Every time I post something on my social media about my advocacy work, I get replies from my friends, family, former classmates, and students that say things like:
“I’m so grateful to have you standing up for the arts.”
“I love reading about what you’re doing to support the NEA.”
“Keep fighting the fight!”
Of course, I’m happy to do it, but clearly these folks are supportive of the National Endowment for the Arts, too, so why aren’t THEY in the fight? It all comes down to empowerment. I often have students or fellow artists ask me how I got into advocacy, and I’m happy to share my experiences and strategies with them. But I began to wonder how many of my friends and family were out there thinking the same thing I did years ago: “I’m not the head of an arts organization or local arts agency, so who am I to advocate for the arts? Surely there is someone better!” So, this year, I launched a whole new advocacy campaign: I reached out to my friends, family, peers, and more and shared with them my everyday advocacy efforts that were more traditionally focused on legislators and policy makers. My hope was that by de-mystifying the advocacy process, more people would get involved. I wanted to inspire a whole new group of Every Day Advocates.
So, what was my strategy?
I decided to take my social media followers along on my advocacy journey. I posted updates on the funding recommendations going on in DC, and the responses from Americans for the Arts. I put out calls for action. Most impactful, however, was a series of Facebook Live videos, in which I walked viewers—many of whom are not currently active advocates for the arts—through the ways they could get involved. I passed on key data points from Americans for the Arts and encouraged them to use the hashtag #SAVEtheNEA in their social media. I showed them the postcards I had written to my reps and read to them the response letter I received from my US Senator. I shared with them my tips and tricks to be better advocates. Sure, my kid wandered into the scene a couple of times, and my makeup wasn’t always on point, but that was part of the objective: to show that advocates are real people. They have kids and dogs, work deadlines, and lead hectic lives. It was meant to say, “Trust me, if I can be an arts advocate, so can you.”
During my Arts Day experience at the Tennessee State Legislature in Nashville this March, I went back to that Facebook Live format, sharing mini-updates throughout the day. I started from the parking lot of my local coffee shop at 5:30 a.m.; then I reported both before and after my time in the reps’ offices; and, finally, after my entire day was complete. I even recorded a live session at the recent #AFTACON in San Francisco and shared the updates we got from the Arts Action Fund team there. This was a way for those potential advocates out there to do a Virtual Arts Day and feel like they were along for the ride.
We need to develop more Every Day Advocates
I polled my social media and asked what scared my followers most about advocacy. One of the responders stated he was afraid he “won’t be there when someone really needs me and I will let the cause down.” Another stated that she was “not sure how to advocate well when I’m not the one affected.” By helping to develop new advocates from the people around you, you are helping to empower more individuals to speak up and to help you share the load. Advocacy can be a long, dogged process, and we all have busy days or weeks. There are many situations in which I could not make a phone call or write my House Representative because I was slammed at work or my kid was sick, but by helping to train others to raise their voice, I knew that they had my back. That was and is nice to know.
Sharing the tools, techniques, and information that are particularly valuable to you with your friends, family, and neighbors helps to build their capacity to join the cause. Furthermore, these techniques go beyond the arts and translate for advocacy on ANY topic about which one is passionate. By making advocacy more accessible, and even fun, we are becoming even greater contributors to our democracy. It is my hope that any Every Day Advocates that watched my videos or followed along on Twitter will join us in supporting the Americans for the Arts and will help us #SAVEtheNEA, and even set it up for future growth. And maybe, just maybe, they will be more likely to be increasingly aware of the vibrancy the arts bring to their lives every single day—and that is a win for everyone.