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State History Advocacy: A Report from the Frontlines

Who knew there actually was an Office of Advocacy!

The legislative sessions this year have been far from normal to say the least. Some actions were undertaken earlier this year before the lockdowns occurred. While much is now on hold, it is useful to catch up on what was done or planned.

My main advocacy blog was posted May 3, 2020:  History Advocacy Advisory Alert. It was geared towards the federal level. There is an annual conference in Washington by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) in partnership with the American Association of State and Local History (AASLH). Then there was the special Covid-19 funding advocacy. The annual day is great for those who participate. My recommendation was and is that more would participate if there were local advocacy days in each Congressional office one week prior to the national meeting. The same considerations apply to state advocacy efforts.

The following examples are not meant to be complete. They reflect what I am aware of based on the newsletters I receive.

Maine Advocacy

Speak up for your museum, meet your legislators, and help us celebrate and advocate for all museums! Join the Maine Archives & Museums and NEMA for an informal reception in the Hall of Flags, show off your museum’s unique resources and achievements, and hear from government and museum representatives about the importance of public support for Maine’s cultural treasures. We encourage museums, museum staff, students, and supporters across the state to attend. This event is free.

The day’s schedule will be as follows:

11am-noon       Maine State Archives – Advocacy Training – discuss current issues and practice your advocacy story with representatives from the New England Museum Association.

Noon-2pm       Maine State House – Meet Your Legislators – Make appointments to meet with your legislators to discuss the issues relevant to your organization.

2pm-4pm       Hall of Flags, Maine State House – Reception – Exhibit your organization (register here at no cost to members of MAM and NEMA to reserve table space) and/or meet with folks from other collecting institutions while enjoying refreshments and inspiring speakers.

One question I would ask is “What are the specific actions being requested of the legislators?” In other words, what if any new legislation is being suggested or what existing legislation is being supported or what funding levels are being requested? The odds are these types of issues are the same across state lines with some changes based on the organizational structure in each state.

Massachusetts Advocacy  

Over the past few I years I have attended and written about the annual conference of the Massachusetts History Alliance (History Advocacy: Lessons from the Massachusetts History Alliance Conference). One focus has been its fledgling efforts to develop an advocacy program. To the best of my knowledge, the organization has not reached the point where it has a state advocacy day for history organizations or participates in one for museums. If that information is not correct, please let me know. It looks like I will not be able to catch-up on recent events at the proposed conference for June 1 this year. Instead, I have copied some relevant information from the Alliance’s website.

Advocacy for Non-Profits: the rules

We are frequently asked this question: We are a non-profit, doesn’t that mean we cannot lobby for our interests at the Statehouse or to our Town? What are the rules that govern these activities?

The MHA Advocacy Team has done the research and reports out:

  • Advocacy is not the same as lobbying. Lobbying is one form of advocacy that often involves persuading legislators to enact or vote down a bill.
  • Lobbying can be undertaken by tax-exempt organizations, with no risk to their 501(c)3 status, as long as it is not a substantial part of their organization’s activities.
  • “Substantial” is generally considered to be more than 5% of the organization’s total activities or more than 20% of its expenditures.
  • Individuals advocating on their own and not as representatives of tax-exempt organizations face no penalties.

Advocacy efforts that do not present a risk to an organization’s tax-exempt status include:

  • Educating policymakers and the public about broad social issues
  • Organizing communities, encouraging people to vote and educating voters about candidate positions.
  • Attempts to make an administrative agency of the government change its policies, rules or regulations should be presented as educational efforts, to avoid being considered lobbying.

MHA ADVOCACY PRIORITIES

Under Construction

MHA has advocacy priorities in three areas: advocacy for public history to the legislature, advocacy to the public history field, and advocacy for public history to the general public.

