Arranging a "Show Congress" event is a great way to show your Senator or Representative that biking and walking matter in your state or district.
By arranging your elected official's participation in a community bike event in a way that is visual, public, and fun, you can make your Senator or Representative look good and help them connect with biking and walking in their constuency.
Participating in an event like this also means you meet staffers, both DC-based and those who work in a district office. These connections always prove to be beneficial.
Here are some tips for putting on a great "Show Congress" event.
1. Choose a high-traffic facility near your official's home office.
For a newsworthy and high-traffic event, hold your event where a trail, bike lane, mountain bike trail, or BMX facility exists, is newly opening, or is being dedicated.
Choosing a location near your Representative's or Senator's district office will increase the likelihood that your elected official will be able to attend. Having a great event concept may not be enough to attract your Senator or Representative if it requires a long drive (more than 20 minutes) to a remote part area and back again.
2. Time your event to align with your official's schedule.
Your Senator or Representative will be busy and may have a limited amount of time to spend at your event. Twenty minutes is often about the limit, as the staff will likely have a full day of stops or meetings scheduled.
Linking your event to something else they’re doing later the same day in a nearby location will help.
3. Be ready to work with your Congressperson's district staff.
Even if you begin this process by working with a staffer based in a DC office, you’ll likely end up working with a district or state level staff person.
Working with district staff is great for building long-term partnerships. While staff changes are common at the DC office level, district staffers tend to stay on the job longer.
4. Pitch a full package and supply everything the Congressperson will need to participate.
When you contact staff about the event, be sure to explain what will happen and how it would benefit the Congressperson. To get an event onto a Congressperson's schedule, staff need to readily understand the event and see the clear benefit to their boss.
The event also needs to be a complete package. If it includes a bike ride, plan to supply the bike and a helmet. You may also need to provide a bike and helmet for a staff person. Keep in mind, too, that some officials might not be comfortable on a bike, so be sure to check with the staff prior to arranging a ride.
5. Be flexible with dates and locations, and prepare for last-minute changes.
It’s a good idea to present several options the staff can work with depending on the Representative or Senator’s schedule.
Remember, too, that all your planning might get derailed by last-minute schedule changes. A weekend event that’s a go in mid-week might be interrupted due to a vote back in DC It’s good to be ready with Plan B.
6. Make sure lots of people attend.
Getting a Congressperson to the event is only part of the equation. You need to ensure that lots of people attend your event, even if it means staging them to appear at a certain time.
Members of Congress love constituents (and kids), so make sure that lots of them will be on hand to talk, say thanks, pose for pictures, etc. Arranging with a bike club or scheduling an organized ride is a good way to ensure that you’ll have numbers.
7. Keep it positive and focus on building a good relationship.
"Show Congress" events are “feel good” events. This is not the time to press a Representative or Senator about a particular issue.
Build a relationship now that will set the table for the heavy lifting later. Keeping it positive will help build trust between you and the staff.
8. Engage press and media, and coordinate publicity with the Congressperson's office.
Without media coverage, there’s probably not a compelling reason for your Congressperson to attend. Make sure that local newspapers, TV outlets, and journalists will be on hand for interviews, follow-up questions, photos, and blog posts.
Getting a Representative or Senator back in the district for a bicycle event or trail event is newsworthy and usually a great photo-op. In some cases, the congressional staff will help with press releases, coordinating with the media, etc. Clarify media roles well in advance of the event.
9. Leverage the business angle.
Emphasizing the business and economic benefits of biking may provide extra appeal to members of Congress. Bicycle retailers are successful small business people who hire workers, pay taxes, and often play a prominent role in the community.
In some cases, retailers can document how business has increased or led to additional shop locations due to a new bike trail, bike lane, or mountain bike trail. For help finding a retailer, contact Caron Whitaker.
10. Follow up with thank-you notes and calls.
After your event, be sure to follow up with a thank you notes, calls, or emails to congressional or district staff, as well as to the Senator or Representative. It’s also a good idea to thank any press or media who participated as well.
Also, let us know how it goes!
Toolkit for Organizing a Show Congress Event
Thinking about organizing an event with your Senator or Representative? Use our toolkit!
You can view the toolkit below or download it as a PDF.