I have long been a fan of the FFA Washington Leadership Conference (WLC) held each summer in our nation's capitol. I even had the good fortune to attend what was then called the Washington Conference Program in the summer of 1975. Boy, that sounds like a long time ago! It was my first time flying on a commercial aircraft and my first trip to Washington, D.C. I have probably attended 8 times in the past 15 years. I know many of you make it an annual pilgrimage despite the rising costs over the years.
I have applauded the changes made to WLC to focus on service leadership and global engagement but I have to say I was taken aback when I read that this year the schedule would not include time for Congressional visits. According to the WLC information, fewer than ten percent of participants were able to get an appointment and then actually see their Congressman or Senators. At first I was upset with this change but then I reflected on how National FFA has continuously modified WLC to meet new opportunities and initiatives. WLC participants were encouraged to try to make visits during their sightseeing time or before the start of WLC.
Then I thought, "What does this change says about us?" I have always accompanied my students to WLC and we have never had a problem scheduling a visit with our Representative and in fact, meeting with him. We did so just last year, in fact. So, why have there been several years of low Congressional visits for WLC participants? I have to believe that many of us, as and teachers and FFA advisors, are not teaching or modeling to our students much about advocacy.
We all know that advocacy is about building relationships at all levels of government. I can't think of a better way for students and FFA members to learn about advocacy than through the process of scheduling and meeting with their Congressman. Particularly when they have taken the time and paid the expense of coming to Washington. Even if their Congressman is not available, meeting with that Congressman's education and/or agriculture staffer is an important step in learning how things get done on Capitol Hill. In many cases, a relationship with a staffer is every bit as important as seeing their elected official because of the important role they perform.