Why the Arts Do Not Need to March: Activating Audiences for Advocacy




Abe Flores blogs about why the arts do not need to march.







My fascination with politics began on my father’s lap as he discussed with my uncles political corruption in Mexico and his involvement in the student movement of the 1970s. No matter what particular event he was retelling, the story was always the same: the students marched, the soldiers cracked down, and, according to him, things remained the same. He became disillusioned, busy, and gradually become disengaged with the movement. He continued to be a politically conscious individual when he came to the U.S but his civic engagement was more benign: leading my Boy Scout troop.

My political awakening and involvement were gradual. The first political event I attended was a march against Proposition 187 in Boyle Heights. My limited understanding of the proposition at the time focused on the fact that some of my friends and family were not going to be allowed to continue going to school and my school teachers would become a de facto “migra” (immigration).

The lively march from Boyle Heights to downtown Los Angeles brought out the usual activists, but in attendance were many novices, including my neighbors and my family. The misguided proposition galvanized my community because we fully understood the ramifications of not allowing our families, friends, and neighbors into public schools.

The proposition was more expansive than just cutting immigrant access to schools, but that is the issue that made my family march.  On election day, the vote did not go our way; Proposition 187 passed overwhelmingly. Disappointment was followed by hope in the political system: a temporary restraining order was placed on the measure as several lawsuits challenged its constitutionality.

A couple years later, it was ruled unconstitutional by a federal court, which stated, "California is powerless to enact its own legislative scheme to regulate immigration. It is likewise powerless to enact its own legislative scheme to regulate alien access to public benefits." For more info on Prop 187, click here for CNN's story.

I wondered at the time if the march was just a big waste of time. The voters passed the proposition overwhelmingly. It was the lawyers who ended up defeating it. I became a skeptic of rallies and marches, noting my father's “failure” to change the corruption in Mexico through marches (it took over a quarter century for some of the political change the students sought to come to Mexico).  

When I became a student of political science in college, I came to understand the need for a long view in politics.  Change rarely happens overnight. It takes a core of committed individuals with a clearly defined political objective who understand the long process, have several contingent strategies, and are committed to seeing it through.

A political movement does not start and end with a march or a large communications campaign. It uses them to generate attention, create supporters, and show its strength. Without contingent strategies that move a specific objective forward following the attention grabbing effort, the movement for change will become stifled. The Proposition 187 marches were not a waste of time because they were coupled with voter registration drives that dramatically increased Latino voter registration.

The central reason for any “cause” or “movement” is to create or catalyze a desired change, usually resulting in the form of changed behavior (e.g. consistent voting, advocating for the arts, etc.) or changed policy or law (e.g. defeating misguided laws, funding arts education, etc.). The process for change can be long and tiresome, but small coordinated efforts can lead to big changes.

In regards to ensuring access to the arts for all and ensuring the use of the arts as a tool to create healthy communities and successful students, we need half of Los Angeles County's voters—plus one additional voter—not only to agree that the arts are important, but to be active, conscious arts advocates.

The arts do not need a march because they already engage audiences.  The art itself creates supporters, but all arts supporters need avenues to express their support to elected officials and other art funders.

In an effort to move beyond preaching to the choir and listing all the great intrinsic and instrumental benefits of the arts right here (economic, education, community…), this is a call for art practitioners and supporters to actively and consciously advocate for increase support and access to the arts. Advocating for the arts should not be a new task to add to your already ambitious work plan, but rather a slight reframing of your current work or activities.

You have people’s attention and their support. Now tell them the strategy.

Here are three simple actions:

  • At the next parent meeting, inquire about current arts education offerings at your child’s school.
  • At the beginning of a performance, encourage the audience to support arts education by voting for more revenue for schools in the upcoming November election (nonprofits can endorse ballot initiatives and work to pass them within nonprofit lobbying limits; for more info download this pdf from Nonprofit vote).
  • Distribute or place voter registration and election materials in your Arts center, gallery, farmer’s market, or community event.

We want all arts supporters to be arts advocates, on par with self identified environmentalists or animal rights activists who not only follow and promote their issue with passion, but also consciously vote with their values.

The arts are a powerful force for dialogue, change, rejuvenation, and prosperity. When all arts patrons become connected and active advocates, the arts cause will ensure healthy and thriving arts, artists, communities and schools.

Tell us: how are you advocating for the arts? How would you join a unified arts movement? And how can an arts movement join you?