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View from the Hill Blog: The Things NOT Lost in Translation

By Nicole Payla Wood, View from the Hill National Grange Legislative Blog (7/26/11)

  JULY 26, 2011 --

Yesterday, I had the honor of giving a presentation to a group of women and men who work in rural and agricultural development in China. Their trip to the United States was orchestrated by the State Department and their itinerary was extensive; U.S. Department of Agriculture, Commerce, etc. As I prepared my speech, I read over their impressive biographies. The National Grange’s guests were leaders in their field; professors of economic development, heads of provinces, and rural poverty experts.  I needed to do my homework or risk underwhelming this group to the edge of tears and exposing the National Grange as a joke.

I talked about the history of the National Grange and the role it has played in helping to form the agricultural landscape today and mold the ideal rural community. I used real-time examples of how our contributions to Rural Free Delivery in the late 19th and early 20th century mirror those that we are advocating for currently with regard to the AT&T/T-Mobile merger and broadband build-out. Basically, the critical role that connectivity plays in the livelihood and competitiveness of rural Americans.

I finished my presentation and the Q&A began. We discussed organic farming and how to keep the balance between both organic and production farming. I was then asked a series of questions that all seemed to be the same. The questions came clear enough through my earpiece but I did not get the point until the translator explained it to me.

The young economists were trying to grasp the idea of a policy advocate and why we were necessary. The question had nothing to do with the price of organic farming, but clearly the evolutionary concept of an intermediary or lobbyist like myself, whose sole profession was to advocate a position. I explained that I, like other government relations professionals, are merely conduits for the members of our organizations, who are given directives from our members working in the field and have hands-on knowledge of the legislative fixes and regulatory changes needed

And then it hit me.

We live and work in a society that not only allows but also imposes a responsibility on our citizens to engage in their governments, both local and national. The concept of policy trickling up from the classes rather than being handed down was truly a foreign concept. In China, policy is handed down from centralized government and then implemented by local provincial leaders. In China, there is no use for lobbyists.

At this point, I came to what I have now, in retrospect, deemed my international diplomatic void.  I think even the translator from the U.S. State Department was eager to hear how I responded.  I controlled my inner freedom-fighter and responded in the only way that I knew how. I found middle ground in the fact that my guests and I had similar purposes. They too are given directives and paid to implement them. The only difference is that my policy is developed by my members, and theirs is applied to their members.  I did not elaborate on this huge continental divide of application. I did however think about it for the rest of day. Some things are NOT lost in translation.  

-Nicole Palya Wood 
National Grange Legislative Director

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