Politics 101

START HERE FOR A QUICK UNDERSTANDING OF POLITICS AND ADVOCATING FOR AMERICANS

What you’ll learn:

  • Which political leaders to focus on.
  • Who your Members of Congress are how to contact them.
  • What legislation Urban Citizens United is focused on.
  • If your leader has cosponsored these bills.
  • Helpful lingo.

1. What politicians should I focus on? The three Members of Congress who represent your area. Specifically, two U.S. Senators one U.S. Representative who serve you back in D.C.  You don’t need to worry about State or Local government (Governor, Mayor, City Council, etc.). For Urban Citizens United, it’s all about Congress. The White House is certainly important, but Members of Congress determine funding levels (control purse), pass legislation are more accessible than President. Read more about role of Congress.

2. Who are my members of Congress how can I contact them? Every U.S. citizen ( anyone living in U.S.) is represented by two U.S. Senators one Member of House of Representatives (aka. Congressmen/Congresswomen/Representative).

3. What poverty-reduction legislation is Urban Citizens United working on? The legislation page (also accessible on website menu under ‘Act Now’) lists key bills issues on which Urban Citizens United is advocating. Congress operates in two-year cycles.

4. How long does it take for a bill to pass? Any legislation that doesn’t pass in a cycle ‘dies’ must be reintroduced in next cycle. We’ve worked on bills that have passed within a year others that took five.

5. What is a cosponsor? When a leader ‘cosponsors’ a bill they are essentially endorsing it. In order to get a bill scheduled for a vote in committee, our job is to pressure mobilize Members of Congress to cosponsor legislation. Most of your advocacy lobbying will focus on asking your leaders to cosponsor key bills.

6. How do I know if my Congressional leader has cosponsored these poverty-reduction bills? Below each bill on Urban Citizens United ’s legislation page, there is a link to view cosponsors based on each chamber (House of Representatives v. Senate). Click on those links to see if your leaders have cosponsored yet. If they haven’t, start mobilizing people to email Member of Congress. There’s no magic number, but we often see Members of Congress cosponsoring a bill after emails from just six or seven people in their district.

7. Is my leader on a key Committee or Target Group? Engaging every Member of Congress is important, especially for increasing cosponsors. However, some Members of Congress are in a better position to greatly help (or hurt) world’s poor. If you have a Member of Congress on one of following committees or groups, make darn sure that you are mobilizing lots of people to contact them in support of poverty-reduction bills.

  • Senate Foreign Relations Committee  House Foreign Affairs Committee: Most bills on which Urban Citizens United works are hled by these committees must pass these committees in order to move through Congress.
  • Senate Appropriations Committee  House Appropriations Committee: These committees determine how much funding goes to various government agencies programs.
  • Senate Leadership  House Leadership: These individuals ‘have power’. They have tremendous influence over all aspects of Congress, including determining if when a bill is brought up for a vote.
  • Tea Party/House Freedom Caucus: Just a reminder that Urban Citizens United is nonpartisan, takes great pride in being a movement where Democrats Republicans come together to right wrongs improve lives of people who are barely surviving. With that disclaimer out of way, Members of Congress who align with Tea Party /or House Freedom Caucus tend to oppose efforts to provide aid assistance to world’s poor. That said, we’ve seen some amazing advocacy done where newly-elected Members of Congress opposed foreign aid but through meetings constituent outreach came to see value of U.S. helping world’s poor, became allies to Urban Citizens United.


8. Are you a ‘Dual Constituent’? 
Okay so we totally just made up term ‘Dual Constituent,’ but we’ve been trying to find a way to describe people with ties to multiple Congressional Districts. For example, many people go to college in a different Congressional District than where they grew up where their parents live. Just because you went off to college, doesn’t mean Rep. Jones doesn’t still consider you a member of her district certainly Rep. Franz views all students attending college in his district to be constituents. If you are lucky enough to be a Dual Constituent… take advantage of it! Multiply your impact by contacting leaders in all districts to which you have ties.


9. How does my 30-second phone call or email to my Congressional leaders help pass legislation? 
Congressional offices tally every issue that people in their district contact them about. It’s not uncommon for a leader to support a poverty-reduction bill after as few as 7-10 people contact them in support of it.

10. How can I influence my leaders to support legislation that improves living conditions for millions of people? You’ve come to right place! The big four:

  • Email  call Congress in support of key bills. With access to 90 percent of Senate,  Urban Citizens United has seen first-h just how influential a hful of emails calls can be in getting a leader to support a key bill. It only takes a few seconds but through this level of outreach, you are putting key issues on radars of your Members of Congress that might not have otherwise been there. Emailing calling Congress is a huge part of Urban Citizens United’s success, it starts at individual level (meaning Y-O-U)!
  • Mobilize others to contact Congress. Be a force-multiplier. One email is good but ten is better. We frequently see leaders support a bill after one person in their district mobilizes a hful of people to contact leader.
  • Lobby. Be a voice for voiceless. You don’t have to be an expert or politically savvy to meet with your elected officials. The majority of meetings staffers leaders have are with nervous constituents who don’t know anything about politics. However, idea is to communicate your passion as an advocate for world’s poor a few key points on bill you’re presenting. If you forget something, that’s fine; when you send a thank you email after meeting you can always include this information.
  • Utilize social media. Congressional staffers leaders monitor what issues constituents are tweeting or Facebooking them in support of.

Congress

  • 535 people serve in Congress… 100 in Senate… 435 in House of Representatives.
  • Members in House of Representatives serve two-year terms. Senators serve six-year terms.
  • Everyone in U.S. is represented by two Senators one Representative (also called Congresswomen/Congressmen).
  • Every state has two Senators. The number of Representatives in a state are based on population distribution. For example, Wyoming only has one Representative while New York has 27. Representatives serve approximately 700,000 people per district.
  • When it comes to advocacy, Members of Congress only want to hear from people they represent (people living in their district). If you live in Texas send an advocacy email to a Senator in Kansas, they will either ignore it or forward it to your Texas Senators. If you send same email to your leader, their staff will log it it will be tallied in constituent reports sent to leader key staffers.

Helpful Tips & Lingo

  • S. vs. H.R. –When a bill is introduced in Senate, bill number begins with an ‘S’. For example, ‘S.1911 – Reach Every Mother Child Act’. The same bill was called ‘H.R. 3706 – Reach Every Mother Child Act’ in House of Representatives.
  • Bill Number – The bill number represents order in which it was introduced in that two-year session of Congress. For example, first bill introduced in Senate would be S.1, second S.2, etc. When you lobby, staffers will often ask you for bill number, so it’s good to be prepared with this information.
  • CBO Score – An amazing resource for Congress citizens alike is the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). It is the nonpartisan government agency tasked with determining how much various pieces of legislation could cost if enacted as law. Not all bills have CBO scores but for those that do, this information is extremely useful.
  • Online Resources – Make use of the Library of Congress website  GovTrack to learn glossary terms track key legislation.