libertypress.net: Come on now . . . An exclusive interview with Indigo Girl Amy Ray
“Rock is cool but the struggle is better”
The phrase above is both a lyric from the Indigo Girls hit song Go and a statement of personal belief for the band. The Indigo Girls, a duo made up of Amy Ray and Emily Saliers, has a half dozen albums and a Grammy under its belt. Along with winning musical accolades, the Indigo Girls have worked tirelessly throughout their career promoting a wide variety of progressive causes, including environmental protection, Native American issues, and gay and lesbian rights. Amy Ray was able to take some time off the Honor the Earth tour to speak with the Liberty Press.
Both Ray and Saliers have done environmental work since the beginning of their careers. Honor the Earth, and the four musical tours developed from it, is a combination of these environmental efforts along with Native American and other activist issues. Native American lands are frequently dumping grounds for corporations and Honor the Earth is a way of recognizing and involving Native Americans with their unique relationship with the land. The Lawrence visit by the Indigo Girls and Honor the Earth was to educate and rally people around these environmental issues as well as to educate people about the political prisoner Leonard Peltier.
For Ray, activism is not simply giving money to a good cause, but rather a way of thought. Even in conservative states such as Kansas, activism can cause real change. While Ray thought hate protesters like Fred Phelps were “getting old,” she reminded us that people like him can still assist in bringing about positive change. Right-wing protesters can “help you to articulate better what you are getting behind, because you are challenged and you are challenged to think about it, but hopefully we do that to ourselves when we are standing up for anything anyway with or without the right-wing challenge to it.”
Ray and Saliers both identify as lesbians, and their sexual orientation is an important aspect of their music and activism. In the past, the Girls have donated their skills and time to groups such as the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and they performed on stage at the 1993 March on Washington. Ray believes that when working with issues of social justice and tolerance in areas where the odds are against you, the best thing to do is take activism down to the personal level, something the Girls try to do in their music.
“Go one-on-one canvassing and trying to have dialogue with people,” she recommended. For Ray, this is the key place to start. “Talk with your neighbors and get into a one-on-one dialogue so that they understand the humanity of it. You’ll start to slowly understand each other,” she said. The dialogue does not need to be about political issues, she explained, just talk and get to know people on a personal level first. According to Ray, “It’s hard to hate someone when they are standing in front of you.”
Even with their record label, Epic, a division of Sony Music, the Girls work from the inside to effect social change. While Ray calls being with a major record label a “spiritual compromise,” the Girls worked from the very beginning to use more environmentally friendly materials in producing their CDs, and have helped other artists to do the same. Sony has been very receptive to their requests and “always gives money to whatever we are working on politically and we sort of leverage that as well and whatever resources they have.” The Indigo Girls have worked with Sony to give video cameras to various groups and generally have tried to work from the inside to make change.
Music for Ray is an “act of rebellion and love” and her activism serves as a source of inspiration for her music. Honor the Earth for Ray is a way to combine her music, activism and for her to “Come on Now Social.”