Tips for Visiting with Your Legislator
- Get to know the legislator before you visit. Visit his or her web site, read their bio, and do a news search.
Is he or she a Republican, Democrat or Independent?
What committee(s) does he or she serve?
Is he or she the author of any recent, significant legislation?
Does he or she share a common perspective regarding an issue important to you?
- Arrive on time, but be prepared to wait. Day-to-day business can delay a legislator or staff.
- Identify yourself as your legislator’s constituent. Provide your address and telephone number.
- Don’t be surprised if your meeting with the legislator turns into a meeting with staff. Meeting with staff and building that relationship can be just as effective. Oftentimes, the legislator is a generalist, who relies upon staff for issue expertise.
- Rest assured that you are the credible expert on the effects of multiple sclerosis. Even if you don’t know the specifics of an issue or piece of legislation, your personal story is most important. Relate your real-life experiences to the reasons why you support or oppose the issue.
- Rehearse your key points in advance and practice telling your story. If others are joining you, determine who will say what and when.
- Keep your conversation simple, concise, and clear. Avoid jargon and acronyms. Refrain from making assumptions. Do not presume those you visit with are versed in the issue important to you.
- Be clear about whether you intend for the legislator to support a bill or oppose a bill. If so, what is the specific bill number? Explain what specific action you would like your legislator to take.
- Preserve your credibility. If you do not know the answer to a specific question, say so and offer to follow up later.
- To conclude your meeting, thank him or her for visiting with you, provide your leavebehind materials, and leave contact information.
Tips for Starting a Conversation and Sharing Your Personal Story
- First, introduce yourself and mention where you live. This will break the ice, and make sure they know you are a constituent.
- Thank the legislator or staff for taking the time to meet with you.
- Then, share your personal story about multiple sclerosis. For example: “Let me start by telling you a little about myself. Are you familiar with multiple sclerosis?”
- Talk about your connection to multiple sclerosis. Explain MS, if they are unfamiliar. Share your experiences and the impact on your life. Be brief but descriptive.
- Then transition into one or two issues that are important to you. Explain your experience with the health care system. Talk about your access to local health care or community resources. Or explain how your life has been impacted by prescription drug costs, disability rights, or another issue.
- If it helps, use one of these transition phrases:
"Because I live with MS, I’m most concerned about…"
"I’m sure you can understand why I feel strongly about MS issues. The most important thing to remember is…"
"People living with MS face many challenges, but if I could ask you to change one thing, it would be…"
- At the end, ask if you can answer any questions. Then conclude the conversation by thanking the legislator or staff again for their time.