  • The MHA advocates for legislative initiatives that fund local and public history efforts in the Commonwealth. This includes the provision of opportunities that make it easier for smaller organizations to survive, such as grant opportunities or tax credits.
  • The MHA promotes the message that a vibrant history community is good for local businesses and contributes to our state’s economic vitality.
  • The MHA advances the idea that an awareness of local and public history is an essential component of civic engagement.
  • The MHA endorses the funding of regional networks and collaborative efforts that positively impact local and public history in Massachusetts. It encourages the development of greater communication between the numerous and distinct history organizations across the state.
  • The MHA supports entities that encourage the preservation of historic buildings, objects and documents.
  • The MHA advocates for the continued funding of its Annual Conference.

All these objectives are worthy. Now notice the difference. Three are funding-based while two are conceptual and one may be geared towards specific preservation-related matters. One presumes that behind the three funding objectives are specific legislative actions the History Alliance wants the legislators to take. By contrast two others might involve having events or inviting legislators to attend them. Preservation is separate category and in fact I attended a preservation advocacy day in New York which will be the subject of its own blog.

New York Advocacy

MANY Executive Director Erika Sanger speaks at a press conference on Wednesday, March 11 with Assembly Member Pat Fahy, NYS Senator Jose Serrano, Assembly Member Danny O’Donnell, and museum and education advocates call for the passage of the Museum Education Act’s inclusion in New York State’s final budget.

Advocacy in New York is spearheaded by the Museum Association of New York (MANY). The organization has a lobbyist on retainer. It is a museum organization and many of the members are history organizations. It is very active in the national advocacy by AAM. Below is a newsletter from February when MANY expected to have its annual conference at the end of March. While that did not happen, readers should note the advocacy actions planned in conjunction with the conference. Such actions can be replicated in other states.

Making the Case for New York’s Museums

If you’ve attended a MANY program in the past couple of years, you have heard me ask you to reach out to your local, state, and federal legislators to let them know what resources you need to serve our communities, preserve and share collections, and sustain and grow the unique power that museums have to transform lives. I know some of us find it difficult to speak up and get loud enough to make a difference. Many museum professionals identify as introverts, while others may be uncomfortable speaking with people they don’t know.

One member of our museum community, the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) has just experienced a disaster that we all dread— the potential loss of a collection to fire. MOCA’s social media campaigns, calls to city officials, outreach to emergency management offices, and help from members of the community made a difference. Their announcement on Thursday, February 27 that the building on 70 Mulberry Street that housed the collection will be hand-demolished and that most of the collection remaining will be salvaged will help them continue to tell the nationally significant stories embodied in the collections.

At MANY’s annual conference in Albany on Monday, March 30th at 1:00, a group of museum professionals will share how communities and museums responded to the impact of Hurricanes Sandy, Irene, and Andrew and how shared exhibitions and programming effected change in their communities. Coming together, speaking out, and communicating our needs to our representatives is how we will effect positive change for New York’s Museums.

In Albany we have been working hard with NY State Senator Serrano and Assembly Member Fahy to advance the Museum Education Act A.9695 (Fahy)/S.6819 (Serrano). I am pleased to report that it has passed out of the Tourism Committee in the Assembly and the Cultural Affairs Committee in the Senate but we need you to step in, speak up and get loud now. We have received an outpouring of support in both houses, but we need you to tell your legislators how your museum does essential work in your community and ask them for their support now. Please send an email and follow up with a phone call to your State Senators and Assembly Members as soon as possible to ask for their support to include the Museum Education Act (A.9695 (Fahy)/S.6819 (Serrano)) in the one house budget bills at $3.5M. You can find your Assembly Member’s contact information by clicking here and your New York State Senator by clicking here and MANY’s memo of support here. Please feel free to borrow freely from this email and our letter of support when contacting your legislators. There is more advocacy information about the MEA on our website: https://nysmuseums.org/Advocacy.

If you are planning to join us at our 2020 annual conference in Albany (it is going to be amazing), please invite your legislators to join us at the “Power of Partnership” 2020 Annual Conference Opening Reception on Sunday, March 29th in The Rotunda of the New York State Education Department Building from 4:30 – 6:30 PM. You can find a pdf of the invitation here. With budget negotiations underway, I am sure they will appreciate a break and a chance to speak with and enjoy refreshments with their constituents.

With thanks and hopes to see you in Albany!

