will help reinforce the impression of broad consensus.

  3. Make your voices heard by asking good questions. When the MoC opens the floor for questions, everyone in the group should put their hands up and keep them there. Look friendly or neutral so that staffers will call on you. When you’re asking a question, remember the following guidelines:

    • Stick with the prepared list of questions. Don’t be afraid to read it straight from the printout if you need to.

    • Be polite but persistent, and demand real answers. MoCs are very good at deflecting or dodging questions they don’t want to answer. If the MoC dodges, ask a follow-up question. If they aren’t giving you real answers, then call them out for it. Other group members around the room should amplify by either booing the MoC or applauding you.

    • Don’t give up the mic until you’re satisfied with the answer. If you’ve asked a hostile question, a staffer will often try to limit your ability to follow up by taking the microphone back immediately after you finish speaking. They can’t do that if you keep a firm hold on the mic. If they object, then say politely but loudly: “I’m not finished. The MoC is dodging my question. Why are you trying to stop me from following up?”

    • Keep the pressure on. After one member of the group finishes, everyone should raise their hands again. The next member of the group to be called on should move down the list of questions and ask the next one.

  4. Support the group and reinforce the message. After one member of your group asks a question, everyone should applaud to show that the feeling is shared throughout the audience. Whenever someone from your group gets the mic, they should note that they’re building on the previous questions —amplifying the fact that you’re part of a broad group.

  5. Record everything! Assign someone in the group to record other advocates asking questions and the MoC’s response. While written transcripts are nice, unfavorable exchanges caught on video can be devastating for MoCs. These clips can be shared through social media and picked up by local and national media. Please familiarize yourself with your state and local laws that govern recording, along with any applicable Senate or House rules, prior to recording. These laws and rules vary substantially from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

After the Town Hall

  1. Reach out to media, during and after the town hall.

  2. Share everything. Post pictures, video, your thoughts about the event, etc., to social media. Tag the MoC’s office and encourage others to share widely.

Sometimes MoCs have a Town Hall and it’s just for show—they’re clearly not planning to actually listen to their constituents. If that’s the case with your MoC, check out our tips on What To Do When Your Member Hosts a Sham Town Hall.

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Empty Chair Town Hall

Sometimes, MoCs go missing during recess. If they’re not already planning a town hall, do all the work for them—set up a town hall and invite them. Missing Members are likely to decline your invitation, but you can plan out an entire event that will be great whether or not they show up. You can replace your MoC with a cardboard cut out, experts in relevant fields, exciting speakers and more. We know putting on your own town hall takes planning, so if you can’t set it up for January recess, start planning for February recess.

Planning an Empty Chair Town Hall

Before the Event

  1. Confirm that your MoC isn’t planning a public event. See if your MoC has a calendar of events on their website, join your MoCs email list, give the office a friendly phone call.

  2. Make an ask. In some cases, your MoC may just need some extra prodding to host an event. Ask very clearly, “when is your next town hall or public meeting.”

  3. Be persist. Continue making the ask, follow up, get your whole group to call, enlist other partner groups and alert the media. Check out our Missing Members toolkit for more creative ideas to put your MoC on the spot.

  4. Plan an event. If your MoC isn’t going to hold their own public town hall, plan your own event.

  5. Find a venue. Explore holding your event at a local school, library, or conference or convention center where a space can be obtained for low cost. Find out if basics like chairs and audio equipment are already available at the venue. Having a venue is great, but you can also plan your event to take place outside of one of the MoC’s district office too.

  6. Invite your MoC. This is your MoCs last chance to prove they’re listening to their constituents! Regardless of if they show up, you should make it very clear that you invited them to the event. There are multiple ways to do the invite—formal invite at the office, do something more publicly, etc. However you do the invite, make sure to emphasize that you’re constituents.

  7. Make your back-up plan. Chances are at this point your MoC isn’t going to show. Come up with a creative plan—whether it’s an empty chair, cardboard cutout or something even more creative and line up other speakers .

  8. Promote the event. Invite your members, spread the word on social media, and make sure to alert the press.

During the Event

  1. Remind your attendees before the event. Find a few volunteers to help call through your attendees the day before the event to confirm location and information.

  2. Confirm with local media and speakers. Make sure your speakers and local media have all information for the event and are planning to attend.

  3. Set up in advance. Arrive at the venue a few hours before the event to get set up: set up a sign in table for attendees, arrange seating for the speakers, practice in advance with speakers, test lighting and AV, reserve space for the press, make sure you have a plan for ADA accessibility.

  4. Prepare your speakers with the run of show. Make sure you prepare any participants with the run of show and get timing set.

  5. Take pictures and collect stories. Remember, take pictures at the event, tweet at your MoC that you miss them and tag press in your posts.

After the Event

  1. Host a debrief meeting. Use this as an opportunity to bring in new members and show your gratitude to everyone who helped make this a success.

