Thursday, July 1, 2010

Reach Out to Your Members of Congress Next Week for Leonard Peltier

From July 5 to July 11, Congress will be in recess. When Members of Congress are home, you can ask them questions at public events or set up a meeting in their home offices. Let your members of Congress know how you feel about COINTELPRO, the "Reign of Terror," the railroading of Leonard Peltier, and his illegal imprisonment. To locate your Representative and U.S. Senators, click here.

When making a phone call to the office of your Member of Congress, be sure to include the following information:

  • Who you are. Let the legislator’s office know that you are a constituent, and you may wish to talk a little bit about your credentials where appropriate.
  • The issue and your position on it. Whether you're calling a Member of Congress about Peltier's parole, clemency, release of government documents on the case, or the need for congressional hearings be sure to give your position on the issue. Be clear and concise.
  • How to contact you. Remember to leave your address and telephone number so that you can receive a response from your Member of Congress.

Note: The same guidelines apply when calling the White House to urge the President to grant a commutation of Peltier's sentence. The following telephone numbers may be of used for this purpose: 202-456-1111 or -1112 (Comments); and 202-456-1414 (Switchboard).

If feasible, you may want to request a meeting with your Member of Congress:

  • Find your Congressional District and contact information.
  • Send a fax or e-mail to the scheduler requesting a meeting.
  • Include the date and time of day you will be available to meet with the member, but be flexible about scheduling your visit because Members of Congress have busy calendars.
  • Offer to meet with a staff member if the Member of Congress is not available (i.e., a Legislative Assistant) .
  • Include the issue you would like to discuss (Freedom of Information Act reform, for example).
  • Provide a phone number and/or e-mail address where the scheduler can reach you.
  • Follow up with a phone call in one week's time if you have not heard back from the congressional office.
  • When the meeting is scheduled, find accurate information as to the physical location for your legislator's office.
  • Be on time for the meeting. Staff in most Capitol Hill and district offices are busy and work on tight schedules. Remember that their time is valuable.
  • Establish a rapport. After introductions and handshakes, talk about things or relationships you might have in common. A little bit of research can pay off, so find out all you can about your Members of Congress. For instance, maybe you have a mutual friend, or perhaps you both went to the same elementary school. Thank your senator or representative for all that he or she does on Capitol Hill to represent your state or district.
  • If several people will attend the meeting, select a spokesperson. If everyone there will have a role, select one person to move the meeting along in a timely manner.
  • State your purpose. For example, you might say, "Congressman Lee, we are here to talk with you about hearings on the long-term effects of COINTELPRO. Specifically, we would like to have your support for hearings on the 'Reign of Terror' on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in the early 1970s."
  • Make the issue real. Legislators are people; they are sympathetic to stories about real people. For example, humanize Leonard Peltier by telling the member a little bit about Peltier, the man. If not speaking from personal experience, personalize the events on the Pine Ridge Reservation during the 1970s by sharing published stories. Offer the member a copy of "Incident at Oglala" for viewing or a copy of Peter Matthiessen's book, In the Spirit of Crazy Horse.
  • Paint the little picture, but also the big picture. After you discuss how the issue has affected you, talk about the millions of Peltier supporters worldwide. Include names of congresspersons who currently support or have supported Leonard Peltier in the past, as well as mentioning specific celebrities, dignitaries, and luminaries who also support Peltier.
  • You should also mention the legislative bodies around the world who have passed resolutions in support of Peltier (e.g., the European Parliament, Belgium Parliament, and more).
  • Make a clear request. Tell your Member of Congress exactly what you would like him or her to do, and do not leave without learning the legislator’s position on your issue. For example, you might say that you would like your legislator to sign a letter in support of Peltier's release. Then, ask the Member or their staff to outline the legislator’s current position.
  • Very soon after the meeting, write a thank you letter to your Member for taking the time to visit with you.

It's common for some congressional members to view the Peltier case as history and unimportant to today's world. Don't be dissuaded by this. Instead, use some creativity to make the Peltier case current and important in light of the issues of the day, as well as the political landscape in Washington, DC.

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