Artists Panel: Activism and Protest

Conference Panel

SXSW Live Shot
Photo By Gary Miller

Artists Panel: Activism and Protest

Austin Convention Center, Friday, March 14 Monday night, Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks told their London audience, "Just so you know, we're ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas." Maines' statement has since ignited a furor back home, with several stations boycotting the Chicks. Meanwhile, country radio is playing the hell out of Darryl Worley's "Have You Forgotten?," which uses 9/11 to justify Bush's pre-emptive war on Iraq. The controversy provided a compelling backdrop for this panel, moderated by The Chicago Tribune's Greg Kot, which was originally intended to ask where the outspoken artist template that epitomized the Vietnam era had gone. "A month ago, I was very pessimistic," said legendary activist/poet John Sinclair. "My views have changed 180 degrees since then." Decked in a tie-dye shirt and clown nose, Wavy Gravy seconded that motion. "It took us a while to get people in the streets. We've got millions in the streets now, and the war hasn't even started yet." But how do you address these issues artistically, in a cultural climate besotted with cynicism? "Aesthetically, the marches and protests haven't caught up to the political passion," observed local writer Neal Pollack. R.E.M.'s Mike Mills cautioned that politics can become an albatross. "We began to be pegged as a political band, and I didn't want that confinement," he acknowledged. After years of channeling their politics to a personal level, Mills noted R.E.M. is now writing more politically overt songs. Given the increasing consolidation of the nation's airwaves, they may have a hard time finding an outlet. "We own those airwaves," asserted Jennifer Toomey, executive director of the Future of Music Coalition. "There should be an entire channel dedicated to this." John Doe of X urged politically inclined artists to have the courage of their convictions. "Don't be afraid," he said. "Yes, you might get on a list, but hopefully you'd see that as a badge of honor." "I've been on a list for about 40 years," added Sinclair. "Fuck 'em."

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