The Arizona immigration controversy not only has a whole bunch of you talking, but a lot of musicians as well. When we last spoke, a slew of news acts — including Nine Inch Nails, My Morning Jacket, Ben Harper, Billy Bragg, Gogol Bordello, and comedian Chris Rock — had joined the Zach de la Roca led “Sound Strike” campaign. (If you’re a bit confused, the campaign basically calls for a performance boycott of Arizona because of this bill).
At the same time, though, opposition to “Sound Strike” continues to grow. Arizona promoter Charlie Levy responded to the boycott by arguing it is more detrimental than than good. He wrote in an open letter: “By not performing in Arizona, 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.
One of the most vocal participants, Bright Eyes figurehead Conor Oberst, has since responded to Levy’s open letter with an open letter of his own. Read it in full below (via Billboard):
I read your letter and I do understand where you are coming from. You bring up valid points. I personally regret any of the collateral damage the boycott is causing you, other like-minded arts promoters and the fans in Arizona. A boycott is, inherently, a blunt instrument. It is an imperfect weapon, a carpet bomb, when all involved would prefer a surgical strike. I agree with you in part, and the radio host you quoted, that the authors and supporters of SB1070 could give a shit whether or not my band, or any other Artist, ever plays Arizona again. The only thing, clearly, that these people care about is Money and Power, that and the creation and preservation of an Anglo-Centric Police State where every Immigrant and Non-White citizen is considered subhuman. They want them stripped of their basic human rights and reduced to slaves for Corporate America and the White Race. They are engaged in blatant class warfare. It is evil, pure and simple.
I have on many occasions spoken my mind from stage. I have offered organizations table space by the merch booth. I have donated a dollar-a-ticket, or the entire guarantee, to different causes. I have registered voters. I have played on behalf of political candidates. Sadly, this time, I fear none of that is enough. If I return to Arizona to pay lip service to a roomful of kids at the Marquee it will do absolutely no good for anyone. What I can do is to help organize, and play my small part in, what I hope is the largest and most effective boycott this country has seen in a long time. To work it will have to involve members from all sectors of society. The Sports Industry, the Entertainment Industry, the Tourism and Convention Industry, other State and City governments, private businesses and individuals from around the country and the world—all of whom, by the way, are already participating in the boycott. Much of the Artist end of the boycott is symbolic, I acknowledge, and no real threat to the economics of the State. But it is an important part none-the-less for awareness and messaging. The Boycott has to be so widespread and devastating that the Arizona State Legislature and Governor have no choice but to repeal their unconstitutional, immoral and hateful law. It has to hurt them in the only place they feel any pain, their pocketbooks.
What I would encourage you to do, if you haven’t already started, is to organize with all the local businesses you can to put as much pressure as possible on your State Government until the Law is repealed. An economic death rattle is the only cry of outrage they will hear.
I realize that the people of Arizona did not vote on SB1070 and I empathize with the anger and frustration you all must feel. I applaud what you are doing with Viva Arizona and do wonder if there might be a way to reconcile both our efforts while maintaining the integrity of each. After all, we are trying to achieve the same thing. But just as you may feel the boycott is an empty gesture, I fear that if we return to business as usual (under the guise of some civic movement) that this will all devolve into the typical grandstanding that is political activism in music. It might make us feel better but won’t do a damn thing to change the minds of the radical, racist minority that seem to have controlled Arizona politics for decades. In short, it will lose its teeth.
Just this past week, the little town of Fremont Nebraska passed a very similar, almost more radical, city ordinance. It was co-authored and championed by Kris Kobach of Kansas who helped write SB1070. I was outraged, saddened and embarrassed for their town and my state. I am already in the process of organizing a fund-raiser for the NE chapter of the ACLU who is suing the town of Fremont. Our situation requires immediate legal action and a campaign for public awareness (there has been very little press on this). Charlie, I promise you, if this Fremont law had been passed Statewide instead of in a rural town of 25,000 people, I would be the first to call for a boycott of my home state. This way of thinking and legislating is so dangerous, and such a threat to our basic ideals as Americans and Humans, that we cannot stand by and do nothing. We cannot play on as if nothing is wrong. This is not just about Arizona. I am not just skipping a tour date. This is not going to be easy for anyone.
Charlie, I consider you a friend and you have always been great to my bands and me. I have played for you many times and I hope to do so again soon in New Mexico or anywhere else. I sincerely look forward to the day when I can return to Arizona and this will all seem like a bad dream. But I can’t come back now. I’m sorry. I hope you will understand.