It is admittedly easy to protest something and think you are making an immense impact when in actuality, you are barely scratching the surface of the major underlying issue.
In 2014, I was at the peak of my crafting career as a sorority girl who had just gotten a little. I remember hearing that Hobby Lobby was denying coverage of contraceptives in its employee insurance plans due to the owners’ Christian religious beliefs. The Affordable Care Act of 2010 has a “contraceptive mandate,” requiring employers to cover certain contraceptives for female employees, which Hobby Lobby blatantly defied. The case was escalated to the Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby. I was furious with this ruling, because it meant that for-profit organizations can be exempt from a law if its owners object to it on a religious basis. I believe that all women should have access to affordable reproductive healthcare, so I immediately boycotted Hobby Lobby. I have not set foot in a Hobby Lobby since.
It’s easy to take action based on current events that are making headlines. However, Hobby Lobby is not the first company to restrict access to reproductive healthcare for its employees. There are many major for-profit organizations with misogynistic, racist, and homophobic owners. The CEOs of Urban Outfitters, Chick-fil-A, Exxon, The Salvation Army, and Boy Scouts of America, just to name a few, are notoriously anti-LGBTQ. If you want to exclusively support companies that actively support gender equality, reproductive healthcare accessibility, and the LGBTQ community, you have a lot of research to do and a lot of companies to boycott. It’s exhausting.
A week ago, it was revealed via 990 nonprofit tax forms that Phil Anschutz, owner of Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), has made considerably large donations to nonprofit organizations that are anti-LGBTQ and deny climate change. These organizations include Alliance Defending Freedom (anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion), the National Christian Foundation (the biggest anti-LGBTQ rights funder in America), the Family Research Council (asserts that the LGBTQ community is a threat to American society), Institute for American Values (testified in support of California’s Prop 8), and Americans for Prosperity (lobbies against global warming). Phil Anschutz and his wife personally donated over $1 million to republican-aligned candidates and super PACs, placing the couple in the top 100 families who donated the most money during the 2016 election season.
On January 6, Anschutz released a statement to Rolling Stone that this is “fake news” and “garbage” and that he “supports the rights of all people without regard to sexual orientation.” This is a textbook example of damage control. One statement means nothing when you have a history of donating millions of dollars to organizations with anti-LGBTQ agendas. He cannot claim that he “did not know” that those organizations have anti-LGBTQ initiatives. If he truly did not research the initiatives of these organizations, his ignorance does not pardon him from his sizable donations. Chances are, he was aware of these initiatives. I thoroughly research nonprofits before donating a mere $20. Just because Anschutz is the 39th richest person in America with a net worth of $10.8 billion, doesn’t mean he has no regard for where his money goes.
As an activist, I am at a crossroads. It’s easy for me to say that I’m boycotting Coachella, the largest festival that AEG promotes. I wasn’t planning on going anyway. The issue is that AEG is the second largest concert promoter behind Live Nation. AEG owns 35 venues, promotes over 5,400 concerts annually, and sold nearly 15 million tickets in 2015. The company promotes tours for artists including The Rolling Stones, Taylor Swift, Bon Jovi, Justin Bieber, Kanye West, Paul McCartney, Katy Perry, Carrie Underwood, and Bruno Mars. If you truly want to stick it to Phil Anschutz, you will have to boycott every event that AEG promotes, which is a sizable chunk of the concert industry. As industry professionals, fans, and artists, it is much more difficult to avoid AEG than it is to avoid setting foot in a Hobby Lobby.
As fans, are we ethically responsible for boycotting companies whose owners support organizations that we are morally opposed to? It’s dicey. By purchasing tickets to these events, a portion of our ticket price, albeit small, is going into the pocket of Phil Anschutz, who is in turn donating our money to anti-LGBTQ and climate change denying organizations. However, by boycotting AEG Live, we would have to boycott our favorite artists, venues, and festivals. These artists, like 2017 Coachella headliner Beyoncé, are philanthropists and activists. In 2016, Beyoncé placed first in DoSomething.org’s annual “Celebs Gone Good” list. By purchasing a Coachella pass, your money goes into the pockets of both Phil Anschutz and Beyoncé. Does the positive outweigh the negative or does the negative outweigh the positive? Or do the two balance each other out? It’s up to you to decide.
It is also impossible to ignore the fact that by protesting Coachella, we are also protesting the hard work of the employees of Goldenvoice, the concert promoter owned by AEG Live that actually does the work to execute the festival. We are also protesting the hardworking managers, agents, engineers, technicians, carpenters, marketers, sponsors, and vendors (just to name a few) involved with this festival.
As artists, are we responsible for only partnering with companies whose owners support the same causes as us? If a major promoter like AEG wants to promote your tour, it is difficult to say no. A promoter like AEG can offer valuable resources to touring musicians that other promoters simply cannot. We all know that it is exceedingly difficult to succeed as a touring musician. When an opportunity comes your way, it’s hard to pass it up. My challenge for any artists, fans, and industry professionals who may be reading this is to make an effort to support local promoters. Work with local promoters and purchase tickets to the events they are promoting. This way, we can decrease AEG’s market share and support promoters who are hardworking and avid supporters of equal rights and other critical social issues that are important to us.
Let me know in the comments if you are boycotting Coachella and other AEG events. More importantly, do you think boycotting Coachella is an effective way of protesting Phil Anschutz’s homophobic agenda? Or does boycotting this festival do more harm than good?