This past April, Openlands’ staff from multiple departments embarked on a mission to make our voices heard by participating in advocacy days at both the state and national capitols. These advocacy days provided an opportunity for Openlands to advocate for crucial conservation issues and engage with and inform policymakers. In this blog post, we will delve into the significance of advocacy days, highlight Openlands’ efforts in Washington, D.C. and Springfield, and discuss ways for individuals to get involved in grassroots advocacy.
Advocacy days are organized events where individuals or groups gather to advocate for specific causes or issues directly to policymakers. These events offer a platform for citizens and organizations to voice their concerns, propose solutions, and influence policy decisions. This year’s advocacy days took place at the state and national capitols, where legislators and other government officials can be directly engaged.
From April 17-20, Openlands’ CEO Jerry Adelmann, Vice President of Conservation and Policy Emily Reusswig, and Director of Policy Chris Kessler traveled to Washington D.C. to participate in the Land Trust Alliance Advocacy Days. The mission of the Land Trust Alliance’s annual Advocacy Days is to advocate for and advance important land trust policy priorities. To prepare participants for the week, the LTA provided our staff with advocacy training and helped to facilitate relationships with key legislators to build the political influence of the land trust community. Our team focused on addressing significant conservation matters, and one of the key topics of discussion was the upcoming farm bill, which holds substantial importance for the conservation agenda. Openlands representatives met with members of the Illinois congressional delegation, staff from the offices of U.S. Senators Duckworth and Durbin, as well as agency heads from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
These meetings aimed to emphasize conservation priorities and raise awareness about specific projects, especially in our priority landscapes, which include Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie and Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge. Openlands’ staff highlighted the urgent need to spend the incoming funds from the IRA and America the Beautiful programs to support conservation initiatives while they are still available. Additionally, Openlands aimed to garner support from the Illinois congressional delegation to ensure the transfer of parcels from the former Joliet training area to the U.S. Forest Service. This transfer would be a significant and long-awaited step towards preserving and expanding the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie.
Our staff took advantage of the opportunity to share our work and mission of advancing nature-based solutions to climate change with Illinois legislators, and the recently revised congressional maps presented an excellent opportunity to engage with new representatives and share the scope of our work in their new districts. Openlands’ outreach aimed not only to educate lawmakers on the issues important to the conservation community, but also build relationships necessary to advancing conservation initiatives in the future.
While the policy team was advocating for land trust priorities in Washington D.C., Openlands’ staffers from the Communications and Development teams travelled down with other environmentalists from the state to advocate for conservation items in Springfield as part of the Illinois Environmental Council’s Lobby Day. IEC’s Lobby Day connects environmental advocates from across the state with their elected representatives in the General Assembly to effectively advocate for Illinois’ people and the environment, and as part of the event, over 400 Illinoisans came together to take action on climate. The event started with a rally in front of the Illinois State Capitol Building and was followed by meetings between participants and their elected officials to discuss important environmental issues. Before the day was over, participants received a surprise visit and photo op from Chicago’s new Mayor Brandon Johnson!
The Importance of Advocacy Days:
Advocacy days serve as a vital platform for lobbying and grassroots advocacy. The power of grassroots advocacy lies in the voices and stories of constituents. Personal connections and heartfelt testimonials have a significant impact on lawmakers, who are ultimately responsible for representing their constituents’ views. Openlands’ passionate group of staff and volunteers are critical to advancing our mission and their ability to convey a powerful message rooted in dedication and genuine concern for the environment is a powerful force for change.
While travelling to Springfield may not be an accessible option for all people interested in communicating with their legislators, individuals who are unable to participate in advocacy days can still contribute to the cause. Engaging with local officials through emails, phone calls, and attending events like town halls or coffee shop gatherings are effective ways to make a difference. What matters first and foremost is staying involved in issues in your community and building relationships with elected officials at the local level. By remaining attentive to Openlands’ action alerts and promptly responding to them, individuals can stay informed and share advocacy initiatives within their networks.
Openlands’ participation in May 2023 Advocacy Days was a significant step towards advocating for conservation issues both at the state and national levels. By actively engaging with policymakers, Openlands ensured that the conservations concerns and solutions we are working for were effectively communicated. Together, we have the power to make a powerful impact and drive policy that puts the environment and people first!