Engaging constituents on human rights topics can increase public understanding and expand support for the member’s activities. There are usually ethnic or affinity communities within the member’s state or district who are already working on human rights issues and will appreciate knowing of the member’s interest and involvement.
Constituent engagement on human rights can take many forms, including public forums, town meetings, call-in shows, teach-ins and symposia; speeches to local clubs and colleges; visits to schools, religious institutions, and community centers; informal polls and questionnaires; and mailings and newsletters.
- Make your work on advancing human freedom a part of your strategy to consolidate support in your district by discussing it with churches, colleges, ethnic associations, students, women’s groups, and other constituent audiences.
- Publicize and draw on the local connections of international human rights defenders. Often, foreign advocates of democracy and the rule of law studied at U.S. colleges and universities, and they retain contacts to local academics and students.
- Invite a member of a refugee group or human rights advocate as your guest to the State of the Union. This can be used a hook with local press and will endear your boss to that community or interest group.
- Involve individual constituents in your work. If there is a human trafficking survivor, or a food aid NGO in your district, their story’s can help make your initiative more personal and local.
- Be creative in how you answer constituent mail on human rights. Your boss can tweet or post to Facebook about human rights issues or record a video response on YouTube.
- Be aggressive in the local press to raise the profile of refugee communities and human rights issues in your state or district. Especially in the minority, one of the most impactful things your boss can do is raise the profile for a group or issue outside the Beltway. Invite press to your district human rights events to build power for the issue or community in question.
- Constituents Welcome Leahy Law Investigation. At a House Armed Services Committee hearing on the National Defense Authorization Act in April 2016, Rep. Loretta Sanchez called for an investigation into allegations that U.S.-funded Azerbaijani forces committed gross human rights violations during their recent offensive in Nagorno-Karabakh. If the reported atrocities, compiled by a local human rights ombudsman, are determined to constitute “credible information”, then Azerbaijan would run afoul of the Leahy Law, and U.S. military assistance would have to be terminated to the culpable units. The large Armenian-American population in Sanchez’ district welcomed Sanchez’s statement.
- Bringing Global Issues into High Schools. Jim McGovern worked with Physicians for Human Rights and the U.S. Campaign to Ban Landmines to arrange landmine education programs in several high schools in his district. During the events, campaigners laid down “landmines” in the school hallways to illustrate the hazards faced by children around the world, and they convened an assembly to provide basic facts and information about unexploded ordnance.
- The State of the Union. The President’s annual State of the Union address is an excellent opportunity to honor a member of your community who connects to your boss’ human rights goals, and to earn local press. In 2016, Massachusetts Congresswoman Rep. Katherine Clark invited Nazda Alam as her guest to SOTU. Alam is a Bangladeshi immigrant who serves as the Chair of the Muslim Voter Registration Project and works to increase civic and electoral participation among Muslim and immigrant communities. By inviting Alam, Clark earned significant local and national
- Being Creative. Marco Rubio regularly responds to constituent mail by video, allowing him to show a personal interest in issues including Chinese political prisoners and human trafficking. Additionally, this is an excellent way for a bilingual boss to speak directly to an immigrant community. Rubio also has a social media campaign called #expressionnotoppression where he speaks on the floor and then tweets about a particular human rights issue. This has earned him positive local press.
- All Politics is Local. Chuck Schumer is famous for Sunday press conferences that focus on local issues. When constituent politics and global emergencies have overlapped, Sen. Schumer has used these events to advance human rights. After a massive earthquake struck Nepal in May 2015, Schumer used this weekly event to gain help Temporary Protected Status for Nepalese living in the U.S.