by Bruce Matthews, Executive Director
Advocacy, or “lobbying” to some, is the art of persuasively educating elected representatives about issues and legislation of concern. Advocacy is typically done in hopes the officials then vote or act appropriately. It is part of my job at North Country Trail Association to help build relationships with these Members of Congress.
At NCTA, our trail advocacy efforts in Congress primarily target the inclusion of the Minnesota Arrowhead trails (Superior, Border Route and Kekekabic Trails) in the North Country National Scenic Trail, as well as extend our eastern terminus to connect with the Appalachian NST in Vermont. (See details here.) In this 114th Congress, two bills, H.R. 799 and S. 403, will accomplish this. In addition we’re focused on the re-authorization and full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, an important funding mechanism for outdoor recreation projects in America, including for the completion of the NCNST.
I’ve been to Washington 3 times already this year, trying to support the interests of the North Country Trail in Congress.
Here’s 11 things you might find interesting about doing advocacy for the North Country Trail Association:
1. There are 43 different Congressional offices who represent states or districts through which the NCNST passes—16 Senators and 27 Congressmen.
2. Relationships matter—they really do. Most of our Congressional meetings are with staffers, not Members. And most of these staffers are very smart young people—often way smarter than their bosses! Because of the effort invested in building these relationships, we have access to the Members. In some cases they call us when issues come up.
3. In winter I wear a Filson red buffalo plaid vest (way too hot to wear in summer!). I get instant recognition. Even if they don’t remember a name or a face they know I’m from the North Country Trail.
4. You never offer gifts—not even tokens of appreciation. Except maybe red plaid scarfs.
5. The term “lobbying” came about from the practice of button-holing Congressmen in the hallways and cloakrooms of the Capitol, since only Members were allowed on the floor of the House or Senate.
6. Advocacy involves miles and miles of walking back and forth between and among the six Senate and House office buildings. And more miles. Wear hiking shoes.
7. No matter how persuasive I am, the single most critical and influential thing is to hear from a constituent. It’s a one-two punch that really works. I educate, and a local NCTAer validates with a contact—by phone, fax or e-mail. To find your Senators and Representative go here. Now is a good time to ask them to support HR 799 and S 403.
8. Personal letters used to work really well until the anthrax scare forced the routing of all U.S. mail through irradiators. This causes delays and reduces effectiveness.
9. Local relationships matter too. Most Members maintain offices locally, and a local visit and relationship helps. See # 7.
10. We’ve been trying to get the Minnesota Arrowhead Re-Route done since 2005.
Here’s a great video explaining the Minnesota Arrowhead Re-Route
11. No matter how many years you do this, there’s something that’s just very special about walking those worn marble staircases in the Capitol and the Congressional office buildings.