I was asked to talk about preservation advocacy -- and I love this topic because I`ve been an advocate throughout most of my professional career. I`ve learned that the job of an advocate is to be the raspberry seed under the upper palette. That`s the job of those of us who want to make sure that America`s treasures are around 100 years from now.
For some, the two words "preservation" and "advocacy" don`t go together.
Preservation has -- for far too long -- been viewed as something high-minded, maybe elitist. It`s been associated with dirty words like gentrification. Or it was associated with people trying to prop up a little old farmhouse that was far beyond saving.
Either way preservation wasn`t a word that evoked much response in most people`s minds. In fact, it still isn`t a word that inspires. For example, recently, I attended a meeting of local officials discussing whether or not Rhode Island could pass a community preservation act like the one in Massachusetts. The advice given by the local officials was that we`d get nowhere if the term "historic preservation" was used. A better term, they said, would be community redevelopment. This was in the year 2001, in Rhode Island!
Then there`s the word advocacy.
Whoa… that`s a word that gets people`s attention. Rabble-rousing, troublemaking, agitation.
The people who did preservation were afraid the neighborhood would go down the drain if the advocacy types got into the act. And the advocacy types were ready to bring down the neighborhood if that was what it took to get people`s attention.
So here we have what has traditionally been the great divide in the world of historic preservation-the veritable feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys. What are you, a Hatfield or a McCoy? I`d like to suggest that there is a middle way… a McHatfield alternative.
Let me give you a few examples from my experiences as an environmental activist, which is how I`ve spent most of my career.
Open space protection: This story goes back to the mid- to late-1990s when I served as the secretary of environmental affairs in Massachusetts. Can you imagine bringing the Sierra Club together with the National Rifle Association? We just about did that when we forged a coalition of big-bore heavy metal hunting rifle types with the greenest environmentalists in Massachusetts politics.
We called the coalition "Guns and Roses." Not very creative, I`ll admit, but it worked. Most importantly, we united park leaders, farmers, water quality activists, and more and we managed to get a $400 million bond bill passed by the legislature. We protected 100,000 acres of land in just over five years. In fact, we protected more land in those five years than had been protected in the previous 100.
We achieved a goal that many people thought was impossible.
Here`s another example: Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island has gone from being one of the dirtiest marine resources in New England to being one of the cleanest. It`s on its way to being saved. And cleaning up the bay has resulted in redefining and redeveloping Providence as a waterfront city with historic amenities along the river. It`s unbelievable to think that 20 years ago, anything and everything from our toilets landed in Narragansett Bay and the Providence River. That`s the same river where we celebrated the WaterFire event as part of this conference.
Again, we achieved a goal that most said was unachievable.
One final example is clean cars for America. This is an extremely important historic preservation issue because air pollution can do harm to our historic buildings. There were skeptics everywhere. They all said that the automobile industry couldn`t come up with alternative and new technologies. The brainpower wasn`t there. The will wasn`t there. Yet today there are hybrid vehicles on the market-some electric, some cng (compressed natural gas), some a combination. They are affordable and they`re so popular that you`ve got to be on a six-month- long waiting list to get one. These are great city cars -- they`re quiet and they`re nonpolluting, which helps protect our historic structures against the effects of air pollution.
Many people thought that this battle couldn`t be won, but we won it.
So what are the elements that make a campaign successful?
I call these the "six C`s":
The First "C" -- Clear Goals
When we announced the goal of protecting 100,000 acres in Massachusetts, many laughed out loud. Or they just chuckled politely. There was no doubt that the goal was an ambitious one. But it was a clear goal.
The critics came up with everything. They said that it focused too much on quantity versus quality. They said that the very act of buying or protecting that much land would drive up prices to the point where the state couldn`t afford it or shouldn`t pay for it. People came out of the woodwork to say it couldn`t be done.
And that`s when we knew we had a winner, because it was understandable enough for everyone to take potshots at it. The goals were clear.
