ART Is ACTION: Michael Stipe, Cat Power, Patti Smith, MUNA, and More Define Political Action
What does taking social, political, or artistic action look like for you? Rain Phoenix reached out to Melody Ehsani, Grouplove, Aloe Blacc, and other creative activists for their input, as well as to learn what causes they’re most passionate about.
This article appears in FLOOD 11: The Action Issue. You can purchase the magazine here. All proceeds benefit NIVA (National Independent Venue Alliance) and their efforts to save independent venues across the United States. #SaveOurStages
…creative power, virtue, new life in every speck, small miracle, love; gather-us-in; fire, art, resistance, keep going. people have the power.
Art is ACTION. — Rain Phoenix
From a very young age I responded strongly to injustice of any kind. Our system of government is imperfect, but it does strive, at its best, to be fair and equitable to all, and to uphold the ideals of democracy. I despise feeling “taken,” swindled, jilted, punked, or pranked. When policy leaders, parties, or lobbyists rig the game or even treat policy and governance as a game or power play…well, my blood boils.
Gerrymandering and redistricting to pitch the scales one way or the other is infuriating to me, as is voter suppression and election mismanagement…and so I was very impressed by two organizations that are both doing tremendous work to ensure a fair election this coming fall in the U.S.: Plan Your Vote, a brilliant initiative through VOTE.org, has been designed to help demystify the process of voting across the country, and Fair Fight Action, started by Stacey Abrams, who, having lost the 2018 gubernatorial election in Georgia under very suspect circumstances, leapt at the chance to address these issues and push for solutions.
Fair Fight Action and Plan Your Vote are initiatives and organizations that I support and encourage others to look into, read about, and help balance the scales towards fair elections and eliminating voter suppression in the United States.
Please support Pathway To Paris‘ mission to find solutions to climate change.
MELODY EHSANI, DESIGNER
As with everything, I think the most important thing is authenticity.
There are so many causes to be championing in the world, it’s important to find where and how you fit in. For me, from a young age, I’ve always been passionate about fighting for the equality between men and women, and against racism, in America. Depending on what stage of my life we’re looking at, my actions have always been different and have evolved as I have. I also incorporate it into my work. We host a monthly speaker series at our retail location, having beautiful candid talks about important issues. We also create products with messages and donate a percentage of proceeds to organizations we work with and believe in.
The two that we are most closely tied to at the moment are the Watts Community Core and Summaeverythang community center. During the pandemic they have both been working to supply groceries and fresh farmers market boxes in the Watts community. The greatest joy of mine has been getting to personally know the residents in the communities that we serve. I think that the only way we can make actionable change is by working together and creating new communities.
The lockdown and the uprising have really emphasized for us the fact that it is time to give space and credence to other people’s voices, particularly those of BIPOC, working class citizens, and immigrants. We want to use our platform to mobilize our fanbase (and ourselves!) to take small, meaningful daily actions that can make a difference. We feel that the last few months have shown just how much can change when individuals move to engage with local politics, so we are interested in using our platforms to share information on a local level, not just national or global (although everyone should vote!).
Creative action for us takes many forms, whether it be crowdfunding for PPE for protests, using language around releases that grounds our music in the political moment, or going off of social media and attending the weekly Jackie Lacey protest to listen to family members of young Angelenos killed by the LAPD. In some ways, listening is one of the most sacred political actions that can be taken.
NOELLE SCAGGS, FITZ AND THE TANTRUMS
I think that taking a stance on anything where the end goal is in creating change in a way that benefits the greater good requires meaningful action. Not just in advocacy, but in figuring out a role you can play to help make sure those goals make it to the finish line, or if an ongoing thing, it becomes a well-oiled machine. I think beyond just using our voices and taking action through our respective art forms, it is also important to show up, and get your hands in the soil, utilize the resources you have acquired; create a community of allies who actually show up.
