25 November, 2009

po-political adventures in the nation's cap-capital

this is an edited excerpt from a much longer piece i am working on...

i think there is a mistaken air of rarification and mystery that surrounds capital hill and our senators and congress-people. it is a common misperception that somehow there are giant hurdles put in place to stop us from communicating directly with the people who are supposed to be representing us. we see them on TV, read about them online and in the papers, and perhaps in that way they seem as inaccessible as brad pitt or paris hilton. but twice now, i have gone on lobby days to the hill, met with senators, representatives, and representatives of the representatives and senators, and found the opposite to be true. all it takes is knowledge and time.

this year, i have begun working with organization called the Future of Music Coalition . FMC was started a few years ago by a group of artists, independent label owners, and lobbyists who wanted to create a pathway for artists to be involved in the political process. beyong the usual activities of playing benefits and tabling at shows, FMC bridges the gap between the concert hall and the congress.

our lobby day this october fell directly on the heels of the annual FMC policy conference. this year, i spent three days on panels and in workshops with other musicians, thinkers, internet people, and activists tossing around ideas and trying to make sense of the intersections of the current technology and music climates. i can't resist adding that during his keynote address, the FCC chairman Julius Genachowski name-checked me as someone who was "harnessing the power" of the internets with my Cabin Fever series . the chairman is a political appointee and as such is bound to be as boring and non-confrontational as possible, so i felt a little sheepish about being held up as an example, but as i am learning, "a foot in the door is a foot in the door". i'll take it.

on this most recent trip, we visited the offices of Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA), and Sen. Al Franken (D-MN). we were there to thank them for their support on a few key issues: increasing low power FM, protecting net neutrality, and the digital performance right. (for more info about these issues, see the FMC site). we also got to sit down in conference with Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI). Senator Feingold is an avid music fan, and he name-dropped a ton of obscure indie rock bands i had never heard of. who knew? in Representative Doyle's office, i was suprised to find his chief of staff is a big fan of mine, who was genuinely thrilled to meet me. who knew?

if you want to advance an issue and effect change on it, you need to find a champion- a representative or senator who will make your cause part of their portfolio of issues. for example, rep.Doyle has been a great champion of low-power FM radio. the tricky part is that every congress person has to balance a ton of interests and pressures. they may be your champion on one issue and your enemy on another. i've observed first hand that it's a complicated job, and things move slowly. for every victory there may be a setback, but over time with persistent energy, consistent ideology, and creative tactics, any everyday citizen has an opportunity to make change.

in political lobby-ing and activism, i have found the perfect marriage of my age-old dilemma between chafing at rules and wanting to be liked. in speechifying and rabblerousing on complicated technology and policy issues, i have found a way to own my cultural place as an artist without making activism the sole content of my art. it's a fine line and a delicate balance, but my most recent trip to capital hill confirmed my suspicions that it's the path i need to be on.

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