August recess is a time to hit 'refresh' on important issues

The morning commute is less crowded, offices are sparse and the general pace of Washington has appeared to slow at the onset of the August recess. This recess is particularly interesting with the earlier possibility of its cancellation. Some argued against the merits of the August departure of lawmakers and staff alike, but irrespective of any position on the matter, Congress needs to take advantage of this time and engage in a few key activities to make the most of their hiatus. Equally as important, the advocacy community must do the same.

August is a time for everyone to refresh, whether you are an elected official, exhausted staffer or interest group engaged in advocacy. August presents a perfect time to regroup. The recess is also time to recharge and reevaluate successes, failures and develop a strategy for the legislative return in September.

For the advocacy community, the recess is a perfect time to look back on the course of the year (so far) and see where your resources have gone and where they need to go in the future. Is your messaging successful? Are you having an impact in a crowded field of issues? What more can you do, or what can you do to reposition yourself to make your organization more effective? What are other organizations doing to gain traction and how can you adapt their techniques to benefit your organization?

The recess for advocacy organizations should not only be about reflection, but action. Lawmakers are back home touring facilities, meeting with constituents in-district, attending community barbecues, parades and other functions. Lawmakers tend to be more relaxed and comfortable as they reconnect with the people that sent them to Washington to represent them.


Plato said it best: "You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation." Getting members or advocates to bring your issues to their home base will resonate and impact the future course of an organization's legislative success.

Advocacy organizations should localize priority issues and connect lawmakers and staff with their communities for maximum impact. The optimum goal is getting them to see the firsthand connection between national issues and real people who are affected by the issues, and ultimately their decisions. These national issues can get clogged up by partisan bickering and the politics behind policies, which is all the more reason to ensure that your issues resonate with a personal touch.

For lawmakers, this is an opportunity to get educated on issues, gauge the pulse of the district and remember why they ran for office. Any purveying bleak outlook on the efforts of "Washington" can be alleviated by a visit to the local health clinic, meeting with a school official or coffee with a local business person. People matter more than politics in those settings.

Even though a lot of these encounters will be anecdotal evidence eventually used inside the Beltway, they humanize the charts, statistics and white papers for lawmakers, as well as the ads, soundbites and op-eds that often usurp the public attention and outlook on policymaking.

With all that can happen and all that is already taking place, the term "recess" is a bit misleading. Recess is a break from Washington, but is certainly not a break from the legislative process. The August "recess" is not a time to sit idle, as there are plenty of opportunities to influence the legislative process.

As advocacy professionals, we have a duty to continue to spur action and cultivate relationships during this all-important break from the hoopla in the nation's capital. Advocates need to genuinely tell their own unique stories and lawmakers are more receptive as attentive listeners.

All the different stakeholders have a vested interest in the overall success of the policymaking process, and the best proof that Washington can work can come from Morgantown, Erie, Tulsa, Peoria or other small cities and communities across the country. It is a political reality that people matter in politics.

Joshua Habursky is director of advocacy at the Independent Community Bankers of America and chairman of the Grassroots Professional Network.

Mike Fulton is director of the Washington, D.C., office of the Asher Agency and a lecturer in public affairs and communications at West Virginia University.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

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