Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with benefit concerts (usually). Artists will always be involved in raising money for charities, campaigns and organizations, and that’s cool. But as any organizer will tell you, raising money isn’t the end goal. And artists have a lot more to offer.
Here’s the thing: I’m not asking artists to take leadership roles in social movements or do anything that affects their income. I’m also not asking anyone to change their style or preferred subject matter. I’m just saying that artists– especially rappers and musicians– are uniquely situated to make a big difference in the upcoming election (and in activist movements beyond that) because of our networks and promotional capabilities. In a perfect world, we’d all get directly involved in activist campaigns, but I know that reality doesn’t always allow that to happen. So here are three examples of easy, concrete things that artists can do to make a difference:
1. INTENTIONALLY USING OUR PLATFORMS TO REACH NEW AUDIENCES
We know that in elections, cities (especially the TC) generally vote progressive, and the suburbs and rural areas generally don’t. Obviously, a lot of this has to with demographics, but there’s also the fact that progressive campaigns are easier to organize in big cities. So who has access to thousands of people outside of the metro area? Touring artists. When you play shows in Bemidji or Brainerd or Winona or Duluth or Rochester or St. Cloud or Morris or wherever (including the Twin Cities, because we shouldn’t make the assumption that everyone here is “already down,” because they’re not), that’s a tremendous opportunity. Standing on stage in front of 800 mostly-white, politically-moderate young people? That’s a gift. Touring artists have the potential to reach and influence thousands of potential voters and potential activists.
All it takes is a minute out of your 45-minute set to say a few words about, for example, the upcoming photo ID and marriage amendments and why we should all vote no on both. Or maybe you tell people about the Occupy Homes movement and the amazing work that they’re doing. Or maybe you just direct people to a table that has information on how to get involved with whatever local movement is going on, or to register to vote, or whatever. If you’re not comfortable speaking about this stuff, connect with an activist who can. Or hell, get at me and I’ll come to your show and talk.
The key word is “intentional.” A lot of artists are on some “I don’t want to be preachy; my music encourages people to think for themselves” and that’s cool but it’s wasted potential. Sharing resources isn’t being preachy. Connecting your art to something substantive and positive doesn’t make you self-important or whatever. It’s just a concrete, effective way to leverage the fact that we have audiences, audiences that activist movements can’t always reach as easily. That’s power– and it’s wasted if it’s not realized.
2. TAKING ADVANTAGE OF PROMOTIONAL NETWORKS
It doesn’t just have to be in real life, either. Artists have access to email lists, Facebook fan pages, Twitter accounts with lots of followers and more. If you’re on Twitter, follow accounts like Take Action MN or MN United or Jay Smooth or any other activist, group or campaign and re-tweet stuff every once in a while. Obviously, posting articles and links on Facebook and Twitter doesn’t change the world by itself, but when an artist has ten thousand “likes” or five thousand Twitter followers, it really does make a difference. Ripple effects can happen.
In this case, it’s not even artists who are necessarily important– it’s just anyone with a large network. Artists tend to have larger networks than civilians, but maybe you’re just a cool kid with five thousand Facebook friends– this applies to you too, then. Spread the word– “media” isn’t just the nightly news, pop radio and the newspaper– it’s all of us. We are the media, and we can transmit the information we want people to know about.
3. THE POWER OF PERSONALITY
Is it fair that so many people pay more attention to their favorite rapper than their congressional representative? Maybe not. But it’s also a reality, and we can use it. If you’re even a halfway-successful artist, people are paying attention to you. People like some aspect of what you’re about. Maybe they just think you’re cute. Maybe they think you’re brilliant. Maybe they just like you because their friends like you– it doesn’t matter. Related to the other two points, this one is about taking advantage of your position as a beloved or semi-beloved public figure.
This can be as simple as wearing a “vote no” t-shirt on stage or adding a political note on your Facebook page’s banner. Another great option is to record a simple video PSA about an issue that you’re passionate about and then share it widely. Here’s an example:
And I’ll be real: this isn’t about altruism. I don’t expect artists to do all this stuff out of the goodness of their hearts. It’s about building community and creating sustainable synergy: when you take a stand or get involved, that helps you and your career too. It opens up new audiences for you. It adds depth and substance to your artistic persona. It simply gets your name out there more. These are all positive things– everybody wins.
A sold-out show at First Ave. that doesn’t include any of the above is a wasted opportunity. Even a lightly-attended show at Honey or the Nomad that doesn’t include any of the above is a wasted opportunity. It might still be a great show and a lot of fun– I’m just saying that as a community, we have the potential to do so much more.
I believe that artists are uniquely situated to have an impact on not just the upcoming election, but on the progressive movement as a whole (because let’s be real: there’s going to be a hell of a lot of work to do no matter what happens in November). But we have to be intentional. We have to be clever. We have to be proactive. Feel free to leave any other ideas or suggestions in the comments.