Sunday, November 2, 2014

What Tomorrow's Election Means for the Nonprofit Arts

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on…………."

Here We Go Again
For all intents and purposes, America is now in a never-ending election cycle.  Tomorrow we will elect an entire Federal House of Representatives, 1/3 of the Senate and numerous city mayors, councils, Boards of Supervisors, state legislatures, and Governors.  The day after tomorrow the 2016 cycle will start in earnest.  And for the next two years we will be inundated with candidates vying for their party's nomination for President.

What will the results tomorrow mean for us?  On the federal level, if the Democrats maintain control of the Senate, this election probably won't mean much for us at all.  If, though, the Republicans capture the Senate, as is widely being predicted, then we are likely to once again face challenges to funding to the NEA and the NEH (and maybe PBS too), and quite possibly another round where proposed cuts are the best case scenario, and elimination may be on the table.  One hopes not, but reality suggests otherwise.  Gridlock may well be inevitable.  The threat of a presidential veto will come into play, and the President may well use his power of executive order to move his agenda.  That will bring cries of 'foul' from the Republicans and again we may have stalemated government.

Will the Senate change hands?  Conventional wisdom suggests the party that occupies the White House invariably suffers some losses in mid-term elections. The current dissatisfaction of the electorate with foreign policy, their confusion over the best role for the US in the ISIS situation, fear over Ebola, and continuing lack of confidence in the economy (as the benefits accrue principally to the wealthy) don't bode well for the Democrat's chances.  And, of course, the system has morphed into covert campaigns by obfuscation.  Issues are trumped by image.  Platitudes play to manipulated emotions, and almost nowhere to be found is any real interest in reasonable solutions to unreasonable problems.  The whole crazy mess is so distorted that people don't even vote their own self-interest anymore.  It makes almost no sense, and so is likely to be fodder for historians, sociologists and psychologists for a long time to come.  I suspect that in the distant future, people will look back on this time with incredulity.  Maybe artists will help make sense of it all.

The GOP is likely to pick up seats in the House to add to their majority, and five, seven or more seats in the Senate to give them a majority.  If that happens, they are very likely to add seats in state legislatures and in Governorships too.  Turnout will be key, and as far as trends go - watch the exit polls on how women, Latinos and Millennials voted and in what numbers they turned out.

And so once again we may have to respond by organizing a vocal and vociferous campaign to minimally keep the Endowments alive and their funding at the current level.  The chances of our succeeding in that effort are, if history is any example, fairly decent.  Of course, the effort will take time and energy we could better put to other endeavors, but we may have no choice.  And it won't be any cake walk.  If we find ourselves under attack we will have to work hard and start early to win.

It is ridiculous that we have to continually face this threat and respond to it.  But we don't have much ongoing political juice, only a minimal lobbying effort, we don't organize in support of candidates, and we have few friends in any legislature or executive branch that will go the distance for us and draw lines in the sand in our favor at the outset.  It's left to us to defend ourselves and make our case.  We have a very good case to make.  That's not the problem.  The problem is having to constantly organize to make that case.  If you're always treading water, it's difficult to finally get to shore.

No matter what the outcome tomorrow, here's what every single arts organization and all the individuals who comprise our universe ought to do:

1.  Write a letter (ONE letter) congratulating the elected official on their victory (first time or re-election) stating that you (and / or your organization) reside in the elected official's district, and then outline the value of the arts in your district, including some data and study references (nothing that has to be too complicated - two or three bullet points ought to suffice), include a story about some real, live person positively impacted by the arts in your area, and finish by urging the elected official to meet with you so you can share with them why the arts are essential to his / her constituents.

Send that letter to your U.S. Congressman/woman and if your Senator was re-elected, or newly elected, to him or her.  Send  the same letter to your newly elected or re-elected state representatives and Governor.  And to the local city council / Board of Supervisors and Mayor who were elected or re-elected.

So one letter, seven or eight copies.  You just have to change the name and address on each.  Not so hard.

Maybe you can include a signed Resolution from your Board of Directors.

Ask your friends and supporters to send a letter too.  Soon.

And then follow up with a telephone call in about two weeks.  If you want to really help, you will need to stay on them for several months as the budgetary process plods forward.  Meet with them, invite them to your events, lobby them and their staffs.  Relentlessly.

Finally, just like you change your smoke alarm batteries every Daylight Savings Time, or every New Year's, maybe you could send a $10 or $20 check to your local, state or national advocacy group every election day.   It would help.

And maybe somebody out there can figure out a way we can avoid going through this every election cycle.  Perhaps someday we can convince Congress that funding for the Endowments ought to be multi-year (say on a three year cycle).  Then we would only have to defend our local and state funding budgets every year.  And the Endowments every three years.

And one more thing:  VOTE, and urge everyone else to vote too.

Maybe the outcome will be the election or re-election of solid arts supporters and we won't have to go through all the motions yet once again.  Maybe not.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit
Barry

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