How to Advocate for the Bay in Your District

Clean water advocates, we need your voices in Washington!

Whether you have written a letter to the editor or traveled to Washington, your voices have made a difference on Capitol Hill. For years, Congress has been a strong partner with the Bay states, investing in the Chesapeake Bay Program and the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. And it's working! Local waters are getting cleaner and the Bay is responding. But this Administration wants to change that. Now more than ever, we need Congressional leadership on the Bay—and Congress needs to hear your voice!

Here's what you can do from the comfort of your own district to make sure your representatives know that Congressional leadership on the Bay matters to you:

Find Your Legislator

Want to know who represents you and how to contact them? Find out here.

Once you know who your member of Congress is and the phone number for their district office, find a time when he/she is back home to schedule a meeting. August is the longest recess for Congress but there are several other periods throughout the year when Congress is not in session and members are working in-district.

to find a time when your member is in town.

Meet with Your Member of Congress Or Their Staff

All members of Congress and their staff meet with their constituents. To schedule a meeting, you must call the district office and ask for the scheduler. Introduce yourself, let them know you are a constituent, and say that you would like to request a meeting with the Member of Congress or their staff because you are concerned about the health of your local rivers and streams and the Bay. The staffer may ask for your address to confirm that you are a constituent. The best time to schedule your meeting is when your Representative is working in the District.

Preparing for Your Meeting: What do you need and why?

  1. MESSAGE: Think about one sentence that says what you really need. For example, "We want to be able to catch fish again in our river and we need your help to make that happen."

  2. STORY: Think about why this is important to you and remember a time when you realized this. For example, "Growing up, we used to be able to go fishing with my dad and always catch several trout in one afternoon. Now, we are lucky if we catch one. Last summer we went out on the stream several times and caught nothing. This is not right and needs to change."

Feel free to do additional research on the issue, but remember you are already an expert! You just need to know why your local waters are important to you, express your concern for their health and ask your legislator to support actions in Congress that reduce local water pollution.


Watch this video from our Virginia Volunteer Day on the Hill. It has some great examples of meetings in action.


General Outline for Your Meeting

This is an example of how a meeting might unfold, with some ideas about things that would be good for them to hear from you.

  • Start with introductions

    • Introduce yourself.
      "My name is… and I live in your district." (Provide other personal details you are comfortable sharing, such as what you do and where you live, and other things you may do in the community, for example you can mention you are a member of CBF.)

    • Thank them for meeting.
      "Thank you for taking time to meet with me today. I would like to talk with you about (local river or stream), why it's important to me and the ways you can help it become healthy again."

    • Thank them for any actions that you are aware they have taken to improve local water quality.
      For example, did they vote to support local farmers? Or help get funding for the municipality to improve the sewer system or plant more trees so that less polluted runoff is going into local streams?

  • Say why you are there: Clean local rivers and/or streams matter to you.

    • Tell them what you need.
      "We want to be able to catch fish again in our river and we need your help to make that happen."

    • Tell them your personal story that explains why it matters to you.
      "Growing up, we used to be able to go fishing with my dad and always catch several trout in one afternoon. Now, we are lucky if we catch one. Last summer we went out on the stream several times and caught nothing. This is not right and needs to change."

    • Tell them you know that with federal tools and resources, local waters can become healthy again.

  • Ask them for help: Ask them to work in Congress to help improve the local waters and the water that is important to you.

  • Thank them for meeting with you.

  • Read about how CBF volunteers from Virginia lobbied their representatives in D.C.


    Follow Up on Your Meeting

    • Send a thank you note afterwards.
    • If there are any related events in your district, invite them.
    • Take a picture and post it to social media. Tag the member's official account.
    • If you told the legislator you would find specific answers or get specific information, do so.
    • When the legislator does the right thing on the issue, be sure to say thanks!
    • Share with CBF staff how your meeting went and what you learned in your conversation.

    How to Write to Your Legislator

    Writing a letter to a legislator is a very simple way to make your voice heard and can follow the same guidelines as a meeting. Each legislator can tell how important an issue is to their constituents based on the volume of letters, emails, and phone calls received.

    This is an example of how to organize a letter to your legislator, with some examples of things that would be good for them to hear from you.

    Introduction

    • Introduce yourself.
      "My name is… and I live in your district." (Provide other personal details you are comfortable sharing, such as what you do and where you live, and other things you may do in the community, for example you can mention community groups to which you belong.
    • Describe the issue that you are writing about. 
      "I am writing about (local river, stream and/or Bay) because it is important to me and we need your help to make it healthy again."
    • Thank them for any actions that you are aware they have taken to improve local water quality.
      "Before I go on, I just want to thank you for voting in support of federal tools and resources to help local farmers improve the water quality in our river. I understand this will make a great impact over time."

    Tell your message and your story

    • Tell them your message
      "I am asking for your help because we want to be able to catch fish again in our river and we need your help to make that happen."
    • Tell them your personal story that explains why it matters to you.
      "Growing up, we used to be able to go fishing with my dad and always catch several trout in one afternoon. Now, we are lucky if we catch one. Last summer we went out on the stream several times and I caught nothing. This is not right and needs to change."
    • Tell them you know that with federal tools and resources, local waters can become healthy again.

    Closing

    • Ask them directly to work in Congress to help improve the local waters and the water that is important to you.
      "I am asking you to do everything you can in Congress to help us make our local river clean again so that one day, I can take my grandchildren fishing and there will be fish in our river, every time we go."

    Basic tips to keep in mind:

    • Keep your letter short.
    • Type or write clearly.
    • Write in your own words.
    • Cover only one issue.

    Address your letter as follows:

    Members of Congress

    The Honorable [firstname lastname]
    [District Office street address]
    [City, State ZIP]

    Dear Congressman/woman [lastname],
     

    How to Write a Letter to the Editor (LTE)

    Writing a letter to the editor (LTE) helps to frame the debate around an issue, stimulate discussion, and inform the public. Equally important, your elected officials at the federal level read the paper, too. Whether you're jeering or cheering, you're leveraging the media to get attention.

    Tips for writing LTEs:

    • Comment on something in the newspaper
      • Front page article
      • Editorial
      • Op-ed
      • Another LTE

    • Use the "Praise Sandwich"
      • Start by acknowledging the newspaper, appreciating them for something they did or a characteristic of theirs that you appreciate.
      • State the problem as you see it.
      • Propose a solution.
      • Mention your Member of Congress by name, and their role in the solution.
      • Conclude with praise.

    • Find things that you like about how the editorial page writers cover local clean water issues.
      • When they do something you like, send a thank you note.
      • Make it short, sweet, and to the point.
      • It can relate to local clean water issues or can be about another issue that you personally care about.
      • Always follow the word limit.
      • Humor is okay, but being snarky isn't. Stick to the issues and avoid using sarcasm to point out the faults in someone else's argument.

    • If the paper prints a letter that mentions your letter/name, you should respond with a letter. Most papers will forgo the time limit on letters if you are responding to a letter that was submitted as a response to your letter.

    Op-eds follow roughly the same rules except you can be broader in your approach to selecting a theme or topic on which to comment.

    Share Your Clean Water Story

    What does the Bay, its rivers and streams mean to you? What impact have the Bay and its local waters had on your life? We'd like to know.

    Share Your Story

    Save the Bay

    Founded in 1967, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) is the largest independent conservation organization dedicated solely to saving the Bay.

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