It humors me High Fructose Corn Syrup has a lobbyist. Someone, somewhere is protecting the political and public image an artificial sweetener which many believe has grossly contributed to our nation's waist line. In fact, the food industry does quite a bit of lobbying, and in 13 states they've made it practically illegal to criticize them. Just ask Oprah. If a corn based sweetener has representation in Washington, why don't we? Where's our lobbyist?
I realize feelings about lobbyists are varied. Some may think they exert too much influence in our government, corroding the very fabric of our fragile Democracy. Others may see them as agents representing important issues or groups of people who would otherwise have little representation in the machine of Washington. It's a complex issue, and a discussion that probably belongs elsewhere. So putting aside any utopian ideals or dystopian terrors of the practice of lobbying ... given the government we have today … I think a lobbyist could benefit us in two specific areas: representing our interests to the government and the public.
Our government is a complex, collection of independently functioning systems. This complexity can lead to trouble if nobody is paying attention. What happens, for example, when somebody passes a new law which prevents us from doing our jobs? Our industry's electricians are a good example. All of us, regardless of which particular branch we freelance for, operate under Section 5 of the National Electric Code which governs temporary power installation. Currently, we don't need a license to do this type of electrical work. However, I think all of us can imagine a scenario where an accident leads to public outcry, which leads to laws being passed, which serve to inadvertently unemploy thousands of industry workers. Or perhaps someone starts wondering why Broadway shows, which have been running for years, still operate under Section 5. What, exactly, is temporary about Phantom of the Opera?
Of course, this scenario already happened in Texas. I'm a little unclear about the specifics, but some influential person got inferior service from a landscape lighting designer and that led to legislation requiring all Lighting Designers, for anything, to get a license. IALD cried foul, mounted an impressive battle, and got the unclear language removed. Thankfully IALD was there, but who's paying attention to broader, cross discipline issues?
An industry-wide lobby can help point out candidates which have favorable views towards us. Let's find and help elect people who prioritize arts funding and who recognize the importance of a vibrant events industry. Much of our industry is comprised of small businesses, be it theater companies, designers, or production consultants. Let's lobby representatives to help small businesses and give these entities the tools needed to employ freelancers quickly and cost effectively. When new laws do get brought up, let's have someone making sure those new laws aren't hindering us. An event lobby will tell local, state, and federal governments, “Look, we are an important part of American life and this economy. We are not to be pushed around or thought of as trivial.”
That message doesn't always come through the static of today's media. Often, we find ourselves called on the carpet for transgressions our clients perpetrated, which is why an industry wide lobby representing us to the public is also needed. I wrote a few weeks ago about the benefits of a thriving event industry towards local economies, whether those events be from the arts or the corporate markets. I don't think the public knows any of this. Instead, they get miffed an entity is throwing a party they weren't invited to. If that entity has laid off people or was bailed out, it get's ugly. Fast.
In February of 2009 Well's Fargo hastily canceled a meeting (and party, let's be honest) in Las Vegas. Christmas of 2008, a typically busy season for industry freelancers here in NYC, was barren as companies were too ashamed to host events. The only holiday party I worked that season was for a bank which insisted on zero branding and lasted only 90 minutes so, “...the press wouldn't have time to get wind of it and show up.” Christmas 2009 was marginally better.
The public needs to know that when these large events don't happen, it's middle class people (like us) and local businesses and unions (like the ones we work for) that get hurt. What's meant as a punishment for perceived injustices by top management actually end up hurting the average Joe and Jane while choking local economies. When arts funding gets cut, it's local artists, local arts companies, and local freelancers that feel it. How is any of that frivolous, fluff, trivial, or deserving of scorn?
Ultimately, nature abhors a vacuum. Since, collectively, we aren't saying anything, it's being said for us. If High Fructose Corn Syrup has people protecting it (and they released a commercial too), why can't we have an entity that speaks for us all?
We're worth a lot more.