Over the course of these past few months I have been introduced to some incredible youth justice organizations, and organizations working to end mass incarceration. Organizations like Free America, the Youth Justice Coalition, Justice LA, Schools Not Prisons, and others. Music industry–wise, I have been working on my own initiative focusing on diversity and inclusion in live music, events, and touring industries called Diversify the Stage. I started this work because of the recognition that this side of the music industry is often overlooked in its issues, when discussing change and making the industry more inclusive of our BIPOC, LGBTQ, female-identifying, and gender-nonconforming communities. I have been fortunate enough to connect with some incredible leaders in this space who also recognize the need for change, and we are currently working to make that happen.
CHAN MARSHALL, CAT POWER
An activist’s heart is always unable to turn a blind eye.
An activist’s soul has the strength to defend love, even without hope.
Love is one thing we all have in common.
Building anything from love is pure power in creating solutions of justice.
Activism, to me, is the fight for the preservation, protection, defense, and care in all higher frequencies, truth, justice, love, and honor.
They are what bond us together in solidarity, century after century, within this brotherhood, sisterhood of man, and this world around us.
Activism to me is the courageous voice of love and simple common sense.
Please support the Native American Rights Fund, American Civil Liberties Union, 350 ORG, Every Mother Counts, the Black School, National Black Theater, Grassroots Law Project, Until Freedom, Families Belong Together, and Seeding Sovereignty.
Social action is marching out in the streets at protests like the ones led by Dr. Melina Abdullah and Black Lives Matter, demanding accountability for police brutality. Political action is being on the phone for hours on end with lawmakers like CA Senator Steven Bradford and civil rights organizations to draft and push legislation for justice reform. Artistic action is creating songs like “Black Is Beautiful” and “Madre Tierra” that uplift the movement and speak truth to power.
As an artivist, I am most passionate about creating songs that bring awareness to social justice issues, create conversations, entertain, and also fuel our movements. Collective songwriting sessions are also powerful ways to be in community, discuss issues the community faces, and build relationships through songwriting.
At Artivist Entertainment we have produced “CharLAs,” gathering people and panels for discussions which have included poetry and music. My songs often align with nonprofit organizations I support. I wrote a song about affirmative consent, “Never Said Yes,” for Peace Over Violence, an organization that provides support and education around sexual, domestic, and interpersonal violence.
My song “Crumble” speaks to the school-to-prison pipeline and police brutality. The #SchoolsNotPrisons movement inspired it. “Chocolate” talks about child slave labor on the cocoa farms. The nonprofit organization Not For Sale inspired this song. I also support the work that Community Coalition, Al Otro Lado, and Af3irm do, as well as the coalition that is The Movement for Black Lives.
KD DAVISON, FILMMAKER
Sometimes action looks like being in the streets, sometimes it’s volunteering, sometimes voting! That’s really important this fall. But in my day-to-day, it’s storytelling. I try to make sure my motivation for making something is bigger than just me, that I believe a project can help in some way.
The film I just made is about moments in history that have felt like this one. I think education is a good place to start when we don’t know where else to begin. It helps us understand where we are, where we could go, what patterns undo us again and again. When I look at history, I see the story of ordinary people creating change against all odds. It shows us that the trials we face aren’t new, they don’t come from nowhere. We need to know those stories to make informed decisions in our social and political lives.
On a personal level, I’m endeavoring to rejoice when I see good. I have to really work at not getting depressed or cynical about things I see happening in the world. It’s a practice to recognize the good around us so that we don’t lose hope or belief in our own capacity for change. Working with our own minds is a huge and accessible action we can all take, like a first step, or direct action for the mind. So, I’m telling you I’m going to work on that to remind myself I need to work on it. The story of who we are is a story of love and perseverance. I think it’s easy to forget that, or maybe that story isn’t told enough. I’d like to tell more of those stories, to help remind us who we can be.
KD Davison’s new film The Soul of America premieres October 27 on HBO Max. Watch the trailer here.
