How not to stage an Occupy music festival

Co-optation is in the house as promoters seek to exploit the Occupy brand

Topics: Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Chicago, Music, ,

How not to stage an Occupy music festivalHip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, seen here at Occupy Boston, is co-hosting an arts festival called "All in for the 99%" (Credit: AP/Stephan Savoia)

There’s nothing wrong with standing in a park listening to music with lots of other people. As such, there’s nothing essentially wrong with Occupy Festival — a two-day music festival in Chicago’s Union Park in mid-May. But essence aside, there’s reason to be wary.

The two-day open-air festival, planned for May 12-13 (purposefully, just in advance of Chicago’s NATO summit), is being organized autonomously by a group called Solid Clarity LLC, but won the endorsement of Occupy Chicago. Yet-unnamed “top international, national and local” musicians are slated to play across three stages. Half the profits will go to Occupy Chicago — who will get the rest isn’t clear.

Festival organizers made an embarrassing early move (aside from using cringe-inducing phrases like “music – the heartbeat of our cultures”). They advertised VIP passes, with access to a private lounge, special viewing areas and more. An Occupy event with VIP tickets: The idea is truly laughable. Evidently, public responses made this more than clear. Just over a day after the VIP passes were announced in a press release, they were scrapped.

“There is no VIP or premium access … That was an oversight that was pretty big,” Grahan Czach, an organizer with Solid Clarity LLC, told RedEye Chicago.

However, that the idea was floated in the first place suggests that those behind Occupy Festival might not be familiar with the horizontalism underpinning Occupy organizing, despite Czach’s claim that they are “part of the movement.” It’s worth noting that standard-price tickets are already $35 for one day, $55 for two, which will exclude many Occupy supporters anyway.

At best, the festival is a fundraiser, which will push some much-needed funds to Occupy Chicago (hopefully without strings attached). At worst, it is the sort of event that co-opts energy and anger and pacifies, rather than stokes, challenges and threats to the status quo. No one needs another WOMAD festival, and I fail to see how Occupy Festival’s permits, strict rules, elevated stages and pricey tickets have much to do with Occupy at all. I also fail to see how a music festival can “peacefully embody the struggle of social and economic inequality,” as Occupy Festival promises to do – a complex challenge indeed.



As Occupy brushes off its winter dust and springs back into regular, highly public action, the many-legged co-optation machine will follow suit. Another cultural event at the end of March, for example, will see the language popularized by Occupy funneled into a distinctly liberal cause. “All in for the 99%” is an arts event hosted by hip-hop producer Russell Simmons and former White House environmental advisor Van Jones, and sponsored by MoveOn Civic Action, SEIU, Rebuild the Dream – a nonprofit focused on economic inequality. Ed Norton, Marisa Tomei, Moby and other big names are on the host committee for the Los Angeles event, which will feature curated DJ sets alongside community activist training sessions.

“Artists, musicians, writers and activists will gather and use creative collaboration to amplify the voices of the 99%, demanding an end to Citizens United and calling loudly for real campaign finance reform,” announced the event release (noting too that the day is pretty much free and open to the public, save for a private party at the end for more important members of the public). It’s more of the same sort of non-threatening consciousness raising — celebrity endorsement included — reminiscent of the weakest antiwar and environmental activism in recent decades.

The amorphous, confusing assemblage that loosely constitutes the Occupy movement did not resonate just because it raised awareness. All across the country — in unpermitted marches, occupations and short-lived squat attempts — people re-appropriated spaces, determined their use and found each other. It’s a false proposition that “the voices of the 99%” could be amplified by celebrity artists and musicians. These voices were heard most loudly when they autonomously took space, got arrested and beaten for it, and came back again and again.

 

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that a portion of proceeds from Occupy Festival would go to The 8th Day Center for Justice. In fact, this group is just the fiscal sponsor for Occupy Chicago.

Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email nlennard@salon.com.

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 7
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    AP/Jae C. Hong

    Your summer in extreme weather

    California drought

    Since May, California has faced a historic drought, resulting in the loss of 63 trillion gallons of water. 95.4 percent of the state is now experiencing "severe" drought conditions, which is only a marginal improvement from 97.5 percent last week.

