Saturday, June 18, 2011

NN11: Telling our stories in in art, in words, in music

One of the mantras I've heard at this conference: we must tell our stories.

A writer knows this. Story telling is our trade. But there are always new stories -- and new ways to tell them.

Favianna Rodriguez is an artist and activist. She's taken on the immigration battle -- specifically Arizona's SB1070 -- with posters. They are designed around the slogan "undocumented and unafraid." It's her way of changing the conservation from thew scary term "illegal immigrants" to "we may not have papers but we are not afraid to stand up and be counted."  Her goal is to blend "the power of image with stories." Proceeds from sales of "undocumented and unafraid" posters go to AltoArizona, one of the groups fighting SB1070 and its many spinoffs. Wyoming saw at least one of those in its recent legislative session.

Favianna was moderator of a panel "Educate, Agitate, Inspire: How Artists are Fighting Anti-migrant Hate." Panelists spoke about the many methods being used in the fight. Musicians have organized a boycott of Arizona gigs. It's called Sound Strike. L.A.'s Javier Gonzales said a number of musicians and groups have signed on. The effort is being pushed by Rage Against the Machine guitarist Zack de la Rocha. Boycotting artists include Cypress Hill, Conor Oberst, Kanye West, My Chemical Romance, Ben Harper, Steve Earle, My Morning Jacket, Mos Def, Chris Rock, Steve Earle and others. Sparks have flown over the boycott, with some performers wondering how their stories can be told to a live audience if they are not playing in Phoenix and Tucson and Flagstaff. But boycotts against Arizona's excesses have been successful in the past. Amazing how quickly some legislators can change their minds (and votes) when the tourism and convention businesses take a hit. We saw that in the wrangle over the Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday.

Artists and musicians tell stories. Amazingly enough, so do writers. Poet Ken Chen of the Asian American Writers Network was a panelist. He spoke about Word Strike, an effort to bring a group of writers to Arizona in September to speak out against SB1070. A September caravan is planned from New York City to the Southwest. Imagine a bus full of writers and poets! I spoke to Ken later and said we'd like to have him stop in Cheyenne or Laramie. He wasn't sure of the itinerary, but we'll be in touch.

The most touching story came from Gaby Pacheco of Miami. She and three of her friends grew tired of the immigrant battle at home and decided to walk to D.C. to meet with Pres. Obama. The story was : "this is what illegal looks like." Four intelligent and motivated young people who are sick and tried of being harassed and harangued and portrayed as "The Other" in the MSM.

Gaby Pacheco
"It was scary walking through the South," said Gaby. "We told our stories thousands of times. We Tweeted and blogged as went, and videotaped the whole thing."

They were surprised by the media coverage. They also were surprised by the huge support generated by social media. They also were unafraid. They went to small town police stations and confronted them about their harassment of local Hispanics. The KKK protested at one stop -- shades of the Freedom Riders of the 1960s. Lots of Tea Party types showed up with big flags and hateful words. It was turned into a short film -- we saw a clip. For more, go to

Many stories and many ways to tell them in the age of new media.

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