12 July 2017
“We need to tell that story,” said my Senator, after I told him how NOAA’s Sea Grant Program budget is only $73 million/yr, even though it helps hundreds of communities to prepare for hurricanes and storm surges and manage coastlines1. I suspected that he would be a strong supporter of science, but I didn’t realize how appreciative he would be to have a clear narrative that he could share with his colleagues.
In contrast, one of our members recounted on the new AGU Connect platform a more frustrating experience, where he met with a congressional staffer to discuss inaccuracies that his Congressman had written about climate change in a newsletter. The staffer later reported that the Congressman stood by his statements. Although the immediate desired outcome was not achieved, it is significant that the Congressman and his staffer had a conversation about climate change and are now aware that they have a constituent with strong scientific credentials and a different interpretation of the facts. That little victory could eventually help change the Congressman’s perspective.
Despite your legislator’s position on whichever issue(s) you choose to discuss, they still need to hear stories and views from you, their constituents. Your stories may serve to reinforce their view and give them a helpful anecdote to use as they advocate for science; provide insight that challenges them to re-evaluate their contrary view, or perhaps influence someone still on the fence. Each of these is important.
The U.S. Congress is heading back home for their annual district work period over August (from 31 July to 4 Sept)*, spending much of that time meeting with constituents. This presents a significant opportunity for US-based scientists to meet with their representatives in the U.S. House and Senate and to relate personal stories of why science is so important for communities, for the nation, and for the world. In concert with the efforts of AGU staff who work on science policy related issues year-round, meetings with individual constituents, like you and me, help to strongly amplify the call for our elected representatives and their staffs to support evidence-based policy. There is no more genuine voice than the voice of constituents.
Congressional committees have started working on the annual appropriations bills. Despite the President’s proposed severe cuts to science programs, there are some promising signs that many members of Congress on both sides of the aisle appreciate the value of investing in science for a strong economy, human health, and environmental protection. Only Congress can allocate funding to federal agencies, so personal contacts with members of Congress often prove to be effective in shaping support for science funding. We can’t afford to be complacent, as there are still strong voices influencing the Administration and Congress that are focused on large, short-sighted cuts to science funding. It appears unlikely that much of anything will pass until after the August recess, so this is a critical time to reinforce, strengthen, and expand pro-science sentiments.
I know that this sort of thing is outside the comfort zone of many scientists – it was for me too, and it was for Robert Pincus as he shared recently in Eos. He struggled with the issue of political advocacy, but decided that he could advocate for the value of investing in science. In this article, he gives a good example of what to expect when meeting with an elected official and makes a geophysicist’s observation that, like water wearing away rocks, persistence has an impact.
To help you have an effective meeting, AGU is partnering with other science societies to formally promote District Science Days, scheduled near the end of August. You don’t have to wait until then to schedule a meeting, but in any case, this initiative provides several helpful tools and step-by-step guides for preparing for a meeting, either near your home or in Washington D.C.:
- AGU’s District Visits Webinar scheduled for 13 July 2017 at 2PM EDT, hosted by the Public Affairs team.
- A new District Visits toolkit
- An instructional video series in the weeks leading up to the August recess that will provide tools and tips for having an effective in-district congressional meeting; and
- The Bridge blog, where we will share stories from fellow scientists about their policymaker meetings and other experiences as we lead into August recess.
Good luck, and please help us keep sharing narratives that investment in science pays big dividends for society in so many ways. Each of us has a story to tell, so why not tell it?
*Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced Tuesday, July 11, that he is delaying the start of the traditional August recess this year by two weeks.