My Seven Rules of Political Engagement For Naturists
My 7 Rules For Naturists Trying To Strike Down Anti-Nudity Legislation
My experience over the years is that, like the general public, most naturists want very little to do with politics. This is especially true of young naturists, whose focus is on the next party, the next bodypainting event, or the next naked bike ride.
In truth, none of your activities are possible without some law or past court case giving you permission. Those of us who involve ourselves in the legislative process are constantly fighting off challenges to ban nudity at beaches, hiking trails, or elsewhere. There are people out there who would take away our rights in a heartbeat if we weren’t paying constant attention. The challenges come every year, in many states, and it take a lot of time and money to fight these battles.
Your ability to enjoy social naturism comes because of the constant effort of the Naturist Society’s Naturist Action Committee and AANR’s Government Affairs Team.
How we go about protecting your rights is an interesting process. I was invited to reveal some of how we do what we do in February, 2015 at the Unity Summit in Florida. This was a conference organized by the BEACHES Foundation that brought together naturist leaders from around the country.
If this article motivates you, we invite you to join us in our efforts. Contact The Naturist Society or AANR to volunteer. We sure can use the help! If you are a student, the following will make a good term paper!
From the Unity Summit — My Seven Rules of Political Engagement For Naturists:
I had a wonderful 20 years of experience in politics before I got smart and decided to get out and start earning some real money at the start of the micro-computer age.
Politics is not what it was 50 years ago when I got into it as a volunteer for a local member of Congress. A half century ago, you still relied on local volunteers to walk house to house with your literature asking the neighbors to vote for you, or to hold “coffee klatches” with small groups of neighbors (Robert Kennedy and his team were masters at this). Others went through the district placing signs on lawns in front of houses or on storefronts. Local candidates struggle to raise money without mortgaging their homes. I have seen some practically sell their souls to get the endorsement of a local union, business group, hometown newspaper, or even to get a one-minute ad on the local radio station. What I just described still holds for candidates running in local races in small towns across America. Most of these local candidates have a little of Don Quixote in them, wanting to do something positive for their community or state. They are good people, and many remain so throughout their careers.
But it doesn’t hold true if a person decides to run for Congress or a County Supervisor or a statewide office. Today, campaigning for Congress or for state legislative offices in large urban areas has lost its door-to-door personal touch, and has been replaced by targeted mailers and party slate cards and mass media advertising.
The reality today is it takes at least a million dollars to run an effective campaign in a competitive district. So, the other great reality is I am not going to be able to see my representative as he or she is too busy raising campaign money from special interests who can write checks far larger than I can.
Another point to consider is your own elected representative may not be the best one to speak to. If he/she does not sit on the committee that holds the hearing on the bill, your representative may never have the opportunity to vote on the bill if the committee kills it or amends it after your meeting. Keep track of who sits on the committees that will be assigned the bill and focus your attention there. Research the members’ backgrounds, ideologies, and other bills they have sponsored. All of these are important for when you devise your pre-meeting strategy.
So Many Bills!
So, how do you know when there is a bill that needs your attention? AANR uses a system called CQ Tracking that sends out emails of any bill from any state legislature or the Congress containing key words (such as “nudity” or “beach” or “park”) so you can review them and see if they have anything of interest to you. There is always an Executive Summary on the first page that describes in general terms what the bill proposes to do.
But the danger to nudists is not always in the summary. Sometimes it’s buried deep in the details back on page 17 or 22, where one sentence may increase nudity from an infraction to a felony, or require nudists to register as sex offenders. These are obviously extreme examples, but examining the entire bill and understanding its implications for social nudity is important. It often takes some time and experience to “read between the lines” of bills that sound so innocent on the surface. But this is where your research should begin.
Florida is a model for AANR and NAC cooperation on legislative matters. From my point of view, your team in Florida seems to be pretty good at monitoring your state capital and local cities and counties for any bills that might be harmful. I commend your team for knowing your legislators. Florida nudists also have demonstrated they can mobilize knowledgeable speakers for hearings on short notice, something that often occurs. A third point is Florida also has access to a lobbyist when necessary, who can extoll the financial values of nude recreation to the local economy and get a clause changed quietly and quickly before the bill gets a hearing.
All of us seem to be not so lucky when dealing with park rangers, BLM officials, or other administrators in far-flung obscure corners of the country. These are people who see their assigned territories as their Kingdom to rule, and who mission in life is to do nothing that will jeopardize their job or future pension. Lighthouse Beach comes to mind as an example where meeting with local officials who are willing to make a decision on their own has proven difficult. In these cases, the person we think is in charge is not really the person in charge, so we have to know the chain of command to discover who is the key person we really should be talking to.
