March Recess 2019 Toolkit

Overview 

Finally, we can get back to going on offense and setting the agenda! 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. 

March recess is coming up soon. Since January recess was cancelled and February Recess was getting out from under the shutdown, the impending March Recess (March 16 - 24) is our first and best opportunity to make a big splash and to strategically push for good legislation and support for key progressive issues. From blue areas to red areas, continuing to promote progressive policies through recess events will continue to build power (even for those groups who still have Republican MoCs).  

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 (that’s why it’s technically called a “district work period”). However, sometimes when MoCs know their constituents are not happy with their votes, they’ve been known to go into hiding. 

This is the final step of our 100 days plan and a pivot point to where we want to go next. As a reminder, the first 100 days of the new Congress are an important time for the Democrats to communicate 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. Even if you don't have Democratic representation, promoting progressive policies at the federal level and holding your MoC accountable to their statements is still important! 

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 MoCs that we are here, we are paying attention and we will hold them accountable. Throughout the shutdown, they continued to show up and, during the February Recess, groups were ready to show up again and keep their MoCs accountable and aware.

We need to keep up the momentum. We showed up in November, we showed up on the day of action, and now it’s time for 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 recess a huge success for your group.

Our Asks

Our goal for March recess is to show up and make a splash. Unlike when we’ve been on defense in the past and only focused on one issue, now that we’re on offense we have several important issues to push forward. For those groups that flipped districts and elected new representation, you get to be fully on offense and push forward exciting progressive policies. For those groups that are still dealing with unmoving Republicans, we know that you have been holding those representatives accountable for years and you continue to fight. Either way, getting your MoC on record about the progressive agenda is important!  

This recess (and throughout all of March!) we have several asks that are important and strategic. Many of the asks will be most effective with Democrats that we want to push to be more progressive. There are also some asks that will be more important for Republicans—and regardless of your MoC’s party affiliation, you should still push to get them on the record on progressive issues. We’ll be filling in some more details below on which ask is the most important for your MoC.

  • National Emergency: Support the resolution to terminate Trump’s false state of emergency. This is most important for groups with Republican Senators.

  • H.R. 1: Demand your MoC oppose bad faith Motions to Recommit or amendments on the floor that would weaken the bill. This is most important for all House members the week of March 4.

  • Green New Deal: Tell your MoC to co-sponsor the Green New Deal. This is most important for groups with a Democratic Senator not yet cosponsoring (list of cosponsors here).

  • Medicare for All: Tell your MoC to co-sponsor the Medicare for All Act. This is most important for groups with a Democratic House member not yet cosponsoring (list of cosponsors here). 

  • Paycheck Fairness Act: Tell your MoC to hold a mark-up on the Paycheck Fairness Act. This is most important for groups with a House member on the House Ways and Means Committee (list here). 

  • FAMILY Act: Tell your MoC to co-sponsor the FAMILY Act. This is most important for groups with a Republican House member. 

  • Protect Dreamers/TPS Holders: Tell your MoC to support 2 new bills to protect Dreamers and TPS holders, and repeal the Muslim ban. This is important for all MoCs.

  • Repeal the AUMF blank check for war: Tell your MoC to revoke Trump’s blank check for war. This is important for all MoCs. 

Some of our favorite recess tactics are back for this recess! Get your red and green signs ready, because it’s time for town halls (you can even color in your Whose House, Our House signs for this!). In particular, we’ll be encouraging Indivisibles to:

  • Attend 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 face time with your MoC, and remind them that they need to uphold our values. You can find town halls on our map!
  • Have Your Own 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- and getting earned media is crucial here- so now is the time to start calling for a town hall and then diving in proactively to your own planning if there’s no word from your MoC.
  • Do a District Office Visit. 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—or maybe your MoC will even be there since it’s recess. This is a good option if you’re in a purple district and think it’s more strategic rather than a big public event Also consider a district office visit in addition if you also have a town hall!

Town Halls

Any time that Congress is back in their home state/district during recess presents a good opportunity to demand that they hold a town hall. Recesses are when Members of Congress (MoCs) are back home holding public events and meeting with constituents. These meetings are a great opportunity for your group to remind your MoCs that they need to uphold our values. Below are some tips on how to maximize this opportunity 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. See below.

  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.

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. __ likes to talk about how she’s ‘independent’ and not just beholden to her party. Yet today she wouldn’t even break rank with her party and commit to supporting the democracy reform bill H.R. 1.”

    • Question whether they’re in touch with the district. “Rep. ___ says that the Green New Deal is too radical and claims people in her district don’t want it. We do want it. People around here understand climate change is an urgent threat. It’s already impacting our coastline. And we want to see Rep. ___ support this bill.”

  • 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.

Read More

Empty Chair Town Hall

If your member of Congress isn’t having a town hall, you can plan one for them! This is right for you if your MoC hasn’t hosted a town hall (or has hosted a sham town hall). This can be a great tactic if you really need to push your Democratic MoC on committing to bold legislation or have a Republican MoC you want to put more public pressure on. Missing Members are likely to decline your invitation, but that’s why 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.

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 persistent. 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 MoC’s 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@indivisible.org and stories@indivisible.org.

  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.

District Office Visits

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. This is a great option in addition to other tactics, if you don’t have the time to put on an empty chair town hall or if you live in a purple district and want to put less public pressure on your MoC this recess.

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. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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. 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@indivisible.org 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.

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. Then share the agenda for the meeting and some expectations of what you’ll be discussing together.

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.

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 events.