Sound Off

An Open Letter To Conor Oberst: What Will You Do If Nebraska Passes an SB 1070 Clone?

Dear Conor,

Open letters about SB 1070 are all the rage right now, so I'm writing you one. I enjoyed the letters you and Arizona promoter Charlie Levy exchanged a few weeks ago and I thought your essay on the topic was thoughtful and sincere, though dead wrong.

Anyway, I'm writing because I recently came across several news stories about a Nebraska town which has an equally disturbing ordinance on the books, banning undocumented immigrants from renting a home or taking a job. You mentioned that in your letter, I know. However, you did not mention that members of your state legislature have started drafting their own state-wide version of SB 1070 in anything more than a hypothetical way.

Now, Conor, I ask you: What will you do if that bill becomes law?

You already answered that, sorta. You wrote: "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."

Actually, state legislator Charlie Janssen plans to do that very thing. Are you prepared to keep your word if he succeeds?

I understand that you're a globetrotting indie rock star offering coke to reporters, but do you really want to LeBron your home state? As a longtime fan, I honestly hope not.

First, let me say that I sincerely hope that law doesn't pass. Like many sane Arizonans I'm strongly opposed to SB 1070. For me, it's a civil liberties issue and I would hate to see this  sort of misguided thinking spread beyond Arizona's borders. However, if it were to get really close to passing -- close enough for you to stare into the abyss and call a moving company -- I would not complain.

Second, I should also point out that I'm sad to single you out since you're actually doing something. While I disagree with anyone hosting a concert in California to protest an Arizona law, I at least respect that you're willing to give of your time and talent to help the cause by playing a show. Thank you on behalf of Arizona.

However, I must admit there is a part of me that enjoys pondering the possibility of watching you and others like you confront this situation when you actually have a horse in the race. In your letter explaining your choice to boycott Arizona you wrote, "A boycott is, inherently, a blunt instrument. It is an imperfect weapon, a carpet bomb, when all involved would prefer a surgical strike."

You may have preferred a surgical strike but that's not what you've done in joining the Sound Strike. Like many Americans -- and I, too, have been one of them, I'm sure -- you're very content to allow a little collateral damage when an "outsider" is the one who suffers. You have no ties to Arizona or you could not, in good conscious, support this strike.

I've pointed out before that Zack de la Rocha was a public figure in 1994 when California voters -- not a no-name state legislature and an unelected governor -- passed Proposition 187, a law much like SB 1070. Zack never called for a boycott. He played several shows in California in late 1994 and early 1995, when the law was a hot-button there.

I guess my point is this: Boycotts are ineffective when there is not a clear target like, say, a corporation or an organization. In this case, your target is the people of Arizona, a politically-diverse people who are one-third Hispanic. You've alluded several times to the way economic destruction -- a "death rattle," you called it -- could change things. Things do need to change, but are you prepared to sacrifice your friends, family, and neighbors to do it, the way you have mine?

Let's hope we don't fine out.