In 2010, I volunteered at, and participated in, the American Alliance of Museums’ Museum Advocacy Day over the course of two days. I spent my first day at the National Building Museum, where I helped set out folders for participants, discussed talking points at a table with fellow museum people, and listened to speakers who were pumped about the good that museums do (and our ability to convince congressional staffers of these good things). A tiny picture of me, wearing a burgundy blazer and arranging the folders on a table, ended up in Museum magazine.
I was happy to stuff folders, but I felt nervous and even a little resentful about meeting with a congressional staffer. After all, I was studying to be a museum educator, not a lobbyist. (Never mind that careers don’t always work out as planned.)
In the end, the meeting wasn’t so bad. I had a fellow museum advocate, charismatic and experienced in this sort of endeavor, with me, and she did most of the talking. The staffer for Representative John Sarbanes (D-Md.), from the district where I grew up, was supportive throughout the conversation. Sarbanes is friendly to our cause, and my one contribution to our meeting with his staffer was to express our gratitude for Sarbanes’s No Child Left Inside initiative.
Now that it’s 2017 and “protesting is the new brunch,” I am still trying to find my advocacy footing. Sure, I’ve been to a few marches and meetings and resistance open mics, but I could be doing so much more. I’m not calling my delegate every day or carrying a sign every weekend. I am surely disappointing everyone who ever encouraged me to stand up for human health or human rights or education or the environment.
Part of the problem is that it’s simply overwhelming. Just reading the news can be exhausting, to say nothing of reading and acting.
I have often heard the recommendation to focus on one issue, follow it in depth, pursue it with a passion. Alas, I still haven’t chosen my issue. Do I want to pick up where I left off in 2010 and advocate for museums, parks, libraries? Or do I wish to tackle one of the many other issues out there? Can I focus on one subject without losing sight of the forest of progressive movements?
Hopefully, in six months or so, I’ll be able to report a greater amount of focus and productivity (and have time to visit and write about plenty of museums, too). Meanwhile, Museum Advocacy Day continues with a gathering every year, as important now as ever.
P.S. Authorized representatives from museums can sign this letter from the American Alliance of Museums to Congress advocating for a budget that supports museums and their many educational and economic contributions. Please note that the letter is meant to be signed by museums and organizations only, not individual practitioners, and the deadline to sign is Friday, July 21, 2017.