On January 26, 2011, the retail giant Walmart announced that it will preserve and not develop its 52-acre site on the Wilderness Battlefield and adjacent to the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park in Orange County, Va. We commend Walmart for changing its development plan to protect America’s heritage.
Although there’s still much work to be done to secure Walmart’s site and preserve the gateway to the national park, the Wilderness Battlefield Coalition is very pleased with the positive result. The Wilderness Battlefield Coalition includes the Civil War Trust, Friends of Wilderness Battlefield, National Parks Conservation Association, Piedmont Environmental Council, Preservation Virginia, and National Trust for Historic Preservation. Bob Rosenbaum and his team at the esteemed Arnold & Porter, our pro bono counsel, is an essential leader of the Wilderness Battlefield Coalition.
In the course of this advocacy campaign to preserve Wilderness Battlefield, we have learned—or confirmed—a handful of lessons. Here are our preliminary thoughts:
1. Advocate in coalition with other like-minded groups whenever possible. Form your strategic alliances in advance and before an emergency arises. The core of our coalition assembled in 2002 to protect Chancellorsville Battlefield in nearby Spotsylvania County, Va. For the Wilderness fight, it was the highly effective Piedmont Environmental Council, a regional conservation group, that sounded the alarm in 2008 about the threat of “big box” over-development at the national park gateway.
2. Capitalize on the special assets of your coalition allies. Local credibility is essential to success. The Friends of Wilderness Battlefield has strong local roots and has raised $350,000 in private dollars to preserve Ellwood, an architectural landmark on the Wilderness Battlefield. The all-volunteer Friends group is a stalwart partner and critical link to local stakeholders.
3. Set a reasonable, solution-oriented objective for the advocacy campaign. By consensus, our coalition members agreed in 2008 to press Walmart to relocate its store to a non-historic site in Orange County. The preservation coalition never advocated to stop Walmart from building a store. The Civil War Trust has preserved more than 30,000 acres of battlefield land and is an expert in scoping out win-win solutions.
4. Talk directly with everyone who can positively influence the disposition of the historic property at risk. This means reaching out constructively to property owners, public officials, developers, and their friends. The National Trust for Historic Preservation maintains an open line of communication with senior executives at Walmart, which created the opportunity to consult directly with Walmart’s decision makers while standing on the historic battlefield.
5. Treat everyone with respect. Civility is a civic value and an advocacy tactic. Strictly avoid personal attacks to discredit those who may not agree with your group’s position. And grow a thick skin yourself. When preservationists lash out at others, we should not be surprised when the public, press, and political leaders treat us with contempt.
6. Know your facts. Secure expert advice to bolster your pro-preservation arguments. Graphically illustrate the historic significance of the place you are defending as well as the adverse impacts of the threatened action. Historic preservation is a place-based discipline; preservation advocacy should capitalize on every visual aid—including maps, photographs, and sketches—to envision alternative solutions.
7. Activate the interested public early and often. We strongly recommend that preservationists pursue a mixed strategy, combining multiple advocacy tactics, but always with a primary focus on engaging and activating the public. Galvanize the local citizens to voice their personal connections to the historic place. Preservation Virginia, the Civil War Trust, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation each alerted the public by listing Wilderness Battlefield as one of the most endangered historic places in Virginia and the nation.
8. Make your own luck. Good fortune matters, but success depends upon strategic action. #Wilderness #ForumBulletin #Advocacy #PublicLands