There are four principles that all good advocates live by. These are not guidelines that you should loosely interpret and apply when it’s comfortable, but absolute rules that you should do your very best to follow exactly.
Your mission will be judged partially by the character of your group. If you are scruffy, disorganized, and demanding, that’s how people will consider the skatepark as a whole. You and your core group are representing the project and someone’s opinion will be formed by their impression of you. Skatepark advocacy is more like a popularity contest than a fashion show. You don’t need to be someone you’re not, but you should be sensitive to the reality that the amount of effort you put into being persuasive won’t be lost on your audience.
Later in this chapter you will read some key messages you can use while talking about the skatepark. These four rules are about your general approach to representing something important. (These rules are applicable to ANY advocate, not only skateboarders.)
1. Stay Calm
Skateparks and skateboarding are polarizing topics. You’ll hear from people who see nothing wrong with them and think that building a skatepark is a wonderful idea. And you’ll hear from people that hate skateboarders and are positive that the skatepark is the worst idea they’d ever heard. What you cannot do is to let those that are critical of the skatepark vision get under your skin. You will hear some outlandish ideas, and maybe even some outright lies, about who skateboarders are and the damage they do. The best way to handle these situations is to acknowledge their input, thank them for sharing, and move on. People are naturally drawn to calm, reasonable individuals.
Remember: Spend your valuable time building support, not fighting the opposition.
True story: A skatepark advocate was attending a neighborhood council meeting with the intention of helping support a skatepark project that was being proposed for the area. When the skatepark topic came up, one person stood up and loudly announced how the skatepark would attract a bad element to the otherwise peaceful neighborhood. The more he talked, the louder and angrier he got. Then the advocate raised their hand to speak, and listed the benefits the skatepark would bring, described what the skatepark would look like, and what kind of people would be using it. The irony was not lost on the other attendees; one person ranting about how disruptive, loud, and unsavory skateboarders are… and the calm, respectful skateboarder representing themselves. (Who would you believe?)
2. Stay Positive
It’s fine to recognize that skateparks have specific challenges, and that skateboarders can be a difficult group to work with, but the tone of your advocacy should remain positive and focused on creating a successful community space. The skatepark, in other words, is not a place to attract and concentrate all of the unwanted behavior. Instead, it’s a place where the community can come together and celebrate the commitment and accomplishments of the local youth.
True story: A skatepark advocate was invited to a luncheon featuring leaders from the local government, businesses, and nonprofit organizations. The skatepark advocate was not told that there would be point-counterpoint presentations on the skatepark project, or that the person presenting the anti-skatepark position was one of the fiercest vocal critics of the project. It was, in other words, a set-up with the odds stacked against the skateboarder. With no preparation, the advocate presented the skatepark vision and expressed all of the benefits it would ultimately bring to the community. The skatepark opponent—in spite of their preparation—presented a list of reasons why the skatepark was a terrible idea. By the end of the “debate,” the audience was wildly in favor of the skatepark simply because the advocate clearly wanted to improve the community, while the opponent came off as being angry and fearful.
3. Stay Awake
There are lots of things going on in your town that may seem boring or irrelevant to the skatepark vision. However, the more sensitive you are to what’s going on, the more opportunities you will discover to reach new and influential people. Try to see the opportunity to talk about skateboarding and the skatepark vision everywhere you look.
True story: Skateboarders had been pushing for a skatepark within larger Pioneer Park for a few months but were not getting much traction. A group called “Friends of Pioneer Park” was a volunteer organization that performed some routine maintenance at the park, but they were opposed to the skatepark. The skatepark advocates eventually discovered that the lack of progress was partly due to the Friends of Pioneer Park quietly working against them. They subscribed to the Friends of Pioneer Park newsletter and, when the opportunity presented itself, volunteered at one of their community events. During the event, skateboarders were able to work side-by-side with members of Friends group and get to know each other. The Friends of Pioneer Park people learned first-hand that skaters were not what they thought they were and changed their mind about the skatepark. Within the month, the skatepark project was approved at Pioneer Park.
4. Stay Organized
The farther your get through the process, the more complicated the effort becomes. You will need to maintain a calendar, a list of contacts, a handful of statistics, produce handouts for meetings, and remember peoples’ names. Thankfully, all of this complexity doesn’t come at you at once. Getting organized early and staying organized throughout the process will pay huge dividends in the long run.
True story: The president of the skatepark group insisted on recording every meeting, event, and name in her skatepark binder. She took this binder everywhere and within a year it was filled with notes, business cards, flyers, and fact sheets. A grant opportunity came up that asked applicants to supply a brief history of the group’s activity. She was able to deliver, in precise detail, exactly what her group had done, and when, from the very beginning of the project. The grant application was so well organized that her project won the foundation’s top award.