Finding Your Voice in Advocacy

By Mary-Margaret Zindren, EVP/Executive Director

Do you remember the first time you advocated for something? You’d probably have to go back pretty far back into your childhood. Markers of healthy human development include the recognition of ourselves as independent beings and the exercise of our voices to express what we want. The “terrible twos” are very much about that expression. Thankfully, in the years that follow, we get better and better at it. We become more effective advocates through experience.


I can’t remember when I wasn’t an advocate; I’ve always championed causes important to me. Yet when I was tapped at age 23 to become a lobbyist for the National League of Cities (being elevated from a research internship, due to my passion for an issue hardly anyone else cared about), I was stricken with fear. Being given a formal title and role of “advocate”– and being responsible for meeting with Members of Congress and their staffs – seemed like something altogether different from the advocacy I’d been doing for years. The marble hallways, the rushed meetings, the worry that I wouldn’t have all the answers at the ready; it was intimidating.


Until it wasn’t. With every meeting, I got used to the fact that these were really just conversations and I got better at the rapid and focused back-and-forth the work required. I realized that if I didn’t have an answer in the moment, it was okay; that I gained credibility with solid follow-ups. I became as comfortable in the halls of Congress as I had been in my childhood neighborhood.


This is advocacy season at AIA – at the national, state and local levels. A large delegation of AIA leaders from Minnesota’s state and local chapters recently returned from Washington, D.C. where they met with Members of Congress and their staffs, advocating for school safety through design and measures to counteract climate change. Members in Minnesota have testified on climate change and building codes, and have persuaded State Legislators to become champions for our legislative priorities.


Some members of our delegation had never been to Washington or to the State Capitol before; they had never formally advocated. But as the hours unfolded, with each meeting their comfort grew and they found their advocacy voices – the ones they’ve always had, just brought forward in a new way.


Advocacy comes more naturally to us than we think. More and more members of our Minnesota architecture community are learning how true this is. They are putting themselves out there and making real progress in achieving our strategic priority of “making architecture accessible, understandable, and highly valued.” If you want to add your voice to our growing chorus of advocates, let us know. There’s a place for you in AIA advocacy.

View the full April issue of Matrix.