The Alternatives National Conference has decided not to hold an independent conference this year. Instead, Alternatives is collaborating with Mental Health & Addiction Association of Oregon to host elements of Alternatives in its Peerpocalypse conference, April 20-23, 2020 conference in Seaside, Oregon. We welcome Alternatives to Peerpocalypse 2020 and encourage prospective participants to learn more or submit a workshop proposal at

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Public Policy and Education Academy

July 8-9, 2019

Nothing About Us Without Us!
— Judi Chamberlin

Making Our Voices Heard: Scheduling Congressional Visits

Alternatives 2019 is hosting the second Public Policy and Education Academy! This is a historic opportunity to make our voices heard in the halls of Congress!

We invite you to meet at Catholic University July 8-9 for the Public Policy and Education Academy. We will share our experience and advocacy strategies and then visit our elected representatives.

This is the People’s Alternatives! Join us in returning Alternatives to its roots! These days will be followed by the Alternatives Conference, with more than 60 workshops, as well as the arts, networking, and sharing hope for a new world! 

Alternatives Public POlicy and Education Academy Tentative Agenda

Monday, July 8


7:00 am – 9:00 am Breakfast

9:00 am – 10:30 am Introduction and orientation  

Panel of advocates giving overview of what they have learned in their advocacy

Review policy priorities: (to be updated for 2019)

  • Priority 1: Ensure significant peer participation in the development of national and state mental health policies

  • Priority 2: Develop and sustain alternatives to involuntary treatment by increasing the availability of peer-run crisis respites and other peer-run crisis supports

  • Priority 3: Protect the human rights of persons labeled with mental health conditions

  • Additional Priority: Fund basic human needs for individuals with mental health conditions, such as housing, employment, health care, income support

10:45 am – noon

  • Role play of making your case to a legislator or staff member

  • Finding Our Voice overview

Noon – 1:00 pm Lunch

1:00 pm – 2:00 pm Youth Advocacy Panel

2:15 pm– 4:00 pm

  • Break into groups, develop and practice talking to legislators.

  • Logistics of visiting your legislator’s office

5:00 pm – 7:00 pm Dinner

NOW AVAILABLE: Check out our 2019 Policy Priorities!

Our 2019 Policy Priorities are now available. These priorities will be the basis of our advocacy on Hill Day, as well as our national and state-level advocacy during the coming year.

To view our list of priorities, click here.

Where and When Will You Meet?

Congressional visits will take place on Capitol Hill at the congressional office buildings. Meetings can normally be scheduled 8 a.m.-5 p.m. The location of your legislators’ offices can be found on their congressional websites. The Senate office buildings (Russell, Dirksen, and Hart) are on the north side of Capitol Hill. The House office buildings (Cannon, Longworth, and Rayburn) are on the south side of Capitol Hill. Important: It is a 15- to 30-minute walk from one side of the Hill to the other. Also, each time you enter a building, you will need to pass through a security checkpoint. Please build travel and security time into your schedule.

How to Schedule a Visit:

The easiest way to schedule a visit is by email. If you don’t get an adequate response (within 3-4 days), then call: 

Please schedule your appointments at least a month in advance. If you are planning to attend, please call the Washington DC office of your state Senators and state Representatives as soon as possible to make your appointment on July 9, 2019. Hill Day!

Set up meetings with both your Senators and your Representative. If colleagues from your state are coming, consider coordinating with them.

After you have scheduled an appointment, please email

Public POlicy and Education Academy:

On Monday, July 8, National Coalition for Mental Health Recovery (NCMHR) panelists will provide the training you need to be successful during your congressional visit. In addition, advance preparation on your end will go far in maximizing your success on the Hill.


You (and your team) should learn more about your members of Congress using the information on their congressional webpages. Most legislators list their policy positions on legislative priorities, such as mental health. Learn how they have voted on the issues you care about. Similarly, make a note of which committees and subcommittees they serve on as members or chairs. Committees related to health, mental health, finance and budget, and appropriations are the most important for your purposes. 

Whom Will You Meet With?

There is a good chance you will not get to meet with your Senators or Representative. You may have to meet with a Chief of Staff, Legislative Liaison, or the staffer who handles your area of interest. Include why you want to visit your Senators and Representative in your scheduling requests so that you will be connected with the correct person.

Do not feel “turned away” or insulted if you cannot meet with your legislators. The staff are their eyes and ears, and do much of the work. Convincing the staffer is just as important as persuading the legislator. Offer yourself as a resource in the future. Develop a solid relationship with the office.

Don’t Come Empty-Handed:

NCMHR will provide you with educational materials to leave behind with your congressional leaders. The materials will cover the two or three priorities identified by conference registrants. If you have business cards, bring those with you to D.C. to include in these materials. If not, bring some other type of card that has your contact information, including your name, phone number and email.

Some Additional Tips:

  • Dress professionally and wear comfortable shoes.

  • Be prepared to show a government-issued photo ID, such as a driver’s license, a passport, a U.S. military ID or a permanent resident card.

  • Travel lightly and ensure that everything in your possession will pass through a security checkpoint. Avoid carrying knives, scissors, any sharp object, etc.

  • Be prepared to provide basic information about your organization, i.e., any information that might be helpful in giving your legislators an idea of what your agency does. Talk about challenges you are facing in your state.

  • Speak from your personal experience and illustrate your points with real people and examples.

  • Bring your camera (or phone with camera) and take pictures with your legislators and/or their staff members.

  • Be polite and diplomatic. Try to develop a strong, positive relationship with your legislators and their staff members.

Public Policy and Education Day gives you an opportunity to influence the way your legislators think or vote on issues that are important to you. This is your chance to make a difference and promote positive change!


Click on images to retrieve the following resources: 

Policy and Advocacy Guide

Policy and Advocacy Guide

Strategic Advocacy Webinar Slides

Strategic Advocacy Webinar Slides



Come Prepared. First, do your homework: Find out your legislators’ positions on the subjects of importance to you. Second, decide in advance what you want to say to the legislators. Try to think of a personal story that puts a face on how the issues have affected you or people you know. Let your team leader know what you plan to say and stick to that plan.

 Arrive on Time for Your Meeting with Legislators and/or their Aides.

Be Respectful. It’s OK to disagree politely with your legislator, but it’s never OK to be disrespectful. We expect our elected officials to be respectful towards us, and we should extend the same courtesy to them.

Stay on Topic. You’ll only have a brief amount of time to talk to your legislators and/or their aides. Bringing up unrelated issues will cloud your message and make your visit less effective. If you have issues on your mind that are not the priorities that have been agreed upon, talk to someone to help you plan an effective strategy for addressing those issues another time. 

Be Brief. Legislators and their aides are very busy and are dealing with many different issues. Remember, meetings are usually brief, and others in your group also want to be heard.

Be Unified. In order to be effective, we must be well organized and unified. Now is not the time to air our differences!

Don’t Be Afraid to Say, “I Don’t Know.” No one expects you to be a policy expert. If the legislator asks a question that you cannot answer, it’s perfectly fine to say “I don’t know.” Then, offer to find out the answer and get back to them.