by Kevin Erickson, Communications & Outreach Manager
Max Weber once described politics as “the slow boring of hard boards”; those with less patience for poetry might just call it slow, boring, and hard.
Nonetheless, I’ve found that the music community is actually uniquely equipped with the kind of long-game thinking that it takes to make substantive policy changes. That’s because there’s a basic structural similarity between the kind of slow and steady work it takes to hone your craft as a composer or performer over many years, keeping your eyes on what opportunities and challenges lie around the corner while working to address your present needs, and the slow and steady process of building movements for justice. Making an impact in either policy or music often requires the same kind of passion and perspective.
Yet for many policy areas that are important to musicians and composers, from arts funding to health care access, from media policy to affordable housing, the pace of progress can be frustratingly slow, and our institutions of power can seem remote and unresponsive. Even for issues where simple, straightforward consensus solutions exist and have been identified, it can take far too long to make those solutions real.
Here’s an example: For years, performing musicians have been frustrated by the unpredictability of airlines’ policies about flying with musical instruments. It may seem like a small thing, but for musicians whose livelihoods depend on their ability to arrive at their gig with the tools necessary to do their job, it’s been an enduring problem—one that has also impacted the composers, venues, and presenting organizations who depend on these musicians getting where they need to be. Musicians would show up to board their plane only to be surprised by arbitrary size and weight requirements, and their ability to board could be subject to the whims of gate agents. After years of advocacy, provisions to create consistent policies and allow instruments as carry-ons were attached to the Federal Aviation Administration reauthoriziation bill and signed into law on February 14, 2012. Hooray!
So, if the bill is passed, the problem is solved, right? Alas, no. Congress makes the laws and apportions funding, but then federal agencies have to implement the laws and spend that money. The FAA was given two years to prepare formal regulations, but when the deadline rolled around in February 2014, the regulations hadn’t yet been drafted, allegedly for budgetary reasons. And the horror stories kept rolling in: instruments that had to be checked and were then damaged or destroyed, musicians not allowed to board, travel plans botched.
Happily, after renewed efforts, the new regulations finally went into effect on March 6 of this year. Credit is due to the American Federation of Musicians, which has long led the charge on this issue, working with airlines, policymakers, and federal regulators to see it through to the end. (No one does tenacity like a labor union!)
But there’s a sobering element to this victory. If it can take years to really secure a win on an issue where the biggest barrier isn’t organized, emotionally charged opposition but bureaucratic process, what does it mean for issues that are more publicly contentious?(continued)
(image via Shutterstock).