Sound Strike Arizona Boycotters Host Contentious SXSW Panel, Village Voice Media Party and More from Austin

The Sound Strike plans to evolve from a full-on boycott of Arizona to an organization promoting "human rights zones" where musicians opposing the state's radical immigration policies only do business with its like-minded promoters and venues.

Or so the group's organizers told a crowd of upset Arizonans -- all of whom stated their opposition to both SB 1070, a dumb law blocked by courts before it could take effect and the boycott -- when they showed up to confront them in at a South By Southwest panel in Austin.

SXSW is an apolitical music festival and conference which theoretically wants to promote the music business, so the speakers tried desperately to keep the boycott talk on the back burner. Consequently, the panel itself wasn't much of a show. Chief Sound Strike organizer Javier Gonzalez, who is from California, represented the group instead of Zack de la Rocha who "had some problems at the studio." The affable Gonzalez kicked things off by assuring everyone that the panel wouldn't "be about tactics" but also tossed out a passing condemnation of Arizona, calling the state the biggest source of anti-immigrant sentiment in the country and saying "these dudes deserve the boycott."

​The panelists, which included two Arizonans familiar to readers via our news columnist Stephen Lemons, famed Phoenix activist Sal Reza and Tucson student activist Leilani Clark, tried to stick to that track, instead showing art made by activists and discussing the political implications of the tectonic demographic shift the U.S. is undergoing. The 45-minute Zinnesque lecture on American history at one point featured an impersonation of a bumbling Anglo bumpkin who "loves 'Merica" but can't see how hypocritical his stance on immigration is and several references to manifest destiny and the "Wally and the Beaver days" that are never returning.

Peruvian-born NYC-based rapper Immortal Technique, known for expertly walking the line between socially-conscious and "street" hip-hop styles, also got fired up.

"We're good enough to have their men cheat on their wives with our women. We're good enough to raise their children," he said."But we're not good enough to go to their schools and learn the same mathematics... That's where we get into the real meat and potatoes of how this issue should be framed."

Understandably, there were questions aplenty.

The crowd was mostly music industry types from Arizona -- the majority from Tucson. They also seemed more hurt than angry. Arizona musicians were conspicuously absent (Marianne Dissard started a show while the panel was still going on and Kinch had an awards presentation to attend -- not sure what everyone else's excuse was)  but more than a dozen venue owners, promoters and journalists showed up.

Tucson Weekly's calendar editor, Linda Ray, was the first person in the audience to speak, becoming emotional as she begged the panelists not to abandon the state but rather to come and fight, evoking the name of legendary labor leader Cesar Chavez, a native of Yuma who returned to the state to support migrant rights throughout his life.

Stateside Presents promoter Charlie Levy then got up to speak, pointing out that despite the situation in Arizona's extremist state legislature, the election of Russell Pearce in November turned on a few thousand votes and that there are more than enough eligible voters within the Latino population of his district to swing things. He asked The Sound Strike to encourage bands to play the state for free and do voter registration drives, pledging his own financial support to the cause.

"Psyko" Steve Chilton also got up to speak, telling a story about his uncle, who owns a ranch on the border -- the government estimates 40,000 people crossed his land last year. Chilton explained how his uncle offered to let activists pay a few hundred dollars to put a well attached to a drinking fountain on his property but was ignored by people who prefer to just leave water jugs out for migrants. His message: Activists would be better served by efficiently engaging with local people instead of trying to work around them.

Organizers asked to hear from someone not from Arizona -- they apparently wanted this presentation to feel more comprehensive, though they're not boycotting any other state -- and a woman who identified herself as "not from Arizona" took the microphone to praise the panel in a generic way and encourage everyone to stop talking about the boycott. That's easy for someone who doesn't live under the boycott to say, obviously....

Then it was my time to speak. I'm not sure if Gonzalez saw the Diamondbacks hat on my head and the scowl on my face, but he pulled the plug on things and SXSW staff soon ushered everyone out into the hall.

Outside the meeting room Gonzalez was surrounded by a group that includes Hotel Congress honco David Slutes, the Weekly's Jim Nintzel, and Rialto Theatre's Curtis McCrary, who all wanted to know under what circumstances the boycott might be lifted.

Gonzalez stressed that The Sound Strike has always been a commercial boycott of the state -- meaning that bands could play there if everyone was donating their portions -- but that The Sound Strike is now moving into a new phase where businesses can say they're opposed to laws like SB 1070 and be deemed OK to do business with by Sound Strikers. They're calling it a "Human Rights Zone" and businesses such as venues and promoters will be able to enroll and avoid the boycott. 

The shift hasn't been announced through a press release yet, obviously, but when it is it might mark the end of The Sound Strike as we know it and, hopefully, a new chapter of activism which will succeed in toppling the state's more backwards legislators.... 

Other random notes from Austin:

  • After the tense afternoon panel, I needed a drink so I stopped by our awesome Village Voice Media/Frank 151 Showdown at the Austin Music Hall. I planned to leave after a few hours but ended up staying until after midnight -- it was a totally awesome party and show.
  • Wild Flag was the standout act for me. They're a skinny jeans version of Sleater-Kinney signed to Merge and I dug them a lot.
  • I'm sure this isn't news to anyone who'd care, but for the record I'd like to note that Stubbs isn't just an awesome venue, they also have great brisket and smoked turkey. Better than Lambert's. Plus pecan pie and a nice selection of local beers on tap -- I really dug the 512 Pecan Porter. Best business in the world? Quite possibly!
  • The Ginger Man is a truly great beer bar. Don't tell anyone at SXSW, though, it was pleasantly devoid of industry fucks when I stopped by.
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Martin Cizmar
Contact: Martin Cizmar