Monday, February 27, 2017

Get Real - Effective Advocacy Is About Amassing Voter Sentiment

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

All over America, citizens angry over policy changes emanating from the White House and Congress have been registering their anger and frustration at local Congressional Town Hall Meetings as well as via telephone calls, faxes, letters, emails and more.  This massive outpouring is unprecedented in recent times.  It is democracy in action.  And it is having an impact - precisely because of three factors:  1) it is from voters in the elected official's district; 2) it sends the message that angry voters will be using their votes to register their anger; and 3) it is massive.

It remains to be seen whether or not this political involvement will be sustained over time, and what effect and impact it will have long term. And the real test won't come until 2018 at the earliest, when the next election will give those unhappy the chance to unseat those politicians they blame for changes to which they object.   But make no mistake, the effort thus far has got the attention of even those who are opposed to the positions of the protesters and at whom much of the anger is addressed. This is because it hits at the one vulnerable spot that politicians have - at their chance of being re-elected.

And getting re-elected is virtually every elected politician in the country's number one priority.  Their job is at stake, and for many their job is, like jobs are to many of us, their source of income and how they maintain their lives, the way they define themselves and their purpose in life -- it is, in part who they are and what they do.  No matter how principled they may be, no matter how much they believe they want to create positive change in people's lives, no matter how honest or how hypocritical they are, very, very few will give up the power, prestige, privilege and trappings of being in Congress.  And so their election and re-election is their number one priority.  It (excuse the pun) Trumps everything else.

And massive turnout of unhappy, dissatisfied voters in their districts is something they do not ignore, nor fail to take seriously (and that is true even in the era of gerrymandered "safe districts", for nothing is ever absolutely certain, including how people will vote).  Note the use of the words: "massive", "voters", and "in their districts".

We ought to learn from the recent Town Hall Meetings reality staring us in the face.

If the Trump budget eliminates the NEA, then it will be much more difficult to fund it via Congress, than if the agency had funding in the President's budget.  We don't yet know whether or not the NEA will be axed in the coming budget, but it seems more possible than ever.  And even if the President includes some funding for the agency in his budget, there may still be attempts to cut or eliminate that funding by Congress - attempts that may have a better chance of succeeding than ever before.  If the arts really want to influence members of Congress, the sector has got to have large numbers of people who are registered to vote and reside in their district contact their Representatives and Senators directly, and let them know that they want the NEA to be funded, and that failure to vote that way will cause the voter to vote against that elected official in the next election.  This communication doesn't have to be, and should not be, nasty or accusatorial or negative.  Just the simple fact that funding the NEA is a make or break issue for the person communicating, and their future support - including their vote for or against the representative - is dependent on the official's vote one way or the other.  And it won't mean much unless there is a huge number of people who express that opinion.  And while it is important to thank those politicians who are supportive, the bigger challenge is to amass votes in the districts where the official is not supportive.

So if all the arts can manage is people signing a White House Petition or a few hundred DC visits, then we might as well just save our energy.  Of all the means of registering one's position, signing an online petition is the absolute least effective, particularly in trying to influence a month old White House administration that very likely (and with good reason) believes that people for whom NEA funding is a big issue, were not, and will not become, Trump supporters.   Whatever the Trump Administration decision on the NEA turns out to be, it is almost assuredly not going to be based on any petition of people urging the NEA's survival.  And patting ourselves on the back for getting to the magic 100,000 signatures mandating a WH response is as big a waste of time as the Atlanta Falcons celebrating a Super Bowl win at the beginning of the fourth quarter.

Don't believe me?  Read this simple advice from Barney Frank based on decades in the U.S. House of Representatives on how to influence Congress.

Wake up people.  Thus far there has been reports of a number of op ed pieces in support of the NEA.  And, of course, the 100,000 signature petition.  But I haven't seen much more than that.  And frankly I think this year that is not nearly enough.  Do we really want to rely on trying to rally a few hundred people to make our case as we have in the past?  Is that the best we can do?

If the existence of the NEA is important to the sector, then it had better organize immediately to demonstrate massive numbers of people for whom the issue will determine their vote in the future.  That's the only language the elected officials truly understand and respond to.  All the stories and arguments notwithstanding - they mean very little.  You want support?  Make your elected officials understand you are talking about votes - against them.  Lots of votes.  That's how it works.   Personal visits are best. Then phone calls, then letters, then emails.  Robo-letters using templates are ignored. You don't have to have some convincing argument.  The value of the arts - intrinsic or economic or whatever? That's irrelevant.  Your argument is how you will vote.  Period.  Don't make this more complicated than it is.  

As Barney Frank advises, the only communication that matters is from voters in the official's district. And the only real position that matters is how you will vote in the future.  That may not be enough to get what we want, but it's the only way the system works.  If you think truth and justice will out, you're living in another dimension.

It's long past time the arts come to understand that the political system does not work like some fantasy textbook idea of government in action.  It would be nice if it did, but it doesn't.  If we want to continue to believe that our talking points, our stories, our arguments, our value are what persuade politicians aligned against us to support us, then we might as well ask Santa, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy to grant our wishes.  About the same chance of success.

Get real.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit