In light of Arizona's immigration bill that was signed into law in April by Gov. Jan Brewer, several musicians converged last month in boycotting the state for future performances until SB 1070 is repealed.
This effort, dubbed The Sound Strike, was started by Rage Against the Machine singer Zach de la Rocha and filmmaker Michael Moore on May 25. Since then, acts such as Kanye West, Calle 13, Cypress Hill and Sonic Youth among others have joined the movement. Yet, at the same time, other artists have taken a different -- albeit no less inspired -- approach.
I have no interest in boycotting Arizona, i think any state that has such misguided and illogical legislation needs more love and attention, not less. I am anti-racist and anti-religious. I think people in this country need to listen more, discuss more, and practice thinking critically. I also think we need to resort less to sound bytes and corporate news...
Boycotting a good, industry or location is commonly among the first actions considered when confronting a social issue. But an approach like that of Bassnectar's has the potential for greater social mobilization and inspiration, while Sound Strike aims at hitting Arizona economically.
Consider the Chicano Movement that culminated in the 1970s. The movement covered issues of farm workers' rights, voting political rights and discrimination to name a few. Heightened political activism fueled, and would be complemented by, an influx of Chicano art and music during the movement. This music would become a theatre of expression. I see no reason why the same cannot occur today.
Neither does Michael Nowakowski, vice mayor of Pheonix and general manager of Radio Campesina, a Spanish-language radio station. Nowakowski, whose father is Polish-American and whose mother is Mexican, tells the New York Times in a May 29 article that Latinos that are American citizens or green card holders are afraid of attending musical events for fear of racial profiling or discrimination by authorities. Despite this, Nowakowski has mixed feelings about the boycott strategy and instead sees the potential mobilizing factor that musicians could bring:
"Musicians can really have an impact if they have concerts here and talk about voter registration, like the Rock the Vote campaign on MTV, or offer half off the ticket price if you register to vote," he continued. "It's a platform you can speak from and educate people who are maybe on the edge and confused. The artists need to touch the soul and hearts of people and allow them to be proud of who they are and tell that American story."
Arizona's immigration law has ignited a storm of reactions and actions within the state and far beyond in the months after its signing. Cities from Boston and New York to Oakland and San Diego have all passed boycotts or resolutions condemning the law and vow to look into cutting contracts with the state. Others have already banned employee travel to the state using public funds. Major League Baseball even inspired Gov. Brewer to pen a column on ESPN.com when it began receiving calls to move its 2011 All Star Game originally scheduled for Phoenix.
Those measures are reminiscent of Arizona being boycotted in 1993 for refusing to observe Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a national holiday. The National Football League moved its Super Bowl away from there while the city lost up to 130 conventions and an estimated $350 million, as estimated in the Christian Science Monitor article linked earlier in this post.
The effects from similar boycotts could potentially be greater today and could well inspire legislative change. That's not to say that artists should shy away from visiting the state's citizens, mobilizing those affected and giving a louder voice to those seeking change. Arizona is a dynamic market for Latin music and culture. I see great opportunity for this to be put to inspired use.
This post is not meant to discourage those who believe boycotting the state is in their best interests or is their best option to make a difference. Rather, it is to suggest another alternative that has proven through generations to influence and energize millions.