Recently, a certain state that shall remain nameless enacted a crazy-ass immigration law that made it the laughing stock of progressives all over the country and the target of fierce opposition by pro-immigration activists.
That law mandates, in part, that when law enforcement agents suspect a person who has been arrested is in violation of immigration laws, they must investigate the detainee's immigration status, and if they find evidence of illegality they must report it.
Okay, what the hell, I'll name the state: California. The law, Proposition 187, was passed in 1994 ("recently," by some metrics) and was both more comprehensive and a little less odious than Arizona's SB 1070. Still, Arizona's new immigration law has been called "eerily similar" to California's old law by the Center for American Progress. Luckily for the Golden State, courts struck it down as unconstitutional before it could go into effect.
A Line in the Sand
Did anyone in the entertainment industry boycott California over Proposition 187, as some musicians are now doing to Arizona? No. Did anyone even seriously consider it? Not that I can find. That law was actually approved by voters — winning 58 percent of overall votes and a majority in every California county outside the Bay Area — not signed into law by an unelected governor.
Why was there no boycott of California? Well, first of all, it'd be impossible for anyone in the entertainment industry to boycott California — California is the entertainment industry.
So, no, Cypress Hill, the Latino rap group (formed in 1988), which just canceled a show in Tucson to protest SB 1070, was not threatening to boycott their home state. Likewise, I can find no quotes about Proposition 187 from Hollywood native Belinda Carlisle, lead singer of The Go-Go's, who wrote on her Facebook wall last week that she wanted the Phoenix date of Lilith Fair canceled because of SB 1070.
Beyond all that, though, there's this: People actually like California. They associate it with all of their favorite movies, some of their favorite music, and much of what we hold dear in American popular culture. What do they think of Arizona? I'm not going to go there. Honestly, I don't want to hear for years to come about whatever I'd end up writing. Suffice it to say, we have a huge image problem. The fact that Arizona State University just axed its popular mariachi club after 25 years won't help — if that story breaks nationally.
So, in a ham-fisted way, Arizona has taken on a national issue it's ill-equipped to handle. Our Legislature passed a law written by the same East Coast ideologue who penned the disastrous Prince William County, Virginia law examined in the fantastic documentary 9500 Liberty. You should probably read The Bird to get the real scoop on this stuff (Stephen Lemons, May 13).
Now for the reason this column is on the music page: Despite what national polls show as support for SB 1070, the international taste-making class — musicians, artists, and the like — is deeply and uniformly opposed. And they are going to make us pay. Phoenix already has trouble drawing the type of concerts you'd expect to see in the nation's 12th-largest metropolitan area, and now it's going to get worse. A lot worse.
Hate to break it to you, Arizona, but the dudes in your favorite band don't like this law. Furthermore, it makes them think we are the kind of closed-minded people they don't want to perform for. Maybe not the guitarist, but the bassist. Or maybe the beloved longtime roadie. Who knows? Fact is, it only takes one headstrong member of any band to tell management they'd rather have an off day between Vegas and L.A. We're not the sort of destination they have to play, regardless of principle, like California is. Actually, we're an easy mark for the righteous indignation that comes from the sort of budding social consciousness developed sophomore year of college. That's exactly what you can expect from average professional rock musicians. They're not going to think through whether a boycott is actually the best way to promote their message — they're just going to make us pay whatever way they can.
These bands aren't always going to put out a press release announcing their boycott — though I'm sure there will be plenty of those, too — they're just going to tell their management they'd rather skip Phoenix and Tucson. It's not the fiery testimony of the loud-and-proud protesters that scares me; it's the stony silence and quiet resentment of millions upon millions of progressive Americans who are happy to do their small part to make life in Arizona miserable. Even if the courts save our bacon by striking down this law before it further neutron bombs our real estate market, a bitter residue will remain. This debacle will tar Arizona for a generation, just as the MLK Day fiasco did.
I'm not sure I can blame the haters. Our politicians — elected by our friends, neighbors, and co-workers — passed this law. We probably deserve what's coming — or, in this case, not coming. And, by God, we're going to get it.
