For the vast majority of Americans, the idea of personally visiting their House or Senate representatives in Washington sounds somewhere between intimidating and uninteresting. Despite the fact that they, together with the other members of their state or district, directly determine if said legislator keeps his or her job, most citizens simply do not feel heard or as if their opinion is truly valued.
Last week, I had the opportunity to accompany a group of farmers as they met with two House members and one Senator from their home state. The experience left me hopeful that our government might actually work for us if only we made the effort to tell them what we think is best for the country.
While most often we met with staffers, who appeared to be quite young, two of the three representatives that we visited took the time to greet the delegation and briefly discuss a few key issues. One particularly interested House member even asked a grower speaking with him on farm policy to walk with him as he headed to the floor to cast a vote.
He did this because he was interested. The staffers were just as interested and, in most cases, already knew about our concerns over ethanol, trade agreements and transportation issues from National Corn Growers Association staff if DC. After the second visit, it began to set in that these people are in DC, devoting countless hours to their work, because they honestly believe that government can improve the lives of both Americans and the world as a whole. It also became obvious that an organization like NCGA merely sets the stage on an issue but it is the individual constituents that turn up the volume and make the message stick.
Maybe what sets them on fire, that same deep seated conviction, is what they saw in the farmers. These two men were not paid to be there. They had traveled a long way, during a busy season, because they too believe that government impacts their life and, with information and dialogue, they too could create change for their families, their farms and their fellow corn growers
As I tiredly descended the stairs that day, I felt like we had truly accomplished something. Unlike when politicians hold partisan battles with one another for the cameras, when ordinary Americans enter their legislators’ offices they can be open and receptive without the fear of being vulnerable. They can take the time to try and understand what impacts the lives of their constituents without worrying about the next sound bite. They can listen.
So, the impetus is on us. We must let them hear what we need as an agricultural community. The first step toward actively informing your legislators on farm issues may take time and effort, but it will be worth it. Someone will make the visit to the Hill to speak with legislators personally. Let’s make sure that they see the same passion from us and get a personal update on how legislation is effecting what is arguably our most important industry.