Last night, as you were brushing your teeth and setting your alarm for this morning and kissing your children goodnight after telling them stories, as you were perhaps sipping a glass of wine in a darkened room and looking out under the streetlight as the rain lay its breath upon the spring buds of fruit trees days away from blooming, and perhaps as you listend to a Chopin etude and felt the long trail of memory pull at you–those gone before, now lost in the dark, and those to come–who the Pole tells you, through his carefully phrased notes, that those past and future were and will be just as anxious and feeling and questioning as you are now, facing for the untold time the question not only what life is but why it matters….
…the Oregon State House of Representatives voted your soul away.
Days before, the State Senate voted to take $1.8 million from the Oregon Cultural Trust and move it to the general fund to make up for a budget shortfall. No doubt the money will pay for some worthwhile, needed programs (and some less noble purposes backed by well-monied lobbies). Competiting priorities are not the point here, though that’s how the lawmakers will try to cover their duplicity. The point is: that money was not theirs to spend.
It was donated by Oregonians, for Oregonians, to provide a life raft for the arts in turbulent times–times exactly like those we face. It was not gathered by taxation but by choice. It has been, to cut to the bone, not reappropriated but stolen.
In an effort to lure people to the state–to spend their money on our symphonies, museums, and theatres as well as to visit our natural wonders–a slogan was devised: Oregon, it’s different here.
Well, sorry, but it’s not. It’s drearily the same as elsewhere the arts are considered a pretty accessory to be hocked when inconvenient. At a time when people are losing everything and asking themselves whether life really is worth living, the state legislature–House and Senate–has squandered a means to answer that question. They may as well have traded your love and the love of your children’s children for thirty pieces of silver. If politicians such as Margaret Carter don’t feel unspeakably filthy, they should:
“There are those who are whining all over the place about ‘you cut this and you cut that,’ ” she said, wiping away mock tears during a speech on the Senate floor. “The fact is that we had to cut. That’s why I call this the shared cut and shared responsibility model.”
Anybody who can equate betrayal of the public trust with “shared responsibility” has long lost their moral compass and, with it, the authority to define equanimity. But note that we speak of the mock tears of public servants. As such, they serve at the public’s pleasure. So learn how your state senator or representative voted, and, if they voted to plunder donated money from the Oregon Cultural Trust, when their canvassers call or knock on your door next spring, simply say, “March 5, 2009. Oregon Cultural Trust.”
Then hang up the phone or close the door.