You`ve heard this from Harvard Business School: You can`t manage something you can`t measure. Successful advocacy takes good management, and good management means some sort of measurement. Clear goals give you that.
The Second "C" -- Coalition Building
The Guns and Roses coalition supported land protection in Massachusetts. And they won the battle.
The clean up of Narragansett Bay brought together a most unusual collaboration, each faction of which had its own reason for supporting the clean up. There were labor leaders who saw jobs in building much-needed sewage facilities. There were shell fishermen who longed for the bay to be reopened again. There were environmentalists who, rightly so, advocated for clean water. There were politicians who joined the fray because their constituents were complaining about the problem. With this unusual coalition, we won the battle.
Each new battle potentially generates new allies, even sometimes people who were enemies in the past. So it`s important to always be open to reach out to whoever can be of help.
The Third "C" -- Commitment
This reminds me of a poem by Helen Keller:
I`m only one, but I am one.
I can`t do everything, but I can do something.
That which I can do, I ought to do.
That which I ought to do, by God`s grace I will.
Think of the dozens of people you have known or heard about who have been able to do extraordinary things because of their commitment. People who were only one. People who paid attention to doing what they could do. Antoinette Downing in Providence, Catherine Warren and Doris Duke in Newport -- their commitment guaranteed that the Rhode Island of decades ago is a Rhode Island you can enjoy today.
The Fourth "C" -- Courage
On all the big issues that I`ve won, courage was the one essential characteristic. At the beginning of the effort to save the Narragansett Bay there were many critics. Economists from the University of Rhode Island said that the best use of the bay was as a sewer. Business people agreed.
On the clean air issue, we were up against the likes of the American Association of Automobile Manufacturers, with big-name attorneys, big-name executives. Guts got us through.
When the auto industry, the EPA, many state environmental leaders, and others had joined forces to say that cleaner cars were improbable, it would have been easy to throw in the towel were it not for people like Governors Weld and Pataki who both believed that there was a way for the auto industry to do better.
We had confidence in our facts. And that confidence gave us the courage to rely upon our knowledge. Perhaps you can`t do everything, but what you can do, as an advocate, is to do your homework and then stick to your guns.
The Fifth "C" -- Creativity
We need legions of people standing behind us to help carry our messages forward. So we must find ways to keep them actively engaged. And times are tough for this given the fact that:
- 40 percent of the public admits to being bored with their lives
- Most Americans spend four hours a day in front of the TV
- We have fewer dinner parties for our friends
- We go on fewer picnics with our families
- We rarely have a meal at home with our families
So we`ve got to find fun and compelling ways to motivate people to want to be part of the historic preservation and environmental protection movements.
The Sixth "C" -- Celebration
We need to find time to celebrate our victories. This year a bill was signed in Rhode Island that will provide a 30 percent commercial tax credit to carry out historic preservation. Many people deserve kudos for this.
The Conservation and Reinvestment Act (CARA) has a shot at getting passed so that there will be money for historic preservation and open space protection. And that deserves lots of celebration.
The concept of reclaiming and cleaning up brown-fields has become understandable and commonplace. That, too, deserves celebration.
Take time to raise a glass and make a toast, and to pat ourselves on the back.
And One More
Oh, there is an additional "C" and that is cash. Great organizations like Preservation Action and the National Trust can`t survive on goodwill alone. They need cash to pay the bills, hire the staff, and keep us informed. So we must adopt a view that says "fundraising is fun,`` and wake each morning with an idea on how to implement that credo.
And why is all this important?
If you care that our landscapes are protected,
If you care that the air is clean, and that our water is healthy,
If you care about beauty,
If you care about the past and believe that the past can guide us into the future,
If you care about stopping sprawl and helping recreate urban environments that are vibrant,
If you care about a spirit of place,
…then the "six C`s" are important tools to help you accomplish your goals. Because everyone in this room can do something to make our communities better - even if you are only one.
Publication Date: Winter 2002