Friday, March 1, 2019

Georgia Aerospace Day: Space Policy Fun Among the Chaos of the Golden Dome

Yesterday was Georgia Aerospace Day, the annual event dedicated to advocating for aerospace activities in Georgia at the state capitol in Atlanta. Given my interest and experience in space policy, I jumped at the chance to be involved.

Prior to the event, I organized our team. At one point we had 16 people committed to representing Georgia Space Alliance – not bad for a first-time involvement of a new group! Thankfully that number dropped down to a more manageable team size. I am hoping to expand the team next year. By then we'll have more experienced people to assist in leading.

I wrote up the talking points for the take-away flyer. We weren't advocating for specific legislation, so we kept it broad. Most of the aerospace activity in Georgia is aviation-related, so I focused on informing readers of the space activities and parties in the state. We exist and we do cool stuff and here's why it matters.

I contacted the offices of around 30 members of the state Senate and House of Representatives on key committees and the elected officials of members of our team – lots of phone calls and emails! By the end I had appointments with 26 legislators, 6 at specific times and the other 20 to be paged from the chambers' floors while the chambers were in session. Little did I know what that meant.

Our first meeting of the morning was in a representative's office. Unfortunately he couldn't make it, though I did chat with his staff while we were waiting. The second meeting had a scheduled time, but unfortunately the meet-up plan was to page him from the House Chamber floor. So that didn't happen as planned.

The Georgia Space Alliance team holding up our take-away flyers
It was such a contrast to be speaking about forward-thinking 21st century technology relying on 17th century methods. In order to page a member from the floor, we needed to fill out a slip of paper, wait in a long line for 15 to 45 minutes, hand the slip of paper to a woman who hands it to a teenage page (ages ranging from 12 to 18) who tries to find the legislator at their desk but may or may not know what the legislator looks like, then wait until the page returns or the legislator appears at the ropes. Our group filled out 15 to 20 slips (one per person per turn in line) and had one member successfully paged. It's a ridiculously outdated and inefficient system that wasted our entire morning, time we could have spent visiting legislators' offices and talking to their staff.

Our team standing in line for forever to page legislators from the floor.
We did manage to speak with one additional representative and one senator from the ropes. A member of our group recognized a senator from a previous interaction, and while greeting her, explained why we were there. She was kind to indulge us.

I used modern technology to meet with my state congressman: social media. After unsuccessfully waiting in line for 35 minutes to page my rep and having the page not find him, I tweeted my thanks and tagged him. He responded. A few more back-and-forths on Twitter and he found me on the ropes before I had even gotten through the line for the third time.

I have no idea why pages aren't electronic messages sent to members instantly, or at least sent to an aide to approve and then sent to the members. That would not only be quick and easy, it would be much more productive and reduce wasted time by orders of magnitude. Instead of wasting an hour to page a legislator at a high failure rate, it could be done in a minute! One thing is for sure: I will never page a member of congress from the floor using human pages again. Lesson learned.

Our final meeting with multiple legislators was also canceled as members chose to go directly to lunch instead of meeting with us in their office. All told, we met with one state senator, two state representatives, and a few staff members in various offices. Thank you to those who took the time to speak with our small group on such a busy day! Lesson learned #2: visit congress first thing in the legislative year or after crossover day when they're not so busy.

Heading towards the main Georgia Aerospace Day event.
We regrouped and ate at the nearby cafeteria, then geared up for the second event of the day: the networking event and expo in the capitol rotunda. When we arrived back, several companies and organizations had set up booths and banners to promote their aerospace (mainly aviation) business. There were speeches by the event organizer, the Lt. Governor, and the Governor. Those remaining of our team met with Governor Kemp for a photo after his speech.

Photo op with the Governor
The networking event gave me a chance to have some useful conversations with existing colleagues and meet new ones. I'm particularly excited about a new space education project I learned about. I had fun with 3D printed prototypes at one table and 360 degree augmented virtual reality at another table. Plus these events are great for fun “swag” take-away items. Georgia Space Alliance didn't have a table this year but I'm already thinking of possibilities for next year.

Thank you to our Georgia Space Alliance team!

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