What is Advocacy? OxfordDictionaries.com defines Advocacy as: “public support for or recommendation of a particular cause or policy.” While accurate, I tend think of AOPA’s form of advocacy as more than that. For those of us advocating for General Aviation specifically, it is a great deal more. At AOPA effective advocacy starts with education, and requires patience, research, and support from you, our constituents.
Indulge me as I use an example from tutoring my nephew to make my point.
As my nephew quickly discovered at the start of his 7th grade school year when he turned to me for help with his math homework, I like math though I am by no means an expert. I do, however, enjoy regular-old, every-day algebra and geometry! Helping him with his homework not only gives me a chance to bond with him but allows me the opportunity to teach him something. This brings life full circle as I watch him make the same mental mistakes (ignoring the negative sign) that my father used to watch me make time and time again.
As for extracting life lessons, I’ve learned that teaching math teaches patience; a necessary trait for any passionate advocate! Those of us who regularly work in policy be it state or federal knows it is rare that anything happens quickly.
A lack of action is often the result of a difference of opinion, of which, in GA’s case is usually based in a lack of understanding. Because of that, proper research becomes key for a successful lobbyist, not only to learn what makes a given legislator or gaggle of them—a term often reserved for Turkeys—tick, but also to find the right data to present to them regarding GA.
I believe the majority of our elected officials enter the legislative arena with the intention of improving the world around them. Unfortunately our world spins so quickly these days there is simply too much information for our representatives to be familiar with to adequately act and respond independently on every issue, so this is where effective advocates come in with guidance and education.
Concise communication aided by statistical data serves as the only real catalyst for moving sensible legislation forward. As for sensible, I am referring to a legislative policy that makes sense for a set of problems or issues affecting a state—call it the big picture. As I discussed in my American East – Aviation – Division blog, a direct comparison of states becomes a conversation of apples and oranges. For example, while one of AOPA’s core initiatives is to reduce the cost of flying, we do not insist on a one-size fits all policy for achieving it. For example, we regularly support the Aviation Jobs Act which would provide for a targeted sales tax exemption on aircraft purchases in New York State. Conversely, we opted to forgo doing so in neighboring Pennsylvania in 2014 when political tensions revolved around property tax reform leading to public scrutiny of long-standing tax exemptions—in other words, a bad time to highlight a new exemption!. Therefore as a regional manager, I spend a great deal of time studying my region’s state economic conditions while working with industry to produce the all-important numerical data.
Support from constituents
Unfortunately, as one individual representing GA in 13 states, it is unrealistic to have all boards nailed down all of the time so we rely on an age old staple of politics—constituency; yes YOU! How can you, a GA supporter, impact GA policy in your state?
First and foremost, maintain your membership in AOPA! If you don’t have one, get one because a membership in AOPA is a vote for GA and allows us to continue to do the work we do at the local level. Second, know your elected officials. Not just who they are, but get to know them. As constituents, they are far more interested in what you have to say than any of the alphabet groups because you vote. Third, know your local aviation factoids and the industry’s economic impact. AOPA can help with this as can airport managers, state aviation associations, and/or your state’s department of transportation. The Alliance for Aviation Across America is another great resource. Lastly, though it may seem silly, advocate from the heart. Communication occurs with the successful transfer of information to your audience. It will be much easier for strangers of aviation to receive the message once they recognize your love for aviation is genuine—remember no one likes a Krampus!