I used to be a hardcore political junkie. I watched all of the talking head pundit shows. I organized election and issue campaigns. I read three to four newspapers daily, lobbied, wrote policy papers, and trained candidates and canvass volunteers. And you just didn’t want to be on the opposing side of a heated issue debate with me. I was driven, righteous and ruthless.
I have to admit that these days my political behavior is a bit more tempered. I continue to hold strong views, but there has been a significant change in how I believe change happens. That’s no surprise since I’ve changed. Identifying as a dancer and artist-activist has exposed me to a litany of new ways people can engage, transform, and reimagine systems, rules, lives and communities. And yet, as flawed as our electoral system is, the vote continues to be a critical means of giving voice to our struggles and demands, even as artists.
My point is not to tell you who to vote for or how to vote, but to remind you that yes, your vote does matter. Here are a few issues that I know artists care a great deal about, issues that will be affected by next Tuesday’s outcome.
Health Care. Dancers, and artists in general, have some of the highest rates of uninsured coverage in the nation. Due to our employment patterns and the nature of our profession, individual artists, theater and dance companies have significant difficulties securing health insurance. And the many health clinics and practitioners who provide care to our population are often the first ones hit with state and federal budget cuts. Along with the poor, elderly, disabled, communities of color and immigrant populations, artists have a significant stake in how U.S. health care policy shakes out.
Education The defunding of public education and the lack of thoughtful systemic reform has weakened our nation’s ability to create space for a child to dream of being whomever they want to be, be it a doctor, an astronaut or dancer. The dramatic decrease (and in many cases elimination) of funding for the arts in schools, along with increased class sizes, draconian testing policies, and the proliferation of bullying of all forms, demands our attention now. Our vote is a step toward changing this tide.
Our Rights We are artists. But we are also members of a larger community of people who have rights that are being trampled on every day. The passage of state and local ballot measures and initiatives across the country will impact on those rights. Access to education, health care, employment, to the right to claim our bodies and the ones we love are being challenged on November 6th. As people whose art often starts with self, we recognize the importance self-definition and a sense of agency within society. Let’s affirm that belief with our votes.
The Arts At a time when our nation really needs the love, the light and an alternative perspective that a play, a mural or a photograph may provide, government funding for the arts is being slashed to the bone. Some would argue that with limited resources we cannot afford funding for what some may think of as leisure trifles. I say think again! It was during a Great Depression of the 1930s, that we as a nation stepped up and created the Works Project Administration (WPA), which funded art, music, theater, literature and many other artistic endeavors that employed thousands of artists. And their work documented cultural and national history that would have been lost in time, laid the foundation for new industries, boosted local economies, and provided beauty and vibrancy to a nation in great need of uplift. We’ve done it before and we can do it again.
I say all of this to make the point that the artist vote matters. So please, if you haven’t already, get out there and vote next Tuesday. Your vote and your voice is much more important than a singular issue or an individual candidate. It’s part of a national legacy that many have fought and died for. Honor their memory and defend your right to be heard. Vote!
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