The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

December 2003
FEATURE
   
 

Training Workshop Features Role-Playing To Teach Principles, Techniques of Advocacy

BY BERNARD EDELMAN


Two dozen VVA members from across the country journeyed to VVA national headquarters in Silver Spring in October to participate in a first-ever advocacy training workshop. Some, like Missouri State Council president Alan Gibson and Jeff White, his counterpart from Pennsylvania, were veterans coming to seek some pointers and glean some insights that might make them more effective advocates. The vast majority, though, were news: they hoped this two-and-a-half-day session would be an opportunity to learn from those who advocate for veterans on behalf of VVA.

They didn't return home disappointed.

The workshop, the brainchild of VVA president Tom Corey and Rick Weidman, Director of Government Relations, was not conceived as a theoretical exercise based on hypothetical situations. It was designed to provide hands-on experience. Two key points were stressed:  Successful advocacy is based on ongoing relationships of mutual interest. And success in advocacy requires active follow-up; it doesn't happen because you've made a single, sincere pilgrimage to a senator's office in Washington or a representative's district office back home to make the case for health care funding or concurrent receipt or testing veterans for hepatitis C. 

"If our partners go back home with these two concepts firmly embedded in their minds, they'll have learned what it takes many advocates years to comprehend," said Weidman.

Eddie Gleason of the Department of Government Relations took the lead in preparing an individual book for each participant containing a wealth of information about federal and state offices and programs. It described the process most bills undergo to become law.

Modules on the processes of government were led or addressed by Linda Boone, executive director of the National Coalition of Homeless Veterans; Len Sistek, Democratic Staff Director for Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs; Jim Holley, Staff Director for the Democrats on the Committee; and Pat Ryan, Jim's Republican counterpart. A section on media relations was choreographed by VVA's national Communications staff, led by Mokie Porter.

A key facet of the workshop was role-playing: VVA staffers ad-libbed skits on winning friends and influencing legislators. Participants, in turn, were given roles and asked to role-play as well. They also received real hands-on experience by calling, setting up appointments, and visiting offices of their state's elected officials. At the end of each day, participants were asked to fill out a questionnaire to gauge their reactions to the day's events.

Was this a valuable learning tool? Participants felt so. Among the testimonials anonymously offered were these: "It has taught me how to prepare for a meeting with a legislator," one wrote.  Echoed another: "I can personally be more effective in promoting issues of value to veterans, and I can lead others in the same direction." And another: "No doubt about it. I feel more comfortable approaching legislators. Also, I feel more informed. And I have more tools to work with in accomplishing my task."

Based on the responses to the questionnaire, the Government Relations staff also learned some things: how to improve on its initial effort. These lessons will be incorporated into the next advocacy workshop, which will be held in March in conjunction with the spring Board meeting.  An announcement will be made as soon as the dates are finalized.

   

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