Civic Leadership | Women

What does it mean to ‘work together’?

It’s no secret that Junior League members can accomplish more together than they can as individuals. And the same goes for their Junior Leagues when they band together as powerful issues advocates as State Public Affairs Committees, or SPACs. The earliest SPACs, also known as Public Affairs Committees or Legislative Issues Committees, started in the 1930s. In 1945, AJLI created a booklet called “Let’s Look at Legislation” and in 1946, nearly 100 individual Leagues reported legislative activity. By the 1970s, there were more than 20 SPACs, and by 1981, Leagues in 32 states were involved in some form of advocacy. Over the years there has been an ebb and flow in SPAC activity, but there is no doubt that they have made a tremendous positive impact.

For the Junior Leagues in the 11 states that are currently active in advocating for change at the state level, advocacy efforts encompass research, awareness and education on an issue as well as writing, sponsoring and pushing a bill through the state Legislature

And for the 17 member Junior Leagues of the New York State Public Affairs Committee, working together means all of that and more.

One reason why NYSPAC does state-level advocacy really well is because League representatives work on it year-round. Conferences held in the fall and spring bring together all 17 member Leagues to plan and implement actions. The fall conference is a “call for issues” from which a single issue is chosen and researched. The spring conference is used to press the issue in the halls of the Legislative Office Building in Albany.

The spring conference, which just wrapped up in early May, is a two-day event. Monday’s activities provide a forum for all NYSPAC members that includes issues training, guest speakers on advocacy and media training. (The event also includes regional media outreach, which helps to support the second day’s activities, held on the following Tuesday.)

On Tuesday, NYSPAC members break up for individual meetings with legislators from their own legislative districts, answering questions and “selling” the issue. Because advocacy on many issues often moves forward over several years, NYSPAC might be looking for votes on a pending bill or, at an earlier stage, be looking only for buy-in for later support.

This year’s core issue for NYSPAC is centered on pay equity and seeks to prohibit employers from seeking salary history from prospective employees. Previous years’ legislative efforts have focused on paid family leave, human trafficking and domestic violence.

What is it like to work together in the corridors of the state legislature to effect change at the state level?

During a recent conversation with the Junior League of Schenectady and Saratoga Counties’ Katelyn Galbraith, an eight-year member of NYSPAC, had this advice:

First, while party politics can always pose an issue – and NYSPAC is resolutely non-partisan – her advice is to work slowly to bring someone around your point.

Second, because not all decisions are driven by people wanting to do the right thing, sometimes you need to work through legislators’ self-interests to help them make the right decision.

Third, the key to successful advocacy is hard work, dedication and never giving up…and coming back next year.

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