March 23 was Museums Advocacy Day organized by the American Association of Museums, and I represented not only the General Lew Wallace Study & Museum but also the entire Indiana museum community to our elected officials in Washington, DC. Advocacy Day started with a day of training, including a briefing on federal issues pertaining to museums, a working lunch to connect with other museum advocates, and a role-playing session to get a feel for how meetings with congressional staff work – perfect for a first-timer like me.
The second day was actually on “the Hill,” meeting with senators, representatives, and their staff. Because I was the only advocate from Indiana, I felt the pressure of getting the message across, but the training day had prepared me for what to expect. For instance, the staffs that run Congressmembers’ offices are all about 21 years old, a far cry from the middle age you might expect on Capital Hill. While this group is young – many just out of college – they hold quite a bit of power in that they prepare the briefs and convey constituent priorities to elected officials. A bonus to meeting with a staff person and not a Congressmember is that winning over the staffer gets two people on your side: the one that prepares the brief and the one who reads and votes from it.
Even though I’m not certain that Senator Bayh, Senator Lugar, or Representative Buyer will sign the letter supporting the requested funding level for the Intitute of Museum and Library Services, Museums Advocacy Day was a great experience. I learned a lot, representated the Museum and the state, and the museum field coalesced for a cohesive effort advocating for issues that affect the people we serve. We are definitely louder when we speak with one voice!