When John F. Kennedy described Washington, D.C. as a city of Southern efficiency and Northern charm, it was presumably not intended as a compliment. Nonetheless, like all good quotes, it captures a wider truth—a capital city as the pivot of a vast and diverse nation, a symbolic and political, if not geographic, centre. In this sense, the choice of Washington, D.C. to host the 83rd Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology (SAA), 11–15 April 2018, was more than coincidence. With a still relatively new administration in the White House making policy changes with significant implications for the nation's cultural heritage, the gathering of more than 5000 archaeologists from the USA and beyond offered the opportunity to lobby politicians and policymakers on their home turf. Delegates were accordingly encouraged to contact their elected representatives, and the SAA Government Affairs Program pursued meetings on Capitol Hill to press the case for the protection and promotion of cultural heritage. The theme was reinforced through the SAA Presidential Sponsored Forum, entitled ‘Bears Ears, the Antiquities Act, and the Status of our National Monuments’, where the panel reflected on the effectiveness of the Antiquities Act of 1906 (now safeguarding over one million square kilometres of US territory) and the emerging threats to the protection it provides. In particular, the unprecedented proposal by the new administration to reduce significantly the size of one of the most recent additions to the list, the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah (as well as Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument), has led to concerns—and lawsuits—over political interference and the weakening of the protection that the Act provides for sites and landscapes across the USA.