We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims.
By Steven A. Andersson, Retiring State Representative for Illinois' 65th District
The above quote is by R. Buckminster Fuller. While he may not have meant it as I use it here, it speaks to what the role of citizen architects can and should be in government. You, as architects, have an important and unique voice that needs to be heard to promote the health, safety and well-being of our built environment. Legislators come from varied backgrounds and may have little to no knowledge beyond the average individuals about architecture, construction, codes and all the things important to you. In order to get the outcome you want, you will need to influence the process through outreach, education, and guidance.
Here are my top ten bits of advice:
1) Find a hero. This is a legislator who you know supports your cause. It doesn’t need to be the legislator who represents your district. Connect with this person and build a relationship. Make sure you tell them how much you appreciate their support and ask how you can help them help you. They will often times tell you of other legislators that might support your position but need help getting to “yes.” Reach out to those persons addressing their particular concerns. Offer some unique knowledge about the issue for that individual legislator. This will make your talk more effective and successful. And of course, keep in touch with your hero about feedback you might have gotten. And say thank you. A lot!
2) Have a point. Legislators are trying to juggle a hundred different issues at anyone time. It’s best if you have a specific bill that you need action on, rather than a generalized message (ex: support architects). If you go with a generalized message, they will, of course say yes to that concept, but that will be the end of it. A specific bill is something he/she/they can concretely deal with.
3) Support legislators who support your cause through money or volunteering. Make sure they are re-elected so that they can continue to vote your way. Being in the legislature means raising money and finding volunteers. You, as an individual architect can aid their cause more effectively if you give your own money or volunteer for individual candidates. Volunteers are often hard to come by. Give an hour or two of your time to collect signatures, knock on doors or walk in a parade. It’s also a great way to get to know them and develop that personal relationship. Volunteering is a sure way to do it!
4) Meet your own legislator in their district office regularly. They will have more time to devote to you than in Springfield. Don’t get me wrong, the visits to the Capitol are important, but familiarity is best at home. And if you become a familiar face (even if they don’t agree with your cause), it gets tough to just ignore your requests. You can wear down their resistance through effort!
5) Hand write letters to the legislators you want to influence. We get thousands of emails. Most using a form letter from a given group. Form letters get counted, a handwritten note gets noticed and read. Articulate your position in your own way. You never know what will impact a legislator’s mind. Also, don’t forget to write thank you notes when they support you!
6) Be polite. This one should be obvious. Even when you clearly disagree, kindness, civility and respect go further than anything else.
7) Listen and learn. There might be more to the “no” answer you get than meets the eye. Newer legislators often don’t know what the implications of bills will be (if it’s outside their field of expertise – which will be most things at first). Their no, may mean that they only need to learn more. Teach the legislators about your world. It may interest them enough to become more open to your specific issue. When you meet them, tell them why architecture is your passion. Use your passion to flame their desire to help you! This is also where your hero comes in. Perhaps ask your hero what they think is the problem and to reach out to the “new” legislator, to see if they can help. Again, this can a) help your cause and b) develop relationships between legislators. If you help foster that, you will be remembered with favor.
9) Avoid being partisan. You probably have particular political leaning. But if you hope to get more than one party’s vote, don’t always have it on display. Look for opportunities to support legislators on both sides of the aisle. It will give you credibility in the long run.
10) Participate with the AIA. Your association staff are the professionals on lobbying. They can help you seek out the help you need to get the background on the issues and the players of the bill you want to advocate for or against. Use them!
My time in the Illinois legislature is coming to a close in January of 2019. It has been an incredible opportunity to serve our State, and I am honored and humbled to have served in this position. I would also offer an observation on the upcoming 101st General Assembly (of which I will not be a part). There will be an enormous loss of moderates (particularly Republicans) who are leaving the General Assembly. The opportunity to build coalitions will be reduced because members at the extreme edge of partisan politics find it difficult to compromise. This will be a challenge for everyone in our state. The only answer that I can offer you is again, find those “heroes,” those people who will come to the middle (where good government really occurs) and then your job is to support them (wherever located and from whatever party). Do that and you will indeed be the architects of our future. I can’t think of a more appropriate group to take on this task. Good luck and Godspeed!