Dozens of artists and speakers pull out of SXSW festival in protest of military and defense industry sponsorships

Dozens of artists and speakers pull out of SXSW festival in protest of military and defense industry sponsorships

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Originally Published: 13 MAR 24 04:19 ET

By Elizabeth Wolfe and Amanda Jackson, CNN

(CNN) — Dozens of performers and speakers have canceled their appearances at the ongoing South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, in protest of event sponsorship from the US military and defense companies amid the war between Israel and Hamas.

The protesting bands, singers and panelists have shared notes of solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza as they announced their withdrawal from South by Southwest (SXSW) – which runs until March 16 – citing major event sponsorship from the US Army and a handful of smaller defense industry partnerships in the midst of US government support of Israel in the war.

The boycotting artists as of Tuesday were mainly small bands and indie performers, and have largely announced their decisions on social media.

Singer-songwriter Ella Williams, who performs under the name “Squirrel Flower,” was among the first to pull out, saying last week that she was boycottingthe annual tech, film and music event “in protest of SXSW’s ties to the defense industry and in support of the Palestinian people.”

The US Army is one of SXSW’s six “super sponsors,” and at least three of the festival’s events have been sponsored by companies with ties to the defense industry.

The US has provided strong support and military aid to Israel following Hamas’ October 7 attacks that killed more than 1,200 people in Israel, though divisions between the two countries’ leaders have appeared over mounting civilian casualties in Gaza. Since Israel declared war on Hamas, more than 31,000 people have been killed in Gaza and more than 72,000 have been injured, according to the health ministry in the besieged enclave.

“A music festival should not include war profiteers. I refuse to be complicit in this and withdraw my art and labor in protest,” Williams said in an Instagram post.

Some boycotting artists canceled their official festival appearances but will still play other scheduled shows in Austin, including R&B artist Yaya Bey, singer Mei Semones and punk band Scowl.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott responded to the protest in a social media post Tuesday, saying, “Bye. Don’t come back.”

“We are proud of the U.S. military in Texas. If you don’t like it, don’t come here,” Abbott said on X.

SXSW “does not agree” with the governor’s attitude toward the boycott,SXSW organizers said in a series of posts on the festival’s X account.

“We fully respect the decision these artists made to exercise their right to free speech,” one of the festival’s posts reads. SXSW organizers went on to defend their decision to accept the sponsors.

“The defense industry has historically been a proving ground for many of the systems we rely on today. These institutions are often leaders in emerging technologies, and we believe it’s better to understand how their approach will impact our lives. The Army’s sponsorship is part of our commitment to bring forward ideas that shape our world,”the string of SXSW posts reads.

SXSW drew more than 340,000 attendees last year, organizers have said, and generally hosts a sprawling lineup of conferences, panels, music showcases, film screenings and exhibitions. Its events this year have included panels with actress Selena Gomez; Meghan, Duchess of Sussex; and investor Mark Cuban.

The festival continues to “support human rights for all,” SXSW’s posts read.

“The situation in the Middle East is tragic, and it illuminates the heightened importance of standing together against injustice,” the festival statement added.

A rally over the issue is scheduled for Thursday evening outside a SXSW venue, hosted by the Austin for Palestine Coalition and United Musicians and Allied Workers, a group of advocates for fairer wages and work standards for musical artists.

CNN has sought comment from the US Army.

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