Feed Bites

Advocacy in the New Normal

Written by: Cory Harris   |   July 8, 2020

Member value, Capitol Hill, Advocacy

AFIA’s chair-elect, Mike Schuster of Laidig Systems, Inc., hosted his congressman, Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-IN-02), for a tour of Laidig's facility to learn more about the animal food industry.

What is this this “new normal” we keep hearing so much about? We’re all still trying to figure out what  “the new normal” means for each of us, but I know that I’m tired of saying it and I think we can all agree that we are tired of hearing it. However, looking through the lens of the advocacy world, the closer I look, the more it seems that not much has actually changed.

For the past several months, we have all experienced incredibly challenging, unprecedented times. While this has certainly been a challenge for advocacy organizations like the American Feed Industry Association (and a personal challenge for those of us who thrive off interacting with others, such as myself), the truth of the matter is that this has been a significant challenge for the lawmakers to whom we advocate.

Most members of Congress spend the bulk of their time interacting with constituents and they rightfully stake their careers on casting votes based on information gathered from these conversations. The fact of the matter is – elected officials are completely dependent upon their constituents; they rely on these vocal citizens to shape policy decisions and build support for their re-election. The vacuum of constituent interactions during quarantine has pushed legislators to adapt quickly and consider all opportunities, virtual or otherwise, they have to interact with voters in order to fill these needs.

Lately, it seems that members of Congress – particularly on the House side – are craving these interactions. They are frantically looking for opportunities to hold video conferences with organizations, phone calls with constituents and to hear any direction from those who put them into office. Fortunately enough, this provides a great opportunity for AFIA and our members to be engaged and be heard. I sincerely hope that you will take the opportunity to do so.

Throughout the pandemic, AFIA has pivoted its advocacy efforts to meet these needs, working to meet decision-makers where they are and to bring opportunities for engagement to your fingertips. We:

  • moved our annual Washington legislative fly-in event online;
  • issued action alerts on legislative priorities;
  • hosted tours at member facilities (more on that topic coming soon!); and
  • coordinated virtual meetings between AFIA members and their elected officials (an offer that still stands if you haven’t yet taken advantage).
AFIA’s immediate past chairman, Tim Belstra, of Belstra Milling Co., hosted his congressman, Rep. Jim Baird (R-IN-04), for a tour of his Demotte, Ind., feed mill to learn more about the animal food industry.

These efforts have allowed AFIA members to build influence for the industry without even needing to put on (dress) pants. These changes have been a great way for our organization to continue building our influence without losing ground to the disruptions of the pandemic, but more importantly, these changes have shown us that even in a “new normal,” we can make grassroots engagement more accessible to all of our members.

At AFIA, we are excited by the new opportunities this presents us and we will continue looking for new ways to bring Congress to you. While we still hope that you will come to town for future advocacy events and to participate in other AFIA functions in the future, we also hope you’ll lean in to these new options and allow us to help you connect virtually, bring your elected officials to your facility or help you influence a policy important to your business.

Old habits die hard in Washington and often at the hands of necessity. COVID-19 has necessitated the need to find creative new ways to engage with policymakers, and now that we have opened the door to virtual advocacy, it’s likely not closing.

While many things have changed in the 2020, the need for elected officials to hear from their constituents and for AFIA members to be vocal has not. Though we may temporarily change the avenues through which we communicate, the value of relationships, the significance of continual interaction, and the importance of issue engagement isn’t changing anytime soon. We may all still be trying to figure out what exactly our respective “new normals” entail, but I hope that you will take a stand for the industry by using the new tools available to take a first step in building relationship with those who represent you.

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