Advocacy and Activism

Creativity Connects: in which MassCreative goes to Beacon Hill, and I go with them.

On Tuesday, March 26, 2019, I joined MASSCreative for its annual Arts Advocacy day on Beacon Hill. As my children have moved toward adulthood and their own more public lives – one a college sophomore, the other about to graduate high school in a few weeks – so have I. In 2018 I was certified as an Intentional Creativity Teacher, and opened the doors of my own teaching studio, Studio Tara Erin at Knucklehead House in Brookfield, MA. And with Creativity Connects, MassCreative’s 2019 Arts Advocacy Day on Beacon Hill, I have made my first foray into public advocacy.

Here’s a picture to prove it:

Used with permission of photographer Lauren Frias.

Not convinced? Photographer Susan Margot Ecker got a better shot. I’m in the gray jacket and red sweater here, right up front:

Photograph by Susan Margot Ecker

As I prepared to climb Beacon Hill, I realized that as many times as I had walked this pavement never once had I understood the importance of this place that so significantly shapes my world.  As a young child growing up in Dorchester, the Common was where I cut my foot in the old Frog Pond; it was close to Downtown Crossing where my Nana worked in the seasonal coat and swimsuit department of Jordan Marsh. Around the corner was the old Barnes and Noble where I got my treasured volume of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s three children’s novels: The Secret Garden, A Little Princess, and Little Lord Fauntleroy. As an Art major at Northeastern University, I once followed the Freedom Trail through the city center, and snickered at the “General Hooker” entrance of the statehouse; but my regular haunts were the Museum of Fine Arts, the clubs on Landsdowne, the Newbury Street shops and galleries.

“So this is what it’s like to be a part of a march,” I thought as I climbed the hill, and goggled childlike at the wider world being opened before my eyes. I think there must be no crowd quite like artists for a march: we had not one but TWO bands; a class of elementary school children cheered us on after their teacher explained the march; we even had a giraffe who paused a moment to engage with toddlers at the playground. Everywhere I looked, imagination was on full on display! Carried along by a river of marchers both jubilant and determined, I was struck by the weight of all the history to which I had managed to remain oblivious for most of my life.

Filing into the statehouse with the other marchers, I had my first taste of advocacy: learning to navigate the insanity that is the statehouse floorplan. Being the sole advocate from a rural area, I not only had my own state rep and senator to visit but inherited several extra legislators with no advocates attending the march from their home areas. I had to go pretty much everywhere that day: from the East Wing to the West, and from the lower basement level to the 5th floor.

I left that day with a fair amount of homework on my plate, and I need to dive into that now: following up the delivery of materials with meeting requests to my legislators and following up personally with the many staffers who made me feel welcome at the statehouse, regardless of party affiliation.

Much of my life has been lived in the shadow of Beacon Hill, yet I have rarely noticed it. Even when I did pause to admire the golden dome of the statehouse, its inner workings remained a mystery to me: the domain of legislators, lobbyists, staffers, and not the likes of me.

That was the attitude, multiplied by millions, that allowed a well-organized group of ideologues with a simple strategy – lobby legislators and run for local office – to become one of the most influential forces in our nation. It has brought us as a nation to the brink of authoritarian fascism at the highest levels of our government.

The answer is to hold myself accountable for my share in that situation. The work that translates imagination into a better world is not particularly difficult: it seems to consist primarily of making phone calls, writing letters, and talking to people. But it takes time and commitment: phone banking instead of rewatching Star Wars: A New Hope for the 55th time; writing to my local representative instead of “sharing” another Facebook post; taking a vacation day to show up for advocacy conversations at the statehouse.

While my sons may be coming of age as adults, I too am coming of age in my own way: as a citizen of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and of the United States.

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