Can I Wear Hiking Boots with my Business Suit?
When I left my corporate life I kept exactly three business suits – one black, one gray, and the “flashy” one in tan. As I happily traded in my professional wardrobe for fleece pullovers and flip flops, I felt secure knowing I’d be set for the occasional funeral or speaking engagement with my three suits.
But each time over the past few years I’ve reached into the back of my closet to give a little airtime to these three suits it’s been for a much happier occasion: lobbying in Washington, DC with my peers in the outdoor industry.
Now if you’re like me, the word “lobbyist” can carry some less-than-rosy associations. But unlike a scene from House of Cards, lobbying doesn’t always involve dark parking lot conversations and shady deals in BBQ joints. I promise you, no one gets murdered when the outdoor industry lobbyists come to town. And lobbying is not always about wielding power, influence, and cash in order to unfairly sway an outcome. I promise you, I’m not flush in any of those departments.
In fact, the term “lobbyist” comes from a time when if you had a cause you cared about, you’d stand in the hallways or lobbies of government buildings and advocate your cause directly with your representatives.
It was a true tenet of democracy, giving direct access to the representatives who were charged with, well, representing their constituents.
And I’m damn proud that we can still do that. We may have to work our way through security lines and set up appointments ahead of time, but we – like the hundreds of other citizens in the hallways of the House and Senate buildings – can sit down and meet with our senators and representatives, and ask them to stand up for the causes we care deeply about.
What’s more? It makes a difference. Fresh off of our most recent lobbying trip with the Outdoor Industry Association where more than 100 of my peers and I lobbied for public lands access, parks maintenance, and conservation, I’m once again struck by this fact. Each time anyone – whether as an individual or part of an organization or advocacy group – contacts our representatives, it’s recorded. If we send an email, write a letter, or drop by in person, it’s noted. Each visit might have a small impact, but collectively it can actually make a difference. We’ve seen it.
Here are three ways I believe we’re making a difference when we step away from our offices and spend the time to lobby in Washington.
1. We’re Not Red or Blue When We’re Outside
The issues we came to Washington to talk about are neither left-wing nor right-wing. In a time when unhealthy hyper-negative partisanship has taken hold and ground us to a full stop on many critical issues, the outdoors remains a beautiful common ground on which we can come together. Hunters, climbers, family campers, and dirtbags all can all agree on this: we must preserve the places we play outside.
Over lunch we gathered to hear analyst Paul Belaga share his perspective on the importance of conservation. He shared stories of politicians who couldn’t agree on anything, but could meet on the river to share a common love of fishing. As he pointed out, the first question when you see someone on the river is “what fly are you using?” not “are you a republican or democrat?”
Support for conservation, as evidenced by the recent passing of the Public Lands Act, is a truly bipartisan issue. And Washington needs more of that. It needs more listening, more compromise, more true dialogue. Getting out from under the fluorescent lights of our office buildings and into the outdoors together is one of the best ways to find that.
2. It Takes a Champion to Move Issues Forward
There is no denying the overwhelming number of interests and issues in which our senators and representatives are involved on a daily basis. While we were asking them to fund the $12 billion backlog in deferred maintenance at National Parks so visitors can have working restrooms and accessible roads, their next meeting may have been about education, agriculture, infrastructure, or any one of the myriad issues needing attention. There are thousands of issues and bills to consider and keep track of.
What we do when we sit in their offices is request that they co-sponsor or support specific pieces of legislation or join specific caucuses. We have papers to leave behind with our requests, and we use our time together to tell them why this is so important to our businesses, our customers (adventurers and outdoorists like you!), our communities, and our economy. We build a case, and we clearly request their support. Sometimes the members or staff we meet with are already aware of the bill, but sometimes they’re not.
With the multitude of bills in Washington, sometimes it takes a champion (or in our case, hundreds) to move one of them forward. It takes us making our representatives aware of a bill and making it easy for them to take action. Now, admittedly it’s a fairly rosy-eyed view to think our wishes will be supported exactly as requested. But they often do follow up, look into the request, and make a decision about whether or not to support it.
3. The Outdoor Industry Has some Sway!
Did you know that each year outdoor recreation supports 7.6 million American jobs and generates $887 billion in revenue? That’s bigger than oil and gas. It’s bigger than the pharmaceutical industry. Surprised? Most people are … and these numbers talk.
When in Washington, it helps to lead the conversation with a big number. Our representatives might personally love the outdoors, but knowing that they are a unique and essential driver of their district’s economy takes the conversation to the next level. When we request support of parks, public lands access, and conservation, it’s not only good for our hobbies, it’s good for our economy.
The Outdoor Industry Association has worked hard to be officially recognized as a powerful economic force, and to be measured by the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA). The BEA’s analysis showed that our industry is responsible for a whopping 2% of the US Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and is growing faster than the rest of our economy.
There is also an increasing body of research that backs the impact of the outdoors on creating healthy communities, reducing crime rates, lowering public health costs, and improving educational outcomes. Investing in the outdoors is investing in communities, and representatives care about that.
All the Crunchy Kids Go to Washington!
So there you have it. While we may be more at home in our hiking boots and climbing gear, we clean up and show up in Washington because we believe in the impact we can have. Democracy requires participation – it requires caring, being present, and saying something. It’s not rocket science, and it’s not out of any of our reach.
We hope you will consider voicing your support for the places you love to adventure. The Outdoor Industry has provided an easy, non-partisan way to keep up with your representatives and their support of these issues at votetheoutdoors.org. Thanks for doing your part!
Kate leads the marketing team at NEMO, and loves running the Mall in Washington DC … almost as much as she loves running the trails surrounding her home in New Hampshire.