From the Shadows to the Spotlight: Memoirs of a Lobby Day First-Timer

Posted on: March 18th, 2009 by Guest Writer

It’s a little-known fact that I’ve aspired to attend Preservation Lobby Day for at least five years now, and I must say that my first experience did not disappoint - both on a personal and a professional level. And while traveling to our nation’s capital is no small feat financially (especially for an upstart non-profit program director), I’m grateful for the generous support I received from two private donors (thanks, mom!) and from the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation (thanks, Trust!). I couldn’t have stormed the Hill without them.

After deciding that it made economic sense (somewhere) to make Lobby Day a priority, I registered and began to carefully plan my attack: stay in the background, listen a lot and learn from our state’s seasoned preservation heroes. After all, I was a first-timer, and plenty of Lobby Day vets from whom I could glean invaluable insights were attending. Know your role, I always say.

However, as is usually the case whenever I determine to stay comfortably in the background, things took a decided turn towards the spotlight about a week prior to my departure, and it all started with an e-mail from Jennifer Meisner, the executive director of the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation. I remember opening it and staring incredulously at the late-breaking announcement for a few moments: “The National Trust for Historic Preservation has selected the Washington State Delegation - traditionally one of Lobby Day’s largest - as a feature for its website, PreservationNation.org!” Evidently, Team Way Outside the Beltwayers (as we were now called) would be blogged, YouTube-ed and Flickr-ed during our trip to D.C. To make things even better, I was asked to supply a headshot (do what?!?) and to fill out a brief personal questionnaire because, of course, the National Trust wanted to “build interest among the preservation movement by introducing each individual team member.”

As my plan of attack shattered before my eyes, I wasn’t sure whether to laugh hysterically or to gasp in shock. In order to play it safe (since that was working oh so well), I did both. Breathing deeply, I filled out my profile (cleverly, I hoped, since an entire movement would be reading) and sent in a “headshot” hoping that no one would notice the “Life is Good” logo on my t-shirt. Very professional.

Next thing I knew, there was another ding from my inbox from Jennifer, this time with a color-coded spreadsheet (I can still see it) attached that listed all twelve of our meetings on the Hill. Impressive, I thought. “Oh, look…there’s my name.” “Oh, look…I’m part of the first meeting of the day, and it’s with a staffer for Representative Larsen from my home district.” “Oh look…it says ‘lead’ next to my name in big, bold letters.” It was right then and there that I realized that I was now officially zero for two on the whole staying-in-the-shadows thing; I would be holding the reigns during my first-ever meeting on Capitol Hill.

Suffice it to say that the world kept revolving during Lobby Day, despite the blinding glare of the national spotlight and the jostling of the paparazzi. In fact, the pace of the day was such that it felt like the world sped up considerably. I enjoyed every minute of the action, with the possible exception of a few very long minutes spent in the stifling Longworth cafeteria, during which I felt like a freedom fry under a heat lamp. Still, it was worth it. I felt that, no matter the outcome, our team was taking action and trying to make a difference.

Although I have now returned to the somewhat less frenetic pace of the other Washington, I continue to learn from my Lobby Day experiences, and I’m very much looking forward to some follow-up action in the form of in-district meetings. If you’re getting into the spirit of things and planning to do some local lobbying yourself (please do!), consider these tips from a first-timer before you book your first visit:

  • Always be early (you know how the old saying goes).
  • Always be flexible (yes, one of our scheduled meetings occurred in the hallway).
  • And always be thankful (an all-around good policy to have in life).
  • Do your homework. Know what projects are occurring in your city/state/district, and how the person you’re meeting with is – or should be – connected to them.
  • Don’t just make the case; have a specific “ask” in mind.
  • Enjoy the fact that you’ve accepted your responsibility to engage in the democratic process, and then do it again, and again, and…
  • Don’t be afraid to be in the spotlight because it’s good for the movement.
  • Save some energy to celebrate with your team afterwards.

If Preservation Lobby Day 2009 was any indication, our movement is growing, it’s active and it’s enthusiastic. I can’t wait to do my part again next year. I think I’ll just stay in the shadows, though…

- Mary Rossi

Way Outside the Beltwayer Marry Rossi is a cultural resource planner for Applied Preservation Technologies. Visit our Lobby Day 2009 website on PreservationNation.org to learn more about her recent trip to Capitol Hill (and her subsequent lobbying 101 crash course).

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