Here you see the opportunities available when having a state conference at the state capitol when the legislature is in session. Obviously the coronavirus will only amplify the need for dialogue with the legislative and executive branches.

Rhode Island Advocacy

Speak up for your museum and make the case for all museums to your elected officials. Perfect your elevator speech and learn the basics of advocating for the field that you love.

Enjoy light refreshments and the company of your colleagues while we celebrate the contributions of Rhode Island’s vibrant museum community.

Museums large and small throughout the state, join the fun and show your support!

 Agenda

Advocacy Training: 11 am  – Noon, State House Library
Brown-bag Networking Lunch: Noon – 1 pm, State House Library
Exhibit table set-up: 12:30-1:30 pm, Rotunda
Reception, speaking program, and refreshments: 2-4 pm, Rotunda
Legislator encounters: 3:15-4:15 pm, House & Senate chambers

You may notice some similarities between and the Maine and Rhode Island programs. That is probably due to the New England Museum Association (NEMA)’s involvement in both instances. It’s big on the “elevator speech” as I wrote about last year (Massachusetts History Alliance conference).

On a personal level, I can say my own advocacy efforts for New York State to create a Freedom Bicentennial Commission to recognize the anniversary of the legal end of slavery in New York is on halt. The legislation has been written and I last met with the State Senate staff at the end of February about the proposal being made this session. I have not pursued the matter since then and will wait to next year.

History Advocacy Advisory Alert

History Advocacy Advisory Alert

The report on the Organization of American Historians conference is interrupted to bring you information about national history advocacy. The following notice was received from the American Association of State and Local History (AASLH)

AASLH Conversations

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused an unprecedented crisis in our local communities, country, and world. Many are seeking answers and guidance during this time, and AASLH has been listening to the concerns from the history community. In response, we are developing more online content for our colleagues working from home. While no one has all the answers, we hope these topic-focused webinars will provide a space for history practitioners to share ideas and learn from each other collectively to help us all keep moving forward. We know many organizations are facing financial strain due to the pandemic, so we are developing this new AASLH Conversations webinar series with that in mind. We have dramatically reduced the registration fee and are also providing a special promo code to waive the registration fee completely. Recognizing that this is a time of crisis that affects the whole field, AASLH included, we appreciate anyone who is still able to contribute to AASLH’s efforts either through the reduced registration fee or a donation.

Webinar Description

Now more than ever, museums realize the value of working in partnership with governments and advocating for policies that benefit museums. National museum organizations’ advocacy programs have been largely targeted to the Federal government, while state and regional museum associations have mostly focused on working with state governments.

Museums miss out if they don’t also work with local government – county and municipal organizations. Many laws and regulations that directly affect museums originate at this level, from zoning to long-term cultural planning and everything in between. Local governments also offer grants which can be life-changing for museums, especially smaller institutions.

This webinar will help demystify local government, help you identify your local government officials, and offer tips to get you started on making your case with government officials closest to the people with the power to help.

Registrants will receive a copy of Technical Leaflet 288: Advocating for Your Organization with Local Government written by webinar speaker Sean Blinn. 

Details

DATE: May 7, 2020

TIME: 3:00 – 4:00 pm EASTERN (Remember to adjust for your time zone)

COST: $5 AASLH Members / $10 Nonmembers/ Free for anyone by using promo code below

PROMO CODE: If you or your organization is facing financial strain due to COVID-19, please use promo code FREEWBR20 to waive the registration fee for this webinar. We appreciate anyone who is still able to contribute to AASLH’s efforts through the registration fee or a donation.

ACCESS: You will be provided with instructions on how to access the live event upon registration.

Learning Objectives

After attending this webinar, participants will:

Gain a basic understanding of the structures of local (municipal and county) government
Understand how local government can help museums
Learn how to identify and build relationships with local government officials

Recording and Closed Captioning

We will record this event. Access the Recorded Webinar in the AASLH Resource Center after the event has passed. Registrants of this event receive complimentary access to the recording in their Dashboard. 

Closed captioning is provided for the live event. A transcription of the closed captions is provided with the recording.

