From Capitol Hill to KEEN: Our New 'Head of Taking Action'
If you want to make a bigger impact as a brand on public policy and public land protection, what better way to do it than by hiring someone who knows how to navigate the federal legislative system and bring diverse groups together?
So while it’s not often that a retail brand recruits from the steps of the U.S. Capitol, that’s pretty much what we did when we found Erin Gaines as the newest addition to the KEEN Effect team. On day one, she jumped in to help KEEN employees make our voices heard on environmental issues that matter to us, and she is now helping KEEN fans find their voices, too—most recently at the winter Outdoor Retailer tradeshow in Denver, Colorado, where she initiated a Better Takes Action phone booth for contacting government representatives on a variety of environmental issues.
Back in Portland, we sat down with Erin to find out more about this uncommon career move and how, as KEEN Effect Advocacy Manager, she is helping KEEN take action in new ways to make a bigger difference.
WHAT IS YOUR BACKGROUND IN ADVOCACY AND PUBLIC POLICY?
Erin: After graduating with an undergraduate degree in Political Science, I went to Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland. When I started law school I thought I was going down the traditional law path – graduate, pass the bar, practice law, the end. But between my first and second years of law school I spent the summer in Washington, D.C. interning for Senator Ron Wyden from Oregon, and my path almost instantly changed. I became fascinated by the lawmaking process – from idea to implementation – and I decided I wanted to write the laws and advocate for changes to laws, rather than challenge or defend laws in the courtroom. I spent the rest of law school getting as much policy and advocacy experience as I could, from classes on the legislative process to internships with advocacy organizations. When I graduated, I set my sights on D.C. again. I moved back to D.C. in 2013 and landed back in Sen. Wyden’s office, becoming his Natural Resources Counsel. I advised the Senator on all issues related to clean water, public lands, forestry, outdoor recreation, and agriculture (to name a few).
WHAT’S A TYPICAL DAY IN THE LIFE OF A CONGRESSIONAL STAFFER?
There was no such thing as a “typical day” on Capitol Hill! Every day was a different mix of hearings, mark-ups, speeches, votes, and constituent meetings, with plenty of breaking news, deadlines, shutdown threats, and other ‘fire drills’ sprinkled in. Congressional staffers are always on their toes, ready for the day to take a turn and go nowhere near as planned. That all said, it was exciting!
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO TAKE THE LEAP FROM LEGISLATIVE ARM TO FOOTWEAR BRAND?
When I worked on Capitol Hill, I met every day with companies, organizations, and coalitions that were there to advocate on the federal issues that mattered to their business or members. Whether it’s immigration, trade, or tax reform, health care, or environmental policies, all businesses are impacted in some way by the decisions that are made in Washington. After four years of working in the Senate with outdoor industry brands and organizations on policies that impact outdoor recreation and public lands, I decided I wanted to experience working on these issues from a different perspective.
I was ready for a change of pace and to use what I learned about the legislative process to help an outdoor brand better advocate for the issues that mattered to its business, its customers, and the outdoor industry as a whole.
The outdoor industry is growing, and I noticed that companies like KEEN were starting to get increasingly involved in policy conversations and speaking out about issues that were in line with their brand values, like protecting the places where we live, work, and play. I was ready for a change of pace and to use what I learned about the legislative process to help an outdoor brand better advocate for the issues that mattered to its business, its customers, and the outdoor industry as a whole. With all the work that KEEN had done on the Live Monumental tour and its advocacy for a strong outdoor industry and protected natural resources, it was a natural fit for me.
HOW ARE YOU PUTTING YOUR LEGISLATIVE SKILLS AND INSIGHT TO WORK AT KEEN?
As the KEEN Effect Advocacy Manager, my role is to work with our non-profit partners, other outdoor brands, and outdoor recreation industry coalitions to advocate on policies at the state and federal level that impact the health of the public lands and waters that our fans love, the strength of the outdoor recreation economy, and access to recreation opportunities. My knowledge of public policy and the legislative process helps inform which policies to advocate for (and which ones to fight back against), when and how KEEN should speak out about an issue to make the biggest impact, and who to partner with to advance important priorities. I’m also using my knowledge of advocacy methods to help create spaces for KEEN fans to get involved in policy discussions and make their own voices heard, like putting together a vintage phone booth to make calls to members of Congress about a variety of public lands and natural resources issues.
WHAT IS THE ONE PIECE OF ADVICE YOU WOULD GIVE PEOPLE WHO WANT TO GET MORE INVOLVED IN PUBLIC POLICY BUT DON’T KNOW WHERE TO START?
Getting involved in public policy does not have to mean a career change, there’s so much you can do to get involved that doesn’t take a lot of time or energy.
First off, VOTE! Voting is one of the easiest and best ways to make your voice heard and gives you the chance to choose the person you think will best represent your views. And if you think your vote doesn’t count, read this story about an election for the Virginia State Legislature that ended in a tie, so the winner was drawn from a bowl.
Another easy way to make your voice heard is to call your member of Congress and tell them what you think! If you call 202-224-3121, you’ll be connected to the U.S. Capitol Switchboard, where you will be directed to the office of your senators or your representative based on your state and zip code. Whether you get connected to a real person or a voicemail, politely deliver your message (example: I’m a constituent from Portland, and I value clean air so I oppose any efforts to weaken the Clean Air Act). Congressional offices keep track of these calls and take note of what their constituents care about.
A great way to get involved is to become a member of an organization you care about, volunteer with them, and get involved in their advocacy efforts – when I worked on Capitol Hill I would often meet with organizations who brought constituent members along with them to talk to their lawmakers and help advocate for their priorities. You don’t have to be a professional or an expert to lobby your government!