This week, singer-songwriter Erin McKeown released a single that was inspired by her experience with an activist delegation to the U.S.-Mexico border. Her rendering of the border and the emotions that it evokes stemmed from a trip with Air Traffic Control (ATC), culture-based advocacy organization and CultureStrike ally, which enabled McKeown to see first-hand, for the first time, the conditions and the challenges that local activists face in border communities. Similar to the experience of the CultureStrike delegation in Fall 2011, the ATC artists witnessed various aspects of the immigration system–including legal proceedings (or rather, truncated due process) in the now-notorious Operation Streamline program for expedited deportation en masse) and watching community educators work with youth to raise consciousness about their cultural heritage, as well as engaging with community organizers and representatives.
The song that came out of those encounters, with its ominous backbeat and cutting lyrics, resonates with CultureStrike’s mission of weaving art with activism. So we’re presenting it here along with a statement from Erin:
Last year, I took a trip to Nogales, Arizona to see the wall being built between the U.S. and Mexico. I was struck by how it appeared to be a violent spine rising out of the beautiful desert. While standing next to it, I asked our guide, a local charter school teacher, why the wall was made of long columns of steel set close to each other, not a solid surface like other borders I’d seen. “They built it so the water could get through,” he said. This got me thinking about the toll a wall takes on the hearts of those it divides and on the soul of the builder of the wall.
When we asked about how the trip changed her perspective on immigration, she commented:
I had never worked specifically on immigrant rights, though as someone who works a lot with the way media access impacts social justice issues, I certainly know how important that work is. The trip to Tucson opened my eyes to the human toll of our policy decisions.
The point of the trip was to continue ATC’s work in helping artists become better activists by allowing up to witness issues up close, then talk to each other about how we might find ways to express our reactions as artists. It was a combination think tank/boot camp/brainstorm.
That last point is important, because it’s about more than artists and musicians parachuting in and lending their names and images to a good cause. CultureStrike co-founder Jeff Chang, who’s been fusing hip hop culture with activism, history and journalism for years, adds this comment:
What many people may not know is that a large number of musicians have been mobilizing around the immigration issue since the passage of SB 1070, both to support the boycott that was then in place and to help raise awareness of the human costs of the Obama administration’s anti-immigrant policies.
So the elections are over, Arizona is still in turmoil, and the crisis in immigrant communities still rages on. How will these struggles play out as we turn from national politics to the dramas in our neighborhoods? Who knows? But somewhere out there, the soundtrack being written.
You can check out more of Erin’s work at erinmckeown.com.