The freeway between Centralia and Vancouver, WA is actually quite pretty, despite the gray drizzle that is the hallmark of October through April in Washington. Either side of the freeway is lined with trees, broken up occasionally by pastoral lands and the occasional body of water. The morning drive was shortly after dawn, the evening drive at night: without the benefit of scenery I listened to Snap Judgment podcasts.
I was bouncing between these two fair cities because my mother lives near one, and the 2014 Annual Washington State PTA Legislative Assembly was in the other. This is a departure from previous years, where the Assembly has been held in Seattle; in an effort to make things more equitable for non-Puget Sound schools the PTA has moved the event. Although to be frank I’m not certain how moving it to a far corner of the state benefits most. If we want to put everyone to equal inconvenience, I think we should hold it in Yakima next year. It’s wine season then, and odd years are not voting years.
The purpose of the two-day Assembly is to have representatives from each school PTA across Washington caucus and vote on the top issues the PTA Legislative Team will work on in the coming two years. To clarify: Of the 15 issues presented, we pick the top 5, which represent where the lobbying dollars and effort go. There are educational opportunities as well – yours truly attended an eye-opening seminar on the capital budgeting process used by school district to figure out what they need in and for a new school – but the primary focus is to get together and vote your conscience or your constituency, and to influence others to vote your way.
It is an exercise in diplomacy that I find a constant challenge.
My school had four issues it cared very, very much about; the largest overlap with my own concerns was Funding McCleary. (To read more about McCleary, see this. And maybe this too.) I participated in a caucus and I opened my mouth to indicate that people like facts and data to support rhetoric; I found myself then scheduled to speak at the microphone at night. It was slightly over one minute, I spent it reminding myself that I should not speak too quickly, and I pelted people with facts. I was one of 4 “pro” speakers, and there was 1 “con” speaker… and only one “no” vote at the end of the day.
When given an assignment to publicly speak I find that I don’t do it well on my feet. I spend hours finding data, drafting text, practicing, rehearsing, etc. In previous jobs where I had to present in front of 80 or 100 people I would carefully prepare, sometimes days in advance, or sometimes on the redeye between Seattle and London. Extemporaneous speech is not something I am good at, and it makes me sick to my stomach for the period immediately preceding and following.
The purpose of advocacy – and of acting as a representative of your school and constituency – is to speak up even when it means you are going to be personally discomfited, to be personally challenged, and to be publicly opposed. As PTA parents we advocate for kids who are still learning to advocate for themselves, and frankly for an educational society that is often oblivious to their need of advocacy. After my brief spotlight that night I had to call the male person and calm down before I could take the wheel and drive the 100 miles home to my mother’s house.