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Rage Against the Machine Lead Arizona Boycott

Rap-rock crew invite musicians to skip Arizona on concert tours until the state's controversial new immigration law is repealed

Sean Michaels

Rage frontman Zack de la Rocha: "If other states follow the direction of Arizona, we could be headed towards a pre-Civil Rights era reality." (photo by Flickr user Scott Penner)

Hot on the heels of Shakira, Rage Against the Machine are leading a fresh charge against Arizona's controversial new immigration law. Artists including Kanye West, Sonic Youth and Massive Attack have all pledged a musical boycott of the US state, refusing to tour there until the "odious" bill is repealed.

Rage frontman Zack de la Rocha is seizing the megaphone for Sound Strike, a new organisation for which "Arizona is [the] picket line". Their target is bill SB1070, which passed the Arizona state legislature last month. Signed into law by governor Jan Brewer, the bill compels police officers to challenge anyone they suspect of being an illegal immigrant to prove their immigration status. Those without documentation will be arrested as criminals.

"Fans of our music, our stories, our films and our words can be pulled over and harassed every day because they are brown or black, or for the way they speak, or for the music they listen to," de la Rocha wrote in an open letter. "This law opens the door for them to be shaked down [sic], or even worse, detained and deported while just trying to travel home from school, from home to work, or when they just roll out with their friends."

Launched yesterday, the campaign's initial supporters include everyone from singer-songwriter Conor Oberst and hip-hop crew Cypress Hill, to film-maker Michael Moore and Mexican band Los Tigres del Norte. Joe Satriani, Serj Tankian and Spank Rock have also signed up. All of these artists have pledged to skip Arizona on concert tours, refusing to allow their "collective economic power to ... aid and abet civil and human rights violations".

"[I feel] terrible about the idea of boycotting Arizona," Satriani told Billboard. "I have friends there. I have a lot of fans there. ... [But] SB1070 just doesn't have enough in it to make it a good law. In the last 15 years the erosion of rights of American citizens has put us close to a police state. We teeter back and forth; that's what you have to be vigilant about."

Not every progressive musician is in favour of a boycott. Hardcore band Fucked Up, winners of last year's Polaris prize, spurred a debate last month when they criticised the band Stars for advocating a boycott. "Why not keep playing Arizona, using the shows as an opportunity to engage the people there to get involved?" asked frontman Damian Abraham. "Use press ops before the show to talk about what is going on in the local media."

But for de la Rocha, the greatest fear is that SB1070 will become a model for other US border states. "If other states follow the direction of Arizona," he wrote, "we could be headed towards a pre-Civil Rights era reality." Sound Strike has invited all musicians to join their boycott, and launched a petition asking president Obama "to take necessary and appropriate action" against the Arizona bill. At the time of writing, there are, er, 81 signatures.

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