Note: This statement come from the Aftselokhes Spectacle Committee, an independent collective that organizes the annual Purim event. While we work in partnership with JFREJ to organize the event, our decision and our statement may not reflect the points of view of JFREJ or our other organizing partners, co-sponsors, and allies.
March 14, 2014:
We are the Aftselokhes Spectacle Committee, an independent, intergenerational and mostly Jewish collective of artists and cultural workers who put on an annual Purim shpil. We’ve focused on making puppet shows, throwing dance parties, working with and across people’s justice movements, and baking hamantashen — not issuing statements. In fact, we’ve never done this before.
We do so at this time due to a very difficult and painful decision.
We learned recently that a band we had booked to perform at our 2014 Purim shpil is also planning to perform at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival (MWMF). However, there is currently a call for performers to boycott the MWMF, due to its deliberate practice of excluding trans women.
Given the boycott, we immediately began to engage in long, difficult and deep discussion about this situation. Ultimately, we reached a decision to not feature performers at our event who are also playing at the MWMF. We are committed to paying performers already booked for the show as agreed: it is important for us to honor our contracts, and to respect artists’ time and work, even if they will not get the exposure from playing that night.
The members of our collective have a wide spectrum of experiences and beliefs around this issue, as well as complicated interpersonal and professional relationships with performers and attendees at Michigan, as well as those organizing around the boycott. Each of us is struggling in different ways with this decision, and with our individual and collective roles in complicating an already very complicated and painful situation.
In addition, we take responsibility for our role in contributing to it:
When we were planning this year’s musical acts, we didn’t talk explicitly about the boycott, the role of musicians who play at MWMF, and their relationship to our shpil – either as a collective or with the artists we sought to book. Even without that discussion, we certainly should have been attentive enough to know that some artist we considered could also be playing the festival, and find out whether that was the case.
We are not interested in vilifying artists who choose to play at Michigan. We understand that Michigan is an event and a community that many people, including some of us, have felt strongly connected to. We honor the contributions of all who struggle for trans justice, and recognize that includes people who have a historical or current relationship to the MWMF.
The MWMF is part of our queer and feminist history and culture, in all its power and internal struggle. We need things to shift. We don’t have the answers, but part of our queer political desire is to engage together – in a struggle that has often been fractured on generational, racial and/or class lines —on issues of community, inclusion and political change.
Multiple strategies have been employed for many years with the goal of making a trans-inclusive MWMF that provides a safe space for all women. The multiple-strategy approach has mostly consolidated into the current boycott, because a twenty-year effort focused on incremental internal change of the Festival leadership has not proven effective. The boycott calls for musicians not to play at the festival while the exclusion policy remains. Musicians have a particularly important place in this: they are the one group of Festival participants that are not replaceable, and so their decision not to participate has the ability to affect the Festival’s leadership in a way that no one else can.
Nonetheless, we recognize the ways in which stances on Michigan have become extremely polarized in our community, and feel frustrated by many of the ways this issue is framed. We are disappointed by the ways in which queer working artists are put in conflict or isolated from each other in this process, and we don’t want to perpetuate this cycle–even as we acknowledge that we have also contributed to it.
In addition, we recognize that structural factors like racism can cause the boycott to have a greater risk or impact to some artists more than others, including queer artists of color. And even though our collective has reached a decision, as individuals we hold a wide range of views about the choice of the MWMF boycott strategy itself — in part because of the way it affects the livelihood of working artists.
In our individual and collective work, we strive to move forward taking full account of intersecting lines of racism, homophobia, sexism, and transphobia. We are committed to working towards trans inclusion in our communities here and now, and we want the events we create to contribute to a vision of the queer radical feminist gender realities we seek in our dreams and our daily lives.
Finally, we would like to be clear that this decision and statement come from the collective involved in organizing this event, the Aftselokhes Spectacle Committee. While we work closely with JFREJ to put on the annual Purim shpil, our decision and our statement may not reflect the points of view of JFREJ or our other organizing partners, co-sponsors, and allies.
With sadness, respect, and hope,
The Aftselokhes Spectacle Committee:
Daniel Rosza Lang/Levitsky
Zachary Wager Scholl