By the Time We Get To Arizona

By the Time We Get To Arizona

"Jan Brewer's decision to sign the Arizona immigration bill into law is racist, deceitful, and reflects some of the most mean-spirited politics against immigrants that the country has ever seen. The power that this law gives to police, to detain people that they suspect to be undocumented, brings racial profiling to a new low. Brewer's actions and those of Joe Arpaio, Russell Pearce, the Arizona State Senate are despicable, inexcusable, and endorse the all-out hate campaign that Joe Arpaio, Russell Pearce, and others have perpetrated upon immigrants for years. The people of Arizona who voted for this bill, as well as those who crafted it, demonstrate no regard for the humanity or contributions of Latino people. And for all of those who have chosen not to speak up, shame on you for silently endorsing this legislated hate."

So says the inimitable Chuck D in a statement released with his wife, Dr. Gaye Theresa Johnson. Staying silent has never been Chuck's strong suit, and recent days have shown that he is thankfully not alone.

Indeed, the passage of SB 1070 by the state of Arizona is the biggest blow to the immigrant community in the United States since the neanderthalic Senator James Sensenbrenner brought his bill to the Senate floor in 2006. Like the Sensenbrenner bill, SB 1070 turns undocumented workers into criminals. Moreover, it opens the door for police to stop and harass anyone they think might be an immigrant (in other words, brown people), emboldening the already draconian actions of figures like Maricopa county Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

But the mood since Governor Jan Brewer signed the bill into law has been far from acquiescent. On the contrary, it looks like what started in Arizona may be serving to reignite the mighty immigrant rights movement. Large rallies have been held in front of the state capitol. Students have walked out of class in protest. And the call for a boycott of the state economy has swept through activist communities like wildfire.

It's here that Chuck has stepped into the fray. In 1991, Public Enemy courted controversy when they released "By the Time I Get to Arizona," a militant rebuke against the state's refusal to recognize Martin Luther King Day. Naturally, the song has taken on a new relevance in recent days. Seeing the parallel, Chuck has once again placed Arizona in his cross-hairs with "Tear Down That Wall," a hard-edged beat-bomb dropped on Brewer and the racist cheerleaders of immigrant scapegoating:

"Understand these pressures in this so-called recession
For the black brown woman and man
It's depression...

I beg your pardon who's savin' ya?
You callin' them laborers 
Walk on by and never say hi or consider them neighbors...

Diss the brown brothers and sisters on what they what they done did
This side of the earth, they built pyramids!
My passion comes and what I know and who I am
I refuse to lose or to be
Confused by this new scam, scarred by sarcasm 
Uncle Sam's racist orgasm
Was just a spasm, scared of enthusiasm
Of the black and brown planet the jealous say damn it!
Stupid-ass wall!
You can't stop us all!"

Not stopping at a mere song, however, Chuck and Dr. Johnson also call in their statement for other musicians and artists to join the boycott of Arizona. 

"I am issuing a call to action," reads the statement, "urging my fellow musicians, artists, athletes, performers, and production companies to refuse to work in Arizona until officials not only overturn this bill, but recognize the human rights of immigrants."

Calls have gone out to artists as varied as Carole King, James Taylor and Pat Benatar requesting that they cancel their concerts scheduled in cities like Tuscon and Phoenix in the month of May. Already, Montreal-based indie pop group Stars have announced they will not be playing any shows in Arizona "until its racist new immigration law is repealed."

A musician's boycott of Arizona might not be as inane as one might think. The state's concert industry is sizable due to the large amount of sports stadiums and smaller venues that pop up around them to support smaller acts. Fender Guitars, the iconic choice of many an axe-slinger, is also headquartered in Scottsdale.

And though it might be true that musicians and artists alone would not bring down SB 1070, their inclusion in a much broader protest and boycott movement would make them that much stronger. During the late '80s and early '90s, countless international acts refused to play in South Africa until the country put an end to its venomous apartheid system (Steve Van Zandt's "Sun City" anyone?). But more important was the anti-racist movement gripping America's campuses and gave these artists' actions space to breathe.

Something similar is possible today. "Arizona boycott" has become the 47th most popular Google search since the passage of SB 1070. The Arizona Diamondbacks have been dogged by protests in front of their away games in Denver and Chicago; similar actions are expected when they come to Houston and Miami. And the immigrant justice movement that commentators referred to as "a sleeping giant" when it first emerged in '06 looks poised to return with a vengeance.

In the long chain of resistance that urgently has to be forged right now, music and art are but two more links that can once and for all tear down that wall.

Alexander Billet, a music journalist and activist living in Chicago, runs the website Rebel Frequencies (, and is a contributor to, Z Magazine, New Politics and

He can be reached at