  2. Amplify your work. Share all photos, videos, and press coverage with field@indivisibleguide.com and stories@indivisibleguide.com.

  3. What next? Make a plan for your next action.

For more ideas about dealing with missing MoCs you can check out the Missing Member of Congress Action Plan. Indivisible Austin also wrote more about this topic in this Constituent Town Hall Toolkit.

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District Office Visits

If your MoC isn’t doing a town hall and you’re not going to be able to put on your own (or if you have a friendly MoC that has a town hall scheduled for the future), your group can do a district office visit where you go into the office and speak with staff. 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 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. You can also consider a district office visit in addition to a town hall!

Planning a District Office Visit

Before the Visit

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. Don’t let “by appointment only” cramp your style. If your congressional office is listed as being open “by appointment only,” you can either call ahead to make one, or 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.

  5. Decide your “ask” and make it relevant. Congressional staff regularly take meetings with folks who want to talk about stuff that’s happening next month or next year. But a typical staffer can’t see much beyond today let alone beyond the next couple weeks. To make your visit count, focus on what Congress is working on now. This changes constantly, but use our Asks section above to get started.

  6. 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. Don’t let them pawn you off to an intern—they will try.

  7. Assign speaking roles within your group. Individuals should be prepared to cover the points they want to cover ahead of time. If you’re focusing on an issue that personally affects members of your group, then prioritize having them speak (if they are comfortable talking about it).

At the Office

  1. Establish your legitimacy. Introduce yourselves and your group. Identify yourselves as constituents and talk about where in the district or state you live.

  2. Be Indivisible...literally. Many offices have been trying to break up large groups by bringing three or four people inside at a time. They’re trying to divide and conquer—the office thinks this will soften the impact of your protest. Don’t let them get away with it! If congressional staffers try this, demand that they bring everyone inside or have them send the MoC outside to meet with you there.

  3. Focus on one issue. Use the Asks we included above to guide what you talk to your MoC about this recess.

  4. Tell your stories. If this issue would affect you, your family, or your friends and neighbors, talk about how and why.

  5. Don’t settle for non-answers. If congressional staff are dodging your question—if they say they have to check back and respond to you—be polite but firm. For example, you might say “I’m disappointed that Senator Myers hasn’t taken a position on this—health care coverage for 30 million people is a serious matter. We’ll be watching to see when he takes a position, and we’ll be back to let him know how we feel about it at that point.”

  6. 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.

  7. 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. See the media cheat sheet for more details on how to do it and why it’s so important. 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

  1. Post photos and videos on social media. Send your pictures to stories@indivisibleguide.com as well.

  2. 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.

  3. Debrief with your group. Discuss what went well and what you can do better next time.

  4. 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.

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Register Your Event!

Map of the United States

Add your event to the Indivisible events map! Events on our map will included in national recruitment emails leading up the the big day, so this is a great way to reach possible new group members!

Register Now

Planning Your Events

Whatever type of event you end up having, a good planning process is key. The above tactics included key planning steps for each type of event. Here is a general sample agenda for a effective planning meeting.

Welcome and Icebreakers

Indivisible groups are still growing and adding new folks! Kick off the meeting by asking everyone to introduce themselves and answer a thoughtful question. For bonus points, connect the question to the action you are planning, like “If the Democrats pass one piece of legislation during their first 100 days, what should it be?” Then share the agenda for the meeting and some expectations of what you’ll be discussing together.

Day of Action Debrief

If you don’t have time to do a seperate day of action debrief (which would be ideal), you can use some time at the top of the meeting to discuss what went well during the Day of Action and how you can improve for your upcoming event. Whether or not you debrief, make sure you take to celebrate everyone’s hard work and show how it paid off (press hits, commitment from MoC, new members, etc). You can find sample debrief questions here.

Venue and Logistics

If you’re planning an Empty Chair Town Hall, you should start off by identifying a date and location. If you’re doing a district office visit or attending a town hall, determine when and where you’ll meet.

Decide on Event Roles

This event is a leadership opportunity for everyone in the group. Split up the work and encourage members to take on new challenges to build an effective event and an even stronger group. Projects folks can work on may include: recruitment, town hall question prep, materials coordinator, congressional staff liaison and media lead.

Register Your Event

Once you have the time and place, upload the event to the map. The map helps us coordinate our national voice, recruit new activists for your events, and identify areas for growth. Teach a new (or existing) activist how to upload your event to the map.

Make a Recruitment Plan

This event is a strategic chance to grow your group and capture some of the excitement from the Blue Wave. We included a sample recruitment plan in this toolkit, but start with deciding on a recruitment goal. How many new faces do you want at your event? How many seasoned activists? Having a goal will help you target your recruitment.

  • Register your event on our map. Once you upload your event, you will have a unique RSVP link. Post the link to you social media sites, direct message new activists, send it around to your listserv, and get it tattooed on your forehead. Your event will also be included in national recruitment emails leading up the the big day.

