Do your representatives know you? They should

Posted on July 01, 2015 by Ted Venker, TIDE, Jul/Aug 2015

If you have ever read the diaries of soldiers in the Civil War or their letters to loved ones back home, you would swear they were speaking a different language. The descriptiveness and depth of feeling in the written word of that era are nothing short of astounding compared to today’s world of unintelligible texts, bizarre abbreviations and emoticons.

As communications technology has swept away pen and paper and made our lives “easier,” a strange side effect is that though we are able to communicate virtually constantly, much of it means virtually nothing. It’s lovely that I can see what you are about to have for breakfast every day on your ski trip, but it doesn’t mean much to me, particularly while I’m sitting in morning rush-hour traffic. That photo will do nothing to impact my day or our relationship although, depending on how bad traffic is, it could quite possibly have an unintended negative effect.

The only way to deal with a world that never shuts up is to develop filters to minimize what one considers “noise” so that you can concentrate on what you think is “important.” Problems arise, though, when “important” things get caught in the “noise” filter.

As a member of the vast and economically powerful recreational angling community, you are falling victim to these filters and probably don’t realize it.

In the early days of CCA, before the advent of cell phones and email, the only ways to communicate with elected officials was to burn shoe leather, write a letter or pick up a phone. Each of those communication methods establishes a uniquely human-to-human connection that makes it impossible to ignore, particularly for those who depend upon your vote to keep them in office.

In recent years, the development of “advocacy software” has greatly aided groups like CCA in their efforts to inform a diverse national membership on issues that are important to them.  Email alerts generated by such systems can reach everyone in the organization and motivate them to contact their elected officials. Over the past several years, CCA members have been asked to communicate with their elected officials and with fisheries managers on a variety of issues and tens of thousands of you have responded in tidal waves that should be impossible to ignore.

But all too often we are ignored, and I’d be prepared to argue it is because we are getting trapped in the filters. New communication systems have made it infinitely easier to talk at our elected officials and infinitely harder to make an impact. We have lost some of the human connection that is so critical.

When a member of CCA sends an email to his or her Congressman about a fishery issue, it comes from a real voter in the district and it should carry commensurate value in that office. However, CCA isn’t the only one with advocacy software. There are multitudes of organizations out there flooding that same person’s inbox with computer-generated messages from people, real or imagined, from all over the country on all kinds of issues.

Chances are we all end up in the same “noise” filter.

The only way to avoid that trap is to reintroduce the human connection back into our dealings with those we have elected to represent us. Emails are a great place to begin a conversation; they should not be the entire conversation. As any professional lobbyist would tell you, the most effective political tool any organization can deploy in an elected official’s office is a living, breathing constituent.

As a recreational angler, there is no shortage of issues that should concern you. As this issue goes to print, the U.S. House of Representatives is preparing to vote on a bill to reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the overarching law governing federal fisheries. Though far from perfect, the bill has elements that could begin to improve the future of recreational angling under a federal management system that, to this point, has been geared almost exclusively to manage and encourage commercial fisheries. Thousands of CCA members have sent messages to their elected officials asking them to support it.

However, in the age of constant noise, the next phase of the process is critical to establishing a meaningful relationship now and in the future. Consider following up those emails with a call to the Congressman’s office to see if your message was received. Ask directly how your Congressman plans to vote. Request a meeting with the Congressman and invite a few of your fishing buddies to discuss ways to improve recreational angling. Drop by the district office and introduce yourself. Monitor how your representative votes on issues you care about and don’t hesitate to give feedback. If your elected officials don’t know you now, it is your job to make sure they do in the future.

The great strength of recreational angling lies in Tip O’Neill’s famous observation that “all politics is local.” There are a lot of us and we vote – it is up to us to break through the noise barrier and make sure the folks who represent us know what is important to us.