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9 Steps to Getting Your Congressman in the National News

Updated on February 13, 2017

Representative Sneaking Out Back Door Makes National News

Slate was one of the national media organizations who posted the story about Congressman Mike Coffman sneaking out of his meeting early.
Slate was one of the national media organizations who posted the story about Congressman Mike Coffman sneaking out of his meeting early.

There We Were, a Bunch of Ordinary People, Waiting

We weren’t activists. We weren’t organized—believe me, we really weren’t organized. Most of us didn’t know each other. But we did all really want to talk to our Congressman, Mike Coffman, after he hadn’t had a public meeting in 6 months.

And, when it became clear that he wasn’t going to talk to us, we did a few simple things that brought him a whole lot of attention for sneaking out on his constituents. We contacted our local Channel 9 News, and they filmed him sneaking out the back door 6 minutes early to avoid facing us.

Local Coverage Goes National

Channel 9 aired a segment on the 10:00 news that went on for several minutes, showing how he high-tailed out and left a woman with breast cancer still wanting to talk to him about her concerns.

The local Channel 7 News covered it, too, as did the local newspaper The Denver Post.

Then things really got rolling. The story was covered in Time, Yahoo! News, Fortune, New York Magazine, Slate, The Colorado Independent, MSNBC and The Rachel Maddow Show, The Daily Beast, and even TeenVogue.

That’s a lot of coverage for a little meeting that started out with 150 people out in Aurora, Colorado.

Indivisible: A Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda

Here's a screen shot of the cover of the downloadable guide "Indivisible."
Here's a screen shot of the cover of the downloadable guide "Indivisible."

Focus on Your Members of Congress

That’s a lot of coverage for a little meeting that started out with 150 people out in Aurora, Colorado.

But, if you read the publication Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda, you’l l find, just as I did, that it doesn’t take a lot of time to get the ball rolling on influencing your member of Congress.

As the authors of the Guide state, the one thing that you need to know about your member of Congress is that they are constantly thinking about re-election. It’s what they have to do. And what they don’t want is any messiness in the district. According to the Guide, “This constant reelection pressure means that MoCs [members of Congress] are enormously sensitive to their image in the district or state, and will work very hard to avoid signs of public dissent or disapproval.”

When we all gathered outside the room Rep. Mike Coffman was in, we wanted to be heard. We suggested that he let everyone in and have a town hall meeting. He refused. Instead, he wanted us to come in 4 at a time for 5 minutes. That gave each person a whopping 75 seconds to talk to him. And it soon became clear that there was no way he would have enough time to see everyone. At that point, he incurred quite a bit of the gathering’s dissent and disapproval. And, together, we figured out a way to take action.

But, let’s back up and talk about the specific steps we took that led to him being covered by national news organizations. You can do this, too. It’s not hard.

1. Show Up

A co-worker of mine used to say “90% of life is showing up.” Go to those constituent meetings. Just being there shows your member of Congress that someone wants to be heard. The people there didn’t start out as a group, but enough of us came that we were able to get someone’s attention. As the Indivisible Guide points out, you only need about ten or so people who live in the same district—and you can even get by with fewer. And you just need to spend a couple of hours a month trying to get their attention.

First, Show Up

Have you been to a town hall or one-on-one meeting with your member on Congress?

See results

2. Alert the media.

I have to admit, I didn’t really think this would work. About half an hour in, some frustrated people got an idea. “Tweet to the news channels. Call them. This is news.” So I did. I tweeted 9 News. As far as I know, the people in the room didn’t even all contact the same place. But enough of us contacted Channel 9 that they sent a reporter and a photographer out.

I was surprised. On the surface of it, we were just a bunch of people standing out in a hallway, waiting. But the reporter saw the story there: people who wanted to have their voices heard, vs. a Congressman who just wanted to say he did his duty and get out of there.

Here is the tweet 9 News sent out about the Congressman sneaking out early.
Here is the tweet 9 News sent out about the Congressman sneaking out early.

