Boycotting Arizona: Should They or Shouldn't They?

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Zack de la Rocha, Serj Tankian
WRITTEN BY
Spencer Kornhaber

Musicians debate whether a boycott is the best way to protest Arizona's new immigration law. [Full Magazine Story]

Curtis McCrary, general manager of Tucson's 90-year-old Rialto Theatre, doesn't know how much longer he can last. Since Cypress Hill canceled a show at his venue in May to protest the controversial Arizona anti-illegal immigration law known as SB1070, which, pending legal challenges, was due to take effect this month, McCrary has seen about a half-dozen other bands drop the nonprofit theater from their touring plans. "It's been a drip, drip, drip thing," he says. "There's a very real possibility that it could drive us out of business."

So far, the most visible effect of efforts like Zack de la Rocha's Sound Strike -- which has rallied such artists as Kanye West, Conor Oberst, and Massive Attack to avoid Arizona until SB1070 is off the books -- has been to frustrate the state's club owners, concert promoters, and music fans who oppose the law. But, boycotters say, pain has always been part of solidarity movements, ranging from Artists United Against Apartheid in the 1980s to the recent politically motivated shunning of Israel by the Pixies and Elvis Costello. "It's a combined voice saying we will not tolerate bigotry," says System of a Down singer Serj Tankian, who's aligned with Sound Strike. "Justice sometimes has to be served in putting aside profits."

SB1070, signed into law by Governor Jan Brewer in April, compels police to check the immigration status of anyone they've stopped if that person appears to be in the United States illegally. Critics, including the mayors of Los Angeles and Phoenix, have, respectively, organized a business boycott and filed lawsuits against the state, saying the law encourages harassment of Latinos and is unconstitutional. Polls show that a nationwide majority supports the measure, though.

"If these groups don't want to come here, fine, we'll bring someone else who will entertain us and take our money," says Republican Arizona State Senator Frank Antenori. "My decisions are made on what's the right thing to do, and the right thing to do is to enforce the law."

But there are those in Arizona's independent music scene who say there's a better way to fight the legislation. Weeks after the boycotts began, Joey Burns of Tucson-based mariachi-rockers Calexico and local talent bookers such as McCrary formed Viva Arizona, an organization pushing bands to transform their Arizona concerts into voter-registration drives and anti-SB1070 demonstrations. "The boycott is not a bad step; it's the first step," Burns says. "The next step is to invite artists to come here to get people involved."

September brings with it Tucson's annual Hoco Fest, which this year features pro-immigration information booths, free admission, and stages headlined by Calexico, the Meat Puppets, and Robyn Hitchcock. For his part, Burns is hoping to get Sound Strike acts to show up, but that will take some convincing. "I've always regarded Arizona as semi-evil," says Kim Gordon of boycotting band Sonic Youth. "I don't know if the logic really pans out, but my gut reaction is: I don't want to go there. I don't want to celebrate Arizona."

What do you think? Should bands boycott Arizona in protest of the new immigration law? Sound off below.

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