Our actions are based on the context and how we feel like we can be the best advocate for the cause. That could be donating proceeds of a song or merch. It could be using our social media platforms to raise awareness and encouraging our fans’ involvement. Oftentimes, it looks smaller and outside of the band. Marching, voting, petitioning, and learning. Democracy requires commitment from the people to have progress realized, so every part of the process requires our involvement for it to be for the people, by the people. We try to be as “all of the above” as possible
Whether it’s climate change, immigration reform, criminal justice reform, defunding the police, income inequality, voting rights, education reform…every cause feels threatened, and every cause is vital. Because what we face is so all-encompassing, the cause that feels most urgent is voting. The U.S. is in a transition from democracy to authoritarianism, and we’ve really got one shot to head the other way before we lose the courts for the rest of our lifetime, and with it any chance at progress. HeadCount is a great, music-centered organization that registers voters and encourages people to get involved. Check them out!
I find it deeply important to first identify which specific issues in your community matter to you personally. Then I think, “What value can I deliver that might contribute to making that issue better?” As a producer and musician, I think a lot about how we tolerate misogynist lyrics in music, and how I might be able to provide and design the alternative by both making songs that do not contribute to the oppression of anyone, and, more so, how I can DJ and playlist music that celebrates gender liberation. I am most passionate about working with Give a Beat, where I volunteer teaching beat-making and DJing to incarcerated youth in California.
TOOTS HIBBERT, TOOTS & THE MAYTALS
I just write about things that happen, and things that are gonna happen, and things that happened from a long time, put one and one together, two and two…put them all together and get wisdom, knowledge and understanding…or defeat. So, we don’t want to cross the border of writing foolish songs, or foolish ideas that can hurt people…
We have to think about each other, [we have] the same feelings, same actions whether Black or white, we have to come together instead of fighting each other. Too much prejudice when I was born, and a lot of that going on in the world today—but let’s put that aside. I just say, “One day people will know themselves, and know others,” you know? Because until you know yourself, you make the world uncomfortable… It’s a discomfort for someone to have prejudices in his heart, and in his mind, you know? I give them time to change. People have to know themselves, if you know yourself you will know someone else…
MIKE DE LA ROCHA, REVOLVE IMPACT
To me, social, political, and artistic action is having the courage to be your authentic self in a world that is constantly trying to manipulate and change you. That is why I practice my cultural traditions every morning—because I believe that we all are born with unique gifts and talents that are meant to be used in service to others.
Our greatest teachers have always taught us that a deep transformation of society must first begin with the transformation of the self. That is why we must remember to take care of ourselves as we organize for a more just and equitable world. That is why we cannot separate the social, political, or artistic action—because it is all one. That is why we must remember the words of poet and activist Audre Lorde when she said, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
I am most passionate about doing all I can to bring multiple communities together. As someone who continues to be inspired by the Zapatistas of Southern Mexico, I live by one of their most famous sayings: “We are the same because we are different.” I try to use arts and culture as a vehicle to share the beauty and richness of our parallel struggles for liberation and freedom, but also to celebrate our unique differences. I am interested in advancing and embodying a new politics of love, one based on mutual respect and one that supports without sacrificing our unique selves and differences.
An initiative that I want to highlight is #SchoolsNotPrisons, a thriving online community and series of free arts and music festivals in partnership with communities most impacted by the overuse of punishment and incarceration. The goal of #SchoolsNotPrisons is to end mass incarceration and to promote investments in people, not prisons. Launched in 2016, #SchoolsNotPrisons has had tremendous success as both a brand and vehicle for community empowerment and action. Over 100,000 people have attended an #SNP concert, and the tour has gained almost a billion social media impressions visiting fifteen cities with performances in the community, as well as inside state and youth prisons.
A number of incredible artists including Vic Mensa, Miguel, La Santa Cecilia, Ty Dollar $ign, Common, Pusha T, Ceci Bastida, Aloe Blacc, Los Rakas, John Forte, and many others have participated in #SchoolsNotPrisons. Given the impact of COVID-19, we are excited to be launching the #SchoolsNotPrisons: Stop the Violence 2020 Virtual Tour to raise awareness of local campaigns aimed at investing in alternatives to state violence while encouraging communities to vote in the critical 2020 November elections. FL