The Common Good

Why Flobots Is Doing a May Day Concert in Arizona (+Free Download)

flobotsI am a rapper. I rap in a band called Flobots. Today is day one of our spring tour promoting our new album Survival Story, so I am writing this from a tour bus in a hotel parking lot in Albuquerque.

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On day two of the tour, we are scheduled to play our first concert at the Rialto Theatre in Tucson, Arizona on May 1st. That's right, we're performing on May Day in Arizona.

Now, when we first set up this tour, we had no idea that Arizona would end up at the center of a national firestorm which would give this year's Mayday rallies heightened importance. We could not have predicted that the governor of Arizona would sign into law SB1070, which effectively mandates racial profiling (I am trying not to use hyperbole, but I can really see no other way to interpret the requirement that police make an attempt to determine the immigration status of any person for whom these is "reasonable suspicion" that they are an illegal alien). We certainly did not expect that, less than a week before our show, there would be a massive nationwide boycott of the state of Arizona. We never dreamed that our first tour stop would be directly impacted by national news headlines.

And so, we were faces with a choice. Should we cancel the show in support of the boycott, or find another way to voice our opposition to SB 1070?

While we certainly support the goals of the current boycott, we felt that, in our case, a different approach could also be productive. Rather than cancel our performance, we have decided to use our presence to raise awareness and express our solidarity with the movement for human dignity and humane immigration reform. Our song "Handlebars" received considerable airplay in the Tucson area, and it is our belief that going to Arizona will allow us to engage directly with our fans, many of whom are not necessarily part of "the choir" on this issue. Playing the show is an opportunity to invite them into the movement.

To that end, we are doing several things. We have reached out to local organizers and are honored to be performing a short acoustic set at the May Day rally in Armory Park at 11am on Saturday. We called into KFMA, the local alternative station, to speak about the issue. We are connecting with local groups about sending volunteers to our show to pass out materials at our "Activate Booth". We created a video to promote both the rally and the show (featuring a rap performed over the instrumental for Public Enemy's "By the time I get to Arizona", which they released to protest Arizona's refusal to recognize MLK day) and to draw attention to our opposition to SB 1070. Through these strategies, our hope is that our presence in town and our stance on the issue become part of the same sentence, and that perhaps we can changes some hearts and minds.

A friend of ours who grew up in Arizona remembers being a child in Arizona during the boycott over their refusal to honor MLK day. Despite the boycott, Stevie Wonder and Rosa Parks played a show at her high school. She describes it as a "joyful, uplifting experience that defied the hatred and negativity of those on the other side."

We hope that our show can do something similar this Saturday for all who can be there, and that our efforts during our day in Tucson can help contribute to the movement that will bring about fair and humane immigration reform. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got some lyrics to write.

Download "By the Time I Get to Arizona (2010)"

portrait-johnny-5Jonny 5 is an emcee with Flobots and a board member of Flobots.org. He lives in Denver, Colorado, and attends Capitol Heights Presbyterian Church.

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