This is written for an American audience; however, I know that many friends and colleagues around the world read my newsletter and visit my website. So feel free to adapt these tips to conform with your province, region, or country.
1. Visit Washington DC.
Every American should visit our nation’s capital at least once in your life to see where our President lives and where Congress makes our laws. All of the Smithsonian Museums are FREE of charge in Washington, so put them at the top of your list. You have to make a reservation to go on the White House Tour, but you can go to the Senate and House of Representative buildings at anytime free of charge. The NEW Martin Luther King Memorial will be dedicated on August 28th, commemorating the 48th Anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington.
For more information, visit www.washington.org.
2. Visit Your Congressional Offices
All 435 US Congressional Representatives have an office in Washington DC AND offices in their local districts. My congressman is Barney Frank, and I have visited and met with him in his Washington DC office and his office in Taunton, Massachusetts. The same is true for all 100 US Senators. Go to either www.senate.gov or www.house.gov to find out who your congressional representative is. It is best to meet with your congressional representative or senator in your home district.
In Washington the House of Representatives Buildings include:
--Cannon House Office Building
--Longworth House Office Building
--Rayburn House Office Building
The Senate Buildings include:
--Hart Senate Office Building
--Dirksen Senate Office Building
--Russell Senate Office Building
3. Visit Your State Capital
This should be an easy one for you. Especially is you live in your state capital, like Boston, Massachusetts. It’s FREE to visit your state capital and most offer tours at certain tines of the day. I am a member of a public service sorority, Delta Sigma Theta (www.deltasigmatheta.org). As part of our Social Action Agenda we plan a State House event every year around the United States called “Delta Day at the State House” (DDSH), that is open to the general public. We usually select a state related topic, like redistricting, tour the capital, and invite our legislators to address our audience at a two hour program we hold in a reserved room at the capital. (Our Annual Nation’s Capital Legislative Conference is only open to members.)
Whether you are an individual, a family, or a group, visiting your state capital is a must for an informed, empowered citizen. Every state has their own website and pertinent information on state, city, and town issues. Google your state’s website and explore its resources. Most state capitals have a bookstore or some resources center where you can purchase items related to your state affairs. I enjoy browsing the documents, photos, and historical guidebooks on Massachusetts when I visit my state capital bookstore. I encourage you to visit your state capital in the coming year.
4. Visit Your Governor, State Representatives And Senators
When you visit your state capital, don’t forget to stop in the office of your governor and state legislators. When we hold DDSH (see #3) we always plan visits to our respective legislators’ offices. You don’t have to make an appointment. You can stop in, speak to a staff member, leave your name and number, and schedule a future meeting with either a staff member, representative and/or senator. You can also sit in on a legislative session, hearing or other meeting, depending on when your state’s legislators are in session.
It may be a bit more difficult to have a one-to-one meeting with your governor. However, when he/she attends events around your state, plan to attend and ask a pertinent question (about bridges, roads, housing, education, budgets, etc) during the session. You can follow up with the designated staff member attending the event with the governor. They never travel to events alone.
Google your state house for more information on contacting your representative or senator. Some state legislators meet at designated times of the year, per their Constitution. The Texas Legislature meets in regular session on the second Tuesday in January of each odd-numbered year. The Texas Constitution limits the regular session to 140 calendar days.
Others meet at selected times of the year. (Massachusetts State Legislature is called the General Court.) The Massachusetts Legislature has a two year cycle. The current cycle runs from January 2011 to July 2012. (The Massachusetts legislators are elected every two years. Currently informal sessions are being held at the State House throughout the summer months. I called Governor Patrick’s office and then my own Senator Rodrigues’ office to find this out.) The times your state legislature meets depends on your state constitution.
Call your governor’s office to learn more. You also have a better chance of connecting with your legislator at some event in your state (like a public hearing). Walk up to your legislator, introduce yourself, and ask when you can visit his/her office and talk more about your respective issue.
5. Visit The United Nations in New York City
At least once in your life you should visit the United Nations. It’s located in New York City, and much of the building is FREE and open to the public. There’s tight security, so plan your timing accordingly. It might take you 15 minutes to go through security.
The WORLD visits the United Nations every day! The entire world! Forget all of the naysayers who trash the value of the UN, you should plan a visit at some point in your life. There are world exhibits, sessions that you can observe, tours (with a small charge), conferences and events held in the building. I have spoken at the UN as part of conferences, attended luncheons and other events, and find the environment fascinating.
Every world event from hunger, to civil wars are discussed, evaluated and negotiated in the United Nations buildings. Many many school groups visit the building, and it’s fun seeing young people exchange ideas and information at the UN. There is a cafeteria in the building and an extensive bookstore and gift shop. You can reach the building using public transportation. Take your camera and video camera and snap those photos wherever you can. Stop and meet a visitor dressed in their native outfit and learn more about their country. Plan to stay for a half day or a full day. It’s a big complex and will take some time to get through the public parts.
For more information visit www.un.org.
Stay tune for Steps 6-10 in Part Two of this article.
Your comments and suggestions are welcome.