As the 2015 President of the AIA Redwood Empire Chapter (AIARE), I recently had the privilege of traveling to Washington DC for the annual AIA Grassroots Conference. Over 600 architects and administrative staff gathered together to advocate important legislative issues with our representatives on Capital Hill, to receive leadership training, and to network and collaborate with each other to find ways of better serving the AIA membership. I met with AIA leaders from chapters all around the country, from coastal Louisiana to northern Minnesota. Many of the folks I spoke with had issues similar to what our local chapter faces: how to best serve a diverse set of professionals from a vast geographic area with limited resources and how to motivate and inspire the emerging professionals who will carry the leadership torch of our future. There are no simple or easy answers to these questions, but I met lots of inspiring colleagues and I returned with a renewed sense of focus and energy, and with a handful of ideas that I will bring to my fellow directors on the AIARE Board.
Here are three of the highlights of my trip:
As an architect, of course the first thing I had to do after arriving was to walk the Mall. What I hadn’t realized is how beautifully the many historical buildings and monuments are lit up at night. I grew up in Wisconsin, so the cold winter night was no problem for me.
On the first day of the conference, my schedule didn’t start until the afternoon, so I took advantage of the free time by waiting in line to see oral arguments of the so-called “Obamacare” law at the Supreme Court. I waited for about 2-1/2 hours to get in, and I only got to sit for about 3 minutes in the courtroom, but it was well worth the wait to see the court in action. Fortunately, there were about 200 protestors providing entertainment for everyone waiting in line.
Finally, Wendy Young, the AIARE Executive Director, set up meetings for us to meet with 5th District Congressman Mike Thompson, and 2nd District Congressman Jared Huffman. After receiving training from the AIA federal advocacy team about the important legislative issues that were on the table, I was prepared to discuss the following:
1. Protect and enhance the Federal Historic Tax Credit (HTC).
2. Cosponsor the Safe Building Code Incentive Act, which encourages states to voluntarily adopt and enforce nationally recognized model building codes for residential and commercial structures in order to qualify for additional post-disaster FEMA grants.
3. Cosponsor the National Design Services Act, which extends to architecture graduates student debt relief in exchange for work in underserved communities.
Unfortunately, Mother Nature intervened and dumped 6 inches of snow the day of my meeting, thereby effectively shutting the government down for the day. We still made the trek up to Capital Hill and had the opportunity to meet with Scott Rasmussen, Congressman Huffman’s Legislative Assistant. I think I made a good, confident presentation of the legislation we were there to promote and I went away feeling great about having advocated for our profession.