Stevie Wonder and Nelson Mandela
During his concert Sunday in Quebec City, Stevie Wonder declared he would not be playing Florida again until the abolition of “Stand Your Ground,” the law that allowed George Zimmerman to go free after murdering Trayvon Martin. His impassioned speech to the crowd:
The truth is that—for those of you who’ve lost in the battle for justice, wherever that fits in any part of the world—we can’t bring them back. What we can do is we can let our voices be heard. And we can vote in our various countries throughout the world for change and equality for everybody. That’s what I know we can do.
And I know I’m not everybody, I’m just one person. I’m a human being. And for the gift that God has given me, and from whatever I mean, I decided today that until the “Stand Your Ground” law is abolished in Florida, I will never perform there again. As a matter of fact, wherever I find that law exists, I will not perform in that state or in that part of the world.
Because what I do know is that people know that my heart is of love for everyone. When I say everyone I mean everyone. As I said earlier, you can’t just talk about it, you have to be about it. We can make change by coming together for the spirit of unity. Not in destruction, but in the perpetuation of life itself.
Wonder is no stranger to artistic boycotts. He was a part of a wave of musicians who refused to play South Africa’s Sun City resort to protest apartheid, even penning a song, “It’s Wrong (Apartheid)” to raise awareness. It’s possible Wonder’s declaration could spark a trend of boycotts to shame Florida into overturning its draconian laws.
Of course, boycotts today don’t really have the same cultural context they once did for Apartheid. Last November, Wonder himself played a concert for Israeli Defense Forces, in spite of emphatic demands from activists for artists to boycott Israel in protest of the Palestinian occupation. Overwhelming international public sentiment opposed Apartheid, which was easily identified as cut and dry racial segregation, but for the west, the topic of Israel is mired in Islamophobia, and is much more difficult to organize around. Likewise, we have a lot of paranoid, reactionary gun nuts in this country, and artists might argue that playing Florida isn’t an endorsement of a single law. Regardless, I do think famous spokespeople (for better or worse) help steer the national dialogue, and we need to do everything we can to keep focus on the abolition of the “Stand Your Ground” law.