DZ: A lot of people talk about the idea of "All good politics is local," and you seem to promote that with the work you've been doing in your hometown.
AD: I come from Buffalo, and it's a very abandoned post-industrial city. It's definitely a small city that's a victim of "white flight," and suburban sprawl, and meanwhile it has this beautiful architecture heritage that's being devastated. Decade after decade, they've been tearing down half the city. So, saving buildings in Buffalo has been part of what Righteous Babe's work has been in recent years.
We took on this old 1870s sandstone cathedral that was going to be torn down. My manager and label president and good buddy Scott Fisher said, "Is it OK if I take some Righteous Babe money and hire an appraiser, an assessor to say, 'You don't have to tear this cathedral down, goddammit'?" We've done that with a few buildings in Buffalo, just personally invested in fighting the city demolition apparatus.
We saved this cathedral from demolition, and over the years we kept having connections with it, and our karma just seemed to be wrapped up with it, so we decided maybe this should become our new offices, and so it is. It's also a performance venue and an art gallery. We hooked up with this preeminent not-for-profit arts organization, called Hallwalls, that does avant-garde cutting-edge kind of galleries, theater, and art spaces that have been around for a few decades now. They're in part of the building; it's a real artistic hub that's in downtown Buffalo.
DZ: There was a book, "The Rise of the Creative Class," about artists being necessary for the vitality of a city's economy.
AD: Buffalo, for generations, has been a place that the young and dynamic evacuate as soon as they can. They head to New York or to Chicago because Buffalo can't sustain them. But if you're dissatisfied with your city, rather than leave it, change it! Start somethin'!
Not only is acting locally or getting involved in something in your community where it's at politically in terms of "changing the world," though -- it's fun. It's invigorating. We forget that. Even the act of registering to vote -- it's very simple, very easy, and then just taking a half hour out on Election Day and standing in that booth, it makes you feel better. This has been my experience. We feel so helpless and disempowered, but no matter how much faith you have in your vote or whether it's even going to be tallied, just the act of doing it, to be active in that half hour is a good feeling.
In New Orleans, you can go down to Habitat for Humanity and just show up and volunteer for a day and someone will hand you a hammer or a saw, and you can work for a day. For me, it lifts my heart. I think if people understood how much better they would feel with these small acts locally … I think we get a little tied up sometimes thinking that we have to change the world, but it's amazing how much we can just change our hearts and lift our hopes if we just make these small acts.
DZ: Is that how you recharge your batteries?
AD: For me, it's every night on stage, that's how my batteries are recharged. It's inspiring people through music and getting together with my community every night and being inspired by them. I have my own little subset of activism that I've turned into a job, and it's absolutely what keeps me going and feeling active -- and empowered.
Friday, July 07, 2006
AlterNet has a great new interview with Ani DiFranco. I found this section particularly inspiring: