This is What Democracy Looks Like: Music Advocacy on Capitol Hill
It’s not an easy time to be a musician in America. When President Trump announced his budget proposal for 2019 back in February, cultural leaders were disheartened to find that the plan calls for the elimination of various funding sources for artistic institutions. Among those on the chopping block are programs which provide food, housing, and healthcare to underserved populations. In the midst of a tumultuous political climate where the lives of countless impoverished Americans hang in the balance, it is easy for artists to feel that their cause pales in comparison to other issues. We know that the life-changing capacity of music is worth fighting for, but can its voice be heard on Capitol Hill?
The answer is “Yes”—and will be quite clear this Thursday morning, when more than three hundred students, educators, and other leaders gather at the nation’s capital to advocate for music education. Facilitated by the National Association for Music Education (NAfME) , Hill Day is an annual assembly of music advocates from all fifty states. After a preceding day of advocacy training and briefing (and a singing rally on Capitol Hill), attendees meet with their state senators, representatives, and legislative advisors to testify to the importance of access to music in schools. This expansive presence of passionate musicians in the congressional office buildings is both compelling and effective.
Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) at the end of 2015. Thanks to the tireless efforts of music advocates, music was specifically mentioned as a part of a “Well-Rounded Education” for the first time in American history (as opposed to being umbrellaed under “the arts” in No Child Left Behind ). This explicit definition of music as core was a massive victory for music educators. In addition to definitively conveying the importance of music in schools, ESSA provided a clearer avenue for arts programs to obtain Title I, Title II, and Title IV funding: resources which promote accessibility for allstudents, regardless of circumstance.