For many Oklahomans, visiting a legislator is something new. Even those of us have been to a rally on the lawn may not have working knowledge of how to do one of the most important things you can do at your state Capitol — and that is to have a productive conversation with legislators. This tipsheet will go through each of these steps for how to do it:
- Team up!
Before you go to the Capitol, know why you are going there, who you hope to speak to, and what their calendar may be like that day.
For instance, during special session, you may be concerned about fixing the state budget, so you are going to see your own two legislators and any others who will speak with you. You’ve called to set appointments with your legislators in advance so you at least know where those two will be and when.
On the day you plan to be at the Capitol:
- Dress in a way that makes you feel comfortable and confident. Wearing a suit is not necessary unless you want to, and high heels or other restrictive shoes are not recommended unless you are used to them. The marble floors are not easy on the feet. You do not need to try to look like a legislator to be heard by one. As long as you are clean and presentable, you’ll be fine!
- There is a brief list of things you should not bring into the Capitol, found here, but the security check is nothing compared to airports so don’t stress about it.
- It is good to bring a bag for a notebook and pen and any handouts you may receive to distribute.
- Take a moment to look at this map of the Capitol grounds so you’ll know where to find parking.
- Leave home a little early to make sure you have plenty of time to park and walk to where you need to be. On busy days, it is sometimes necessary to park on one of the parking lots or side streets to the west and east of the main south side parking lot.
- Go in the South, East, or West side doors of the Capitol. You and your belongings will go through a brief scan at security. Walk to the center of the building, find an elevator, and meet us on the 5th floor balcony.
- Check in with the Together Oklahoma team, and we will make sure you know how to get to your legislators and that you receive any updates, talking points, a connection with a more experience advocate, a pep talk, or anything else that you may need.
- Find your legislator’s office and politely introduce yourself to the assistant sitting behind the desk. Say something like:
- “Hello, I’m _____ and I have an appointment to see ____” or if you have been unable to schedule an appointment yet, simply say
- “Hello, my name is ______ and I am a constituent of _____________. Is he/she available to have a brief conversation?”
- If you aren’t a constituent, just leave that part out.
- Remember, the legislative staff are the gatekeepers! Make a good impression on them and you are MUCH more likely to be able to talk to the legislator or have the legislator actually receive your message.
- If the legislator is available and you are invited into their office, go in, introduce yourself, and politely and promptly start the conversation so you show respect for their time. (If your legislator is not available talk to their staff as if they know what the legislator wants and will do. Staff can be extremely helpful so please be kind to them and ask questions.)
- Remember, conversations with someone you’ve just met are awkward for almost all of us, including for many of our legislators, but if they are good at their job they know that they are supposed to listen to you. Don’t worry about things being awkward, just forge ahead and do your best.
- There are detailed instructions on Talking to a Legislator Face to Face here. It is useful to take notes in advance to help you stay on track.
- Be polite
- Let them know you are their constituent and thank them for their time.
- Thank them for some other good thing they have done if you are able (now is a great time to get a selfie with them for the note you’ll be sending them later.)
- Briefly tell them what is important to you and why.
- Make a specific request and take note of the answer
- Follow up with more questions and concerns if you need to know more or you feel they need clarification of your position
- Thank them for their time and remind them of the answer they gave you to your specific request.
- Return to home-base to check in with your Together Oklahoma team
- Follow up with your legislator after the meeting
Even if you’ve been talking to legislators for years, it is a good idea to take some notes about your conversation right after you meet with them. I recommend that you don’t trust that you’ll remember all the details later, and you’ll want to have those details for your follow up communication with your legislator.
Part of your reflections should also be reviewing what you learned with your team. Check back in the the TOK team. Post about your conversation in Slack so other people in your district can learn what you know AND compare what the legislator said to you to what that legislator said to them. Post about it on social media so that more Oklahomans realize that we can do this and it’s not all that tough after all.
Engage and Reflect again
You have two state legislators, so it is good to talk to both of them or at least their support staff. Once you’ve done that, we hope you will stick around to help us talk to other legislators. Our TOK team will be keeping tabs on which legislators could use some more persuading. Also, some constituents want to meet with their legislators but can’t come to the Capitol. You can be their legs by bringing them to their legislator’s office via video chat. Check with the TOK team to find out more!
Speaking of the TOK team, there are always other useful things you can do for the team while you are at the Capitol such as:
- Call legislators off the floor to talk to them.
- Watch the debates in either the Senate or House and take notes to share later.
- Listen to the conversations lobbyists are having and report back to the team.
- Sit in on committee meetings and take notes to report to the team.
- Share your experience on social media to let our fellow Oklahomans know that we need them to show up in person or by phone to support our efforts.
- Go ahead and send your follow up emails to your legislators.
- Take notes on what other advocates are finding.
Don’t forget to explore your state Capitol! Things may be a little mixed up while construction is happening, but there is still some great art out and about, a gift store, a restaurant on the 4th floor, and more. Take pictures of yourself with the sculptures or the dome. Think about what this place is and what you want it to become.
- If you came with a TOK group, let the TOK team know that you are headed out the door.
- You can swing by the office of your legislators to say goodbye to their staff as well. The staff is truly underappreciated and sometimes treated poorly by angry constituents. Kind words from you can go a long way.
- If you haven’t already, share something about your experience with friends so that others will know that they can and should do this too.
You’ve heard it from me before, but a face to face visit is usually the strongest way to connect the legislators’ values to our own. If you are willing to try it then you are doing something great for our state! If you have any questions about it, check in with Together Oklahoma in Slack or on Facebook and we will see you at the Capitol!