As I write this, I have begun my preparations for the 98th Convention of the American Federation of Musicians, to be held June 21–25 in Las Vegas. I will arrive with the hope that we will create a more unified union, but I will also arrive with trepidation that the atmosphere of internal fighting and negativity will persist.
I believe that the way things are is not the way things have to be. The way things are:
- A negative image of the future for the arts in America persists, despite evidence to the contrary that could be used to promote a future of growth.
- Negotiating committees in orchestras around the country are weary from the constant threats from their managements of bankruptcy and force majeure, situations that are, in many cases, the result of managerial decisions and not just the economic downturn. Musicians are fearful, and managements are emboldened by our compliance.
- Orchestral musicians turn to our union, a federation of locals, for support, but instead they are often met with political attacks and disregard. Musicians of all styles that would seek to band together are instead often torn apart by the politicization of our Federation and by a structure that seems to value discord over debate.
The way things could be:
- An atmosphere of unity could be fostered within our union. Personal attacks could end. Dialogue and debate could be initiated. We could join together with a spirit of “what happens to one of us happens to all of us.” Where disagreements exist, forums could be created for conversation and respectful debate.
- The unity and communication within ICSOM could be a model for the entire union, promoting renewed strength and hope for Federation members.
- ICSOM’s positive message of hope for the future of the arts could be promoted by every member of this union. Communities across the country eager for a positive message could be invited to join our community of orchestras and musicians. The union could become a source of inspiration for our members, and the audiences and citizens we serve.
Recently, I have been reading a book by Miriam Pawel about the evolution of the United Farm Workers, titled The Union of Their Dreams: Power, Hope, and Struggle in Cesar Chavez’s Farm Worker Movement. I love the title of this book. The brave founders of the UFW were creating the union of their dreams, and they did so by uniting their dreams.
I think maybe that is what has been lost in the American Federation of Musicians. Our dreams are no longer united. In fact, we seem at cross purposes almost everywhere we turn, as frequently the most basic issues are politicized and division is used as a political tool.
But the way things are is not the way things have to be. I believe that we all still share the same dreams. It has just become impossible to hear that shared idealism over the din of divisiveness, the personal attacks, the political maneuvering, and the lack of an inspirational message.
We all believe in a strong union that can serve its members. We all believe in the role that musicians can play in community service. We all believe in the value of our art. We all believe that we must educate the next generation. And, we all believe in the message of hope that our music and our work can provide.
But, in this fractured union, we are undermining our dreams. We are not harvesting from common ground but instead are sowing seeds of distrust that limit our ability to be true advocates for the arts in North America and across the world. This union could be a beacon for our dreams, but, instead, it is becoming a roadblock.
In recent years, the musicians of ICSOM have become more unified, even in troubled times. We have answered calls to action to assist our colleagues. A move against one of us is a move against all of us. In the nearly 50 years since ICSOM was created, the organization has served as an advocate for the arts and our members, and we have sought out opportunities to respectfully debate our differences while also uniting our dreams.
These opportunities can still be found in the AFM. It is not too late—but it is getting there. An inspirational message must arise from this 2010 Convention, or the future of our union could be very dark.
The way things are is not the way things have to be. We can create the union of our dreams.