by:
Rebecca Allen (Environmental Science Associates),
Sara Mascia (Historical Perspectives, Inc.), and
Joe Joseph (New South Associates)

One of the few issues that Washington, DC-based politicians agree on across the aisle is that the history of the United States is important. Yet even with Democratic and Republican support, the Historic Preservation Fund and other legislation is in jeopardy. The HPF is funded by off-shore oil revenue, not taxes, and while Congress re-authorized the HPF at the end of 2016, it has yet to approve funding. The HPF provides funding for the State Historic Preservation Offices, Tribal Historic Preservation Offices, and historic preservation grants. These funds are critical to how architectural historical and archaeological projects across the country get reviewed. School House Rock’s catchy tune “I’m Just a Bill” didn’t teach us this: authorization is nice, but without the funds to back it, laws are nothing. And this is not a straightforward process. Neither is getting the Historic Tax Credit for architecture restorations reauthorized. These efforts need spokespeople.

During Preservation Advocacy Week on Capitol Hill, the authors represented the Society for Historical Archaeology and our respective companies. We spent the week of March 13 flying to Washington, DC, learning the bill numbers and the congressional lingo, discussing strategies for how to talk with legislators and their staffers, and getting tips on what to say to get beyond the receptionist’s desk. Preservation Action is the nation’s oldest grassroots historic preservation advocate (founded in 1974). PA organizes Advocacy Week every year, held in conjunction with the National Council of State Historic Preservation Officers (NCSHPO) annual meeting. Accompanied by other state delegates and SHPO staff, armed with our business cards, a congressional letter from the Historic Preservation Fund’s co-sponsors, and wide smiles, the authors opened about two dozen office doors of House Representatives and Senators.

View of the Capitol from Rayburn House Office Building (House of Representatives)

We learned that the halls of Congress are very long. House representatives are not in one building, but in three. Senators are in yet another three buildings. Washington, DC can be very cold in March (it snowed on us every day), House and Senate buildings are not next to one another, and although every building has nice views of the Capitol, Congress members and their aides walk in underground tunnels between office buildings and between offices and the Capitol, out of the cold and away from the public. Legislation is messy, many are shell shocked at the new administration (both sides of the aisle), but the best way to get heard is to show up in person. Constituents matter. Republican staffers respond best to discussions of the economic importance of heritage tourism. Democrat staffers respond best to representations of diversity, and the importance of history in education.

Our experiences were varied. For Rebecca, solely representing California, stating that she had traveled to DC from their home state got a “heads up” look from the receptionists of California representatives. Telling the receptionist that she was there to thank the Congressperson for their support of historic preservation got a smile and nod. Telling the person that she was an archaeologist got a conversation, and that she was as happy to talk with a staffer rather than directly with a congressperson got her four in-person meetings, and a dozen or so business cards of the right legislative staffer to email.

Rebecca Allen standing outside Tom McClintock’s (R-CA 4th District) office. Mr. McClintock is the representative of El Dorado County where she lives, and yet it was easier to get an in-person meeting with his Legislative Aide in Washington, DC than his office in Roseville, California. According to his Aide, Mr. McClintock obsessively watches the History Channel.

For Sara, New York has a very active SHPO office as well as several non-profit preservation groups. Representatives from each of these organizations participated in the Hill visits along with her. A representative from the NY Governor’s Office scheduled all of the meetings with congressional staffers from numerous districts over a period of three days and attended many of the meetings with the larger group. Sara traveled with a large delegation that split 10 of NY Congressional offices between them. Joe also traveled with a larger Georgia delegation, and visited nine offices for congressional appointments. We all learned to be succinct, have Congressional bill numbers at the ready, and have arguments well-honed and backed with figures. We were also able to share information about successful projects that had a direct and positive effect on the districts that they represent, and detail the number of individuals that are employed (directly and peripherally) in our field.

Getting support for environmental issues in Washington must be a concerted and consistent effort for the next several years. We need your help. SHA, ACRA, SAA, and AAA have banded together to form the Coalition for American Heritage (http://www.heritagecoalition.org/ or https://www.facebook.com/heritagecoalition/). The Coalition hired Cultural Heritage Partners as our advocate in Washington, DC. Sign up for email on critical legislation on the Coalition’s website. You can also become a member ($40/year) and track happenings on the Hill at Preservation Action (http://www.preservationaction.org). Contribute to either or both. Proposed changes to environmental legislation and death by defunding or non-funding are coming fast and furious. Petitions and protests matter. Media articles and interviews matter. Emails and phone calls matter, but snail mail gets lost in the still-testing-for-anthrax ringer (send an email or better yet, call, instead).

What matters most? According to Javier Gamboa, Nanette Barragan’s (D-CA 44th District) Legislative Director, “Talking with your feet is important. When someone comes here all the way from [each state], we listen. Lobbyists are good, but having constituents in front of us is even better. Genuine and passionate people like you connect us directly to the issues at hand. It’s important. It lets us know what matters, and what is happening in [our home states].” As unique as it is visiting the DC offices of your congressperson, the opportunity is not only for those who can travel to our Nation’s Capital. Each of your Representatives and Senators has offices in their home district. It is just as important to take some time and visit them there when Congress in not in session. Remember to always bring your business card and some printed information to leave with the staff or your actual Congressperson when you go.

There is a “Dear Colleague” letter circulating Congress and asking for support for the HPF. Please email, call, or visit your state House Representatives and Senators, and ask them to sign-on to the HPF Dear Colleague Letter. The Dear Colleague letter closes on March 30th, so please contact your Congressional representatives now.

Thank you!