Should You Boycott North Carolina or Not?

TacoPearlJamCat

Yesterday, Seattle band Pearl Jam became the latest in a string of performers to boycott North Carolina due to its bigoted bathroom law. Daniel Kreps at Rolling Stone reports that last night frontman Eddie Vedder discussed the band’s thinking at a concert just before an encore:

We thought we could take the money and give it to them and still play the show, but the reality is there is nothing like the immense power of boycotting and putting a strain, and it’s a shame because people are going to affected that don’t deserve it but it could be the way that ultimately is gonna affect change, so again, we just couldn’t find it in ourselves in good conscience to cross a picket line when there was a movement so…

Pearl Jam joins Bruce Springsteen and Seattle author Sherman Alexie in boycotting North Carolina over the law.

At the same time, up-and-coming Seattle band Tacocat posted on Facebook that they’re going ahead with a planned North Carolina show tonight:

While we respect the decisions of giant acts like Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam, and other mega-musicians whose shows have real economic impact on the region (and whose music has a wide enough fan base to possibly reach the ears of slime-brains in power), we feel that pulling out of our show—an all-ages show booked months ago at the Pinhook, a queer-friendly/ran venue—would only further punish those being marginalized.

We, as much smaller, radical-leaning bands, do not feel that resources like live music should be cut off from LBGTQ folks, allies, and young people who actually live in North Carolina. We view our live music (and the music of so many other likeminded bands) as a special tool that can be used for fighting oppression, creating an outlet to vent, or at the very least, simply as an opportunity to dance around with like-minded peers in an environment we seek to keep discrimination free.

Tonight we’re giving a portion of the door to Equality NC and passing out Trans Lifeline buttons. We invite North Carolina’s punks, divas, aliens, weirdos, and friends to come out and have a glittery time dancing/laughing in the face of the patriarchy!!!

So what we have here are two opposite approaches to a single problem. Which is the correct approach? Do you boycott the state in the hopes of causing change, or do you raise awareness inside the state by showing up and being vocal about your opposition?

At the risk of sounding wishy-washy, I’d say that both approaches are exactly right. And I think that what matters most here is keeping scale in mind: huge touring acts like Springsteen and Pearl Jam make a mammoth economic impact when they go on tour, and the sudden withdrawal of that impact can be extremely jarring.

Smaller bands like Tacocat, though, don’t make that kind of splash in the local economy. Their show’s impact can likely be measured in the thousands of dollars—liquor sales and staffing for the club are probably the two biggest—as opposed to six or seven figures for high-profile performers like Springsteen or Pearl Jam. So by going and making a show of their protest—by personally applauding and donating money to those locals who are fighting the law, and by calling out those who support the law or do nothing—they’re leading by example.

Plus, major musical acts like Pearl Jam are more likely to have broad, bipartisan fan bases, and so their boycott is likely to be educational for those who support the anti-trans bathroom bill. Tacocat is likely to have a younger, and therefore more liberal, fanbase that is already aligned with them.

If you believe your income or presence could be a support for a law you disagree with, it’s probably best not to go. If you believe your personal protest can make a difference, you should feel obliged to go. But ultimately, the decision to boycott or not to boycott is a deeply personal one, and not as simple as following a flow chart.

 

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Paul Constant
Paul Constant has written about politics, books, and film for Newsweek, The Progressive, the Utne Reader, and alternative weeklies around the country.