I get it. It feels as though nothing we do or say has any influence. What is the point in contacting our congressional representatives when the entire federal government is in gridlocked chaos? Do our voices count for anything? Congress appears to have no interest in passing legislation that might actually be of service to anyone other than the monstrously wealthy—and certainly not legislation that would be helpful to organized labor. The Butch Lewis Act is DOA. Why bother?
Unquestionably, the odds are long and the cards stacked against us.
But it is the process of participation which engenders the very existence of our democracy. If we are silent, we acquiesce to the moneyed and more powerful voices that for decades have worked to undercut unions and the working class.
If we don’t speak up and vote, there is no possibility of regaining power within our federal government where, regardless of party affiliation, the influence of the oil and gas, pharmaceutical, and banking industries has dominated policy at the expense of ordinary citizens. We are greater in number but lesser in assets, so our effectiveness is entirely dependent on our participation.
Since the October 11th launch of ICSOM’s email campaign in support of the Butch Lewis Act, our members have generated 1596 emails from 776 people, 37 phone calls, and eight tweets to our US Senators. That number, 776 people, is a far cry from our 3932 active and 1555 emeritus ICSOM members. The leading states and number of advocates who have responded to our campaign are: California (220), New York (103), Georgia (83), Illinois (67), and Texas (68). We have contacts in 42 states that have ICSOM and ROPA orchestras in residence. We have also contacted the Recording Musicians Association (RMA), the Theater Musicians Association (TMA), and our AFM Locals to add their voices to this campaign.
We need you. All of you.
It is the aggregate number of voters who speak up in support of Butch Lewis that will make the difference. Our Democratic Senators, who are more likely to support this bill, will have more leverage for their arguments. If we can get near full participation from our red-state orchestras, we can begin to mount a ground campaign working towards convincing some of the Republican Senators who are more likely to vote in favor, particularly in North Carolina, Georgia, Ohio, and Tennessee, by having ICSOM and ROPA members visit these Senators during their time at home. As we receive updates on what is happening on Capitol Hill with the legislation, we can take action to mobilize our musician advocates.
Most recently, the Butch Lewis Act has been tied to negotiations in Congress for the United States-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement (USMCA), which replaces NAFTA. Linking pension relief to USMCA could be a positive step, but there is a long way to go and much opportunity to compromise the effectiveness of Butch Lewis as the bill moves its way through Congress. While the House of Representatives passed Butch Lewis in July with a nonpartisan vote, Republican Senators Chuck Grassley (Iowa) and Lamar Alexander (Tennessee) have just introduced their competing Multiemployer Pension Recapitalization and Reform Plan. (Note: see https://www.plansponsor.com/union-pension-funding-crisis-solution-proposed-senate-republicans/.) This proposal appears to put the lion’s share of recovery on participants, in the form of a “copay” requirement and an incentive for plans to switch to a defined-contribution system akin to a 401(k) plan. All the more reason that our Senators need to hear from us in support of the Butch Lewis Act. The public funds needed to provide loans to shore up multi-employer pension plans under Butch Lewis don’t add up to a hill of beans compared to the trillion and a half dollars in tax cuts under the Trump administration and the Wall Street bailout from 2008.
The sense of powerlessness and futility in our ability to be effective in our own governance, and the seeming inevitability of failure for the Butch Lewis Act, can be both overwhelming and paralyzing. The perception that our actions count for nothing in the political arena stifles participation. According to the Pew Research Center, 58.6 percent of Americans voted in the 2016 election—the third lowest turnout in the developed world. Foundational causes of voter apathy include lack of interest and knowledge of the issues; inaccessibility to registration and voting, including physical inability to access the polls; and disillusionment about the effectiveness of voting. We ICSOM musicians are not hampered by inaccessibility or lack of knowledge. And I certainly hope that the preservation of our AFM pension fund is of interest to all of us.
We do not know the future. The action you take this minute affects what happens next—no outcome is set in stone. Please help us help you. Go to this website to contact your Senators now and show your support for the Butch Lewis Act.