Thursday, February 26, 2015

Thursday, February 26: Think Tanks - Watch Dogs & Others

Thursday, February 26, 2015
On Thursday, SDARL Class VIII started out the day with a discussion of what we had observed and heard after meeting with lobbyists, USDA staff, South Dakota’s Congressional delegation and staff, and participants in similar rural leadership programs from other states. We were asked to answer four questions:

  1. What has been the biggest “Ah-hah” moment for each of us from our Washington D.C. experience so far?
  2. What has surprised us the most about ourselves so far as part of this experience?
  3. Why is it important for those aspiring for leadership roles in rural South Dakota to travel to places like Washington?
  4. Describe our experiences and impressions after interacting with our peers from other states?

As one might expect from a group of our size and diversity of backgrounds and experiences, there was a wide range of answers for the first question. Many of us were struck by walking in the same streets and places as our Founding Fathers. We had a lively debate about the role of lobbyists, the ability to get things done in D.C., and how important it was to get to know the staffers who worked for our elected officials.
One of the surprises for many of us was that although D.C. is a big, bustling place, we weren’t as intimidated as some of us thought we might be. After learning more about the entire process, we’re more confident in our abilities to get involved in the process.
One of the take-home messages we’ve learned is that the rest of the world matters; and is one of the biggest reasons to get outside of our comfort zone and see places that are different from home. At the same time, we have an increased appreciation for the value of South Dakota “common sense.”
The opinion of the group was that having the chance to interact with our peers from Washington, Indiana, and Minnesota was very valuable. Some conversations came easier than others, but this was a great opportunity to learn more about agriculture in other states, network with our peers, and compare notes about Ag and Rural Leadership programs.
After our group discussion and review of the reading assignments, it was time to meet with our assigned special interest groups. We divided into pairs or groups of three and met with twelve different special interest groups located in and around Washington, D.C. These groups included:
·         North American Meat Institute
·         Sierra Club
·         Planet Forward
·         Heritage Foundation
·         Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
·         Crop Life of American
·         Citizens Against Government Waste
·         Farm Animal Rights Movement (FARM)
·         The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS)
·         Center for Food Safety
·         Environmental Working Group
·         EcoAgriculture Partners
We met with those groups during the afternoon. Later we all gathered at Buca di Beppo® to compare notes. We found that some of these groups, such as the American Meat Institute and CropLife of America, had positions that were very closely aligned with those of the SDARL members who visited with them. Other, less conventional groups, held markedly different views than the participants of our delegation. The experience of respectively listening to those who may have disagreed with us while articulating our views may well be one of the more interesting and valuable parts of our D.C. experience.
There were opportunities before and after the appointments with special interest groups to take advantage of some of the other educational opportunities in Washington, D.C. Some of the places Class VIII members visited included Arlington National Cemetery, the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, the National Holocaust Museum, and the National Gallery of Art.

Dusty Schley and Warren Rusche

Amy Pravecek and Warren Rusche visiting with Janet Riley, Sr. Vice President Public Affairs for the American Meat Institute
SDARL Class VIII member Shane Reis, Josh Kettwig, Jim Kanable, Sara Berg, and Joel Erickson preparing to enter the Smithsonian.
Seminar Team Leader Sandy Osterman helping to lead the book report discussion.