What is politics? WordNet at Princeton University defines it as "social relations involving authority or power." This simple definition can open doors to an important discussion regarding politics and therapeutic recreation.
Success in politics for therapeutic recreation professionals hinges on the development of good relationships with local elected officials, state legislators, and members of Congress. The relationship is the funnel through which you, as a therapeutic recreation professional, feed facts and observations to a legislator. Without a relationship, placing favorable information in the hands of the legislator is difficult. The facts are necessary and must be in your favor, but many times the facts are not enough. The legislator listening to you as a therapeutic recreation professional must know you, trust you, and believe that you are motivated to do the right thing.
To get to that point, your legislator must recognize you as a person, and you must recognize your legislator as a person too. If you call your legislator only when you need a law passed or a proposed law stopped, you will not succeed. Inviting city council members, state legislators, and members of Congress to events with families of therapeutic recreation participants is critical. Let them see your work and your participants, and just as important, let your participants see the legislators.
Most state parks and recreation associations, state and regional therapeutic recreation associations, and national therapeutic recreation associations are involved in the political process. Therapeutic recreation professionals across the country monitor proposed legislation, seek legislators who will introduce favorable laws, and play an active role in drafting and reviewing state and federal administrative regulations. As a therapeutic recreation specialist, you have a personal responsibility to carry out this role and develop such relationships. It is through this process that resources and favorable legislation exist for therapeutic recreation.
It is tempting to classify people, as well as politicians. Liberals. Conservatives. Independents. Students. Professors. Republicans. Democrats. Which are you? Are you in one category all the time, or do you change as it suits your needs and the situation? Classifications are thought to represent what the people in that class believe. Instead, classifications represent what we think the people in the class believe. As such, classifications are inherently dangerous. The therapeutic recreation specialist must develop relationships with all types of people in the political process. Being liberal or conservative in your personal political views will not, in most cases, affect your success or failure in therapeutic recreation political action. On issues of importance to therapeutic recreation, success is more likely to occur when a coalition of legislators of all types supports a position. Avoid making the assumption that liberals or conservatives, or Democrats or Republicans, will always take one position or another.
In this process of building relationships, keeping therapeutic recreation, in some way, on local political agendas is important. The best way to accomplish this goal may be to enlist the help of families who have a family member with a disability.
Legislators at every level are people just like you, with interests, likes, and dislikes. They don’t know everything about every subject. Instead they rely on you and other professionals for facts, information about how current or proposed laws affect what you do, and information about how people with disabilities are involved and included in the community. Your obligation is to give them that information.
Therapeutic recreation specialists must follow legislative developments and become advocates for the profession and for those served by the profession. You can start now by doing some of the things listed here. These are just a few of the many ways that you can become well informed and more active in legislative issues.