But the purpose of this article is to share with you some Rules of Political Engagement in this real world that I have learned over the years and not the world described in textbooks or in the movies. Stephen Covey made a fortune sharing his Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Well, I can make a list too!
Rule #1: Don’t Meet With the Legislator, Instead Meet Their Chief Assistant
In fact, it is probably better if you meet with the lead staff person because the way it works is, they are the ones who shuffle though all the pending legislation anyway.
The AA and the District Field Rep has the time to see you because one of his responsibilities is to shield his boss from constituents or lobbyists whom he / she is never going to agree with.
They will advise the elected person on how to vote on certain bills of interest; that is, unless the Party Whip has already told him / her how their party wants them to vote on the bill.
You should also know that most bills are not written by legislators today but by lobbyists who actually shop the legislative halls looking for some friendly legislator to sponsor the bill that helps their company or industry. About half the bills (and all of those requiring tax money) are going to go through the Majority or Minority Leader’s office to be blessed before they get assigned to a committee for a hearing. So if you’re trying to get the representative to vote a different way on those bills than what his Whip says to do, you are pretty much wasting your time because the parties and their lobbyists supply most of the campaign money these days.
Navigating through a legislative session can be tricky but it is almost always done quietly and behind the scenes. So still another path is to speak to the staff of the committee that will be hearing the proposed bill. These people hold the real power when it comes to amending bills, because they are the ones who shepherd the text from lobbyist to legislator to hearing. They know more about the bill than anyone else.
Developing a long-term friendship with these people ahead of time is a good investment of time and effort, especially since you will probably be dealing with them again and again in the future. That is what lobbyists do.
NAC is masterful at this tactic, often having a bill withdrawn from consideration before it comes up for its scheduled hearing. AANR’s GAT team has always preferred the direct route – giving testimony at a hearing and trying to amending the bill. Personally I think it is always better to kill a bill quietly ahead of time. Once it gets to a hearing, one never knows what testimony will be heard that will cause amendments to spin totally out of control and go against you. GAT is learning.
Rule #2: The Meeting: Quick, Positive, and Professional
Frame your argument to the legislator’s Administrative Assistant (AA) or Field Representative in such a way that is positive and NOT partisan (nude recreation has friends and enemies on both sides of the aisle). You must find a way to show your position is important to his / her local district, and that his / her natural constituency supports the amendment you are suggesting. Make the legislator look like a good guy if he supports you! So dress in a suit and tie (men) or a nice business pant suit or dress (women) – respect the office of the person you are addressing!
Be very respectful of their time – take no more than a half hour – and leave something in writing for them to review later. Remember, the AA just spent the morning talking to 3 other appointments just like you, and he has several more that day before he can go home. He probably won’t remember much of your conversation by day’s end. This is why known lobbyists are used so often, because they have been in that office before and know the people.
A good question to ask at the end of the appointment is, who else should you be talking to? The AA may surprise you with a list of key people you had not thought of before.
A great lobbyist usually has a dozen or more clients from various interest groups at the same time and retaining them is very expensive, sometimes $50,000. A marginally adequate lobbyist may cost $ 15,000 – $ 20,000. For one legislative bill! (No wonder so many legislators become lobbyists when they retire!)
Rule #3: Leave a Written Proposal
Regarding your written proposal, they should be written in a positive manner, demonstrating that you want what the legislator wants also, and explaining why the legislation is better with your suggested changes. Then the proposal suggests the next step(s) for him/her to take to implement what you are proposing.
Sometimes you are there to make only a slight change to the text, not to speak on the entire bill. Remind the AA that except for this small change, you support the bill, but the offending clause is wrong for [specific reasons] that will have unintended consequences and perhaps embarrass the legislator in the future.
I have had the opportunity to write many proposals over the years. Start with an Executive Summary of no more than a page or page and a half in length. In truth this is probably all they will read anyway. The rest of the document should only be as long (or short) as is necessary to cover the points discussed in the Summary with details, photos, and perhaps a bibliography or list of authoritative references.
Also remember that very few bills gets 100% support. There is always someone opposed so don’t pretend there isn’t anyone on the other side. Do not bring up the negatives voluntarily in your meeting unless you are specifically asked, or else you will look defensive or petty. Let the AA ask. I have been told many times by legislative aides that they appreciated my addressing probable objections in the Appendix of the document, so these can be examined later, if needed.
Rule #4: Avoid the “No”
NAC’s Bob Morton always preaches that we never want to meet with anyone in authority who is pre-disposed to tell us “No.”
