Demystifying Advocacy in Parks and Recreation

April 15, 2021, Department, by Dan McCarthy

2021 May Advocacy Demystifying Advocacy in Parks and Recreation 410

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Advocacy can be a scary word for many folks, especially those in the nonprofit sector or governmental agencies. Fear of the unknown or of breaking rules often forces people to disengage from the political process and miss opportunities to engender systematic change. This lack of engagement strips out vital voices and perspectives.

NRPA’s Public Policy and Advocacy team raises awareness of the essential role parks and recreation plays in every community. As the new advocacy manager, I will help our members better connect with their public officials. We are committed to leading and organizing innovative advocacy campaigns that advance parks, recreation and environmental conservation efforts that enhance the quality of life for all people. To achieve this ambitious mission, we need your help.

The Biden Administration and the 117th Congress

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and its reverberations made obvious what we’ve all known for a long time: parks and recreation services are an essential feature of every community. Our local parks have become oases in the age of self-isolation, a welcome and necessary respite from Zoom calls and doomscrolling.

As the new Congress and the Biden administration start to address the critical issues facing our country, parks and recreation can be at the center of our collective recovery. The first two years of any new administration are often the busiest legislatively, and the Biden administration hopes to move swiftly on a number of major priorities: COVID-19 relief and economic stimulus, climate change and green infrastructure, and food assistance and equity.

Park and recreation professionals and supporters have an opportunity to ensure these major legislative packages reflect and invest in our shared priorities.

What Is Advocacy?

Advocacy is the act or process of supporting a cause or a proposal. It’s something we all do in our daily lives. How many times have you argued in favor of a particular film on movie night or for a local restaurant when you’re too tired to cook? If you’ve ever stuck up for yourself at home, at work or anywhere else, then you’ve advocated for yourself and have the skills to advocate for parks and recreation.

Why Advocacy Matters

In our current political environment, it can be hard to see the connection between the policy debates that happen in Washington, D.C., and their impacts on your community. However, as former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Tip O’Neill famously declared: all politics is local. What may seem like a remote, disconnected policy can and does have real, tangible impacts on our daily lives.

If you’ve never engaged in advocacy before, it can be nerve-racking to contact your representative or senator. It’s easy to forget they are our elected representatives. Public officials must be uniquely attuned to the opinion and desires of their constituents. After all, they have to go back to their constituents every two or six years and ask for their support again. But if they never hear from you, then they won’t know what matters to you or your community, nor will they feel any political pressure to take action on your behalf.

Here’s an example of how passionate people united can make a difference: more than 500 NRPA advocates sent thousands of letters, tweets and phone calls to Congress in support of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a federal grant program that champions the protection of federal public lands and waters. Efforts led to this critical environmental protection program becoming law, securing public access and improving recreational opportunities for local communities — a feat 50 years in the making.

How Can I Get Involved?

The first step to taking action is getting informed about the issues that matter to you. Find out who your public officials are and tell them what issues matter to you: send an email, call their office or message them on social media.

Every time a constituent contacts a legislator’s office on an issue, staff members track and record that information. If enough people raise an issue, legislators pay attention.

If you’re not sure what to say, feel free to use this sample script:

  • Hi, my name is [your name] and I’m a constituent of [elected official]. I live in [town name].
  • I’m contacting you today because [reason: you support/oppose this legislation; you’re on this committee; I want you to visit my local park].
  • I firmly believe that [reason: this legislation would help/harm my community; your committee can do X, Y, Z; our local park is the best in the country].
  • How can I stay in touch with your office on these issues?
  • Thank you for your time.

Stay up-to-date on the latest developments by signing up for NRPA Action Alerts: visit and click “Take Action.” Want to make an impact immediately? Text “PARKS” to 52886 and join our latest advocacy campaign. Everyone deserves a great park. Let’s work together to make that a reality.

Dan McCarthy is NRPA’s Advocacy Manager.