3. Document what’s going on.

Turn that cell phone on, and use it to record what’s happening. You may be able to use that footage to prove a point when your member of Congress tries to explain it another way. For instance, Mr. Coffman said that we had a group of “partisan activists” who wanted to “disrupt” things. Here’s the picture I took of the event which can help to dispel his spin. This was the way we looked the bulk of the time we were waiting. Others had their pictures of the crowd, too, to corroborate, and you can see that we were all just standing there.

Lots of Constituents Show Up for Meeting with Respresentative

Here is the crowd that Congressman Mike Coffman later referred to as "partisan activists."  I was there the whole time, and they were simply people who wanted to meet with the Congressman.
Here is the crowd that Congressman Mike Coffman later referred to as "partisan activists." I was there the whole time, and they were simply people who wanted to meet with the Congressman.

4. Gather Information

If you intuit that something more is going on, or you know a way to find out more, go get a record of what you want to investigate. When Congressman Coffman’s aide came out to talk to us (the guy was in charge of letting just four people in and then shutting the locked door really quick), he said that he had only reserved the library room for an hour and a half, and –so sorry—they had to get out for the next group.

Well, I went and checked with the library staff, and there was no one else scheduled to be in that room. They could have had it until 5:30 and continued to meet with people until they were all seen. Here is a photo I took of the screen that shows the meeting room reservations

Here is the library online schedule for the room Mr. Coffman reserved. The blue shows the time: 1:30-4:00. The blank space afterwards means there was no one scheduled later. I talked with library staff and he could have stayed in the room until 5:30.
Here is the library online schedule for the room Mr. Coffman reserved. The blue shows the time: 1:30-4:00. The blank space afterwards means there was no one scheduled later. I talked with library staff and he could have stayed in the room until 5:30.

5. Tell the media person what to watch for.

The even bigger information coup was accomplished by the people who had a suspicion that he would try to sneak out the back door. They went outside, and sure enough, the police were putting up yellow tape to keep people back. They let the news cameras know, and the photographer got a really nice shot of Mr. Coffman scuttling out the back and into a waiting Lexus. They looked at their watches and noted that he’d left before his meetings ended. He had 6 minutes left on his own schedule and could have met with another group.

6. Talk with the media.

Make it easy for the media to get some good images for their story. Several people told their story in front of the cameras. Once it was clear Mr. Coffman wasn’t going to come back out, we started singing “American the Beautiful.” (Such a radical song!)

7. Share the media reports with everyone you can think of on the internet.

As I understand it, there are two main drivers that determine how high a story occurs in search results. One is the number of clicks that a piece receives. Google assumes that is a popular story, and moves it up the page. E-mail it to everyone you know.

The other is the number of links that lead to the story. So, what you want to do is to take that media report and create links however you can. Put it on Twitter and Facebook. Put a link to it on your blog. Link it on Pinterest, Reddit, StumpleUpon, Tumblr, any sort of social media. Each one will be another link back to the story.

8. Keep in touch with the press and correct errors.

I noticed that the Denver Post said that Mr. Coffman had left by 4:00, when he actually left before 3:30. It’s an important detail because it shows that he didn’t even stay the amount of time he promised. I wrote to the reporter to say that it was 3:24, and she corrected the online version of the story. She also gave me the names and contact info for the fellows that cover the political beat, and now I have those numbers if something else goes on.

9. Follow up with your member of Congress.

After about a week, I followed up with Mike Coffman’s chief of staff to see when the next meeting will be. His answer was “We’ll talk about it next week and maybe decide from there.” Sounds like “the check is in the mail” strategy to me. I do have to give him credit for calling me back when I left a message. (Another little tip. I didn’t tell him in the message what it was about. I thought that if he knew I wanted to talk about the next meeting—that I suspect he doesn’t want to schedule—he wouldn’t call me back.) I’ll keep calling, though. He needs to know he can’t ignore us.

Show Up. Speak Up. Keep It Up.
Show Up. Speak Up. Keep It Up.

Show Up, Speak Up, Keep It Up

Until then, I’ll keep sharing the news report and getting notice for it. Our members of Congress need to know that they have to listen to us if they want to get re-elected.

So, exposing their behavior on national news is a start.

Here’s the point: with just a few people, we were able to expose him avoiding his constituents in 10 major new outlets. It wasn't hard. It's something you and few other people can accomplish as well.

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