We’ve all seen videos of excited, passionate people gathering on the steps of a government building to fight for something they believe in. This time, I was one of those people, because I truly believe that quality music education is something every student should have access to, regardless of their ZIP code. When I heard about NAMM’s Stand Up 4 Music advocacy day, I saw a chance to get involved that might just help make a difference.
This year’s Stand Up 4 Music Day took place on May 18 at the California state capitol. The event brought together a contingent of over 30 state chapter music and arts advocates, arts educators and music industry trade members. Our task was to meet with our individual senators and assembly people and ask them to support (read: fund) a number of bills and spending measures that will benefit music education, teachers, students – and ultimately our communities – in the State of California.
As a total newcomer to this process, it was an eye-opening experience to see how bills get funded and who is involved.
We began by making phone calls to request an appointment on the day of the event. It turned out to be surprisingly easy – somehow it never occurred to me that elected officials are required to respond to all inquiries from their constituents. Within a few days I heard back from all of my elected representatives and was able to line up six appointments.
The big day finally came, and the Stand Up 4 Music contingent was on its way to Sacramento. Music education advocacy organizations had already done the work of reading through the bills, and articulated how best to gain support (or, in some cases, argue against it) for those elements benefiting music education. I learned that just making those phone calls to my representatives – and then showing up at the appointed time – is all it takes to drive the focus needed to keep bills moving forward through the process. If you don’t make a little noise, then someone else’s priorities may be louder, and you might not be heard.
Your elected officials actually want to know what you care about as a voter. I came to realize that they welcome every single constituent, and that they will give you your 15 minutes. I also discovered that, in many cases, the legislative aides are just as important to meet because they write, research and track the various bills and topics. It was really valuable to talk to the staffers who work behind the scenes because they are the people crafting language and including relevant details for each bill. The now well-informed aide you met will be the person who actually writes the line item you want funded.
What really resonated with me during this experience was that regular people – both on the legislative side and on the advocacy side – are the people who makes things happen. You don’t have to be a policy expert to tell a meaningful story to your elected official about why music education is important to you and your community. Reiterating how music education equips students with the fundamental abilities to learn, achieve in other academic subjects, and develop the capacity, skills and knowledge essential for lifelong success was the foundation of our requests.
At the end of the day, it was a tiring and a thrilling experience, but I didn’t go to Sacramento to burn calories running around the hallways. I went because I truly believe when people have access to, and receive a quality music education, it improves our society – and makes our world a better place.
Best of all, on June 14 (budget release day), we received notice that our advocacy efforts were successful, and that the funding for the bill that was passed will not be delayed! Proof positive that you can make a difference if you say something and advocate for what you believe in. You just have to show up!