}

Saturday, April 16, 2016

To play, or not to play

Last weekend, Bruce Springsteen announced that he was cancelling his show in Greensboro, North Carolina, because of the state’s recently-enacted law promoting discrimination against LGBT people. He posted his statement on Facebook. It was a pretty strong statement from an ally, well worth sharing.

Or, so I thought.

I shared Bruce’s statement on my personal Facebook and some of the reactions frankly surprised me. Far worse, though, were reactions I saw elsewhere, including rank homophobic bigotry posted on Bruce’s own page—and probably from people who would never have gone to the show, anyway.

The main thrust of the more reasoned criticism was that it was selfish of Bruce to do this, that he was hurting his fans, and it would have been better for him to do the concert and condemn the new law from the stage. I completely disagree with all of that.

First—and this should be obvious—all artists have the right to act in accordance with their consciences, even if that disadvantages some fans. The fans’ money will be refunded, so they’re not being personally disadvantaged in any tangible way.

Second, making speeches from a stage to a captive audience is a terrible idea. I cannot see how making people sit and listen to speechifying when they paid for a music concert is in any way better than cancelling the concert and giving them their money back. Forcing people to listen to things they disagree with—and let’s be honest, not all of Bruce’s fans are on the same page as he is—will lead to tension and could easily lead to harassment or even violence.

But let’s assume that wasn’t the case, and it was all sweetness and light as Bruce delivered his speech—what could possibly be gained? How would condemning the speech from the stage be any more significant than the exhortations we here to eat less and exercise more? We know those are virtuous things to do, we agree with the sentiment, yet most of us ignore it completely. I’m certain that Bruce making a statement from the stage would have been exactly like that.

As a member of the LGBT communities, when I hear supportive words from our straight allies, I appreciate the sentiment, but I don’t respect words as much as concrete action. Don’t tell me you support my human rights—show me.

Then, there’s this: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band are a large, well-known act, and that means lots of attention. When Bruce cancels a show, it gets attention for a cause, and it can encourage others to do the same, thereby bringing even more attention. Ringo Starr cancelled his show in North Carolina. Also, in a similar move, Bryan Adams cancelled his Mississippi concert in protest of that state’s anti-LGBT law (which is even worse than North Carolina’s).

At the same time, not everyone can or should cancel their shows. ThinkProgress highlighted two acts that will play in North Carolina: One, Against Me!, is a punk-rock band founded by lead singer Laura Jane Grace, who is trans. The other is Brandi Carlile, a lesbian country artist. As smaller acts, they can’t afford to cancel, and even if they did, being smaller they wouldn’t get the media attention, which is the point of the big cancellations as much as punishing the state economically.

Carlile also pointed out, “I’m a small artist, and I’m gay, many of my fans are gay as well. To cancel my shows in NC would further oppress my fans who are hurt by this legislation, who worked hard to suppress it, and who need a place where they can come together.” None of that is relevant for Bruce, Ringo, or Bryan. Similarly, Grace plans to turn their show into a “form of protest,” and will “definitely be speaking about trans rights on stage.” Both will be playing from a position of strength as people affected directly by the anti-LGBT laws. Also, it’s important to note that they support Springsteen’s cancellation.

By cancelling their shows, Bruce Springstreen and Ringo Starr will incur costs, something smaller acts cannot absorb. But larger draws also have a flow on effect because fans buy travel, accommodation, and other goods and services. So, there will be an economic hit to the state.

The biggest economic hit, of course, is coming from the corporate world. For example, PayPal cancelled plans to open a new global operations centre in Charlotte, and Deutsche Bank put is pausing its plans for expansion of its software application development centre in Cary. These two alone mean North Carolina has lost the better part of 700 new jobs. The Center for American Progress (source of the graphic up top) has estimated that North Carolina’s discriminatory law “Threatens More Than Half Billion Dollars in Economic Activity”. Promoting discrimination and bigotry has consequences.

A prominent organisation in the radical right professional anti-gay industry is behind these anti-LGBT bills—and anti-trans bills specifically—as revealed day before yesterday in a report by CBS News. The head of the anti-LGBT group thinks corporations talking about economic boycotts or pulling out of states like North Carolina are making empty threats. "They're not gonna follow through," he declared. Asked by reporter Dean Reynolds, “So it's a bluff?” The professional antigay activist answered, "It's a bluff. They're not leaving."

That professional antigay activist is clearly worried. We know that economic pressure works: It forced Indiana to soften their anti-LGBT law, and it encouraged Georgia’s governor to veto that state’s law (while pointing out that discrimination against LGBT people is already perfectly legal in the state). Economic pressure is the one thing that Republican legislators will respond to, since they’re pretty much untouchable politically (the radical right’s efforts are ongoing in many states, but all of the truly horrible laws are being passed in solidly Republican states).

In the face of organised oppression, an artist can do business as usual, or they can take a stand against oppression. Big acts can boycott, smaller acts can engage, and together they play their parts in restoring liberty and justice for all—no matter how much some radicals may resist, and regardless of whether some people think it’s silly or pointless.

So, I applaud Bruce Springsteen, Ringo Starr, and Bryan Adams. And, I support Against Me! and Brandi Carlile. They’re all responding in the way most appropriate for each of them, and so are the corporations exerting economic pressure. Collectively, they’re all helping.

I think that deserves a standing ovation.

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