Crafting Your Message to Congress

In preparing to meet with your member of Congress, keep in mind that you should plan for your visit to be friendly, constructive and brief. Remember that you are just as important to your representatives in Congress as they are to you. We’d like to offer a few tips that can help in having an effective dialogue with your elected officials and continue to build a positive relationship with your representatives in Washington, DC.

  • Begin your meeting by introducing the group, including where each person lives, congregation/religious affiliation, and a brief word about why he or she is involved in the issue of Middle East peace. Be sure the member of Congress knows that you are with Churches for Middle East Peace. Underline your presence in the district/state.
  • Underline your presence in the district. Talk about the town or city you are from and tell the person you are meeting with about your connections to the district/state. Name your congregation and its location in the district/state. If you are a small business owner in the district/state, let them know. If you volunteer or do any local organizing let them know.  However, don’t spend too much time on this as it is just an ice breaker and a way to start the meeting without immediately going into talking points.
  • Start with a compliment. One of the best ways to begin your conversation is with a “thank you” for something that your legislator has done, no matter how big or small that something may be. It helps to build a rapport with your legislator and his or her staff and demonstrates that you are knowledgeable and there to work your legislator, not just admonish them or demand a difficult action.
  • Be concise and clear when presenting your group’s position and the reason for you visit. Listen closely and openly to what your legislator and their staff say about their views and concerns, and ask questions. What they say may provide some hints about the best ways to follow up to the meeting.
  • It’s not just what you’re against—it’s what you’re for that matters. Example: “I am a Christian and I support strong and focused U.S. leadership to end conflict in the Holy Land” or “I am a Christian and I support the Administration’s efforts to hold both sides accountable because only a balanced approach will enable the U.S. to guide both parties to a just and lasting peace.
  • Be aware of your tone (don’t be accusatory) and avoid finger pointing. A patronizing tone will turn people off.
  • Be considerate of and consider other people’s world view. Listen to others in the same manner that you would like to be listened to.
  • Talk about the future and not the past. Acknowledge the complexities of the conflict but do not go into a long historical narrative about the conflict. Giving a history lesson will put your audience to sleep and can make it seem like there is no solution because this is a feud that goes back hundreds or thousands of years. Talk about your vision for a better future for both Israeli and Palestinian children, rather than talking about the past. Keep in mind that you don’t need to be expert on the issue. As long as you are well informed about the basics and show that you and people in your community care about the peace process and the U.S. role in it, you will be effective in a meeting. If your group gets asked a question that you don’t know the answer to, just offer to follow up with the information after the meeting. CMEP staff can assist you in finding any additional information that you might need. Make sure to conclude the meeting with a reminder about what you are asking for and let them know that you will follow up on your request.
  • Keep it simple and repeat your message several times.
  • Pay attention to body language. Note if the person you are meeting with seems disinterested, rushed, etc. and adjust accordingly. (Does the person you are meeting with seem in a hurry? If so, you may need to pick up the pace to get all your talking points across.)
  • Show empathy for both sides. Be balanced and don’t pretend either side is without faults.
  • Explain the principles behind your actions. Why are you here today to meet with your Congressperson and/or their staff? All too often people go right into the issue without explaining the principles behind their actions. The person listening will respond much better to facts if they know why you are concerned about this issue. For example:
    • “As a matter of principle, all people should be treated with dignity and should be ensured security, human rights, and religious freedom.”
    • “As a matter of principle, peace, security, and a better quality of life for both Israelis and Palestinians will go a long way to help stabilize the Middle East and help U.S. national security interests.
  • At the end of your meeting thank your Representative or their staff person for his or her time.
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