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September 26, 2019

There’s nothing like September in D.C. The crisp fall air, the cool morning breeze… just kidding. September in Washington is terrible. At least it was a few weeks ago when several of us ventured to our nation’s capital to walk the corridors of power and meet with our members of Congress. Well…their staff at least. And despite the heat and humidity, it was a worthwhile visit.

Every year, a team from the Coalition heads to Washington, D.C. for our annual Hill Day. We fly-in members of the Coalition, including many members of our Executive Council, to meet with our Congressional representatives on both sides of the aisle, in the House and the Senate. We take the opportunity to talk about the Coalition, offer our assistance, and speak about specific issues such as the Land and Water Conservation Fund or annual appropriations.

This year was my first Hill Day adventure. Despite having lived in the shadow of the Capital for several years, I had never attended meetings in the House or Senate office buildings. And as I quickly discovered, when you’re planning for Hill Day, there’s a bit of a learning curve. Several factors were at play as I formulated our incredibly detailed excel spreadsheet:

  • Availability

While it’s unlikely that you’ll meet with your member of Congress, you still must schedule with their staff. And coming back from August recess, they were swamped. Luckily, we had a great response from many of the offices we contacted and managed to get on most calendars.

  • Location

The House and Senate office buildings are about 15 minutes apart, so you’ve got to provide a cushion of time between meetings, especially if they’re on different sides. And let me tell you, booking it from the Senate to the House side in 90-degree temperatures is a real treat.

  • Constituencies

We were lucky enough to have several Coalition members from out-of-state fly-in to meet with their representatives. So, we wanted to make sure that our members from Maine were able to meet with staff from Maine offices, and our members from New York with New York offices, etc.

  • Other Commitments

In addition to our meetings with Congressional offices, we wanted to attend the hearing about the upcoming BLM relocation. And we had a few meetings with our partner organizations in D.C. to schedule around as well.

Our team of nine Coalition members had twelve meetings with members of Congress. We divided up into smaller teams and worked out a schedule ran like clockwork. Our teams crisscrossed the Hill as we met with staff in the Dirksen Senate Office Building or Rayburn House Office Building. We convened for the BLM hearing and showed our support for our partners at the Public Lands Foundation, a group of BLM retirees who oppose the reorganization. And then we met for lunch…

Dear God. Navigating the Longworth House cafeteria at lunch time felt like an Olympic sport. The space was teeming with people. There were about 5 million people wearing matching blue polos from the American Cancer Action Network. Another 3.2 million young women in equestrian attire with buttons urging Congress to “Stop the Horse Slaughter.” I saw at least 27 dudes in cowboy hats… unclear if they were lobbying for grazing rights or just attempting to make a fashion statement. And an unknown number of other Americans, exercising their collective right to petition their government.

Our little team dove into the melee, trying to assess the best food options and the shortest lines. Sure, we had to throw a few elbows. And aggressively circle the cafeteria for some time, hovering as conspicuously as possible until we managed to launch ourselves at a table, narrowly beating out yet another group of blue polo shirts. But we managed to enjoy a quick lunch prior to our next round of afternoon meetings.

At the end of the day, we met with Congressional staff from offices in New York, Alabama, Maine, Minnesota, Alaska, Maryland, South Carolina, and Illinois. We made some new contacts and strengthened relationships. In addition, it was really heartening to see the thousands of people who turned up to lobby for their causes and beliefs.

Today’s political climate is tough. It’s depressing, frustrating, and often a little bit scary. But it felt good to in D.C., advocating for our national parks and public lands. It was also a great reminder that civil discourse is an incredibly important part of our political system. While we may not agree with the politics of every office we visited, each and every staffer was welcoming, attentive, and willing to hear us out.

Advocacy in action folks. I’m already looking forward to the next visit.