A Beginner's Guide To Visiting Your Elected Officials In Los Angeles
By Sarah Ullman
Are you hungering to be heard by your elected officials? Frustrated that you can’t get through to Senator Dianne Feinstein’s office on the phone? Missing a sense of satisfaction after you make your five calls and the consistently polite intern responds each time, “I will pass on your message to the Congressman”?
Showing up could be the cure. Visiting your elected representatives isn’t just for extroverts, though you should be prepared to have an actual face-to-face conversation. You’ll likely speak with your elected official’s staff rather than the official herself, especially if you don’t make an appointment.
Peter Levine, Associate Dean for Research at Tisch College and former director for the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University, told LAist that you should show up ready to have a dialogue or to hold your elected official accountable. “Decide whether it’s a friend or an opponent. Visit the friends too. Do your homework. If you agree, you’re going there to support and find out how you can help,” Levine explained
If you disagree with your elected official, visit with the intention of persuasion. Be prepared with a compelling personal story and aim to have a dialogue. “A really honest conversation with a political leader is one where they get to talk about their circumstances in addition to our needs. Really good community organizers have known this for a long time: politicians are people too. They have constraints and complicated situations. If you can figure out what’s constraining them, sometimes you can work through to a solution,” said Levine.
If you want to speak with someone in a timely fashion, it’s best to call or email and make an appointment. You can certainly show up unannounced, but there might be a wait. Expect to sign in and have your visit logged or recorded in some way. Most elected officials like to keep tabs on which constituents show up so that they can follow up if needed. I humbly suggest business casual attire and no flip flops (toes are best hidden when advocating for social justice).
Senators have many more constituents than members of Congress do; Senators Harris and Feinstein represent about 40 million Californians, while each congressperson's district has about 710,000 people. Due to a larger volume of constituents, senators usually have a bigger budget to set up an office, but their staff’s time is stretched in 40 million ways. In my personal experience, my congressperson's staff has been faster to return an email or phone call. Traditionally, the House of Representatives is designed to be more responsive to the direct needs and desires of constituents; members of Congress are elected every two years and so they’re a bit more vulnerable and thus more responsive to a potential visit. The Senate is designed to be a more deliberative body; senators are elected every six years. This somewhat insulates them from small fluctuations in public opinion, but... Senator Feinstein is up for election in 2018. Pay her a visit to let her know what she needs to do to earn your vote.
Your elected official hires staff specifically to meet with constituents (they are called “field representatives” for senators or “district representatives” for members of Congress), so you have the right to speak with someone. While meeting with a staff member can feel like a consolation prize, recognize that an elected official’s staff are the operational force on the ground. They get stuff done. Staff are “under-appreciated unsung heroes,” in the words of Mr. Levine.
To make a difference on an issue you care about, calling is a good start. Showing up is even better. By showing up, you’re demonstrating a sacrifice of your time. The more people who do that, the more obvious it is that you care about an issue and you are not going away. The next time you scroll through Twitter and ask yourself “What fresh hell is this?” get in your car, cross the 405, and have a conversation with the people who can do something about it. As Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) says, “There is no anger or anxiety you feel that cannot be cured by political action.”
The Nuts And Bolts
California has two senators and they represent all Californians. Things get a little more complicated in the House of Representatives, where the Golden State has a whopping 53 legislators, each of whom represent a different geographic district. If you don't already have their number on speed dial, you can look up who your congressional representative is here.
Visiting Your Senators
Senator Kamala Harris's Los Angeles office is downtown in the same building as the federal courthouse. Because of its location in the court building, you’ll have to go through U.S. Marshal security to get inside. Enter on the Spring Street entrance. The building is an easy walk from Union Station, or you can park at the Aiso St. Parking Garage at 101 Judge John Aiso Street (It's a $1 an hour and they take credit cards).
Senator Kamala Harris's office is located at 312 N. Spring Street, Suite 1748 in downtown Los Angeles, 90012. Office hours are Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (213) 894 - 5000
Senator Dianne Feinstein's Los Angeles office is in West L.A. near the intersection of Santa Monica Boulevard and Sepulveda. Because the office is in a private office building, they don’t allow large crowds in the lobby. If you arrive unannounced, you will likely be asked to wait in the lobby. Street parking or park in Westwood and walk down.
Senator Dianne Feinstein's office is located at 11111 Santa Monica Boulevard, Suite 915 in West Los Angeles, 90025. (310) 914-7300
Visiting Your Representatives
Remember that handy link for finding out who your congressional representative is from a few paragraphs ago? Here it is, again. Check out the map below for individual office locations and phone numbers (more information can be found on your rep's website). Note: some of the representatives have multiple district field offices, all of which can be found on their websites.
Sarah Ullman is a director and writer with a focus on political activism. She is also the creator of The Jungle, an email newsletter about the business of the digital video ecosystem. Find her on Twitter @thesillysully.