Webcasts Raise Funds for Racial Equity, Pandemic

The world is changing. People are speaking. Loudly. And some folks are starting to listen. The nation is confronting its…

The world is changing. People are speaking. Loudly. And some folks are starting to listen. The nation is confronting its racist history more directly than ever before and the effects of this moment will be cataclysmic. There’s no denying that.

We’re also facing the greatest, acute health emergency in modern times. Schools and businesses have shuttered. Jobs have vanished and the bills haven’t. A vaccine could still be months away and frankly, no one knows when this will end.

So, what do webcasts have to do with any of this?

On Saturday March 21st, NC Governor Roy Cooper announced the immediate closure of public schools. I remember that as the moment when it all started to feel… different. Sure, in my home state we’ll close the banks for half an inch of snow, but a disease? This was singular.

New York would soon become the global epicenter of the outbreak. The disease had been spreading far more rapidly than anyone at that time could tell. It raced through hospitals and tenements with a speed and efficiency of which the Metropolitan Transit Authority could only dream. Seattle was trying to contain the threat locally, but as we’d soon find out, it was already too late.

That Monday, the band Phish announced the first of what would become a weekly excuse to gather ‘round the Zoom with family and friends. They called it Dinner and a Movie. The band would webcast archived videos of entire concerts, each accompanied by a band member’s personal recipe that we were encouraged to try while enjoying the show. A delectable pairing, to be sure.

Other artists had already started performing home “concerts” across internet platforms. Soon, Grateful Dead began their Shakedown Stream series and a slew of jambands followed suit. These events became important to my friends and I. We couldn’t bounce around a sweaty concert pit with strangers anymore. Heck, we couldn’t even be in the same room with our pals. Our lives outside of these moments of screaming guitars, whirling keys and crashing drums had been reduced to hand sanitizer, do-it-yourself face masks and… sourdough? (I still don’t get it). Notably, there was one common denominator among these webcasts. The donation button.

No matter the artist or the genre, each event provided audiences an important opportunity to donate to a critical fund. The cash would support causes from personal protective equipment for frontline heroes to independent music venues to laid-off service workers. And the one, single thread that tied them all together was the pandemic. This god. Damned. Pandemic. And that’s the way things were. But on May 25th, all of that would change.

“I can’t breathe”. George Floyd said it over and over again. That’s what he told his murderers while onlookers pleaded. “He is human” someone argued. “His nose is bleeding” another person cried.

The death of an unarmed black man at the hands of police is brutally unremarkable. The wave of action that took place after this tragedy is strikingly opposite.

In February of this year, police shot Breonna Taylor to death in her own bed while serving a no-knock warrant. In March, Ahmaud Arbery was killed while he jogged through a Georgia neighborhood. Three white men had hunted him from their vehicles before committing the Klan-like murder.

These events and the many like them that led up to the killing of George Floyd had primed a nation for combustion. The protests that erupted would find leadership in the Black Lives Matter groups that had emerged after the killings of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and Michael Brown in the mid 2010s.

But these were no ordinary demonstrations. Most protests are a one-day affair. Even the most coalescent issues might bring about a weekend-long showing, but these didn’t stop. In some places, they continue now. Night after night, American citizens were met with war-like aggression from militarized police forces. And this was about far more than these recent deaths. It was about slavery, and our entire history as a nation that was designed from the top down and from the very beginning to be a racist, misogynistic and classist system.

Finally, we saw monuments to confederate leaders which had been raised for the sole purpose of black intimidation torn down. And not because we asked. We ripped them from their pedestals, with straps and blistered hands. And a new awareness swept the nation.

The pandemic was still going strong, but no one could ignore the awakening at hand. All of a sudden, artists began to raise funds for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, ACLU or Southern Poverty Law Center. Now, there was a new thread that bound us all.

These webcasts were contrived for pleasure, as entertainment. That is what they are. But, just as during the early days of the pandemic, many of them are helping facilitate the transfer of valuable resources to organizations that save lives. And not just ones affected by the virus.

So, webcasts have an elevated value in this moment. No, not because they’ll end racism or stop the spread of covid. Musicians and yoga instructors or whoever else you watch aren’t saviors. Don’t give them that credit. But webcasts are important. At the very least, as an excuse to tune into something as part of a group and to share fellowship with family and friends. And if they help spread awareness, or raise money for people that need it, well that’s a pretty good thing.  So, next time you tune in, consider donating, too. 

list_alt 1 Comment

  1. These streams have helped fill the live music void and bring our community together in a safe way.

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