The case for artists in elected office

When I was in middle school I had three passions: music, performing, and arguing. I performed in school plays, sang in choirs, took dance and voice lessons, and joined the debate team. In 8th grade Social Studies we participated in a Constitutional Debate event with other students in our district–an event that was held at the local civic center where I’d seen some of my favorite musicals performed by professional touring companies. I couldn’t tell you what went into those debates or how much knowledge about the Constitution I was required to display, but I can tell you this–my class won! My mom still has the certificate.

In college, I was lucky enough to attend a fantastic music conservatory where I got my bachelor’s degree in vocal performance. I studied to be an opera singer and am now working in… political communications. Naturally. In spite of the fact that I left the music world, it was precisely because of my experience and education in the arts that I ended up involved in activism and politics.

I wanted to write this post because of my own fear and insecurities when I first considered making the career shift. I was going to be surrounding myself with lawyers and other white collar professionals–what right did I have as a musician to step into their world? And while ultimately the call for me was strong enough to ignore my own misgivings and insecurities and forge forward, I know that a lot of artists don’t ever even consider running for office or getting involved in politics, and our world is the worse for it.

When I was brainstorming what qualities artists and people who work/study in the humanities have that might make them great politicians and public servants, I turned to Facebook for some help, and my friends didn’t disappoint. Here are some responses I received:

“The great thing about English and Liberal Arts degrees are that they require critical thinking skills. The disciplines also introduce the student to world cultures, multicultural literature, reasoning, logic, and argument. I believe wholeheartedly that these degrees are crucial for the development of thoughtful analysis about the world and times we live in. They inform us like no other degree programs out there.” -Jody

“I think knowing people, how we evolved, where we came from, seeing beauty in the world, the creativity and diversity of humanity are all important things… Literature, art and history teach us so much about being human, what connects us, and how we can avoid repeating our mistakes.” -Whitney

“I think the ideal political body will be one that is truly representative. I would like to see scientists, artists, athletes, musicians, historians, etc., all working together and using evidence-based methodologies to enact legislation and regulation instead of a bunch of lawyers writing law based on the latest, biggest donation.” -Rachel

And my favorite:

“At least we know English majors know how to speak in complete sentences.” -Dawn

I received many more brilliant responses.

One of my life goals is to make policy and politics accessible and to communicate that it is not theoretical or separate from our everyday lives. We’ve all heard people say that politics and policy don’t matter or some iteration thereof (“my vote doesn’t matter,” “these debates/arguments don’t matter,” “this doesn’t have anything to do with me,” etc). The people who say this often fail to realize that in fact, politics impacts every moment of our lives–from health policy to environmental policy to tax policy and beyond–and even if you’re not feeling the ebb and flow of policy changes doesn’t mean it doesn’t impact you, it just means you’re likely privileged enough to live insulated from those small changes at any given time. (Oftentimes, the people with the least amount of privilege are the ones most likely to notice the impact of politics in their daily lives, but that’s a topic for a different day).

The point of this is to say that politics should always center on people and humanity because ultimately, that’s what it’s about. We don’t send people to DC for the sake of giving lawyers an opportunity to argue; we send them there to make our lives and, by extension our country, better. Artists spend a good amount of their time studying, watching, and feeling empathy with others through food, art, music, literature, or otherwise. We need more people involved in policymaking who can lead with humanity and empathy when creating legislation. Yes, we need lawyers and doctors and political science majors in elected office, but we could stand some more emotional intelligence in our political world. If you’re an artist or studied the humanities, I encourage you to consider running for office in 2020.

We will all benefit with people in office who understand arts and the humanities, and not only because listening to speeches given by English majors is delightful.

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