A number of inimitable members of Team Way Outside the Beltwayers can no longer recall when they participated in their first National Preservation Lobby Day, but all admit to becoming instantly hooked on the energy, camaraderie, break-neck pace, feeling of accomplishment and plain old fun that characterizes this annual event. It's the one day each year when preservation enthusiasts from across the nation storm the halls of Congress to not only speak in unison about the benefits of historic preservation, but to seek critical funding and support for national and local preservation programs and incentives.
Well, I remember the day I was officially introduced to this hallowed event as if it were yesterday. It was a dark and rainy December evening in Seattle (go figure) back in 2005 (okay, so it wasn’t all that long ago), a full month before I was slated to officially start my new job with the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation. On that fateful evening, one of Washington’s most celebrated preservationists asked me to meet over a drink. I thought to myself, "how nice," but no sooner had I removed my soaking raincoat and placed my drink order that a dog-eared folder labeled “Lobby Day” was thrust upon me. And with that, the baton was ceremoniously passed to me and the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation. I’ll admit I had absolutely no idea what Lobby Day was when I took that first sip, but by the time I was down to my last olive, it was abundantly clear to me that Lobby Day was nothing to be trifled with. Oh, the wisdom contained in that folder.
But enough about me. Fast forward to March 2009. I’m delighted to report that the preservationist who crowned me the unofficial Lobby Day czarina (which is the glorified title for meeting scheduler, team recruiter, travel agent and general organizer, whose name would be worse than mud if she didn’t acknowledge the help of her awesome staff) continues to be the anchor of our team. And with each passing year, we build and strengthen Team Way Outside the Beltwayers by recruiting fresh, new talent to round out our cadre of stellar, seasoned veterans. Indeed, the Washington Trust raises travel scholarship funds to make it possible for the largest contingency of sharp, articulate and persuasive historic preservation enthusiasts to participate in Lobby Day. I especially want to thank Gull Industries for funding our Lobby Day scholarships this year and for supporting our advocacy efforts in D.C. every year since 2003.
For those of you interested in a slightly more detailed description of what Lobby Day is all about, I’ll start by explaining that it’s a bit of a misnomer; the annual Lobby day event organized by Preservation Action, the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers and the National Trust for Historic Preservation actually spans two days, and what an absolute whirling dervish of a two day period it is.
On day one, we place ourselves in the capable hands of the experts – the real inside the beltway types – to become steeped in the issues that top our national preservation agenda. We get together as a team to strategize for our day of meetings on the Hill. We meet and mingle with wide-eyed first timers and reconnect with colleagues and friends from all across the country. On day two, we race through the halls of Congress to make meetings with all nine members of our Congressional delegation, our two Senators and our governor’s D.C. chief of staff. We articulate to each member or their staff how critically important it is to fund preservation programs (especially our state historic preservation office), improve preservation tax incentives and support local projects. Finally, we end the day by sharing stories from the trenches and raising a celebratory toast to our good work at the historic Willard Hotel, the legendary birthplace of lobbying. And yes, I’ll admit that it’s the martinis at the Willard that keep many of our team members coming back year after year.
But in all seriousness, it’s no secret that the already limited resources available for preservation are tighter than ever, making our collective efforts to foster strong relationships with our elected officials and to keep the benefits of preservation on their minds all the more critical. Team Way Outside the Beltwayers takes this work seriously, but we somehow manage to have a blast along the way.
I hope everyone checking out our adventures this year (we'll be blogging here on this blog and on our page on PreservationNation.org) will find our experiences fun and rewarding enough to consider attending Lobby Day. Come see for yourself what it’s all about and don’t be surprised if you find yourself back at the Capitol every March, racing to meetings armed with your fact sheets, one-sheeters and unbridled enthusiasm for preservation.
- Jennifer Meisner
Jennifer Meisner is the executive director of the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation. As noted above, she is also the unofficial Lobby Day czarina. Stay tuned to PreservationNation.org and our blog next week as we bring you all the details of her delegation's action-packed trip to D.C. for Preservation Lobby Day.