Guest post by Syd Mutschler, cross-posted on Listening to Lesbians.
Editor’s Note: This commentary by Syd Mutschler is originally from June 2014, not long after the Indigo Girls reneged on an agreement to play at MichFest in August of 2014. At the time, they made quite a public show of their sudden boycott of an event that the Indigo Girls as a group and Amy Ray individually had played many times. They gave the organizer of the event very little notice that they were pulling out and did so well after brochures, posters, and other materials had been printed and women had bought tickets expecting to hear them at the Festival. Treating women who had supported them financially and in other ways over many years this badly would be ugly enough, but they undertook this boycott after many years of the exact same controversy, yet it hadn’t stopped them from playing and spending time at the Festival at any time in the past. This was very likely a decision based purely on finances (they were afraid that they would be boycotted, yet they continued to play at a venue with an owner with extremely questionable ethics), not deeply-held beliefs about “inclusivity.”
As the yearly debate about the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival heats up, I have been having a lot of thoughts around boycotts, artists pulling out from the line-up, or artists who have stated they will not play again until the intention of the festival is changed from a gender/sex separate space to only a gender separate space. Artists and trans activists such as Red Durkin have made a lot of statements about why they will not play or why the festival should be boycotted, but I find them to be vague, condescending, emotionally manipulative, and intentionally inflammatory.
The artists’ statements, while varied, all imply that any connection to MWMF and Lisa Vogel is untenable. This claim deserves deconstruction. Let’s try playing Ok Cupid! With this situation, shall we? Let’s imagine that artists and venue owners fill out a political survey and the results will show the percentage of friend/enemy each match is. We will start with Lisa Vogel and the Indigo Girls. It wouldn’t be a stretch to guess that Lisa Vogel, Amy Ray, and Emily Saliers agree on most subjects, except for the fact that Lisa Vogel believes sex is a class, that the female sex is a subjugated class, and therefore believes that separate space can be framed by that class. Since the Indigo Girls indicated they would play again if the intention was changed to one only based on gender, we can assume that they do support class-based separate space. That leaves us with Lisa Vogel believes sex is a class, and Indigo Girls do not. I will estimate that the test will put them at 99% friends, and 1% enemy.
Being from New Orleans, my next selection will be a venue Indigo Girls often play here, Tipitina’s. Tips is owned by Roland C. Karnatowski III. He is a white, heterosexual, wealthy male who owns somewhere around 7,000 rental properties around the Gulf Coast. His landlord practices are questionable (Google search for yourself) and the Tipitina’s Foundation (a charity) scores so low on finances and transparency, it certainly makes a thinking person wonder what’s going on there. As a straight, white, male, it’s doubtful he has ever spent much time thinking about the benefits of class-based space. Karnatowski has the privilege of not speaking his intentions about anything, unlike Lisa Vogel. Beyond that, since he will take anyone’s money at the door, I guess that makes him a good and enlightened guy. Is that the bar we are setting? Someone who is willing to profit off anyone?
I just used the venue in my hometown as an example, but many of the venues the Indigo Girls play are owned by questionable people. I did some investigating of House of Blues, for example, and could have used them as well.
Do we even need to think about who these venue owners might vote for, or who might make the greater contribution to the Lesbian community or the GBT community? Do silence and capitalism trump the contributions and integrity of an outspoken and compassionate community member like Lisa Vogel? Of course, artists can refuse to play for anyone, but if one does choose to set a political bar on that choice and the bar is set at Lisa Vogel, the bar has been set extremely high. I have to assume that this bar will be applied to everyone, and not just one lesbian who has stated her intention for a sex and gender based space. In the case of Roland Karnatowski III, it is clear he falls below that bar. He makes zero contribution to the Lesbian and GBT communities, has questionable practices as a landlord with working class people, has supported political candidates accused of racism…what do we think? Let’s go with 5% friend and 95% enemy. Goodbye Tipitina’s!
Lisa Vogel and many womyn who support the festival understand that each of us – not just the performers among us – is responsible for the way our money affects our community. This is why MWMF has no corporate sponsorship. None. This isn’t Lilith Fair or Dinah Shore. Politics and capitalism are hopelessly intertwined, especially in the U.S. Once upon a time, we were much more thoughtful about politics and our money. I don’t see much of a discussion happening about how our dollars are circulating when we buy a ticket to MWMF versus when we purchase a ticket to a show at a place like Tipitina’s. Where are our dollars causing the most good and where are they causing the most damage? Capitalism permeates everything, and those who are ignoring this cannot stand up to their own moral high-grounding.
When politics lead someone to a place where they call for and/or participate in a boycott against an event like MWMF, I have to seriously question those politics. Boycotting is a strong weapon, one that has serious consequences. Boycotting MWMF is not political. It is female socialization. It is internalized misogyny. I reject this as political. For myself, I will put my dollars in the hands of MWMF without hesitation and with total confidence. The boycotting artists have made me think more carefully about the other places I put my money. After looking at the venues and their owners in New Orleans and stacking them up against MWMF, I will not be going to many shows other than at festival. I will support the artists I love in other ways, such as buying their music directly or contributing to musicians’ funding campaigns.
Why is all of this important? Your money is political. Everyone in the community should be thinking about the impact of their dollars, especially if they are supporting or contributing in any way to the boycott against MWMF. The Indigo Girls are looking me in the eye and asking me to refuse my money to Lisa Vogel while having no problem asking me to give it to Roland C. Karnatowski III. Girls, we have a problem.