History advocacy is a weakness of the history community. That shortcoming has been the subject of multiple blogs. In general the community suffers from the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Get” approach. In part this is a reflection of the absence of effective statewide organizations willing and able to promote history advocacy at the state level where funding and education decisions are made. In part it is a reflection of the absence of an agreed upon agenda upon which to rally the history community. Historic preservation tends to be an exception to these conditions. Museums and libraries both of which involve local history also are active in state-wide lobbying efforts. Teachers lobby but not on issues of local and state history or even civics.

At the national level, there is an advocacy effort for museums which often includes history museums but is not limited to them. This action is led by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM). I am not aware of a similar initiative by AASLM although it does partner with AAM on this annual event in February. AASLM also works with the National Coalition for History (NCH). That organization has promoted the development of a Congressional History Caucus (see History Agenda for the New Year (January 6, 2019). It would be beneficial to have a national history advocacy day with just that group of Representatives to begin with.

In the meantime, below is information about the advocacy program held in February in Washington for museums. In many ways, it provides a template for what could be done at the state level just for local and state history.

Museums Advocacy Day 2020 – Feb. 24-25

Legislative Agenda / Issue Briefs

The key here is to identify the present sources of funding of the history community. The goal in these advocacy efforts is not to have a philosophical discussion on the value of the history…with one exception. The goal is to maintain or increase funding in the government programs that history museums, organizations, and scholars use right now. Sometimes such funding is funneled through state organizations, something it is directly from the federal government. Either way, even though the funding is not limited to history, the history community has a stake in the amount of the funding and in the types of programs to be funded. These are areas where the history community can advocate at both the federal and state level. The exception on philosophical discussions can occur is in education where changes to the curriculum including civics are discussed.

The AAM program has additional information about the people identified for the advocacy effort and the packets to be left with them.

Here are some of the highlights of the program which occurred in February.

Issues Forum (Optional Program)

What issues, including federal, state, and local, concern you and your museum? All advocates are invited to participate in the discussion.

What to Expect at Museums Advocacy Day (Optional Program)

We invite new and returning advocates, including student advocates, to join us for a special briefing highlighting the unique and important elements of Museums Advocacy Day.

Then there are the meetings with the different organizations relevant to the museums:

Inside the Office of Museum Services at IMLS
National Endowment for the Humanities Chairman
Inside the National Park Service
Inside the National Endowment for the Arts
Inside the National Science Foundation.
Historic Preservation and Funding and America250

So for example to use New York State where I live as an example, a History Advocacy program would include meetings with

New York State Archives
New York State Canals
New York State Council on the Arts
New York State Division of Tourism
New York State Education Department
New York State Historian
New York State Library
New York State Museum
New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation

As you can see, the list alone means a logistical challenge as well as the need for a two-day program since it doesn’t even include the Governor’s Office or the Legislatures. While there is no organization in New York to undertake such an ambitious challenge, there may be in smaller states.

At this point, the AAM conference turns to the advocating of elected officials. There are some preparatory sessions on how the budget process works, the specific agenda items, and how to do this.

Making the Case for Museums – A Chief of Staff’s Perspective
Preparing for Capitol Hill – Setting the Stage and Understanding the Budget Process
Preparing for Capitol Hill – Key Issues and Asks

The final and day of the AAM program is spent meeting with elected officials capped with a reception. In New York for example, 55 participants visited 30 elected officials. I presume that required some planning as well as not all 55 people meet with all 30 Representatives and Senators and/or their staff.

MANY Executive Director Erika Sanger leading the NYS contingent

This program is one that members of the history community from around the country can participate. It certainly would be beneficial if your state was represented and to hear about what happened. I mean not just to the members of that state organization that took the lead in organizing the participants from the state but to the larger history community and the general public via the press.

