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The Duty of Artists to Speak: Trump and Illegal Immigrants

Duty of artists
By Josh Loar

One of the reasons I was attracted to the arts and culture as a young man was that—for someone with no wealth and no preexisting connections—it seemed like one of the only routes I could take to attain any voice in our culture. A public voice might be used for a wide variety of communications, from the silly to the sublime, the trivial to the weighty, all of which have value. It is the duty of artists to provide a good laugh, a good release, a good jam to dance to on the weekend but it is also the duty of artists to reflect the struggles of our time, both large and small.

Many of us who have found ourselves with lives and careers in the arts also gravitated towards them out of a deep sense of shared humanity.

The notion that through illumination and exploration of one another’s stories, we might gain a better understanding of our own human experience. In so doing, many of us found our minds opened, repeatedly, to stories and lives that didn’t look like ours. In fact, many of us gravitated towards the arts out of a sense of calling—to tell the stories that most need telling, and to heal wounds in our society.

It is with these things in mind that I write today, to declare:

I believe that artists have a duty, in troubled times, to use their public voices for good.

It is our task to use whatever access to the culture we have gained to spread the word that injustice and inhumanity will not stand. We have achieved our standing in the world by communicating ideas, and in times of darkness, we must serve as beacons of light, as voices against the current.

As I write this today, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) is conducting a series of raids around the United States (my country), to round up and arrest immigrants—most of whose only “crime” is being here. As I write this, the same organization is holding thousands of asylum-seekers (who are largely driven to our nation by political circumstances of our own making) in brutal, inhumane prison camps, starved of nutrition, sanitation, and basic human dignity. [Our Vice President toured the camps a few days ago and used it as an opportunity to declare that the real problem at our border is not the deeply cruel imprisonment, but simply the fact that we need more of those prisons in operation.]

Duty of artists

As I write this, children are still separated from their families, through no fault of their own, many of whom will never be reunited with their parents. As I write this, there is a 2-year-old (the same age as my own daughter, who is napping upstairs) being forced into a courtroom—or worse, into a video-chat “court”—to hear adults ask questions she does not understand (in a language she may not even speak) and then proclaim that she will be sent away from everyone she has ever known and loved.

I cannot, in good conscience, write about the intricacies of sound systems today. I cannot, in good conscience, write about management and leadership issues in production companies today. Today, I must write that what is happening in my country is deeply wrong, and I will not rest while it is being done.

I have heard, over and over again, people say “these are not our children”, or “their parents shouldn’t have tried to cross illegally”, as methods of trying to assuage the conscience of the nation and convince us that we aren’t complicit in this great evil, that we’re just obeying due process of a kind, and it’s really OK, we should go back to enjoying the latest billion-dollar franchise picture. I love a good action movie, but passively entertaining ourselves while people are being tortured in our names doesn’t sit well with me.


Lonely Planet

I live about as far from the Mexican border as you can get in the continental US, but I grew up only 2 hours from the Mexican border in Southern California. I can tell you from a life spent knowing and loving Latinx people (and art!) what should be obvious to anyone with a heart—these are human beings.

They are human beings just like us, with hopes and dreams and fears, loves and hates and everything else.

Just like us, these refugees contain multitudes—some are undoubtedly bad people, but most are also undoubtedly just regular humans, trying to do the best they can every day to be good in a difficult world. These are our children. Every last one of them. What we are doing, as a nation, is wrong, it is cruel, and it must stop.

To anyone already using their voice to decry this benighted age—bravo! To those wondering how best to do so, I offer some meager suggestions: for those who write, write about this (and about all of the great wrongs of our time); write articles and essays, plays and films and television programs, anything you can. For those who do not write, there are other avenues. One of my lines of work is in consulting and design—I declare here and now that I will not work on any project for ICE, for any of the companies complicit in ICE’s operations, or for any organization that dehumanizes people as part of its operations. I urge you to join me—don’t work for them.

If you are able, make a donation to organizations working every day for justice. Even if all you can do is spread the word on social media—every bit helps. You may be called (and you may feel like) a snowflake—tiny and inconsequential—but the thing about snowflakes is that enough of them together becomes an avalanche. Together, we can change the culture. When we change the culture, we can change the world.

Artists—join me—use your voices. Speak up!


Also by Josh Loar:

Organizational Culture: Inclusion isn’t a Policy, it’s a Practice

Performing Arts and Overworked Staff: Let’s Not Pretend We’re Okay

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