Sunday, October 23, 2011

Whatever Happened to Rock for Choice?

I recently caught Cameron Crowe’s documentary on Pearl Jam. It’s an excellent film, but one of the things that really jumped out at me was just how pro-choice the band was (and probably still is, but I’m just going by the archival footage here). Eddie Vedder playing “MTV Unplugged” with the word “pro-choice” inked down his arm in thick black letters? Pretty frickin’ awesome. Vedder wearing a Rock for Choice t-shirt in a promo picture for one of the band’s appearances on “Saturday Night Live”? Just as awesome – and hey, whatever happened to Rock for Choice?

Organized by the band L7 and music journalist Sue Cummings, the first Rock for Choice concert featured Nirvana, Hole, L7, and other bands that supported the pro-choice movement. During the ten-year period between 1991 and 2001, dozens of Rock for Choice shows around the country raised awareness about reproductive rights issues, including abortion access and violence against abortion providers, and other political issues like voter registration. The concerts also helped fund the work of the Feminist Majority Foundation, specifically the organization’s Campaign to Save Roe.

I haven’t been able to find any concrete reason why the Rock for Choice concerts ended after ten years, though I can offer up a few guesses. The changing music business is the first one that come to mind, followed by the generally dismal response to any music initiatives that revolve around women (for further proof, look at the tepid reaction to last year’s Lilith Fair relaunch). But it’s also possible that the urgency surrounding the concert’s genesis had subsided. By 2001, we had moved from a pro-choice president to an anti-choice one, and history has shown that it’s during administrations that are in favor of abortion rights that the violent antis make their voices (and worse) heard. It was almost ten years since the Summer of Mercy, three years since the Birmingham clinic bombing, and the Supreme Court had yet to hand down its anti-choice ruling in Carhart v. Gonzales. In short, while the country wasn’t exactly shiny and happy when it came to abortion rights, there was a sense that the worst was behind us.

A decade later, violence is still mercifully rare (except, of course, when it isn’t), but the right to choose is being merrily crapped on at all levels of government. This year in particular is a strong contender for the title of “Worst Twelve Months for Abortion Rights” in a long time, as was evidenced by last week’s obscene Let Women Die act. Given these constant and very real threats to abortion rights, it would be phenomenal to have some high-profile organizing around these issues, particularly in the form of events that are, quite frankly, fun to attend.

I know precious little about organizing rock concerts, but I’m fairly sure that such endeavors take time and money and connections. So it might be na├»ve to lament the dearth of any concerted effort to resurrect Rock for Choice, but damn, I wish some great, passionate musicians and bands would step into the void. There are tons of powerful songs out there that address abortion and women’s rights – surely there are just as many musicians that feel strongly about the right to choose. So please, raise your voices. We’ll be listening.

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