    A recent study published in the journal Science found that the Earth has actually risen about 0.16 inches in the past 18 months because of the extreme loss of groundwater. The drought is particularly devastating for California's enormous agriculture industry and will cost the state $2.2 billion this year, cutting over 17,000 jobs in the process.

       

    Meteorologists blame the drought on a large zone (almost 4 miles high and 2,000 miles long) of high pressure in the atmosphere off the West Coast which blocks Pacific winter storms from reaching land. High pressure zones come and go, but this one has been stationary since December 2012.

    Darin Epperly

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Great Plains tornadoes

    From June 16-18 this year, the Midwest was slammed by a series of four tornadoes, all ranking as category EF4--meaning the winds reached up to 200 miles per hour. An unlucky town called Pilger in Nebraska was hit especially hard, suffering through twin tornadoes, an extreme event that may only occur every few decades. The two that swept through the town killed two people, injured 16 and demolished as many as 50 homes.   

    "It was terribly wide," local resident Marianne Pesotta said to CNN affiliate KETV-TV. "I drove east [to escape]. I could see how bad it was. I had to get out of there."   

    But atmospheric scientist Jeff Weber cautions against connecting these events with climate change. "This is not a climate signal," he said in an interview with NBC News. "This is a meteorological signal."

    AP/Detroit News, David Coates

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Michigan flooding

    On Aug. 11, Detroit's wettest day in 89 years -- with rainfall at 4.57 inches -- resulted in the flooding of at least five major freeways, leading to three deaths, more than 1,000 cars being abandoned on the road and thousands of ruined basements. Gov. Rick Snyder declared it a disaster. It took officials two full days to clear the roads. Weeks later, FEMA is finally set to begin assessing damage.   

    Heavy rainfall events are becoming more and more common, and some scientists have attributed the trend to climate change, since the atmosphere can hold more moisture at higher temperatures. Mashable's Andrew Freedman wrote on the increasing incidence of this type of weather: "This means that storms, from localized thunderstorms to massive hurricanes, have more energy to work with, and are able to wring out greater amounts of rain or snow in heavy bursts. In general, more precipitation is now coming in shorter, heavier bursts compared to a few decades ago, and this is putting strain on urban infrastructure such as sewer systems that are unable to handle such sudden influxes of water."

    AP/The Fresno Bee, Eric Paul Zamora

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Yosemite wildfires

    An extreme wildfire burning near Yosemite National Park forced authorities to evacuate 13,000 nearby residents, while the Madera County sheriff declared a local emergency. The summer has been marked by several wildfires due to California's extreme drought, which causes vegetation to become perfect kindling.   

    Surprisingly, however, firefighters have done an admirable job containing the blazes. According to the L.A. Times, firefighters with the state's Department of Forestry and Fire Protection have fought over 4,000 fires so far in 2014 -- an increase of over 500 fires from the same time in 2013.

    Reuters/Eugene Tanner

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Hawaii hurricanes

    Hurricane Iselle was set to be the first hurricane to make landfall in Hawaii in 22 years. It was downgraded to a tropical storm and didn't end up being nearly as disastrous as it could have been, but it still managed to essentially shut down the entire state for a day, as businesses and residents hunkered down in preparation, with many boarding up their windows to guard against strong gusts. The storm resulted in downed trees, 21,000 people out of power and a number of damaged homes.

    Debbie Arita, a local from the Big Island described her experience: "We could hear the wind howling through the doors. The light poles in the parking lot were bobbing up and down with all the wind and rain."

    Reuters/NASA

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Florida red tide

    A major red tide bloom can reach more than 100 miles along the coast and around 30 miles offshore. Although you can't really see it in the above photo, the effects are devastating for wildlife. This summer, Florida was hit by an enormous, lingering red tide, also known as a harmful algae bloom (HAB), which occurs when algae grow out of control. HABs are toxic to fish, crabs, octopuses and other sea creatures, and this one resulted in the death of thousands of fish. When the HAB gets close enough to shore, it can also have an effect on air quality, making it harder for people to breathe.   

    The HAB is currently closest to land near Pinellas County in the Gulf of Mexico, where it is 5-10 miles offshore.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>