Hipsters Against the War

[Note: This is an edited version of a recent post in The Mix.]

There's a lightbulb joke for hipsters:
Q: How many hipsters does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
A: WHAT? You don't KNOW!?
Obnoxious, exclusive, and disaffected -- or so goes the hipster stereotype. But not on Monday night.

Moby, Michael Stipe, Rufus Wainwright, Bright Eyes, Peaches, Devendra Banhart, Steve Earle, Fischerspooner, Cindy Sheehan, Margaret Cho, Susan Sarandon, a couple of Iraq War vets, an Iraqi pharmacist, and a whole mess of hipsters descended on the Hammerstein Ballroom in Manhattan to rally around one simple message: Bring the Troops Home Now.

Monday night's Bring Em Home Now concert was a huge success, bringing much-needed energy to anti-war folks as the war enters its third year. Darryl McDaniels ("The name's McDANiels, not McDONald's/the rhymes are mine and the burgers are RONald's") of Run DMC even unveiled a postage stamp for chrissakes. Legal tender, too. You can get them from GoodStorm.com, and proceeds go to Military Families Speak Out, Gold Star Families for Peace, Iraq Veterans Against the War, and Veterans for Peace.

anti war speakers
Entesar Mohammad Ariabi, Cindy Sheehan and Darryl McDaniels.

Margaret Cho warmed up the audience with her off-color pokes at Bush and his fellow travelers:
Even satanists are like: You guys are rilly, rilly mean.
Bush blocked over-the-counter contraception because it encourages promiscuity... what about MySpace, mutherfucker?
Then she launched into an account of the fallout from her MoveOn.org performance where she argued that "George Bush is not Hitler... He would be, if he applied himself." After that, she says, she received a bunch of hate mail:
None of it was about reasoned political discourse: Miss Cho, I believe you're being unfair... no no no no no, it was all chink gook cunt, go back to the country you came from you fat pig. Go back to your country you fat dyke you fat dyke you fat dyke you fat dyke, Jesus saves!
Mothers speak out

Everyone knows Cindy Sheehan. Susan Sarandon, apologizing for being a downer after Cho's opening act, began her introduction of the Gold Star Mother by saying that "the biggest fear of a parent is that you will outlive your child and the biggest nightmare is that should your child die, it would've been a death that could somehow have been avoided or wasn't necessary..." She then went on to say that there's "one mother, an American mother, who in her loss decided to confront the man who put her child..." and that's all it took. The crowd erupted and Sarandon had to wait.

Sheehan spoke and led the crowd in a chant before bringing out Iraqi pharmacist (and mother herself), Entesar Mohammad Ariabi, who spoke movingly (through a translator) about the horrific conditions on the ground, the loss of life, the inadequate medical supplies (you can read her story here on AlterNet).

An ode to 'Liberty Cabbage'
casey spooner
Casey Spooner, he of the crotch serenades.

Then there was music. Casey Fischer, of Fischerspooner introduced his band's first song, We Need a War, which "the late, great Susan Sontag wrote for us." The spectacle included a gentleman in a "WE NEED WAR" t-shirt smeared with fake blood, frenetic ballerinas and crotch serenades (don't ask). Devendra Banhart followed, trilling, "it's simple, we don't want to kill."

Other highlights include Rufus Wainwright's ode to the Freedom Fries predecessor, "Liberty Cabbage", Peaches' lascivious peace-toy-aided performance (her plastic arm, fingers extended in the peace "V," made a sort of "as if by magic" sound at the press of a button), a surprise appearance by tea-shop owner, relative of Herman Melville -- and musician -- Moby who admitted to being the child of hippies before breaking into Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth" (sometimes known as: "There's Something Happening Here"...).

In my post on the show three weeks ago, one commenter captured the sentiment of many when (s)he wrote:
"Everyone knows hipsters don't like the war. That's like accepted fact. I don't know the first thing about country music but I heard Garth Brooks was pushing Wal-mart stuff. We need guys (and gals) who are gonna persuade Mr. and Mrs. Springfield, MO about the war. Hip cats on the coasts mostly oppose the war. This seems like a typically Media Elite type article ... then again, every little bit helps I guess..."
sheehan and others
From right, Devendra Banhart, Peaches, the back of Conor Oberst’s head, and Cindy Sheehan

Last year I accompanied a group of volunteers bused from New York to Pennsylvania to knock on doors and remind citizens to vote. Throughout the day we noticed time and again that in this blue-collar neighborhood the vast majority of non-voters were against Bush but found little to hang their hat on in Kerry. Peaches singing "Fuck the Pain Away" 200 miles to the East isn't going to bring them to the polls tomorrow, I'll grant you that. But the point is, energy for change starts in the unlikeliest places and isn't always demographically appropriate.

Also, apart from the fact that this show is kicking off a New Press tour that includes two red and several purple states, the something happening here isn't exactly as clear as the number of Republican voters whose minds are changed.

Think of it as analogous to Get Out The Vote efforts, but slightly less material. The point isn't simply to have influential people come out against the war and for fans to then see the light and pull the lever for (D) or (G) or whomever.
Bring Em Home Now organizer Chris Wangro hands a marker to Peaches before the perpetually-awed Devendra Banhart.

Sometimes it's about activating what's already out there. Music has the power to move people in a way that is, literally, beyond words. Yet it's also highly subjective and it can just as often be alienating as activating. When I go to anti-war events and hear Joan Baez -- bless her heart -- I want to scream and run. Activity, intensity, energy, participation; these are all infectious qualities that radiate through a culture and impact it exponentially. It has to be paired with more formal modes of protest and action, of course; everything from blogging to rallies to MoveOn style campaigning to running for office and participating in the policy process.

The Bring Em Home Now concert, and the ensuing tour, is about activating this particular group of people. Whether it lasts or not -- and whether "they tell two friends, and so on" -- remains to be seen; but for the night at least, hipsters felt connected to bringing the troops home and to stopping what Cindy Sheehan called Bush's "shitty mission."

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