Thank You to the SXSW Festival for Dumping the U.S. Army

By David Swanson, World BEYOND War, June 27, 2024

South by Southwest (SXSW) is an annual conglomeration of parallel film, interactive media, and music festivals and conferences organized jointly that take place in mid-March in Austin, Texas. It has been growing in size since 1987. The festivals just dumped weapons makers and the U.S. Army out the door: “After careful consideration, we are revising our sponsorship model. As a result, the US Army, and companies who engage in weapons manufacturing, will not be sponsors of SXSW 2025.”

Here were the major sponsors in 2024:

This wonderful development is not just something going right (such an unusual sight, in the words of Paul Simon), and not just somebody doing something right in Texas (I’m certain that it happens all the time, in the words of Lennon/McCartney). This is a mainstreaming of opposition to militarism in general — not just a particular weapon or a particular side of a particular war. This is kicking out on their gold-plated ears the profiters from organized mass murder.

The U.S. Army didn’t just throw piles of money (extracted as taxes from you and me) into this festival. It showed up and did propaganda sessions. A few months ago it was publicly announcing its plans for this year’s conference in March. The Army provided panels of speakers, sessions showing off its cool high-tech gadgetry (paid for by us to kill people we have nothing against), Army-sponsored happy hours, and Army exercise workouts. The humility in some of its event titles is staggering:

That an exercise session called “Unleash Your Beast: Army Functional Fitness” could have been acceptable is disgusting. That it was actually cancelled by the weather is hilarious:

This one too:

The change in policy followed protests by about 80 performers who said they were pulling out. The story has been largey ignored in U.S. non-entertainment corporate media, but covered by The Guardian here in March and here in June. It seems that many performers have other gripes against this particular festival that may have given added motivation. They may need a little encouragement to apply the same standard to all other venues.

A performer named Squirrel Flower was the first to act and said:

Yes, this was driven by concern over the genocide in Gaza.

And the performers were inspired by the advocacy of the Austin for Palestine Coalition, which organized the campaign here and used this link to generate emails to the festival. The emails opposed the normalization of militarism and asked for both weapons dealers and the U.S. military to be excluded as sponsors and as presenters.

But this moment of activism around the Gaza genocide is unusually open to and often flows right into opposition to militarism in general. Various institutions have been moved to divest, not just from Israel or from Israeli weapons companies or from companies that provide weapons to Israel, but from all weapons companies everywhere. Opposition to the war in Gaza includes an unusually high degree of understanding of the imperial and business components and of the long history leading up to it. Amost unprecedentedly, many are opposing mass slaughter by Israel and by Hamas as well. And, critically, the tactic of shaming the profiteers is playing a growing role.

We’re a million miles away from most people grasping the idea of opposing both sides in Ukraine or objecting to U.S./NATO efforts to prevent peace in Ukraine. Almost nobody is objecting to the ever-soaring military budget (except when it includes distractions related to abortion or trans rights). But we have reached the point at which it is acceptable to ask the U.S. Goddamned Army to not let the doorknob hit it in the ass on its way out.

I’m reminded of another interesting cultural moment that suggested something might burst through if given a bit of air. Five years ago, the U.S. Army tweeted a harmless rah-rah tweet and got hit with a burst of reality never encountered on corporate-controlled media. Score one for the internet. These veterans and loved ones sound as disgusted as a West Point professor.

The Army asked: “How has serving impacted you?”

Here’s a tiny sample of the responses:

5 hours ago
Replying to
I lost my virginity by being raped in front of my peers at 19. Got married to a nice guy who was part of my unit. He was in the invasion of Iraq. Came home a changed man who beat the shit out of me. He’s convinced y’all are stalking him and he’s homeless so great job there!

58 minutes ago
Replying to
My sweet friend David can’t answer you. He committed suicide a few years ago after a couple tours of Afghanistan.

5 hours ago
Replying to
The strain of my deployment was too much for my wife to bear. She committed suicide in our home when I had just one month left. When my mental state deteriorated, I was sent to counseling so my COC could check off a box and say “they did everything they could”. (1/2) 
I turned to alcohol and other vices. I begged to be sent to any other unit in a different state, just needing a change of scenery. Instead, I was demoted and discharged. Dumped like a bag of trash when I had at one time shown great promise as a leader and soldier.(2/2)

Read and share many, many more.

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