Monday, June 2, 2014

What we need to move Transportation forward

I read a post on advocacy and had the following follow up thoughts. It took me way back to my neighborhood activist days. A trip down memory lane can be good to reenergize some of my hopes and dreams for Portland!
The original post is here:
I felt like the use of the term “advocate” is comparable to Jonathan’s thoughts on the term “cyclist”. So with that as a thesis, may I suggest we define what being an “advocate” means?
Perhaps some of the readers even thought: I am not an advocate…. That’s staff at the BTA or someone that is paid to do that… And yes, the BTA & 1000 Friends are very important advocacy groups, whose employees are advocates, but their voice and presence alone is not going to allow us to reach the aspirational future talked about here. If you’re still reading, let me suggest to you, that you are an advocate! Being informed is an important first step, but reading BP alone is not moving the needle (sorry Jonathan) at the pace discussed. So, what’s next? Let me suggest that before one can be an effective advocate, we have to be a neighbor.
Having been active in the City of Milwaukie as a neighborhood Chair and on the city’s Budget Committee nearly 10 years ago now, I learned a bit about who City Council considered trusted advocates. One of my many lessons was that my credibility at the neighborhood level was not high even if I was the “expert” on transportation (in my day job). Experts are not always effective advocates of course but that’s another story. Back to my point... 

I found my voice carried further over time, built mostly by being a neighbor who was first a partner on activities like community clean ups, crime watch discussions, etc and it was through the process of service to the community that I gained credibility. With a some credibility, I was able to start having conversations about the future we wanted and how transit played a role in defining what the community needed in order for the residents to get on board and want it to happen. There is a big difference between having a singularly focused conversation on bicycle or (it was transit in my Milwaukie experience) public transportation with strangers that happen to live nearby than people that know what your dog’s name is and how many kids you have.
My 2 cents: go to your local neighborhood meeting, so when there is an opportunity to advocate, you’ll be a neighbor first and an advocate second. If you’re really passionate about change, get more involved. I learned a ton about how a City functioned and tried my best to positively model the change I “advocated” for as a leader in that community.

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