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Former U.S. Congressman Barney Frank addressed students at McLean Hospital’s Arlington School on January 14, centering his discussion on the importance of voting, paying attention to current events, and participating in politics.
Frank’s visit was part of the school’s Visiting Artists and Scholars Program in which students have the opportunity to converse with accomplished guests and learn how they faced different challenges to build successful careers.
“The program was designed to spark inspiration among students, motivate them to follow their own passions, and help build confidence in their abilities,” said Suzanne Loughlin, APRN, BC, director of the Arlington School, a private college preparatory high school that integrates academics and clinical support for students who have academic, social or emotional challenges.
Frank, who left office in 2013, recently released the best-selling book, Frank: A Life in Politics from the Great Society to Same-Sex Marriage, and is a political commentator for Politico.
“We thought Barney Frank would be very inspiring for a variety of reasons, including his connection to this area, his career accomplishments, and his advocacy for the LGBTQ community,” Loughlin said. “He responded immediately and said he would be happy to participate and was interested in having a lot of dialogue with our students.”
Frank told students that by voting and voicing their opinions, they could dramatically impact a wide range of political outcomes.
“I want to start out by disagreeing with the notion that politics is corrupt, and big money dominates it, and that politicians are so arrogant that they don’t pay attention to the individual voter,” said Frank. “That is what we call a self-fulfilling prophecy—when people get disgusted with politics and don’t vote and don’t pay attention. It’s true that big money has a lot of influence, but I guarantee you that in those instances where the public does express interest, the politicians do pay attention and it does make a difference.”
As an example of how the voice of the American public can be stronger than industry, Frank discussed Hollywood’s push to have Congress pass a bill that would make it harder to download content from the Internet.
“A lot of influential people were behind that bill, but some Internet companies decided they were going to fight it—and they didn’t fight it by giving a lot of money to politicians. What happened was that people who were opposed to this bill—who wanted to preserve your right to download content—said ‘Your senator might be voting for this bill,’ and the response was overwhelming. There was a huge outpouring of average citizens telling their representatives to not support the bill. As a result, the bill didn’t even come up for a vote.”
Asked about his some of his biggest career challenges, Frank said that being gay before it was acceptable was always difficult. “Being gay was unpopular,” he said, explaining that growing up in the 1950s and 60s was a time when “presidents referred to homosexuals as psychopathic. President Eisenhower issued an executive order mandating that homosexuals couldn’t get security clearance and President Kennedy wanted to toughen the laws to make sure that they wouldn’t slip into the country.”
“I thought I could change the laws about being openly gay as much as I could change the law of gravity,” he said. “But things began to change over the years and by 2000, my being gay was no longer an issue.”
Frank also discussed the different views of Democrats and Republicans, touching on such topics as climate change, abortion, same-sex marriage, minimum wage, taxes, and campaign financing, saying, “You can influence what politicians do if you participate. It does make a difference because there are very real differences between parties and elections have consequences. Who wins or loses makes a big difference.”
Said Loughlin, “Our kids are about to embark upon their young adult lives and we know that Barney Frank was able to help inspire, inform, and prepare them to be involved and be responsible citizens. Our students were able to relate to him on a lot of levels. The feedback from our community has been nothing but positive.”
The Visiting Artists and Scholars program, implemented in 2013 and funded through grants and donations, has featured photographers, singer-songwriters, and contemporary artists such as Abelardo Morell, a camera obscura photographer; Kate Taylor, singer-songwriter and Arlington School graduate; Kirsten Bassion, ceramicist; and Alex McLean, aerial photographer—many of whom presented their art and music and held workshops for the students.