Jampaign 2016 : North Carolina – When Art Takes Action

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By Mandy Freebairn, Staff Writer

As you’ve probably heard by now, the state of North Carolina recently passed House Bill 2 (HB2), a bill that essentially strips the LGBT community of their right to protection against discrimination. The bill is an atrocity that has sparked outrage across the country. But this outrage hasn’t been limited to protestors and the occasional celebrity tweet as it so often is—musicians are teaming up to boycott the state until the bill is repealed. Through cancelling North Carolina concerts and donating proceeds to advocacy groups, these musicians are willingly sacrificing both profits and fans to fight for equality. And while cancelling one or two concerts may not seem like a lot, it is a legitimate form of disruptive activism that’s adding to the push to repeal HB2.

Popular artists from Bruce Springsteen to Demi Lovato have cancelled concerts in North Carolina in protest of HB2. One of the most direct consequences of this kind of action is that it forces fans to pay attention to the bill. The concert cancellation directly interferes with these fans’ entertainment. Though it may not have affected some of these individual’s lives otherwise, HB2 now stands in the way of their leisure. In this way, it works like any other protest in that it brings the issue into people’s daily lives. Their anger at the artists cancelling shows, then, is redirected towards the bill, resulting in (ideally) a greater push to repeal it.

Cancelling shows (or alternatively, choosing to donate proceeds to advocacy groups, as other artists have done) also works to shed more media attention on the issue. Fame is a powerful weapon, and these artists are putting theirs to good use. When your every move generates a hundred articles, you have a lot of pull in shaping public opinion. By being active about repealing the bill, then, these musicians are directing media attention that would normally be given to their music towards a political cause. I’ve talked before in this column about the weight placed by the media on the political opinions of celebrities, and it’s true that it can be detrimental. This kind of action is different, however, in that it goes beyond the realm of empty rhetoric—this is a human rights issue that these musicians are actively losing money to call attention to.

The bottom line here is that these artists are making a deliberate connection between their music and their politics. Instead of eclipsing the actual political action that advocacy groups are doing to repeal the bill—as celebrities’ philanthropy often does—these artists are shedding light on it. By using their work to a political end, they are ascribing a political function to their art and a political responsibility to themselves as artists.

This isn’t to say that all art has a responsibility to be political—that’s an argument for another time. But in a society that tends to pay more attention to famous creatives than to activists, this kind of action has real potential to enact change. There is still much to be done to repeal HB2, and groups like Equality NC and ACLU of North Carolina are working to make it happen. When musicians, corporations, and even Donald Trump can agree that the law is wrong, perhaps it’s time to make a change.

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