Use the August recess to send a progressive Democratic message to your elected leaders, and to your community. (More)

Last week, Congress started its traditional August recess during which time Representatives and Senators are back in their districts and often hold town hall meetings and make other public appearances. The recess will continue through September 5. This next month is the best opportunity for us to make our voices heard by both our Congress people and the media that is covering their events, so please read below on how to take action now. And please share what you learn with Winning Progressive so that we can help inform other readers about the best ways to make their voices heard.

During the 2009 August recess, the Koch Brothers and other conservative activists working through the misleadingly named Americans for Prosperity orchestrated a fake grassroots outcry at town hall meetings that threatened to derail health care reform. Media coverage was extensive, and many Democrats returned to Congress far more reluctant to vote for health care reform.

This time around we need to set the agenda. There are two critical ways to do this:

* Attend town hall meetings. Town hall meetings are the best ways to communicate to your Congressperson directly and they are typically covered by the media. You can find out when and where town hall meetings will be occurring by going to your Congressperson’s website or calling their district offices. You can find the website and contact information here.

If you find out about an upcoming town hall meeting, please let us know so that we can share the information with our readers. And, if you attend a town hall meeting and capture any good video footage of progressives speaking up at the meeting or of your Congressperson responding to progressive voices, please share the footage with us so that we can spread the word. You can e-mail information or video to us here.

* Write letters to the editor. Your Congressperson is most likely to read or hear about issues being raised in the newspapers in their districts when they are in the district. So, the August recess is the best time to write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper. You can find links for writing letters to the editors at newspapers in many states here.

We recommend organizing a group to attend town hall meetings. This ensures you have the support of other progressive Democrats, and makes it more likely that at least one of you will be able to speak. In making our voices heard at town hall meetings and letters to the editor, it is critical that we stay respectful and do not engage in the type of disruptive antics that the Tea Party activists did in 2009. We also recommend that you coordinate with your local newspapers, radio, and television news outlets, to let them know your group will attend a town hall meeting. Before or after meeting, identify yourself to reporters from the outlets you contacted, thank them for attending, and be ready to share your message in an interview.

It is also important that progressive Democrats have a consistent message. We recommend focusing on the following three points:

1. Make Jobs Priority One – With unemployment still at 9.1% and underemployment at 16.1%, the number one priority must be creating jobs. And the way to achieve job growth is through a WPA-style jobs program, significant infrastructure investment, and a stimulus package focused on shoring up state and local government budgets and investments in developing a green energy economy.

2. Make the Wealthy Pay Their Fair Share Again – With taxes on the wealthy and corporations at or near the lowest levels since the 1930s, increased revenue from the top 2% must be the part of any effort to reduce the deficit.

3. Protect Medicare and Social Security Benefits – Social Security is not causing or contributing to the deficit. Skyrocketing health care costs pose long term fiscal problems, but the solution is to rationalize health care spending, not abolish the most cost effective form of health insurance, Medicare. If your Congressperson is a Republican, express your opposition to his or her vote to abolish Medicare. If your Congressperson is a Democrat, thank them for standing up for Medicare and demand that they continue to do so.

Get your group together before going to the town hall meeting, and role play interviews with reporters. Ask off-message questions and practice pivoting to on-message responses. Here are some examples:

Q: Are you disappointed with President Obama?

A: President Obama is the Chief Executive, but our message is for Congress: make jobs priority one, make the wealthy pay their fair share again, and protect Medicare and Social Security benefits.

Q: Shouldn’t President Obama be sending that message?

A: President Obama has sent that message, and he also said change comes from the bottom up. So we’re here to send our message to Congress: make jobs priority one, make the wealthy pay their fair share again, and protect Medicare and Social Security benefits.

Q: Aren’t you concerned about the debt/deficit?

A: Most of our current deficit is because of the Bush tax cuts and the continuing recession. So our message to Congress is: make jobs priority one, make the wealthy pay their fair share again, and protect Medicare and Social Security benefits.

By pivoting back to your message no matter what question you are asked, you increase the chance that the media will write about your responses and your story, rather than their questions and the stories they came prepared to tell.