Through a series of articles we call The State, the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Advocacy and Political Affairs team is providing analysis related to "the state of" advocacy and political trends impacting farmers, ranchers and other rural Americans.
In the world of advocacy, one of the biggest changes made during the pandemic was the immediate cessation of visits to the U.S. Capitol, the House and Senate office buildings, administration buildings and in-district congressional offices. In mid-March 2020, advocacy shifted from in-person to on-screen overnight.
Now, as the country begins purposeful and methodical steps toward post-COVID-19 activities, we are learning what that means for farmer and rancher advocates.
The results of a comprehensive survey by the Public Affairs Council indicate one new normal: In-Person meetings with federal policymakers will become rarer. The survey of 157 government affairs executives finds that 87% of respondents say it will become increasingly common to use video conferencing for lobbying and another 60% believe that even after the pandemic is over, it will remain difficult to meet with federal policymakers in person.
In the short-term, that is to say the remainder of 2021, advocacy will look a lot like it did in 2020. What has not changed is meetings with lawmakers and their staff -- virtually or in-person -- are necessary for Farm Bureau to be effective and influential. Farm Bureau relies on farmers and ranchers around the country advocating for ag policies. Whether you are a leader or just getting started in Farm Bureau, you can raise your voice to influence policies impacting agriculture. Learn how to be a successful advocate.
Still, Congress is looking at how to re-open the people’s house to their constituents. Many advocates would like to visit Washington, D.C., as soon as possible. Those making the trip should expect it to be very different than they remember.
Security is extremely high surrounding the Capitol building and the House and Senate office buildings. Visitors will have to navigate new security measures including: .
- Completing a health survey prior to their visit with the member of Congress.
- Providing requested information, such as name(s) and other information, prior to the appointment with the member of Congress.
- Checking-in at the designated appointment desk where IDs will be checked and badges will be issued.
- Being met by House staff at a designated entrance and escorted to and from their destination. An individual member and/or staff person may escort a maximum of five visitors at a time, for a total group size of six.
- Maintaining a 6-foot social distance as much as practicable when in the offices or the Capitol.
- Wearing a well-fitted surgical mask that completely covers the nose and mouth.
We cannot and should not expect a return to pre-COVID-19 visits to Washington, D.C., without going through small, incremental and cautious steps. In the meantime, advocacy must continue.
Virtual meetings will likely remain a cornerstone of Capitol Hill and administration engagement. And there are several additional ways to deliver a message to policymakers including in-district meetings, virtual fly-ins, letters to the editor, video tours of your farm or ranch and video testimonials.
I encourage advocates and those helping advocates to stay in touch with district offices for “back home” advocacy and to work with individual congressional offices to gauge how they want to approach in-person meetings in Washington, D.C. Most importantly, develop relationships with your members of Congress and their staff. Nothing remains as influential as having a personal connection with those making decisions on ag policy.
Cody Lyon is AFBF’s managing director of advocacy and political affairs.