Policy Work is NOT Lobbying

By Jean Cook, Director of Programs for Future of Music Coalition
Briefly adding to Yolanda's excellent post:
I'd argue that it's a chicken-and-egg problem.  Without adequate funding, arts and public interest advocacy groups don't have the staff time to develop creative expressions about cultural policy, train cultural workers in advocacy tactics, engage their audiences, create strategic alliances, and all the other tactics that would increase their efficacy in shaping policy and public opinion.
I agree that some foundations have a capacity gap when it comes to knowing how they want to invest in the policy space - especially as it pertains to arts and culture or telecomm or media copyright etc.  Many are worried about appearing to spend too much time influencing legislation - which is a bright line we cannot cross in the 501c3 world.  I get that.  That's why folks like the Alliance for Justice exist in this world - to educate, inform, and otherwise help us navigate that scary terrain.
But just to be clear - very little of what I am talking about on this blog is about lobbying (or pursuing legislative change).  Sure congress has the power to pass laws and decide who gets appropriations. And that is very very important.  And FMC does a little bit of this kind of work - of course within the legal limits (which are actually quite generous).  But once legislators make those decisions, it's often up to the federal agencies to figure out things like: how do we spend this money we just got?  what kind of rules and processes should we put in place?  how do we enforce this law? - and the courts to figure out: how do we interpret the law?  The devil is in the details, and battles are rarely over once congress has done their part.

Most federal agencies have incredibly few gateways to help them to understand how the decisions they make impact our sector.  Without that kind of feedback they cannot develop, implement or enforce policies that will be beneficial to the arts.  There is a tremendous amount of positive work that can be done in this area by the nonprofit cultural sector: conducting research (beyond economic impact studies) for purposes of policymaking, shaping and amplifying strategic stories so they have an impact, building coalitions that can engage and partner with policymakers - and be a useful player in solving some really difficult problems along the way.

Here are two examples of this kind of work (I was going to come up with three, but like Nathan said - it's a busy week).

This last year the FCC has been asking the public how radio station ownership impacts them.  This proceeding is the perfect time to tell the FCC how losing a jazz radio station might impact a community, or the challenges to maintaining the commercial model for classical music.  Or even easier - anyone told the FCC that radio is the dominant form of consumption for classical audiences?

Wireless microphone users from the arts sector, who have recently had to bear the brunt of a costly equipment swap out because of spectrum reallocation by the FCC (and are currently under the threat of additional reallocation activity) could develop proactive strategies and form cross sector partnership with a goal of finding a new permanent home in a different area of the spectrum where they can operate in peace and quiet.

This is the kind of work that should be supported in our sector, not avoided.  I encourage anyone concerned about lobbying rules to spend 15 minutes on the Alliance for Justice's excellent site.
July 23, 2010 4:38 AM | | Comments (0) |

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This Blog Arts and culture are a cornerstone of American society. But arts and culture workers are often left out of important policy conversations concerning technology and creative rights even though the outcomes will have a profound impact on our world. Is it benign neglect? Or did we... more

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