A vote against nudity is an easy vote for most legislators regardless of its merits. You have to frame your argument against a bill as against “individual rights” or against “mothers” (as with breastfeeding bills). If you try to extoll the virtues of nudity or the wholesomeness of the experience, you will lose every time because the opposition will always bring up the “protect our children” talking point and no politician will ever vote against “the children.”
It is for that reason that I am always nervous whenever AANR takes its annual field trip to Washington DC to meet with members of Congress. I see this as a waste of time, if not dangerous, since the purpose is to convince them NOT to introduce anything that would harm the nudist community. In my opinion, we are just drawing unnecessary attention to ourselves and I don’t want to give them an excuse to introduce a bill.
Rule #5: No Quid Pro Quo talk
Be very careful not to mix campaign talk with the issue you are discussing. Example: Offering to give a donation to their next campaign or walking a precinct for them during the next election. Doing so may be considered a bribe. Or it may require you to register as a lobbyist and most of us don’t want to pay those filing fees. Simply thank the person for their time. Many of them will send you a donation envelope a few months before the election and if you are so inclined, a $50 check is appropriate. Or volunteer to walk a precinct or hand a yard sign. But this has to be some months after your meeting so there is no connection to it.
Rule #6: The lower the elective office, the more time they have to meet with you.
In my own recent experience in Santa Barbara trying to get a clothing-optional beach legalized, it has taken several years to work my way one-on-one through dozens of county opinion leaders from Chamber businessmen to tourist travel committees, to members of the local school board and city council, to the chief of police and his/her deputies in the field. Few if any of these people will ever win higher office and they are the last bastion of the retail politics I knew half a century ago.
These important people DO have time to talk to you and discuss your nude beach on its merits for the local community. It is very important that you have their trust before you meet, so you have to make an effort to attend Chamber of Commerce mixers, school board and city council meetings, etc. so your face (and intelligence) is known to them. For the past several years we have done volunteer work around the town, organized beach cleanups, etc. As a result we were invited to ride in the annual Independence Day Parade and have done so for the past three years. We hand out beach balls to the crowd along the way. Everyone waves back because they know who we are. This gives us credibility before asking a local community leader for a meeting.
More advice: Do your homework beforehand about the person’s background, interests and hobbies, and future ambitions. (This is also true for anyone you will ever be meeting with concerning legislation or regulations!)
Pick your moment carefully, and sprinkle the discussion with references to these points in order to personalize the discussion even more. Take good notes and always send a thank you for them taking the time to meet with you. This is very much like a job interview in that regard. Only in this case, instead of hiring you, you want them to support your idea. At the end, a “neutral” result is much better than a “No” at the end of the meeting. If they say “No,” you probably won’t get a second chance to change their mind.
Rule #7: After all your work, be prepared for them simply to ignore you (it isn’t personal).
You can make your best case, shake hands, and share smiles. But in the end, politicians do what is in their best interest, or what their political Whip tells him is in their best interest.
This just happened to me in California as a special commission was formed two years ago to completely reorganize the state’s Parks and Recreation Department. Nudists were asked to submit a proposal for how to allow designated clothing-optional beaches across the state. We submitted a well-researched 44 page proposal, but in the end, after many public hearings at which we spoke, the commission decided not to include any mention of nudity in their final report. I did not take it personally…well, maybe just a little. Instead I just got ready for the next challenge, because there will always be a next one.
In closing I hope my remarks haven’t sounded cynical or depressing. I am not an oracle of all political truth. I am only sharing what I have observed and often learned the hard way. I hope this will help everyone to successfully navigate their way through the reality of politics and not the one from our textbooks or from our youth.
Margaret Mead is said to have written: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” That means us! So get out there and start storming the windmills! Just be smart about it.
Extended Author Bio:
Gary Mussell has successfully managed several local legislative campaigns and testified before numerous legislative committees over the years, successfully navigating a few bills onto the governor’s desk.
A 16-year member of Elysium Fields Nudist Park in Topanga Canyon, he served on their Board of Directors for 3 years before it closed in 2001. In 2002, he founded the non-profit Southern California Naturist Association (SCNA) and served as its president for 11 years. In 2007, he became active in the movement to reopen Bates Beach (at the Ventura-Santa Barbara County line near Carpinteria) to legal clothing-optional use. Currently, he is a member of the Carpinteria Chamber of Commerce. Last July he was elected Vice President of the AANR-West region. He continues to chair its Government Affairs Committee. In 2013, he became a Trustee for the BEACHES Foundation.