Issues Call for Active Roles
This month’s comments are a reminder for AAPG members of rights (and responsibilities) with regard to getting involved in issues that impact your professional lives, the longevity of the profession and quite possibly our financial future.
Over the next few months the Government Affairs Committee will be issuing several “Action Alerts” (more on that below) covering the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) and R&D budget issues as the 109th Congress resumes its final few days of this session.
When taking the position as GEO-DC director, it was not envisioned as having cheerleading responsibilities – but that role has evolved, because all of us need to be reminded occasionally of our responsibilities and rights in an open democratic society.
In a recent e-mail exchange involving about 40-50 AAPG members, the following was offered:
Strategically, if you want to change the perceptions in Washington and begin to swing issues to the point where science and logic prevail here are some general “rules of thumb” that AAPG members need to consider. These rules obtain whether we are addressing climate change, OCS access, Endangered Species Act reform or any of the other issues that impact the personal, professional and business futures of the AAPG membership.
These rules also will help us to effectively engage those issues that are difficult and sometimes unpopular and reverse the damaging perceptions created by those who (ab)use the system by purveying “bad science.”
We will not make a difference in public policy as long as we expend all of our energies in dialog among ourselves.
Get involved in the public aspects of the debate!
The late Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill, the venerable U.S. Congress Speaker of the House, expressed it most eloquently when he said “all politics is local.” Getting involved means that in Virginia where I reside, for example, it is necessary to organize locally to visit and dialogue with the state offices of U.S. Sens. George Allen and John Warner. I tell their staff what I believe and why; they have time to listen. More importantly, I am a constituent – I vote in Virginia!
The same obtains with my congressmen.
You can rely on the local staff to communicate with your elected representative to let him/her know what the “voters think.” That is not to suggest that you ignore what goes on in Washington, only that you understand the front lines in the battle to win the hearts and minds of your elected officials is not that far from home.
You need to study your opponent – and where he is successful, study his tactics well!
You can use those same tactics effectively!
This was recently elegantly illustrated during the preliminary comment period for the MMS Five Year Plan 2007-2012. Those comment periods for the past two decades have been dominated by a wellorganized coalition of groups led by the Sierra Club and others, and had overwhelmingly saturated the MMS process with “don’t even think about drilling there” messages.
This past comment period marked a sea change when the pro-development coalition – including AAPG – got better organized and worked the process very effectively. We were delighted when we discovered that we dominated the comment period process by swamping the anti-drilling commenters by almost two to one.
The final comment period for the 2007- 12 OCS Lease Sale Plan began in August. The GEO-DC link on the AAPG Web site takes you to the “Action Alert” with information for members on timing and “how to” to participate in the process.
Accept the proposition that you will need to work with the media.
This implies that you will need to write letters to the editors of local, regional and national newspapers; you will need to go face-to-face with sometimes clever and possibly biased reporters; and you better have your story well thought out and articulated effectively. Practice on your family and friends.
The main difference between “truth” and good science is that good science is not self-evident; it takes commitment, patience and dedication to make itself known. The scientists themselves need to be the principal advocates and articulators of the story.
Don’t despair, there are some pretty outstanding coaches out there to help – you just need to find them and court them.
Above all, don’t become discouraged; remember that you are working to reverse many, many years of successes by those who not only have a different agenda, but have had time to get well organized and spent much effort and money to polish their messages.
That is why it is important to learn how they did it and not repeat their learning experience, but jump ahead.
I recommend that members spend a few dollars and a little time getting better acquainted with the principals of advocacy (not lobbying) and your rights protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution.
Consider reading one of the following to get better acquainted with a couple of approaches: The One-Hour Activist by Christopher Kush, or All Politics is Local; and Other Rules of the Game by Tip O’Neill, both available at modest prices (less than $10 online).