Between Zedd’s ACLU benefit at Staples Center in LA Monday night and Chance the Rapper’s announcement last Friday that the Chicago Bulls basketball team were matching his million dollar donation to Chicago’s public schools, I’m feeling pretty fired up this week. Two of my musical heroes are rallying their friends and resources to stop fucked up shit from happening, and this is some much needed inspiration. It’s inspiration to take action, but even more than that it’s inspiration to be hopeful. Iconic musicians have more power over the people than any politician or media pundit ever will, except maybe my boy Bernie Sanders. This op-ed is about that new found hope, because as Zedd and Chance are teaching us, being hopeful is what makes defending civil rights easy and even fun.
I was hopeful at the Women’s March, but that camaraderie quickly faded. My outlet for activism these days is mostly limited to making phone calls to my representatives both in California and DC and the occasional visit to their local office. Doing that little something as opposed to nothing keeps the existential dread of fascism taking over the Western world at bay, but it’s really not as much fun as I’d prefer. This week, both Zedd and Chance through their own independent actions reminded me how much fun it can be to serve in the IRL Rebel Alliance. The battles aren’t fought with light sabers though, they’re fought with the words, time, and money of those willing to stand up for what they believe in. Have you watched the video of Chance’s announcement last week? This guy is on a whole other level.
Not only did he and get the Bulls to match his million dollar donation, he also sat down with the Governor of Illinois Bruce Rauner to personally ask him to spare the kids in the State’s public schooling system another devastating budget cut. He got the mainstream media’s attention and has the Bulls, Chicago’s own hometown heroes, backing his efforts and putting pressure on the State. He refers to his donation as a call to action for friends of his as well as corporations with the capital available to invest. Chance believes that the way we’ve invested in companies like Verizon, Bank of America, and the NBA by doing business with them, they should in turn invest in our children’s education. Artist manager Scooter Braun and comedian Hannibal Buress have stepped up to the plate to make contributions and if you’re in Chance’s contacts, best believe you’ll be hearing from him about this. I’ve never seen an artist of our generation rally this kind of support by expressing himself so effectively.
Meanwhile in LA, German-native Zedd was getting ready for the Welcome! benefit concert he put together with the ACLU. Artists from all across the musical spectrum wanted to get involved so the lineup was stacked – Skrillex, Halsey, Incubus, Macklemore, Miguel, Imagine Dragons, Mija, Machine Gun Kelly, Camila Cabello, Daya, Tinashe, and Bebe Rhexa. And it was live-streamed so at any given moment tens of thousands of people were all watching it together. In case you’re unfamiliar with the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union), they’re the attorneys who got Trump’s travel bans blocked in court twice. When Zedd announced the show earlier this year he said, “As an immigrant myself I feel the need to stand up against the tyranny that threatens our basic human rights.” All it took was his singlular effort to rally all the people and resources around him needed to pull of this massive fundraiser. And for this effort he was presented with a certificate of appreciation from Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office.
Zedd and Chance’s efforts make caring cool, when schools are closing and legal residents are being unlawfully detained and deported, when people you know are being affected, the luxury of not caring is lost. I’m hopeful more artists will do what these two and their posse of corporations and influencers are doing and shed the light of attention and money on issues where our basic human and civil rights are at stake. Social media activism isn’t nothing, it definitely helps for getting the word out, but because these dudes have massive followings and sponsorship deals, they can leverage media attention and their relationships to make a tangible bottom-line impact beyond just raising awareness. What if this is the beginning of a movement? I don’t want to get too excited here but think about it:
If more artists took initiative with the help of their theoretically rich and powerful friends, they could put pressure on major corporations to bank-roll public and legal services surrounding important social justice issues. If President Trump’s tax return taught us anything it’s that loopholes are real and maybe, as Chance suggested, those corporations with the available capital reaping the benefit of American tax breaks ought to invest in the people who make their businesses profitable. I don’t know much about math or politics, but I have some common sense and it tells me that if less tax breaks were given to the highest earners then schools wouldn’t have to close cause there would be enough tax money to support them – as I said I’m not an expert. But then again neither are Chance or Zedd and they’ve made a pretty big impact this week. Let their example be a call to action for more artists in their position to become an advocate for civil rights. The ACLU’s victory defeating the travel ban and the most recent defeat of attempts in Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act prove that when people have enough hope to bother caring, we can push back and win. And it’s fun as you can see in the photo below from the ACLU concert – thank you so much, Zedd (and Chance!).