Brian Baird, a former congressman, remembers Lewis County’s devastating floods, including the historic 2007 deluge that closed I-5 for days.
Now living in Edmonds, he recalls going out in a boat with rescuers during those hard times in southwest Washington. In the disaster’s aftermath, he saw people come together — religious and civic groups, American Red Cross volunteers, and those with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“It united the community,” said Baird, who represented Washington’s 3rd Congressional District from 1999 to 2011.
Baird, 65, now hopes to recognize all kinds of helpers. He’s spearheading an effort to create a new National Museum and Center for Service in Washington, D.C.
“This can easily take a decade or more, but the time is right now,” he said Tuesday.
A video being used to introduce the project explains the concept: “Our nation has many war memorials and monuments to military service, and that is fitting,” it says. “But there is no signature place in the nation’s capital, or anywhere else in the country, to honor and tell the stories of Americans who give of themselves in other ways to serve our nation and the world.”
Still in its infancy, the project is Baird’s baby. Already, “a really great group” is on board, he said, offering volunteer and pro bono help. A website will soon be launched and non-profit status for a National Museum and Center for Service organization is in progress, he said.
Help has come from the Evans School of Public Policy & Governance at the University of Washington; from Olson Kundig, a Seattle-based architectural firm that has done artistic renderings of a possible museum; and from the K&L Gates law firm, Baird said. “They’re stepping up to help. There’s real resonance in the idea.”
His hope is that a museum will be built, or established in an existing facility, at or very near the National Mall.
“That’s where people go,” Baird said. Along with the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, the mall has sites honoring those who served and lost their lives in conflicts — the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial and the National World War II Memorial.
“The military is wonderful,” said Baird, who also wants the new center to be a model for creating state-level museums honoring other types of service. “We haven’t created these places,” he said.
Baird sees the project as complementary to the Biden administration’s Serve America Together effort promoting a year of national service.
In 2017, Baird, a Democrat, teamed up with former Washington Republican Party leader Chris Vance in a push to recruit independent candidates. They were seeking solutions to political gridlock and ideological divisions that keep us from even talking to each other.
While those problems haven’t been solved, Baird sees service as an idea that transcends partisanship.
Recalling those destructive Chehalis River floods, he said, “in an emergency you don’t ask party affiliation.”
“In the past year, with COVID, millions of frontline health care workers have left their homes and gone to work — and 3,000 have died,” said Baird, adding “there will be other pandemics and disasters.”
The introductory video shows images of people handing out food, repairing homes, fighting wildfires, providing medical care and beautifying their communities.
Around the world and at home, Baird has seen people risk their lives to help those in need. He encountered members of Doctors Without Borders in a dangerous zone in Iraq. After a 2009 tour of the Gaza Strip, he told Seattle Met magazine that he’d seen human suffering “shocking and troubling beyond words.”
With a doctorate in clinical psychology, Baird was head of Pacific Lutheran University’s psychology department and was later president of Antioch University Seattle. In the past year, he has done webinars for congressional staff, first in coping with pandemic-related issues, and more recently related to trauma tied to the Jan. 6 attack on Congress.
He imagines a center for service as “an experiential museum,” perhaps using technology to livestream helpers in the field. School groups and other visitors could “learn what it’s like,” he said. “How do you get vaccine across a desert? In an earthquake, how do you transport food?”
Scientists, farmers, even journalists may be among those honored, he said.
Baird recently received a coronavirus vaccine at Arlington Municipal Airport. It was a cold, wet day.
“They were out in the rain, the National Guard, firefighters and other volunteers,” he said. “We have to celebrate that.”
To contact Brian Baird about the National Museum and Center for Service, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Julie Muhlstein: email@example.com