Meeting your representatives in person is a good way to show that you’re passionate about an issue and that you have the skills to build a campaign around it. This will guide help you present your case, either in a personal meeting or in front of your city council.

Before Your Visit

  • Schedule an appointment. You can usually do this by calling your representative’s office and asking when they are available to meet with a constituent. Some representatives also have an online form to request a meeting on their webpage, usually under “Contact.” On the day of your meeting, make sure you show up ten to fifteen minutes early, and be patient if your representative is running late.
  • Know who you’re meeting. Get to know the politician you’re contacting, including their voting history, what committees they serve on, and how they feel on similar issues. Think about ways to tie your issue to something that they already care about. In some cases, especially at the federal level, you may only be meeting with staff members, but it is generally the staffers who write laws, propose ideas, and advise the elected official, so treat them in the same manner.
  • Invite others to attend. Not everyone you ask has to be a member of your chapter, but they should support the issue you want to discuss. In fact, encouraging people from other types of groups who have the same position as you, even if for different reasons, can show that your issue has a wide base of support. Limit the number of people to 5 and meet with each other beforehand to make sure everyone in your group knows what they are going to say and that people aren’t repeating each other.
  • Dress professionally. Wear clothes you’d use for an interview.

What to Bring

You should always prepare material stating the main points relevant to your issue and bring extra copies to give to any staff. Ideally, it shouldn’t be more than 1-2 pages.Things to include:

  • Who you are: Make sure they know you are from the National Youth Rights Association and provide your contact details so that they can get in contact with you or follow up at our national office for more information on the issue. If you are representing other groups, mention them as well.
  • What you want: Are you asking them to draft or co-sponsor a bill?
  • Previous legislation: Did someone try to pass a law in favor of this issue? Try to find previous examples of similar legislation. If your examples include legislation from your area or state and from the same political party as your representative, great, but anything similar is fine.
  • Talking points: What are the main points that support your issue? Put them in a concise list. Use nonpartisan evidence and statistics where appropriate to support your claims. Mention politicians that support your issue. Cite your sources.
  • A draft of the new legislation: If you are asking your representative to write an entirely new piece of legislation, provide them with a draft. We can help you find an example.
  • Details of the current bill: If there is a bill already introduced, note the bill, its name and number, and state its current status (including how many people are currently cosponsoring it).
  • Let us know if you would like us to look over your materials to give you feedback.

What to Say

  • Build a Relationship. Building a relationship with your representative is an important piece of gaining their support. What they think of you can determine how far they take your suggestions and concerns. It is important to be polite and respectful even if they don’t agree with you. Don’t belittle or argue with them. Express appreciation for any work they have done on pro-youth or similar issues. Thank them for meeting with you. Elected officials can stay in office for a long time, so even they don’t support your issue now, they may in the future. If you build a relationship with them, you can plant a seed that, with time, can grow into soft or hard support for your issue. If you can move someone from actively opposing your aims to remaining silent on a vote for a bill you favor, you have achieved a huge victory.
  • Ask them to take some action. State exactly what you want your representative to do, such as author or co-sponsor a bill.
  • Explain why this issue is important to you and your community. Talk about how it affects your daily life and why you are campaigning about it. Make it clear that you are also representing a need in your representative’s district and explain how your issue will help address that need. Tell them about the community outreach you’ve done and the support you have.
  • Present your materials. Don’t read from them.
  • Address their concerns. Listen to what they care about and try to give honest answers to any questions they have. Acknowledge the downsides to a bill if it comes up, but state how you think the pros outweigh the cons. Politicians need to explain to their constituents why they are supporting an issue and you should help them find suitable answers to the difficult questions posed by people who oppose your issue. Get back to them If you don’t know the answer.
  • Try to reach some middle ground. If your representative isn’t supportive, ask what is holding them back. Do they need more information or are they looking to hear from more constituents? Ask them what they are willing to do in order to address the issue. Ask them how you can make what you want a reality.

After Your Visit

  • Send a Thank You note. Send an email to any representatives or staff who were present at the meeting. Restate your request for action and include any relevant information, such as a link to bill discussed or a PDF of your materials or draft legislation.
  • Report back to you community. Share the outcome of your meeting with us at NYRA and with your community. Any support will help to increase awareness of your issue. You can write an op-ed for your local newspaper, contact the media if you haven’t already done so, conduct a letter-writing campaign, and post on social media.
  • Follow up. If your elected official makes a promise, it is a good idea to check up on them in a couple of months. If they’ve done what you’ve asked, send another thank you note. If they haven’t, feel free to send them a friendly reminder.

Speaking at City Council Meetings

Many state legislatures and nearly every city council allow members of the public to speak at hearings on legislation. In addition to the above, you should:

  • Find out where and when the council meetings are. This is usually on your city’s website.
  • Practice your speech. Typically, speakers are allowed two minutes to address the council. Make sure you make the most of your time.
  • Come early and fill out a speaker card, if required.
  • Remember to introduce yourself and where you live before you speak.
  • Be flexible. Even though you will have prepared a speech, there might be other people speaking on the same issue. If you can address their concerns or build on what they’ve said, feel free to do so.
  • Follow up. You can send any relevant written materials to the council after the meeting.