Lobbying is not a four-letter word
Dwayne Kalynchuk, P.Eng.
Dwayne Kalynchuk, APWA President
Last week, sitting in a hotel room in Australia, I was surfing the cable channels to find a rerun of "The Sopranos" when the new series "K Street" caught my eye. For the most part, I was interested in the new show about lobbying just because APWA's Washington office sits in the middle of "lobbying central" on 14th and K Streets, and I wondered just what our D.C. staff contingent was up to. So I watched the show, filled with artsy cinematography, closeups of Styrofoam cups and telephones, and stressed-out characters chasing this idea or that and it struck me that the entire program was about relationships. And the different goals you could achieve based on those relationships.
Our Strategic Plan calls for APWA to be acknowledged as the public policy advocate for public infrastructure. This year, APWA has identified advocacy as a top priority, and to achieve that end has realized the importance of relationships with all different types of organizations. In the U.S. and Canada, relationships with Congress, federal and provincial agencies, state agencies, the media, other associations, and other advocacy groups, enhance and improve our advocacy.
And each of us can play a very important role.
Be a "lobbyist" for APWA. In the HBO series, the characters run around frantically trying to drum up support for some idea or be the first to know that one important bit of information. That's a little too "inside the beltway" for me, but the bottom line is that they have a common agenda and they use those around them to further that agenda. We each need to become more like that. We each need to become advocates for the goals of APWA. The future of our organization lies in our ability to recognize where and when we can promote APWA's message—and do it. If you have questions or need clarification, use the D.C. office. We have a very capable, informed staff that is ready to assist you at any time.
Build grassroots relationships. Take, for example, your chapter meetings. Most of you get together on a regular basis to discuss chapter business and other issues related to your work. Chapter meetings can build relationships—with other nonprofit organizations, with federal, state and local officials and even with the governor's office. Invite a member of your governor's commission on homeland security to address your chapter. While they are there, take the opportunity to educate them on the role of public works officials in times of crisis and encourage them to include public works at the table. Better yet, invite your premier or governor to be the guest speaker at your major National Public Works Week event this spring. Invite the chief of a local fire department to speak at your next chapter meeting. Let them know how public works "works" to make their job possible. Recently, for example, the Washington State Chapter made relationships with the state a priority, and their efforts were rewarded with a position on the State Transportation Performance Audit Board. Each relationship strengthens APWA's visibility and ensures our long-term viability as an association and as a profession.
Make the first move. Successful advocacy is based on our ability to cultivate and maintain all types of relationships. Think strategically about how relationships with other organizations could help public works. Call someone up and introduce yourself and public works. In my experience, many folks simply don't know exactly what we do, and when they find out they are very receptive. Let people know how broad and comprehensive our discipline is. Let people know that we are "the nuts and bolts" of local government. That we manage the city's operations, and that without us most people could not accomplish the simple task of driving to the grocery store.
Use the media as a tool. Local papers and local reporters are all looking for a good story. More often than not, the media ends up using people to achieve their ends. Turn the tables. Use the media as a tool to advocate for APWA's priorities. Include the media in National Public Works Week events. And the next time you have the opportunity to provide a quote or make a comment, be prepared. Keep our goals in mind and stay focused to present a unified, consistent message. Or, write a letter to the editor. If you read a story that omits the contributions made by public works, write and correct them. Educate both the readers and the reporters on the role of public works.
Last time I was in Washington, I met with several key staff members from the U.S. House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee; the Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management; and the U.S. Senate Committee on Public Works, to explain the roles of APWA members in caring for the nation's infrastructure, maintaining the public's safety, shepherding the public's resources, and sustaining our communities. They welcomed me and APWA's message with open arms.
We don't have to elbow our way to the table. We simply have to speak up and let others know who we are and what we think. They are listening.