Going to a rock band to help spread social justice around the world would not have been a novel concept in the ’60s and ’70s, with hits such as “Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud)” by James Brown or Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.” Today, though, music is often seen primarily as entertainment. Sometimes it feels as though one must scrape the bottom of the barrel, among the occasional Bono or Will.I.Am rarity, to find bands that are truly aware and active in social justice issues. However, State Radio, an alternative rock band from Boston, has managed to put the “active” back into musical activism.
The band formed the organization “Calling All Crows” as a way to motivate people to band together within their communities for human rights. The band and the group’s members put in thousands of volunteer hours a year on various projects, but the current focus of Calling All Crows is called the “Stoves Project.”
This project, for which State Radio partners with Oxfam America, purchases energy-efficient cooking stoves for the women of the Darfur region of Sudan. A stove may come off as a comparatively non-essential item, but the website of the band’s organization explains that these women “otherwise risk being raped when collecting firewood away from their refugee camp.” Calling All Crows donated enough money for 5,000 of these stoves last year.
State Radio blends their activism within their music, which is a blend of punk, ska, reggae and rock. They hold many of their nationwide concerts as benefits and also allude to the messages of Calling All Crows in their lyrics.
Allie Frankel, former president of the UW Madison chapter of Amnesty International, has been working to get State Radio to play in Madison for more than three years. Frankel will be studying abroad in Vietnam this semester, but the concert is personally meaningful to her.
“For us, this is more than a concert. This is a chance to raise awareness about pertinent human rights issues that don’t get talked about here on campus,” Frankel said. “In an ideal world, we would all care about the people being killed and displaced in Darfur, the possibly innocent men sitting on death row and the women around the world facing sexual assaults every day. But we don’t. And sometimes it takes the star power of a band like State Radio to bring attention to these issues.”
State Radio will be headlined by Big D and the Kids Table, but that’s not the only excitement going on beforehand. Band members Chad Stokes Urmston, Chuck Fay and Mike Najarian, along with a number of volunteers, are planning to do a pre-show service project at East Madison Community Center. Their personal goal for 2010 is 10,000 service hours. There will also be human rights speakers during the concert and petition tables in the lobby of the Majestic Theater.
According to the coordinator of the city of Madison chapter of Amnesty International, Angie Hougas, this will by no means be the first time that State Radio and Amnesty have brushed shoulders. Hougas was the primary coordinator in the effort to get State Radio to Madison.
“State Radio did a video about Troy Davis ? an inmate on death row in the state of Georgia who looks to be innocent — for Amnesty. Chad Stokes of State Radio has also played at one of Amnesty International’s Annual General Meetings,” Hougas said.
Amnesty chapters around the country will be petitioning against various social injustices at many stops of State Radio’s current “Lefty Rides Again” tour. While in Madison, the band will focus on a few cases, such as Troy Davis, the human rights of the women of Atenco, Mexico and the UW chapter’s work on three prisoners in Laos who were arrested in 1999 for displaying a poster protesting political, social and economic change in their country.
Hougas’ hope is that with more people in the community becoming involved with Amnesty events such as the State Radio concert, more can be done about these injustices and work can be
continued toward international solidarity.
“Our caring and giving cannot be isolated or stop with Haiti, Darfur or the Congo,” Hougas said. “Respect for human rights is not the bandwagon tragedy of the moment. Our Laos case is a perfect example of how little freedom of assembly and speech is allowed in some countries that we are totally unaware of. It is important for everyone to know their rights.”
Former UW Amnesty officer Becca Tannenbaum believes that music is a great outlet to demonstrate political protest. In her eyes, attending this concert will be both enjoyable and educational. “This event is a great way to get out a message that is often not spoken about amongst college students,” Tannenbaum said. “While Madison has a history of protesting injustices and voicing strong opinions, today’s generation is not as vocal as our alumni were. This concert is a way to show support without having to walk out of a class or picket the Capitol.”