Advocacy is fun! What is better than having the opportunity to tell your elected officials and their staffers about what you are passionate about? And have 380 people from around the country joining you to do the same! This was my experience at the 2017 Museum Advocacy Day. The fantastic nine from Michigan met with 14 out of 16 Michigan offices (2 Senators and 12 Representatives).
On the first day, we gathered to learn how to speak congress or as one of the presenters described, “how to hug a porcupine”! Very true! As the way to present an issue to the elected officials and their staff is considerably different than any other presentation I have ever given. Their advice was to state the issue, give facts, and have a clear ask from them. This time though, it was exceptionally difficult since the Trump Administration’s budget proposal was revealed that morning, sending all of us into a gasp and a state of nausea. We had clear issues of IMLS reauthorization, IMLS funding of Office of Museum Services, and charitable deductions to talk about, but how could we ignore funding for NEA and NEH and multiple other issues that the budget announcement brought forth?
Preparing for the big day! From left to right: Connie Locker, Jason Dake, Lisa Craig Brisson & Sanam Arab
This feeling was substantiated the next morning on the Hill and with our first visit: Coffee with Constituents hosted by Senator Stabenow. She pulled us aside to clearly and bluntly shared with us that there are going to be major cuts in funding and we needed to visit offices of those who have historically been unsupportive of the of issues importance to us. We visited many offices. Some, like Congresswoman Dingell’s Chief of Staff, echoed Senator Stabenow, and were very supportive. Others ranged from not supportive- although never bluntly saying so- to never have heard about IMLS and Museum Advocacy Day. My last meeting of the day was with the staff of the Congressman at my own district, and she was totally surprised that the two of us meeting with her actually lived in the congressman’s district!
Michigan delegation visiting Senator Debbie Stabenow; Photo from Senator Stabenow’s website
Overall, this was an amazing experience, one that I hope to repeat for many years to come. People who go all the way to D.C. to advocate for what they are passionate about have a great influence. The Senators and Representatives and their staff realize that passion when you have made the commitment to go to D.C. and the personal stories from their constituents go a very long way! Yes, signing letters and petitions, going to marches and town halls, and voicing opinions and frustrations on social media are all great ways of engagement. However, the 5-10 minutes you have with them, one on one, without interruption and you have a chance of telling them why this matters to you personally, as their constituent, can have amazing results. Those are the moments that will change their minds and hearts on issues!
Manager of Programs and Patron Services
LSA Instructional Support Services
University of Michigan