Visit to Legislative Forum: A Crash Course in Park Advocacy
Capitol Hill has always seemed like alien territory to me. I like writing about policy, and I like learning about policy. But something about the Hill--and all of its staffers and lingo and inner circles and very young people in power suits—has just always made it seem like a small, distant, white-dome-dominated foreign country to me. Then again, I never had anyone act as a guide, either….
Early yesterday morning, I joined NRPA members and coworkers at the Grand Hyatt in Washington, where we gathered to begin the second day of the annual NRPA Legislative Forum. I was there to watch, listen, Tweet, learn, meet, greet, and shadow members in their visits with legislators. I went anticipating a day of good, solid “prepping” for writing about the Forum. And I came away with much more than context for an article. When I went home at the end of that jam-packed day, I took with me a fresh understanding of advocacy—and an even greater appreciation for both the sophistication of our members and the essential public policy role that NRPA plays.
Let me explain a little bit about what the experience was like, from the perspective of a writer who is still learning about the history, value, and power of parks in our country.
The morning session opened with a talk by NRPA’s policy experts, Rich Dolesh, Stacey Pine, and Joel Pannell. They outlined talking points on critical messages to lawmakers of the 112th Congress—but not before Joel discussed some Policy 101. Such important matters as the distinction between spending authorization and appropriation. We also got a crash course in the history of the Land and Water Conservation Fund and the reasons why LWCF makes for such a magnificent talking point. (No tax dollars at stake here! Getting a 40% stateside authorization passed is about sticking with the original intent of a fund drawing from oil companies drilling from the Outer Continental Shelf.) Stacey and Rich then filled in some of the blanks about transportation and health issues affecting federal funding for the nation’s parks.
We were prepared for the next step: to take the glossy, information-rich NRPA talking-points folders in hand and climb onto buses heading over to the Hill. Time to fan out and keep appointments with legislators. My colleague, Managing Editor Beth Beard (a Maryland resident) asked me if I’d like to join up with the Maryland Recreation & Park Association members she’d connected with.
For the next two hours, I would watch our members in action, explaining passionately and articulately to Congressional and Senate aides the opportunities in front of the lawmakers of the 112th right now to protect parks and thereby enrich their constituents’ lives. I’ll tell you all about that introduction to clear-headed member advocacy in the next post.
Parks & Recreation