Artist Impact
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Artist Impact

The Biden Presidency Ahead

And what it means for activism moving forward.

For most of us, the inauguration of the president has historically been a day that passes with relative ease and monotony. The celebrations are saved for those on the scene in D.C., electrified by the crowds and fireworks and the hollow promises of unity and progress. For everyone else, it’s background noise from a TV in a bar, or maybe a gathering of friends applauding briefly in a living room and carrying on with a board game. In my lifetime, three of them have been for repeat terms, and only one of those was for a president I cared to remember. However, the inauguration I remember most recently was not a fond memory. It was a day reeking of failure, shrouded in disappointment and entirely devoid of culture or class. It embodied the ultimate step backward, and it felt like a slap in the face to even think about watching a crowd of people celebrate such an obviously large step back. That step back was four years ago today.

That was… obvious… right? Like… really obvious. Like, so obvious that half the country on that day predicted exactly how the next four years were going to go, and unfortunately the cards weren’t looking good. I know some want to think that 2020 totally blindsided us and we never could’ve seen this coming and oh my goodness how could we ever be prepared for such a terrible year in human history and there’s no way we could have known blah blah blah I’M SORRY, no. Let’s stop lying to ourselves. We knew. On election day in 2016 after the results were called, my cousin arrived home and wordlessly walked into our kitchen where we stood and stared at each other dumbfounded at what had just occurred before hugging in silence for what felt like an eternity, because we knew. By the end of the night, my roommates and I were huddled around the table discussing how we would protect each other from the newly-emboldened breed of suburban fascist gargoyles, awoken by their fearless leader who wasn’t afraid to “tell it like it is” because we knew. The following weeks leading up to the inauguration were filled with conversations of civil war and political unrest and were quickly knocked down by the moderate-minded hopefuls saying “This doesn’t mean anything” or “He most likely won’t get very far”, so we tucked our caution in the back of our minds because we knew. We tried to tell you before and we tried to tell you during and we’ll sure as hell try to tell you after, but 2020 didn’t come flying out of nowhere like some meteor on a crash course for America. 2020 was the product of generations of misguided generations, dozens of elections in between election years, and misinformation fed to the already ill-informed. 2020 happened because everyone was paying attention to the wrong red flags in 2016. 2020 happened because there weren’t enough people raising the right red flags loooooooong before 2016.

What are those red flags, you ask? Well, they exist at every level of government, and while they are most visible at the highest level, these flags are raised all the way down through state, city, and district offices in every department and at every meeting. The truth is these flags look different for everyone, but since we’re here to discuss the artists’ role in local government, let’s look at some red flags for us moving forward at say, a local civic meeting like the *inhales* Allston Civic Association Meeting That Is Happening TONIGHT At 6PM For Which The Zoom Registration And Agenda Can Be Found HERE: *exhales*

  • Large developments: If they do not propose appropriate costs of living, affordable housing programs, or community benefits, or simply do not discuss them in their presentations, speak up. Additionally, developments that do not respect the density/affordability balance are problematic and all too common. While ownership opportunities are always nice and worth fighting for, they don’t matter if the market is already unlivable (which it is, if you haven’t noticed) so our goal when talking with developers is to demand rental units at accessible price points for a wider range of income levels. Creating equitable home ownership comes after.
  • Permitting/Zoning exclusions or prohibitive expenses: These specifically can be detrimental to independent businesses looking to accomplish goals like offer new services or expand hours of operation. Now I know that currently COVID-19 throws a giant wrench in what anyone’s capable of doing, but this is something to look out for in terms of protecting locally owned businesses that are struggling in any way. While many of these items are voted upon at neighborhood hearings, a lot of these issues are not handled at a neighborhood level (like granting liquor permits and such) but are STILL something worth calling your elected officials about. Those are policies that they frequently have a say in and it could directly impact your (current or future) favorite local business.
  • Local Elected Officials or City Employees: It’s pretty common for city councilors and representatives of certain departments to appear at neighborhood improvement meetings. They are frequently called upon to give statements regarding hot-button discussions, local happenings, changes in developments, or neighborhood arts initiatives. You should expect nothing less. If you want one of them in particular to weigh in on an issue, you can ask for that. If their presence is critical to an agenda topic and they aren’t even at the meeting, you can take note of that too. We should expect honesty, transparency and delivery from those who work for us, and holding them accountable is of the utmost importance…

…And that brings me to the big deal today. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are now our President and Vice President. Now I know they weren’t many of our first picks. Or second picks. Or probably even third. But the democratic party dealt these cards to us, and we don’t intend to fold this hand because now we are dealing with politicians who can finally be held accountable. Of course, that might seem overwhelming or comical at first, seeing as none of us can just casually call up Uncle Joe and tell him how worried we are about student debt ruining the U.S. economy BUT we do have the contact information for people like Governor Charlie Baker or Councilor Liz Breadon who we can totally hold accountable for some of their very recent public failures to vote in favor of progress, amongst other things. On top of all that, the race for Boston Mayor just got significantly spicier with the announced departure of Marty Walsh. We’re going to see a lot of people throwing their names in the hat over the next year and it’s our responsibility to sift through those candidates and place an educated vote, ESPECIALLY now that it could decide what our city looks like as it rebuilds from the pandemic. And a civil war. And a housing crisis. And an artist exodus.

ANYWAYS Biden has made some pretty big promises, but they’re ones we can easily pay attention to. The proclamations include widespread COVID relief, student loan forgiveness, immigration reform, equitable housing programs, and rescinding the Keystone Pipeline permit, just to name a few bangers. All eyes are on his first 100 days because this all sounds fine and dandy but these are some bold plans for someone so historically centrist. Besides, this is far from all we should be demanding. Our country has gone through some insane transformations this year, and the Black Lives Matter movement urgently revealed how much more needs to be done on that front. Also, did you know that there are a bunch of countries with national departments of arts and culture? Hold on I’m not sure you heard me. Let me turn this up real quick. *AHEM*

Wild concept, right? Wait, not that wild for countries that aren’t the United States! Yes, this is totally a thing that we can push for, and totally a thing within reach. Is it a long road? Absolutely, but just like all the things we’ve discussed previously, there are always steps forward that are worth taking. We have experienced first hand within local government how quickly ripples turn to waves, and there’s no better time to start skipping stones than the very beginning of a new President’s term. Start this one off right and hit up your neighborhood improvement association about how you can become a member in 2021. We’ll see you at the ACA!

Written by Nick Grieco.

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Boston Artist Impact: An open discussion on how artist communities can change and are changed by their neighborhoods.

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Nick Grieco

Nick Grieco

Boston Musician, Performer, Geek, and advocate for the Allston-Brighton arts communities.

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