I’m spending a few days in Washington, the District of Columbia.

I was invited by a large coalition of outdoor folks from all disciplines and businesses to meet with some elected officials on behalf of the specialty retailers, who collectively are responsible for getting most of America outside.  I am here speaking as the owner of a small business that is directly impacted by funding of the DOI.

The Department of the Interior’s budget is barely 1.2% of the Federal budget, and believe me, that’s well-spent.  This includes everything outdoor — the national parks, monuments and wilderness areas, the Bureau of Land Management, and every other dollar that makes the outdoors accessible to the people who own it.  Us.

This is the guy who invited me.  I passed the background check, apparently.  I live in constant fear that I will call him Secretary Slytherin.  Thanks for planting that seed, geek friends.

What could be better for a nation torn by economic upheaval and a Congress that is running scared than keeping the outdoors as a place where people can heal?  The DOI did not cause the deficit.  Why should it suffer?  Why gut the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which by law is supposed to be funded by offshore royalties paid for by the companies who are trashing the Gulf?  Why cut the budget for national parks, where attendance is at record levels?  We want this, and we need this.

Meanwhile, Congress is narcoleptic, waking up periodically to vote on non-issues on which all can agree.  Watch C-SPAN if you don’t believe me.  And it’s our job to wake them up.

According to the folks in our coalition, which include some pretty heavy hitters, smart aides are leaving DC in droves.  They came to do something…to make a difference.  They write good legislation, and it sits in committee until someone has the cojones to introduce it.  Which doesn’t happen.  So the brilliant ones leave, and you can guess what gets left behind.

That said, when we talk, surprisingly they listen.  Especially when we tell them that 120,000 jobs are related to outdoor recreation in Wisconsin, and that nationwide we are a huge, sustainable source of income for the government.  That we are the answer to childhood obesity.  That we are the solution for a soul-sick population that has forgotten the healing powers of the natural world.

They need to be reminded how Wisconsin benefits from Federal dollars, like those that helped create the bike paths in Madison that have pretty much eliminated parking issues at the Wisconsin capitol building.  That small businesses make up 70% of the jobs in this country, and if we’re not healthy, ain’t nobody healthy. They need to know that for every Federal dollar spent for the DOI budget, they get three back.  That’s a better ROI than Wall Street, right?  Thank Dale Hall, president of Ducks Unlimited, for that research.

Those who know me know that I am not a political activist by nature.  I am skeptical of the process and even more skeptical of the motivations of some of the political leaders here.  They like being powerful and important, which means they care less about winning than they do about their opposition losing.  And you can see where that gets us.  It gets us a world where 27% of the communications from congressional offices consist of taunting other members of congress.  Wife 1.3, an 8th grade math teacher, thinks the rate of such communication in her classes are well below that.

If I learn anything doing this, it’s that you have way more access than you think you do.  Call, write, or drop in on your elected officials.  If you have to hold your nose and do it, do it anyway.  If I can go to the office of our Tea Party senator who was elected due to the $2,000,000 in outside money from Americans For God, Baseball and Apple Pie, so can you.

Do it.

Respectfully submitted,

Constituent and Political Activist pro tempore.

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