(EDITOR’S NOTE: The mission of 1120 Press is to cover the artists who make up Buffalo’s scene, as well as the social issues that often inspires the art created here. Musicians Allison Mitchell and Lena Caggiano came on our radar in relation to the war in Gaza through their activism, including their efforts to raise money for those in Gaza through the Palestinian Children’s Relief Fund and social media outreach through channels such as the Gaza Emergency Appeal. Allison is the frontwoman for Velvet Bethany, a mashup of punk rock style and rock-n-roll riffs along with consciousness-expanding lyrics about topics often shoved under the rug,such as sexual assault. Caggiano is a singer and also collaborates with Mitchell. Recently they spoke with Benjamin Joe of 1120 Press. The opinions expressed in this conversation are those of the artists.)
1120 PRESS: Hi guys, we appreciate you sitting down with us. To start, could you tell us how you got involved with this subject (the Hamas/Israeli war over Gaza)?
ALLISON MITCHELL: We had just arrived in Japan at our Buddhist Temple when we heard about the attack, maybe from the news. I think I heard it from you, Lena?
LENA CAGGIANO: It was a very jarring juxtaposition because we were in the midst of a very spiritual andpeaceful, happy place and at that moment, I’m opening my phone and I’m seeing these images of extreme violence being committed specifically against women and children which hit me very hard. That was how we got into it.
1120: What are some ways to help the people of Gaza during this time?
AM: There’s no easy way to help these people. There’s no easy way to disconnect from the military industrial complex. We’re all in a relationship with an abusive system, and while in America we have more freedom of speech than most people in the world, you would have to divest in your IRA Roth account. To stop working. Everyone would have to fucking stop working and pause the system. If you want a ceasefire, we have to pause the system.
LC: I have a little different perspective on that because I don’t think that will happen, but I do think a ceasefire should happen. There are some tangible ways to do things and it’s actually very attainable to put pressure on the government. There’s one simple thing I suggest everyone to do to start, which is to — if you have a smartphone — to download an app called 5 Calls. You put in your zip code and they give you a script, they give you your representative’s phone number. That may seem insignificant and like it won’t do much, but it is significant, and they’re being inundated and flooded with these calls for a ceasefire. Even if the idiots on toparen’t paying attention, their staff are feeling the pressure. There was a mass walkout that happened in D.C. from staff because the constituents weren’t being listened to.
AM: That’s an example of people not working.
LC: Yeah, the staff weren’t working, that’s for sure. That’s one thing. Secondly, yes, we’re all buying into this system. We all have a stake with this with our dollars and that’s why people should care, because any money you’re paying for federal taxes, in any way, is directly paying for this violence. You’re paying for it. (And) it’s easy to disconnect from this topic and disassociate from it.
Follow journalists like Motaz Azaiza, Plestia and Wizard Bisan on Instagram. Then there are groups that are doing community action, and they need more people. If one out of 10 people really cared about this issue and went out and did something it would be undeniable, it would be impossible to ignore.
1120: This leads into our next question. If you only had a brief minute to try to explain to someone — who doesn’t have any stake or predetermined outlook — why should they care about the war in Gaza, what would you say?
LC: First off, I’ll say, “Do people know that Gaza is 50 percent children? Do people know they’re being carpet bombed?” So, my follow up question to those people is, “why do I live in a world where I have to explain that is wrong?”
AM: I think people should not only be against this genocide, they should inherently be against war and violence. If people think violence is an appropriate response to any situation, they need to start being aware of it. We’re distracted by our media and our toys. It’s really easy to disconnect from suffering.
LC: (If) you’re not raising your voice at all, you are funding and personally putting your energy to these deaths, that’s what you’re doing.
AM: And not just these deaths, too. Every time you buy bananas you’re contributing to the death of people in migrant communities in South America. What I mean to say is to look at the bigger picture. As long as violence is a normal response to get what you want, this can happen to any of us… The war over there inspires war against citizens here. Palestinian and Jewish citizens, right? When you propagate certain beliefs and you put that in people’s heads, then it propagates hate in our society. And it happens every time. Black Lives Matter and the Iraq War. You label somebody a terrorist and you start a war on our society, and as long as we’re a nation divided, we’re not going to get anything done.
AM: I think people either feel powerless or think this will never happen in America… If you accept violence into your life, if you let this happen to other people — and it might not happen to you in your lifetime, now — but it could happen to your children for the things you didn’t stand up for now. We need to set the stage now for the future. Future generations.
1120: Both of you are tremendously talented musicians. What do you think your
art can do to help in this cause, and if that doesn’t seem realistic, why? At the very least how do you think it’s influencing your music?
LC: I work at a music venue and for the first few weeks of the Gaza-Israel situation, I had a really hard time listening to music. I had a really hard time looking at people smiling listening to music.
AM: I did too.
LC: To me it signified a disassociation and detachment … don’t want, for example, my music to be a distraction from reality to the point where people are allowing themselves to disassociate, to detach and to distract from self. Right now, there are millions of people counting on us to not look away. If you need music to keep yourself sane, which I do … that’s (why) music is beautiful, and art. But at the same time, I would never want it to be used to allow myself to detach completely and be in a dream world that isn’t actually part of this reality.
AM: I would say pop music and what’s on the radio has a lot of distracting messages, but I would not have become awoken to things I know if I hadn’t been listening to punk music in high school. And I think music is the easiest way to help people wake up. And I cannot help but make songs where the goal is to wake people up. I might write songs about love and silly stuff, but those are the easy pill for people to swallow to get into the darker areas.
1120: What are your future plans — In terms of music, in terms of fighting against the war?
LC: There’s Jewish Voice for Peace, which I meet with and done some action with. For example, we just occupied Sen. Schumer’s office — well his lobby. Then there are rallies so there’s going to be more action that should be happening. I’ll be in contact with other groups in the area because there are people doing things and I will always be planning to do more music. Hopefully with Allison soon.
AM: Yeah, I feel I can’t create music and imagery fast enough to wake people up to this. It’s already happening. I had a series of dreams in August and September about violence in the Middle East and really strong images, that I’m trying to find somebody who can help me recreate, and I don’t know if I want to use that for an album. I don’t even have the words to express what’s happening right now through song form. I also worry about the content of the imagery. It might be too disturbing for people, but I have to. I don’t have a choice. I have to show it.