Video: Advocates Speak up for the Great Lakes on Capitol Hill

Over 100 advocates from Great Lakes states traveled to Washington, D.C. to speak up for restoring the Great Lakes and stopping Asian carp from wreaking havoc on Great Lakes wildlife.

The 2012 Great Lakes Day brought people together who are passionate about protecting the Great Lakes to speak directly to their legislators and lobby in favor of continuing to fund critical Great Lakes restoration programs.

Learning to Lobby

This was my first year attending Great Lakes Day, and it was also the first time that I had stepped into the office of a member of the U.S. Congress. At first, meeting with members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives can sound somewhat intimidating to advocates like me who rarely see their legislators face-to-face. However, with a few key pointers and a team of other passionate people, I learned that speaking up in person with our elected officials to protect the wildlife and ecosystems you love is not so hard at all.

Watch Chicagoan, Melanie Napolean, as she prepares to begin her day of meeting with her elected officials:

Legislators Happy to Talk Great Lakes Restoration

The first thing I realized when walking into the office of a member of Congress is that the legislator and their staff meet with constituents all of the time. Though it is a once a year event for most of the people who attended, legislators' staff knew the drill and were friendly and ready to hear what we had to say about the necessity of funding Great Lakes restoration programs and supporting the Stop Asian Carp Act.

Making a Clear Case for Great Lakes Wildlife

The second thing that I noticed after meeting with a few legislators is that it up to us to take the initiative, and to clearly state exactly what issues we want to discuss, our point of view, why it benefits the legislator and their district, and say exactly actions we wanted the elected official to take.

Kent Wood, who came to Great Lakes Day with the NWF affiliate, Michigan United Conservation Clubs, talks about getting the message across to Michigan Representative Dave Camp:

By sharing very specific stories about how Great Lakes restoration funding impacts people and places in the legislator's district, we were able to make the issue relevant to the legislator and their concerns. We talked about wildlife and natural places that were meaningful to the legislator and their staff, and the jobs that were created from restoring the Great Lakes--which is a key issue to our elected officials.

Urging Our Legislators to Act

Some of the most interesting moments came last, when we asked the legislator what steps they would take to on support our issues, or what they expected to happen in Congress in terms of funding Great Lakes restoration and speeding up efforts to stop Asian carp. Many of the legislators I spoke with were open and helpful, giving us insight into where our issue stood.

Elected officials from both sides of the aisle expressed how important the Great Lakes are to them, and that they support continuing vital Great Lakes restoration and attempting to protect it from funding cuts. By meeting directly with members of Congress and their staff, we were putting real faces on the issues that we fight for and letting our elected officials know that people back home are taking note of how they vote.

I learned that it is not so hard to speak with my members of Congress and their staff--and would invite you to take opportunities to speak with your elected officials by going to events, or setting up meetings in their local district offices.