Wednesday, September 1, 2010

I did something recently, and I want you all to try it yourself...standing up to advocate for cultural resources. A lot of experiences came together for me this week that allowed and encouraged me to participate, and after the meeting I had time to reflect on the question: how would someone who was interested get started in cultural advocacy?

Being an activist is not easy. First you have to decide if should speak up, and after you can say yes to that, an even harder question to answer is when and how you should speak up.

The best in the archaeology activist
business, Dot Moore of New Smyrna Beach.
First, find an issue that matters to you. Find a site that you care about and monitor any activity that might bring impacts to the site, such as increased visitation or new construction. You can also follow funding sources and make sure public funds are spent on heritage sites and encourage heritage tourism.

It is important to note that archaeology rarely stops development; it can only hope to postpone ground disturbing activities until the site has been properly recorded. Once the site has been studied and determined not eligible for listing on the National Register, construction generally begins. For a site to be determined eligible it must have portions of the site that are intact and be able to make a scientific contribution through the study of the features or artifacts found on site. And that determination is not up to you and me, the State’s Historic Preservation Officer (or SHPO) is the person who concurs with a recommendation by an archaeologist that the site is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Getting listed is a whole other story for another time…

After you found an issue, your journey to being an advocate has only just begun. If you want to speak up, best not to put the pressure on yourself to articulate a passionate point in front of an audience and televised on government TV without some proper thought. I have had my own dark days of speaking up unprepared and reflecting for days and days of what I could have done better, how could I have served my message more effectively.

Save yourself dark days of reflection like mine! Here’s a few things I’ve learned:

1) Prepare, prepare, prepare! Know your issue, get yourself a thick file going and read all you can from your community and cases like yours in surrounding communities.

Flagler County Board of Commissioners.
2) Part of preparing is getting your script together. Most meetings allow for three minutes of public comment, that’s a page and a half (double spaced). Write out your message, practice it before you go, and even read from it if you are like me and likely to waffle when in front of an audience. You may not need it in the end, but better as your allotted time arrives that you have at least your script to fall back on.
3) Use your script as a checklist. If people ahead of you make the same comment, cross it off your list and save yourself precious seconds. Or if you want to keep your point intact, reference the earlier speaker. Seeing the interconnectedness of similar concerns can only help give the impression that the community is united on this issue, and shows you were listening.

4) Make sure to introduce yourself. You may have a fancy title, you may not, but the best information a public body has is that you are a citizen and resident of the community. Remember, public officials work for you!

5) Whatever you do, don’t plan to speak at a meeting that you have never attended yourself. I highly recommend you look up the regular meeting schedules, attend a local government meeting no less than once a year. Each governing body has their own meeting culture, flow of the meeting, and level of formality. The more your presentation can match the culture of the board, the more comfortable everyone listening or speaking will be.

6) Attend committee meetings. In St. Johns County, for example, the Historic Resource Review Board is a committee made up of individuals representing different districts around the county that have applied for the position and are appointed to serve. These meetings are open to the public. Same goes for Volusia County, where the board rotates its meeting site throughout the county. Clay County has a similar committee that meets once a month in the Old Courthouse.

7) Finally, know your local officials. This group is changing day to day. From city, to county, to state and federal, there are a lot of elected officials and appointees to keep track of throughout the year. The web has a lot of links and resources for knowing your local government officials. If you attend a meeting or watch on TV, look up the names of your elected officials and get to know what issues they’re attached to for future reference.

Get out there and get active! A healthy democracy depends on informed citizens from diverse points of view. And drop us a line anytime- we’d love to talk to you about any civic issue to find the archaeological talking points and would like to hear about what issues matter to you.

And remember, archaeology should always be good news!

Proclamation made by St. Johns County Board of
Commissioners to kick off Florida Archaeology Month 2008.

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