As I’ve stated before on this weblog, we don’t write often about political and social issues, not because we don’t care or are unmoved by the world around us, but simply because we take caution to speak deliberately, with knowledge and confidence. I wrote recently about the homophobia surrounding a prom in Mississippi because I could speak unequivocaly about how wrong and misguided the school’s policy was. I also did so because I cherish the state of Mississippi both for the kindness I’ve met when visiting the state and because of the life-affirming art is has produced. That situation has since been resolved, with the parties in question being allowed to enjoy their prom with the partners of their choosing and Chelsey and I are both very happy that it is so.
It has been a little over a month since the state of Arizona passed a law giving police the right to apprehend and demand documentation from anyone suspected of being an illegal immigrant. To get the specifics on the law click here: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/24/us/politics/24immig.html
It goes without saying that this law, by its very nature, is one motivated by race and xenophobia and is obviously unacceptable. Chelsey and I are visibly of Anglo-Saxxon, Northern European origin. What are the odds of us being stopped in Arizona and asked to show documentation of our citizenship?. Likely non-existent. However, if we were both of non-European, specifically Latin, heritage, the odds would sky-rocket. What are the criteria for stopping people in Arizona and asking for proof of citizenship? Officials in Arizona would be insultingly dishonest to argue it is anything but racial; those who “look different” are obviously the target. Beyond this more specific issue of racial profiling and glaringly un-democratic, un-American policy is the concept that certain people don’t belong in America and others do. We have, for the last two centuries championed ourselves and our nation as the last safe haven for the disenfranchised. The Statue of Liberty displays a plaque reading give me “your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free/The wretched refuse of your teeming shore/Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me“. It is terribly sad that the government of the state of Arizona has turned its back on this, one of the most meaningful definitions of our nation’s grace and meaning.
Lately people in the artistic community have struggled with how exactly to respond to this crisis. Stars, a great band from Canada, has settled on boycotting the state (http://twitter.com/montrealstars/status/12943609354), whereas Damian Abraham of Fucked Up has argued that bands need to play Arizona now more than ever, to express our message of acceptance and inclusion as loudly as possible, to champion what is great about our country (http://stereogum.com/358701/op-ed-by-fucked-ups-pink-eyes-damian-abraham-bands-should-play-in-arizona-now-more-than-ever/franchises/op-ed/).
We are not currently booking any shows West of the Mississippi for simple scheduling reasons, so we don’t have a real stance on this, but I can honestly say that I am torn between the two concepts. The fact is that touring through Arizona, a fairly large state, would inevitably mean buying gas, food and drink, all of which mean tax dollars for the Arizona government, which pays the politicians who decided that certain people are not welcome within their borders. Even if one planned ahead by buying everything they needed beyond state lines it would still mean playing a club where ticket sales mean tax dollars for Arizona. On the other hand it is not fair, as Abraham notes, to punish the youth of Arizona, who surely by and large oppose this law, for the mistakes of their elders. The baby and the bath water. I don’t think either strategy, Stars’ or Fucked Up’s, is wrong. Both clearly care very deeply and are trying to deal with the issues in Arizona as best they can. Perhaps the answer is to hold shows as close to the Arizona state line as possible and offer free admittance to those from Arizona for the trouble of having to travel on account of their misguided political leaders? That strikes me as a decent and thoughtful compromise, but again, since we are not playing the West anytime soon we can’t ourselves affect that change. The best I can do is recommend that you all read the above links as well as the boycott being fronted by the folks from Rage Against the Machine and others (http://pitchfork.com/news/38933-rage-against-the-machine-enlist-kanye-sonic-youth-oberst-in-az-boycott/).
Thanks for reading and good luck to the citizens of Arizona. We don’t blame you.
All the best,