AZ lingers

I was gone for a while, but now I'm back. That's really all there is to it. I promised myself I'd follow up on Arizona's SB1070, especially concerning the Sound Strike; and things finally seem to have grown to somewhat of a boiling temp. And the results are not far from what I imagined.

First, Charlie Levy, who is apparently a pretty big-time concert promoter in Phoenix, wrote an open letter discussing the real-world consequences of the strike. Go figure—concert promoters, venues, kids are all suffering fromt heir absence; the government—not so much. Although the boycott is aimed to trigger a response from lawmakers, Levy explains that in reality, "Artists are harming the very people and places that foster free speech and the open exchange of ideas that serve to counter the closed-mindedness recently displayed by the new law." I found the following passage particularly poignant to his cause: "The people responsible for SB 1070 don't want you here. They don't want your voices heard."


Of course, that's a tough pill to swallow. Conor Oberst, who's one of the major proponents of the strike, replied with a letter of his own. Unfortunately (predictably), he seems to stumble over himself in a few parts. Most notably, at one time he writes, "Much of the Artist end of the boycott is symbolic, I acknowledge, and no real threat to the economics of the State;" but then later in the same paragraph adds, "It has to hurt them in the only place they feel any pain, their pocketbooks."

Oberst reasons that this strike will ostensibly fuel communication and awareness for their cause, which should then impact the state's economy on a much grander scale; but empirically this seems like incredibly faulty logic.

First of all, the best way to start conversations is to, well, start them. By boycotting the state, they're effectively boycotting the conversation. They're taking an admittedly symbolic stance and leaving all the legwork to those who already feel like they're under a bus. Sound Strike is essentially engaging in a game of Chicken with the Arizona government; only Arizona already affirmed their stance, and the "Artists" are refusing to engage head-on. In other words, they're shying away from the issue.

Second, a common reference point for Sound Strike is the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and Levy's letter turns it upside its head.
What if otherwise outspoken and inspirational activists like Martin Luther King Jr. had turned their backs on the state of Alabama and its citizens because they didn't agree with the discriminatory practices of its government during the critical years of the civil-rights movement? What would have happened if they had chosen to boycott Alabama rather than speak out, organize and effect change?
And that's the big difference: Whereas Montgomery was pointed, organized and compensated, Sound Strike is ambiguous, chaotic and zero-sum. Montgomery's public transportation depended on funding provided by blacks, and so by cutting off that funding MLK & Co. struck a weak spot in the government's economic well-being. Non-discriminatory bus drivers still received their salaries and the leaders were organized enough to offer alternative rides to and from work—it was only the government who ever felt the economic impact. But Sound Strike attacks a state, not a government. As Levy explained, the economic effects are felt at the lowest levels first—and the lowest levels are the ones ostensibly benefitting from this strike.

It's truly perplexing and confounding if you take all Sound Strike's lip service at face value. Compare this "crime against humanity" or "injustice to humans" to other unwarranted acts of aggression. The Haitian earthquake, Hurricane Katrina, Darfur, HIV/AIDS—all of them have galvanized artistic output and support, all targeted at the root of the problem.

How hard would it be to organize a festival with the hundreds of bands already committed to the cause and donate all royalties to an organization to appeal the legislation? Too easy, apparently. But—and now I'm talking to Levy—if there's one thing I learned from watching movies in middle school: If you book them, they will come.

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