Finally, let me offer as a reminder of another possible way to advocate besides meeting at the state and national capital – lobby at the local level. Take the AAM conference as an example. Suppose the week before there were meetings in New York with those 30 elected representatives in their local offices in New York State. I suspect far more than 55 people would have participated. Or for example, consider the preservation advocacy day I attended in Albany (subject of a future blog). Suppose the week before, people had met with the assembly members and Senators in their home districts. Again, think of how many more people would have been involved. Such efforts are time consuming to organize and implement especially when there is no state history organization to do it. Still, it shows how advocacy for state and local history can be brought to the local level and the lessons learned from the AASLM webinar can be applied.

History Advocacy: Lessons from the Massachusetts History Alliance Conference

You should see all the political cartoons I passed on!!!

The history community does not do a good job advocating for itself. I am not referring to the actions an individual history organization may take on behalf of its own organization. Instead I am referring to collective action on behalf of the entire history community within the state. The major exception to this generalization is the historic preservation community. It sometimes has its own statewide organizations, conferences, and agenda items for lobbying state legislators. Unfortunately, the history community itself may be lacking such an organized and concerted effort.

To some extent the Massachusetts History Alliance was created to address this shortcoming. According to its website (officially “under construction’):

MHA has advocacy priorities in three areas: advocacy for public history to the legislature, advocacy to the public history field, and advocacy for public history to the general public.

The MHA advocates for legislative initiatives that fund local and public history efforts in the Commonwealth. This includes the provision of opportunities that make it easier for smaller organizations to survive, such as grant opportunities or tax credits.

The MHA promotes the message that a vibrant history community is good for local businesses and contributes to our state’s economic vitality.

The MHA advances the idea that an awareness of local and public history is an essential component of civic engagement.

The MHA endorses the funding of regional networks and collaborative efforts that positively impact local and public history in Massachusetts. It encourages the development of greater communication between the numerous and distinct history organizations across the state.

The MHA supports entities that encourage the preservation of historic buildings, objects and documents.

The MHA advocates for the continued funding of its Annual Conference.

So far after having attended several of its annual conferences (blogs on the 2015 and 2017 conferences), I am not sure how far it is progressed in actually having a history advocacy day at the state capital on behalf of a specific history agenda.

With these thoughts in mind, I attended the session “Make Your Case, Make a Difference: Advocacy Tools for the Small, Busy, and Passionate” at the conference. The session was dedicated to providing tools or tricks of the trade for individual history organizations to use to advocate on behalf of individual history organizations. In other words, it was all about how you as the executive director/president could speak to your own legislator if you happen to meet that person in an elevator at the state capital. The session was entirely geared towards individual people representing individual organizations advocating for individual items on behalf of the individual organization.

This session had nothing to do with what the history community really needs. In this regard, it was eerily similar to another advocacy session I attended years ago at another state conference. The issue facing the individual history organizations is not how to advocate with their own legislators for themselves. People are quite capable of doing that at home without going to the state capital. History organizations are quite capable of inviting their own state representatives to their own site. History organizations are quite capable of contacting their own state representatives about some pressing need at home in their own community without traveling to the state capital. In fact, history organizations frequently are quite capable of speaking personally to their state representative without all the protocols presented in the session or hoping for a chance meeting in the hallway or in the elevator.

By coincidence our newly reactivated local historical society had a pizza night at a local restaurant a few days ago for those who have helped to reactivate it. Guess who stopped by? Our local state legislator who lives in the area! We really do not need to go to the state capital to meet with him.

Invite Congress to Visit Your Museum

The American Alliance of Museums (AAM) has created its own program for meeting elected officials at the federal level (for details click here).

Inviting local, state and federal elected officials and their staff members into your museum is a uniquely powerful way to show them what museums are and what museums do – from world-class exhibitions to working with local students and community members on critical life skills. There’s never been a more important time to engage with the elected officials and stakeholders that represent your museum.

The August Congressional Recess is a great time to get started, but any time of year is a good time to invite your legislators into the museum. We make it easy to participate with this step-by-step “How To” guide that can be used to connect with your elected officials throughout the year. Use the Alliance “How To” Guide below to get started today, and don’t forget to use #InviteCongress on social media!

There is no inherent reason why something comparable could not be created at the state level.

So what then do the individual history organizations need at the state level to do this?

There are two items.