  • Hit the phones. Call each member of your local Indivisible group, and personally invite them to join you in this action. The personal touch can make all the difference. People will be more invested in coming when they know that you are invested in them showing up.

  • Map your networks. Ask your leaders to list out (on paper) 3-5 people who aren’t currently involved in Indivisible but who they think would enjoy the event. Think about members of your book club, your neighbors, or that coworker who is always posting memes about resisting Trump on Facebook. Then commit to making a personal ask to each of these people.

  • Make asks and assign roles. This is good organizing. Pro-tip: people will be more invested in events, and more likely to show up when they have a clear role. So ask some of your newer volunteers to take tasks. Maybe they can bring some pens or snacks?

Make a Press Plan

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. The specific outreach you’re doing will vary depending on the type of event you’re having.

Media Tips Spotlight: Giving Interviews
If you’re attending a congressional town hall, town halls often have a lot media attending them already. Your Member of Congress has done the work for you! The important thing at a town hall is to make the most of that.

  • Who should give an interview? Have multiple members of your group get prepared to speak to media, including anyone who’s preparing to ask questions on key issues and anyone who. At a town hall, it’s not a “spokesperson” that reporters will be most interested in speaking to. Reporters will be interested in getting reactions from attendees. This is a great opportunity for members of your group to be “constituents-on-the-street and shape the narrative about how people are feeling about your MoC.
  • Developing your talking points. If you give an interview, the reporter will likely only use one or two sentences from your interview in their piece in the newspaper or on TV. How do you make those sentences count? No matter which issue you’re talking about, here some ways of framing what you say that will really get under your MoC’s skin!

    • Question their “brand. “Rep. ___ may want people to think she’s ‘independent’ and ‘above the fray,’ but listening to her today, it was clear she’s falling in lock-step with the Trump administration again.”

    • Call them out-of-touch with the district. “You know, I don’t know what Rep. ___ thinks this district is like. But people around here aren’t impressed by Rep. ___’s excuses. She should be the first person to stand against this hateful border wall situation.”

  • How to practice. There are a bunch of ways to build your confidence ahead of an interview. FIrst of all—just practice those couple sentences you want to say out loud, no matter how goofy it feels. There’s no substitute. Practice making your point, then pausing. It’s easy to find yourself making a great point, then trailing off at the end, filling the time. It adds to your confidence, and it makes your interview easier to edit. You can also write down those sentences. The act of writing them down may help you stick to your message.

Check out our tips for giving interviews and some ways to prepare here.

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Discuss Material Needs

Determine what materials you need in advance of the event and make a plan to ensure you have all the things you need—chances are folks in your group already have many of the items you’re looking for. Some ideas include:

  • Town Hall: Questions, red/green placards to indicate support, other visual aids

  • Empty Chair Town Hall: AV equipment, sign in sheet, pens, tables, chairs

  • District Office Visit: Talking points, sign in sheet, leave behinds if the office is closed, pens

Prepare Sign in Sheets

There is power in knowing who your people are. It allows you to show your strength in concrete terms when talking with elected officials. You can identify potential leaders when you keep track of who comes to what type of events. Finally, you can understand the geographic identity of your group when you know where people live. For 100 Days Campaign Events, the Indivisible data team will load any sign-in sheets turned into organizers into a volunteer management tool that will be rolled out for groups' use early in 2019. Download your official Indivisible sign-in sheet here.

Next Steps and Follow-up

Before you break for the night, make sure that all your activists are clear on their next steps. You made a lot of decisions at this meeting (good! Choice-points are good for group development) so make sure there is a clear plan to get all the work done.

Debrief Your Event

Whether you’ve been organizing for decades or are just getting started, there are always things to learn. Taking the time to do an intentional debrief is critical to make sure you are taking away learnings from your events.

First, schedule a debrief with your team. This should be an intentional space with everyone who had a role in the action. Here are some sample debrief questions:

  • What went well at this event? Why?

  • What didn’t go so well? What was the cause? You will get the best results if you approach this without assigning blame.

  • Were there any equity implications from how we approached this? Positive or negative?

  • What feedback do we want to highlight for our organizer? Positive or negative?

  • Overall, what should we do differently in the future?

  • What are our immediate next steps?

Use your great takeaways from this debrief as you’re planning your upcoming 100 Days campaign events.

What’s Next

January recess is only a few weeks in to the first 100 days campaign, so once you finish your planning for this recess, it’s time to set your sights to the next one.

February Recess is February 16th - 24th and once again our movement will have the opportunity to come together with a unified voice to share the values we believe in. You can start thinking about the same tactics outlined above (attending town halls, holding town halls and district office visits) for the next recess. And don’t forget as you’re planning to get your event registered early.

After February recess, we’ll do another big splash event towards the end of the 100 days—stay tuned for more information! Keep in mind, since things change rapidly on the hill we also need to stay flexible. We’ll keep you as up to date as possible, but it’s always possible that there will be surprising last minute events that pop up.