Understanding advocacy...the underlying importance.

Advocacy for the profession.

I had my first main advocacy experience this past May in Washington, D.C. while attending the Advocacy Day and Board of Trustees Mid-Year Meeting. It was a fantastic experience getting introduced to the importance of advocating for our profession. Most people, I think, find advocacy to be quite dry and boring. I don’t mean that people don’t care about the issues that they find important. I just think that people advocate to different people, in different ways, and at different times and intensity. Take for instance the issue of domestic abuse.

Advocacy Day 2014 - DC

Most people have a problem with this; a big problem. People will speak out if they see it happening or come to the aid of another if the hear about it happening. Many people will even help another work through events like this. Recently, because of a string of high profile incidents (in football) people have begun creating commercials which display the charged resulting emotion of this terrible act. These people have become advocates. They are advocating for change in people’s action as well as the type of consequence which are delivered to those who do it to other people.

Surely only a few ever go to Capitol Hill or their legislators offices to make a difference. This is needed though. The same goes for landscape architecture. Often, people would not feel as emotionally driven to go to bat for a profession as they would for a person. It takes a degree of connection to be put into place so that the beliefs and humanness of such a profession’s goals are reflected in the ‘job’. This association is often lacking however. Why would anyone want to go to a government representative and speak on behalf of the jobs that landscape architects do? Is it just serving a few people who want to only earn a paycheck or regulate the environments of the majority? No.

On the 24th of February I moderated a webinar which was led by Leighton Yates and Mark Cason. In this webinar attendees had the opportunity to learn about advocacy, what ASLA is advocating for, what advocacy resources exist, and about opportunities to get involved. The session was decently attended and there was some great engagement at the end of the webinar during the Q&A times.

Advocacy comes in many forms. Public relations (media), marketing (branding), government affairs (lobbying), and social media are but a few of those that exist. ASLA is advocating for a few key issues as directed by their membership surveys. Active transportation programs, community and urban design, green infrastructure, water quality and quantity, conservation, resilience, and licensure are the primary advocacy categories. Numerous resources exist for ASLA members. Step-by-step toolkits are on-line as are policy briefs, talking points, and bill tracking.

The key to understanding why advocacy is important is to reflect on why we are doing the things that we are doing. In reality we are advocacting for the people in our communities, the beauty of our surroundings, the wise use of resources, and the protection of our natural environment. It isn’t about going to some officials office just to get our way. It has to be much more than that.