1. Statewide history concerns
2. Statewide organization to arrange for a history advocacy day in support of the statewide history concerns.

The Massachusetts History Alliance conference is co-sponsored by Mass Humanities. Everybody has a state humanities organization. Everybody has a state arts organization. Everybody has a state organization that helps fund exhibits, lectures, and public programs. What is its budget? Is the funding of this organization or these organizations depending on how the functions are set up in the state of interest to the history community? Obviously. Equally obviously, it also is of interest to other museum such as art and science museums. Sometimes differentiating these organizations is problematic. Albany Institute of History and Art. Bundy Museum of History and Art. Museum Advocacy Day at the nation’s capital takes this approach. Why not do the same at the state level?

Mass Humanities has two grant programs specifically geared towards local history. The Research Inventory grants provide a maximum of $2000 to fund inventory projects at small historical organizations. The Scholar in Residence grants are for up to $3500 to enable organizations to draw on a level of expertise not normally available to them to research that entity’s collection or mission. What is the total pool of funds available for these local history grants?  Could that total be increased? Could the maximums be raised? Could the history community lobby for such increases? What about the equivalent programs in other states? If you do not have one, could the history community advocate for their creation? If you do have them, could you advocate for additional funding?

Another supporter of the Massachusetts History Alliance conference is the Massachusetts State Historical Records Advisory Board known locally as SHRAB. One popular program is the Roving Archivist. Just as Mass Humanities can send a scholar to your organization, SHRAB can send an archivist to your site. It can assist in the purchase of materials and supplies needed for archival purposes. It conducts training sessions and workshops on archival related matters. What is its budget? Could it be more? Does your state have something comparable? If not, why not? If you do have them, could you advocate for additional funding?

A third type of funding is for anniversaries. In a recent blog I wrote about the newly created federal commission for the American Revolution 250th. My impression is that this commission will be of little use locally at least for years to come. Massachusetts cannot wait for 1776 or even 1775. The 250th anniversary of the Boston Massacre is next year. The time for advocating for funding for statewide programs on behalf of what happened in 1770 is already past due….just as it is in virtually all states. Maybe the history community could use the same funding apparatus created to celebrate the Suffrage Centennial for the American Revolution!!!!

Since I wrote the blog on the American Revolution, I received an email from Johanna Yuan, the Orange County historian in New York. She included a draft of a resolution to be submitted to the Orange County legislature on plans for the commemoration of the 250th. It identifies 1775-1783 as the relevant time period deliberately to expand beyond the federal legislation. The theme will be “Which Side Are You On?” with the intention of provoking discussion of history and historical implications of the events that took place in the Hudson Valley, New York State and beyond. The format is to have yearly themes related to the events of 1775 to 1783. This approach is similar to the one Fort Ticonderoga has used for presenting the French and Indian War. I suggested the same approach be taken in the state at a meeting held by Devin Lander, the New York State historian but starting before 1775 if possible. Johanna’s actions demonstrate what can be done at a local level without waiting for federal and/or state action.

And what about regional cooperation. Those canons from Fort Ticonderoga did not magically appear outside Boston to relieve the siege there. Will there be an event following the route? And to the best of my knowledge Rochambeau did not make use of airports to go from Rhode Island to Virginia although I recognize that I may be in error here. For that matter militias from throughout New England participated in battles in New York and were camped here. So we need to think not only about our county and state but about our region.

One final item for history advocacy comes from New York. This is the Museum Education Act sponsored by the Museum Association of New York (MANY). Although one would not know it from the name, it is about busing, the funding of buses for school trips to museums. So it is not a history program per se but for all museums. The bill passed the Senate and the Assembly in this past session but was not signed by the Governor. One may anticipate a new and improved bill to be submitted in the 2020 session. Busing expense is a chronic and widespread problem with school visits. It is something history communities very could advocate for.

Speaking of education, I have left out two critical areas involving local history. First the training of teachers in local history and second, the incorporation of local history into the curriculum. Those are huge topics.

So there is plenty for the history community to advocate for should the history community ever get its act together and establish a history advocacy day at the next session of your state legislature.