Dr. Seuss, Yogi Berra and Grassroots

Dr. Seuss, Yogi Berra and Grassroots.By Michael Shilale, AIA, LEED - February 28, 2005
Our 2005 AIA Leadership and Legislative Conference titled “Grassroots” began with a well known quote from Yogi Berra,  “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might end up someplace else.”  Earlier that morning, over packed and sleepy, I made my way into Penn Station at 6:30am on Wednesday February 9th.   As my first Grassroots conference I was looking forward to learning where AIA is going, and to help bring that message to Capitol Hill.

Unknowing that our Chapter President and myself were sitting in the “quiet” car, we were scolded while trying to strategically plan our Chapter’s future.  Fear not, there was to be plenty of time in between seminars, general sessions, regional and peer group meetings, working breakfasts, networking dinners, and post dinner “bar talk”, for Adolph Orlando, AIA, Valerie Brown, Hon, AIA and myself to make the most of this worthwhile event.

I knew I would enjoy the conference when our National Leadership early in the week quoted one of my favorite authors, Dr. Seuss.  Reading excerpts from “Oh, The Places You’ll Go”., we were advised that “ ..On and on you will hike, And I know you’ll hike far, and face up to your problems, whatever they are.” We were further assured with “…And will you succeed? Yes! You will indeed!  98 and ¾ percent guaranteed.”

At AIA National headquarters our day began with a brief history of Architecture in America.  We learned that in1800 Benjamin Latrobe helped give this part time pastime respect.  Then in1857 Richard Upjohn along with 12 others founded the AIA in New York City.  For a wonderful history about Architects in America read “From Craft to Profession” by Mary  N. Woods.

AIA has built three teams to help serve our members, advance our value, and improve the quality of the built environment.  They are Advocacy, Knowledge and Community.  I have been an AIA member since 1989 and did not  realize all the benefits our national chapter offers our membership.   Under the Advocacy team, you’ll find AIArchitect, AIA/J, AIA.org, AIA Trust, AIA Advantage, AIA Bookstore, AIA Media Relations and Archiwire. The Knowledge team bring to us eClassroom, Contract Documents, Conventions, CES, Grassroots, AIA Library and Archives, and  AIA Publishing (which includes the Handbook of Professional Practice, and the numerous design guides and reviews).  The Community team manages the Young Architects Forum, National Associates Committee, Large Firm Roundtable, College of Fellows and the Cornerstone Partners.  The Center for Communities by Design shares information, manages the Design Assistance Teams, and coordinates the Disaster Assistance program.    Component Relations and Membership Services also have dozens of programs and initiatives that serve our profession.  Visit the AIA.org website for more information on any of the above and take advantage of what AIA does for you - Get Involved.

Preparation for our joint lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill  were extremely well coordinated.  Prior to our trip to DC, emails and snail mails were received outlining AIA’s national legislative agenda.  A conference call to discuss this agenda was made the previous Monday.  In Washington, information and training were provided.  Expert consultants presented our top ten issues, only several of which were we to introduce to our senators, and representatives.  Our strategy was to push a top priority that was believed to be “ripe” for action.  The strategy worked.  800 architects advancing “on the Hill” created a buzz.  A barrage of phone calls by legislators asking about the Portman Jefferson Bill and how to co-sponsor it was the immediate result of our efforts.  The real work would be in the days and months ahead following up on our efforts in our home states and districts.

Our leaders reminded us our first amendment right (if not our duty) to ‘petition our government.’  We were told of our past failings to succeed on the national stage and in our home states.  Our PAC dollars pale compared to the national averages for associations like ours.  Overshadowed by groups like doctors, lawyers, and realtors, our task is made tougher.

We learned how to pronounce sesquicentennial, the 150th anniversary of AIA upcoming in 2007. We also learned that our State President Barbara Mishara, State Executive Director Barbara Rodriguez, and writer of this article are half Lithuanian.  Not particularly useful unless we plan to expand to AIA Lithuania.  To summarize I’ll pay homage to Seuss  and end by saying….

Grassroots and top roots were names thrown about.

Strategies and agenda from the hill we should shout.

The first amendment says petition we must.

Tell our leaders our mission, in their hands we trust.


While politics as a word has more letters than four.

To many of us, it’s a term we don’t adore.

The process to some may seem somewhat flawed.

To this optimistic observer the sense was more awe.


Faults one can find with this system are fact.

Slow to improve frustrates some not to act.

Yet petition we must and vote we must do too.

For if you do not someone else will do it for you.