How do we advocate post-election?
By Gail Ravnitzky Silberglied
Museum, November/December 2012
Following the elections and redistricting, I think I have new elected officials. How can I find out who represents me?
The new Congress will be sworn in on Jan. 3, 2013. At that time, you can visit aam-us.org/advocacy to identify your federal and state legislators. Until then, you can visit your state’s board of elections to learn more about redistricting (changes in congressional district boundaries) that may have occurred due to the 2010 census. Loyola law school professor Justin Levitt has created a useful guide to redistricting (http://redistricting.lls.edu) in which you can view your state’s congressional map (and see how it got that way).
Where can I learn how my elected officials feel about museums and other issues I care about?
Chances are, the issue of “museums” didn’t come up in the election, although it’s likely the candidate took a position on charitable giving incentives, federal funding or education. The best way to find out is to review the nonpartisan website, Project VoteSmart (votesmart.org). For current Members of Congress, you can review AAM’s compilation of key votes at aam-us.org/advocacy. For newly elected officials, begin following them on social media (Facebook and Twitter) so you can learn what’s on their agenda and what they are up to. And for all you Facebook users out there, remember: You don’t have to actually like your elected official to “like” them.
How can I start building a relationship with my new elected official?
There are lots of ways to get started. You can congratulate them and invite them to visit the museum. You can send them brochures and posters or other memorabilia to help decorate their offices. (Imagine all the constituents who would see your museum’s poster hanging up in their congressional office!) Museums Advocacy Day in Washington, D.C. (Feb. 25–26, 2013) is the perfect opportunity to begin building a relationship with newly elected officials. And don’t forget to build relationships with congressional staff—they need to know who you are, too. Offer to be a resource to them, and then keep in touch so they keep you in mind (e.g., do they need space for a community forum?). As you start to learn about your legislators’ interests and priorities, you can tailor your message. Perhaps they have a parent with memory loss or a grandchild with special needs. Or maybe they serve on a committee in Congress that oversees federal education spending. If your museum has programs tailored to these audiences, you have an instant connection point. Make sure they know about it!
What if my Members of Congress just got re-elected and I already know them?
Then you have a head start, but you can still congratulate them and invite them to come for another visit to your museum. Keep in mind that even returning Members of Congress are going to be setting their priorities and agendas for the new Congress, so you definitely want to stay on their radar screens. And don’t forget their staff. Though the average tenure of congressional staff is just a few years, staff is key in setting priorities and determining positions on issues in the offices they work for. So they are a great group to get to know. Call the local office and invite the staff to see one of your educational programs in action. Because their jobs are all about getting to know and engaging with the community, it’s more than likely they will jump at the chance. It’s also a good opportunity to learn more about the office’s priorities for the coming year.
I believe in the cause, but I really think elected officials don’t have time for me. Is my perception accurate?
We understand that concern and we hear that a lot. But it’s important to remember that elected officials are sup-posed to be experts on hundreds of local, regional and national issues, and they rely on their constituents to help them understand—and prioritize—issues. At some point in this heated budgetary environment, Congress may vote on an amendment to eliminate “wasteful museum spending.” Our best chance of success on Capitol Hill is when the word “museum” is equated with “essential” instead of “wasteful.” After all, it was just a few months ago that the House of Representatives declared funding for museums was “not a core federal responsibility” and that funding for NEA and NEH “can no longer be justified” because “[t]he activities and content funded by these agencies ... are generally enjoyed by people of higher income levels, making them a wealth transfer from poorer to wealthier citizens.” We can’t let them think that, can we?
Gail Ravnitzky Silberglied is the Alliance’s senior director of government relations and advocacy and author of Speak Up For Museums: The AAM Guide to Advocacy (2011), published by The AAM Press and available from the AAM Bookstore.