Reaping the rewards of advocacy

Kristina Tanasichuk
Senior Manager of Government Relations
APWA Washington Office

Recently I've had the honor of talking at the Tennessee and Minnesota Chapter meetings about advocacy and public works. And as APWA's legislative liaison for emergency management issues, I've had the unique opportunity to learn about all the aspects of public works and how the various roles of DPWs play a part in emergency management and homeland security. Additionally, our ability to "advocate" for ourselves has proven critical in our success and recognition as important players in the emergency management field.

As many of you know, President Bush in Homeland Security Presidential Directive 8 identified public works as first responders in the event of a terrorist attack or other disaster. Although I don't need to tell many of you that we are first responders, there is a disconnect between us and others knowing exactly what we do.

And for each of us, this is where advocacy is critical. It is imperative that we become "advocates" for public works—not just in emergency management but in all of the areas we manage and represent—for a very simple reason. People just don't understand what we do.

I've heard from a lot of caring, concerned APWA members since starting here last August. And the message is often that we are the "forgotten" or "overlooked" group of responders; the people who make everything possible, yet get little of the credit. And in part, this is due to the reserved, heroic nature of our people. We're not headline grabbers or "schmoozers."

But we are really important. And with that in mind, I'd like to encourage you all to become more active advocates for the profession of public works. Some things to make you say, "Hmmmmmmmmmmm....":

Your legislators care as much as you do
No matter how cynical one gets about politics, one thing is clear: Legislators care about issues that their constituencies care about. If they get 500 letters about an issue it is highly unlikely that they will ignore it. So, if there is a public works issue before Congress, and you don't think it's important enough to write a letter—do you think your legislator will think it's important enough to vote for, or even consider? I encourage all of you to become active participants in the APWA alert system and help move your legislators toward the goals of our association.

All for one and one for all
There is a lot of power in volume. As you all know, APWA does not have a Political Action Committee (PAC) to give money toward election campaigns. Our power lies in our ability to energize you and direct your energies toward efforts that enhance and improve public works. Those efforts can come in many forms, perhaps money for water security initiatives, increased federal funding for transportation or water projects, or funds for mitigation efforts. Whatever the issue, the overall impact is to shore up and improve public works. With that in mind, I urge you all to write a letter and become active even if the issue is not directly related to your work. As a public works professional, your comment and opinion on any public works issue hold a lot of weight with our representatives.

A good example of the power of volume is the National Rifle Association (NRA). In addition to hefty PAC donations, the NRA has a robust and active grassroots network. Whenever legislation on the Hill appears to work against NRA members, the association issues a call to arms (so to speak) and a flood of calls and letters inundate Congress. In response there are few in Congress that would work against such a powerful constituency.

Imagine a constituency working for the needs of public works...a 27,000-member constituency that would rise up when needed to assure that the needs of local communities are addressed adequately and generously. With your participation that is in our reach.

Educating and grandstanding are not the same thing
Some may see "advocacy" as self-promotion—or worse yet, grandstanding. I understand the desire not to look like self-promoting types. I would argue, however, that there is a difference between advocating and educating others about what we do and inappropriately promoting ourselves. To let legislators, council members, and citizens know that every time they pass through an intersection they have experienced the public safety that public works provides is education. To let folks know that after every storm, public works is there to clean up and allow safe passage back to work, the grocery store or school is education. To let folks know that beautiful redevelopments of blighted areas and neighborhood improvements are accomplished by public works is education. (I like to call our folks the Donald Trumps of public development!) Letting others know about public works and all of its facets is critical to our present and our future.

You don't have to be an expert
I know many of you are concerned that if you are not directly involved with an issue you would hesitate to comment on it. No need to worry. Through the Legislative Action Center on the APWA website, initiatives on which APWA asks you to take action are explained and the correspondence is already written. The Legislative Action Center allows each of you to send a letter on the specific topic of concern. The most effective way is to copy the text to your city stationary and fax to your representatives. However, if you cannot do that, you can simply sign your name to a letter that will e-mail directly to your representatives. Phone calls are great tools as well. Using the letter posted on the website you can personally call your representatives and let them know what you think. Every day they receive hundreds of these calls—your opinion will be logged and if enough calls and letters come in, the issue is brought to the legislator. Every contact counts. Always feel free to call Government Relations staff at APWA if you would like to discuss an issue in greater detail, or simply to feel more comfortable with the issue.

As you read through this impressive issue of the APWA Reporter, please keep in mind that "advocacy" by committed, dedicated individuals is reaping rewards and recognition for public works in emergency management. That level of acknowledgement is within our grasp for all of public works and APWA needs each and every one of you to help us achieve it.

Kristina Tanasichuk can be reached at (202) 408-9541 or at ktanasichuk@apwa.net.