There was something new and exciting going on last month during the trade show at the 2009 World Education Congress in Salt Lake City, organized by Meeting Professionals International. At first glance, a petition wall hosted by The Krisam Group and Global Event Partners had little to do with the commercial displays that made up the rest of the show. But at a deeper level, it was all about understanding, recognizing, appreciating, and defending the business activity that creates a couple of million jobs across the U.S. meetings industry.

Visiting the Krisam booth and signing The Wall was a way of helping to build the profile and maturity of our industry, one brick at a time. “I felt so empowered after I signed it,” said one industry colleague who attended the conference.

“Dear Mr. President,” reads the inscription on the eight-foot-high wall. “It is a monumental time, and we have a bold message for Washington. On the matter of meetings … meetings matter. Meetings are a part of the solution; not the problem.”

Alongside that statement, more than 3,000 meeting professionals have signed the wall, adding their own personal messages, and the initial 16-foot panel has been extended to 48 feet.

The Wall launched in April at the New England Meeting Industry Conference and Exhibition, an annual event organized by MPI’s New England chapter. It is the creation of Beth Hamiroune, Krisam’s vice president of sales, and has been endorsed by MPI and the U.S. Travel Association.

Hamiroune traces the energy and initiative behind The Wall back to the inspiration she felt in January when she attended President Barack Obama’s inauguration in Washington. The photo of the Capitol at the top of the petition is one that she took on Inauguration Day.

Hamiroune attended the inauguration for a mix of personal and professional reasons. “I wanted to experience firsthand what would be one of our country’s most historic events ever. And I did, not only through the eyes of an American but through the eyes of a meeting professional.” And when Obama spoke, she said, “As an American I left feeling the world was forever changed, and as a meeting professional, I experience a speaker who nail it,” and to this day, “‘Yes, we can!’ still rings in my ears.”

“Yes, we can” stayed with Hamiroune when she heard the President’s “bold and undefined criticisms of our industry,” she said. And it was then that she decided to channel her disappointment into action.

After The Wall launched at NEMICE, it traveled to an MPI-New York event the following week, then to meetings in Washington, Dallas, and Salt Lake City. “The route is being created by the day,” according to a project fact sheet, and “additional industry organizations are inquiring about involvement.” In September, The Wall will travel to the Michigan Meetings and Events Network Expo and the MPI Michigan chapter meeting, and it will likely be presented to the President and Congress this fall.

As the attack on meetings has unfolded, it has been exciting to see the U.S. industry find its political voice for the first time in a dozen years. It seems to me, our associations have put aside old rivalries and learned to work together to confront a common threat.

But recent experience shows that established institutions are that much stronger when they receive genuine grassroots support. Think of the U.S. Democratic Party—and now, think of associations like MPI and U.S. Travel. Right now, the comparison suffers from a certain difference in magnitude, but still, The Wall has created an opportunity for a few thousand of us to stand up and stand tall at the moment of our industry’s greatest peril.

Mitchell Beer, CMM, is President and CEO of The Conference Publishers Inc., one of the world’s leading specialists in capturing and repurposing conference content. Beer blogs at http://theconferencepublishers.com/blog. Send comments, facts, arguments, or column ideas to mitchell@theconferencepublishers.com.