Meet Your Grassroots Advocate
“With longer sessions of Congress, federal elected officials are spending more time in D.C this year. Our members realize that they need to meet Congress here.”
Advanced registration for the Congressional City Conference ends this Friday. As part of our “Meet Your City Advocate” series introducing you to NLC's Federal Advocacy team, we sat down with Ashley Smith, senior associate for grassroots advocacy, to learn more about NLC’s grassroots advocacy efforts and to find out what’s in store for “Capitol Hill Advocacy Day” during the conference this year.
Name: Ashley Smith
Area of expertise: Grassroots Advocacy
Hometown: San Antonio, Texas
Ashley, thank you for taking the time to sit down with me today. To start off, can you tell us about your background?
Well, I grew up in San Antonio. Go Spurs! I’ve been at NLC almost a year now. Our Congressional City Conference (CCC) Capitol Hill Advocacy Day will be my anniversary.
Thank you! I went to the University of Kansas for undergrad, and then made my way to D.C. immediately after graduating. I knew I wanted to be in D.C., so I jumped on a plane without a job.
That’s how a lot of D.C. stories seem to start.
I made it work, though. I took a job at the Democratic Leadership Council, where I worked with state and local elected officials, and then joined a consulting firm working with nonprofits on issue advocacy campaigns. I’ve done a little bit of everything since coming here, but I love working in politics.
I’ve spent a fair amount of time working with local elected officials, so that’s what drew me to NLC. They’re just wonderful people to collaborate with, and I love empowering them to advocate for the work they do to help their residents day in and day out.
Cool. So why don’t you tell us about your job here at the National League of Cities?
I manage our grassroots advocacy efforts, which encompasses a lot of things. Mostly, my work is to provide our members – the nation’s cities – with the tools and resources they need to effectively advocate for city priorities. I manage online and offline tools that members can use in their advocacy efforts. I also work to keep our members updated on opportunities to advocate for cities, and alert them when important legislation or city priorities are being addressed in Congress.
Most importantly, my job is making sure that members of Congress hear from local leaders directly. As you’ve heard in my colleagues’ previous interviews throughout this blog series, our lobbyists are always on the Hill advocating for city priorities – but it’s my job to make sure our members get on the Hill and in Congressional offices as well. That’s important because a Senator or Representative will listen to NLC lobbyists, but they really take note when we come into the office with a mayor or councilmember from their district. Our members are not only constituents – as local leaders, they represent other constituents, giving them a unique and powerful voice.
For sure! Can you tell us a bit about your role at the conference next week?
I’m there to engage with our members and to make sure they know of all the opportunities available to them. My biggest job though is to organize and run our Capitol Hill Advocacy Day. We’re planning to bring more than 500 members to 250 meetings on the Hill with members of both the House and Senate on March 15. I’m there to make sure everyone knows where to go and has their schedules, talking points and our great buttons.
I’m also leading two interactive workshops through our Federal Advocacy 101 training – one on Monday, the other on Tuesday. I encourage members to attend one if they are interested in learning more about how to have an effective meeting with a member of Congress – or if they just want to meet their grassroots advocate in person.
What are you most excited about for CCC?
I’m very excited by all the energy we’re seeing this year and the renewed sense of urgency for local leaders to come to D.C. Registration numbers for CCC are at their highest in years, and that is exciting.
With longer sessions of Congress, federal elected officials are spending more time in D.C. this year. Our members realize that they need to meet Congress here. We also have a new class of Congress, a new administration, and all new leadership in executive departments – and the members know that this means they need to come to D.C. to start building new local-federal partnerships.
I’m also excited to have nearly twice as many meetings available for NLC members on the Hill than last year. It’s another historic high we’ve hit.
That means you did your job well! So, last question – what is your spirit city?
That’s a hard question, but I’d say Washington, D.C.! I was one of those kids who was inspired by the West Wing, and after traveling to D.C. on a family trip when I was 13 years old, I was hooked and knew I wanted to live in D.C.
I also love living in a city comprised of people from all over the country. For all of the crazy politics that can go down here, it’s a great city with great people. I’m looking forward to welcoming our members here!
About the author: Brian Egan is the Public Affairs Associate for NLC. Follow him on Twitter @BeegleME.