When Howard Welinsky ’72, talks, elected officials listen. And if you aren’t hearing from Welinsky at all, well, chances are you already know why you are in the doghouse.
Welinsky has been directly involved with UCLA advocacy since the 1980s.
“At some point I kind of realized that the two issues I cared about were higher education and Israel,” he said. “Over time I learned how to develop political relationships, take advantage of opportunities that existed. Over time, you kind of develop a reputation.”
A political science major while at UCLA, Welinsky said he has always been politically active — literally walking precincts with his mother when he was seven or eight years old, running city council campaigns in Culver City, and becoming involved with the Democratic party and the Jewish Federation.
“The University of California has tremendous capability at providing for social mobility by taking low-income, working-class students and providing them a top-rate education and allowing them to progress in the world — lifting them up,” he said. “I love the research capabilities of the university — creating a cure for a disease, or finding a better way for medicine to advance, or creating a completely new industry.”
A lifelong public higher education advocate, Welinsky is not afraid to show that blue and gold runs through his veins.
“What makes a volunteer different is we have the ability to show passion, show some emotion and show we care,” he said. “So if an elected official misbehaves by my interpretation, I will know it. I watch legislative hearings on the Internet at 11 o’clock at night. And if I see someone unfairly attack the University of California they usually hear from me.”
Welinsky has worked at Warner Bros. for more than 40 years, and he has advocated for UCLA for almost just as long.
“You need policy knowledge and the political knowledge to be effective,” he said. “And you need to stay focused on a couple of issues, you can’t do it all. I’ve never stopped being an activist.”
Welinsky won UCLA Advocate of the Year in 2004, and a decade later, he said a lot of what he was doing then remains the same, but there have been changes.
“Email contact is much more common than it was 15 years ago,” he noted. “There’s a much greater sense of immediacy. It feels like you just don’t wait a week to contact someone. That space seems to be so much more immediate, and timing has always been an important part of politics and political life. It feels like timing is even more important.”
That’s not to say older methods don’t have effectiveness.
“Legislators are bombarded with so much input, whether it’s Facebook and other social media, in addition to old fashioned phone calls and emails,” he said. “And yet human interaction, face-to-face meetings, still have a significant impact.”
The other side of that coin is that the larger number of communication methods and media make it easier — and more affordable — for new advocates to get involved early and often in the legislative process.
“Some issues are very high level and everybody is watching them and other issues are less visible and they can do things without any political repercussions,” he said. “So it is useful to understand those types of situations and when to be more aggressive and when to be mostly a cheerleader. All those skills are helpful in one way or another.”
Even Welinsky has learned new tricks, using Facebook for the first time to help fundraising efforts through a challenge to friends during last year’s USC football game.
And being the cheerleader has always come naturally to Welinsky, along with his wife Karen Gantswig ’74. They try to be on campus three times or more a week and they enjoy it that way.
“If you can make a story personal, it underscores the importance of UCLA or the University of California, to me, and to the legislator,” he said. “I think UCLA gives a lot to me, and it always has. I try to give a lot to it.”