Meanwhile, the New Times music section is trying to do its small part to counteract the international contempt our state has attracted. We've put together a compilation of SB 1070 protest songs by Arizona artists who share our disdain for the law. We're selling the compilation, called A Line in the Sand, at PHXmusic.com, with the proceeds benefiting two charities dedicated to opposing this law. Our publication is also providing some serious ammunition in the fight, of course, by underwriting the cost of the legal challenge by the ACLU. So, yeah, compared to that, this CD is a silly little project. The goal, though, is to show that Arizona has a community of musicians who are insulted by this law and all it represents.
To emphasize that point, I've asked a few of the artists who contributed tracks to A Line in the Sand to share their thoughts on the law and what it represents to our music community. Here's what they had to say:
"We wrote this song to protest the idiotic attempt by our state legislators to address what they perceive is the problem of illegal immigration. The law is poorly written, poorly conceived, and reflects the bigoted views of a vocal minority who want to blame other people for the economic problems that have engulfed our state.
"Since Senator Russell Pearce successfully avoided serving in Vietnam, and since he has no combat experience that we could find, we question Pearce's assertion that we are being 'invaded.' It is safe to say that in all the war movies I have seen and in the history classes I am taking, I have never read about or seen a country attacked by poor people fleeing their homeland to find a better life for their family. Usually, they have guns and tanks.
"The people of Arizona should not be subjected to the whims of a sadistic wife-beater [Stephen Lemons, April 6, 2008, Feathered Bastard blog], a sheriff who would not know the Constitution if it fell on him, and a governor, who, in an act of political calculation, tarred our entire state with emblems and thoughts that were only popular with the Third Reich." — Jann-Michael Greenburg, Radiorain, singer and guitarist
"This bill is an unfortunate opportunity, one that allows musicians and music lovers alike to choose how they plan to respond to the issue, or if they intend to address it at all. We believe awareness and education of the real issue is important. We cannot be held liable for something that was passed by our state government, although some out-of-state musicians (such as Cypress Hill) have already begun to do so by canceling Arizona dates.
"We have been grouped together as a community of bigots and racists by some, and the vast majority of us do not deserve that label. It is by how we react to this bill that we should be held accountable — not the mere fact that it passed in our state. The need for awareness and a more proactive solution is at hand. We need to see positive, educational support by influential people such as the very artists that cancel their Arizona shows in protest. Musicians who cancel shows in Arizona not only affect the fans, but the venues, the promoters, and the already fragile local music scene.
"These outspoken musicians don't succeed in making a bit of positive difference toward expunging racial discrimination, but do excel in creating a lot of disappointed fans. If we could talk to musicians directly, we would say: Refusing to play Arizona will not cause SB 1070 to be repealed. Use your influential voice to educate both the state of Arizona and this country of what is at stake." — Gabe Williams, Joey Arroyo Band, guitarist
"Regardless of what anyone may think about the law, the fact still and will always remain that things like this happen every day. Police brutality happens, racial profiling happens with no regards to any law. Now that we have given Joe Arpaio this anchor, he only has a legal weapon to use against Latinos, but he has been doing this for years anyway.
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"I think it's wrong, inhumane; I believe it goes against what Martin Luther King fought so hard for, and it stands against what [is] in the Holy Bible. We are all supposed to love our neighbor.
"I fear for Arizona because this is where I grew up and planned on raising my son, but now states are boycotting Arizona with no intentions of affiliating themselves with the current sanction, which is going to create a greater economic failure. I have hope, but is hope enough to help my people? Latinos don't have the option to riot or even boycott. We are all here looking for a better life for our families, and now most of us are afraid to even go out in the streets. We can't even call the police when we are being treated unjust.
"I'm happy to see the minority community coming together to stand against the bill, but when it's all over, I will always be Mexican from Mexico; my green card doesn't make me any less or any better of a person. I pray for better days, and I will continue to do so. I advise Arpaio to do the same thing because no matter what power the government isn't granting him, he knows he's wrong and God does, too." — Rich Rico, rapper