I talk about space advocates a lot. I consider myself one. I work hard to promote the Society’s pro-space agenda. I read space policy books and papers. I write about these issues nearly every day.
But last week I found myself awed in the face of nearly 70 deeply committed space advocates from around the country. These individuals had taken time off from work to and traveled to Washington, D.C. on their own dime to participate in this year’s Space Exploration Alliance legislative blitz. These were citizens and space supporters—some from as far as Spain—coming to D.C. so that they could meet face-to-face with congressional offices to show support for NASA and space exploration.
Many of these individuals had never done this before. They took a risk. They committed their time and money. And they did great. I felt deeply honored to join them.
The Space Exploration Alliance is a loose coalition of nearly every public-facing space nonprofit group. The Planetary Society is one member, ExploreMars is another, and the National Space Society is another. We all have different goals, but like the proverbial blind men around an elephant, we all fundamentally agree on the same thing: space is the key to our future, and we need to keep exploring. I was proud that thirty-four Planetary Society members had signed up this year, a new record.
The legislative blitz happens every year with the goal of bringing space supporters to Congress to promote, well, space. As I discussed in an earlier post, face-to-face congressional meetings are the most effective thing you can do as an advocate, particularly if you’re a regular citizen. This is a critical part of any advocacy effort.
The blitz helps people make the leap from space supporters to true advocates by reducing the energy barrier needed to meet with Congress. Rick Zucker, who serves on the board of ExploreMars, organizes the blitz every year. He’s the one who reaches out and does the scheduling for each meeting on the Hill, organizes all attendees into groups, and generally makes everything happen. The Society provides support where it can. This year, thanks to the largest number of committed individuals in recent history, he scheduled 168 meetings with 15 teams. That’s a lot of work. But it makes all the difference for individuals who have never done this before.
The Sunday before the blitz (which happens Monday and Tuesday) we gather everyone together for a training session. I helped lead this training with Rick, and also used this opportunity to meet many of the attendees. Some I know, but most I didn’t (we had a very large number of newcomers this year). We help the new folks understand what they’ll be doing in the next few days, introduce everyone with their teams, and sketch out plans and practice speaking about key space issues.
Monday and Tuesday are consumed by meetings. Lots of meetings. Each team is assigned anywhere from six to eight meetings in a day. That’s a lot, and a lot of walking between offices. After 15 meetings in two days with congressional staff who have varying degrees of knowledge and interest on NASA issues, you end up with a lot more experience elucidating your views on space. This is another one of the many great benefits of participating in the legislative blitz. You actually become a more effective space advocate by advocating for space. Strange but true.
But the real joy that I find from participating in the blitz is meeting so many committed space advocates. I saw many of the teams bonding, discussing their strategies, and really connecting throughout the blitz. Most congressional offices don’t get a lot of people writing or calling them about space issues, so when four volunteer space advocates walk in the door, that’s notable. And person after person I spoke felt this, too. They each felt like they made a difference and achieved something. They did.
I want to thank everyone who participated in the Space Exploration Alliance’s 2015 legislative blitz. We were many people of many differing desires, but our shared belief in the importance of space exploration united us in D.C. for those few days last week. We pounded the pavement. We felt the thrill of walking through the nation’s capitol to share our passions. We shared our day’s stories over expensive margaritas and bad food. We were true space advocates, working as hard to keep space exploration a priority.
See you next year.