An Open Letter to Artists

Resisting Moloch in the New Millennium

by Michael Slate

Revolutionary Worker #1251, August 29, 2004, posted at

Dear artists,

I've been thinking a lot about Moloch these days--a mythical monster immortalized by Allen Ginsberg in his poetic indictment of 1950s America, Howl : "Moloch the incomprehensible prison. Moloch whose blood is running money! Moloch whose fingers are ten armies!. Moloch whose love is endless oil and stone! Moloch whose soul is electricity and banks. Moloch whose poverty is the specter of genius!" A couple of thousand years ago people worshipped Moloch. They made idols of this demon god with the head of a bull and a belly full of fire that made his entire bronze body glow red. According to myth, Moloch ate the first-born children of all who worshipped him. During the sacrifice ritual people danced to the music of flutes and tambourines to drown out the screams of agony as their children burned to death.

Moloch's shadow weighs heavy across the globe today. How can anyone of good conscience fail to raise their voice and howl against his crimes, to do all we can to put an end to the terror and death he sows. How can we live with ourselves if we don't?


Many sense a moment today unlike any other in recent history. Big things are up. It's an enormous moment, one in which the whole direction of society is being determined. Millions recognize that the stakes are high in opposing Bush and all he stands for. People understand that the whole direction after 9/11 was a qualitative change in this society and the world. The horror of this is bad and can become very much worse and it will impact generations to come. Stakes as extreme as this are moving people to question assumptions they have held all their lives. Many are searching for answers and ways to make their protest felt.

This moment needs voices of conscience from artists and leading intellectuals. These voices are needed more than ever to speak the truth--untamed & uncensored voices of dissent to recast the whole discussion going on in this country.

Millions need to make it clear that we here in the U.S. do not want to live in a world where our government has a blank check to drop commandos, assassins and bomb wherever it wants. We believe that peoples and nations have the right to determine their own destiny, free from military coercion by great powers. We do not want to live in a country where the government can pick up anyone it wants and declare them enemy combatants with no rights to any legal counsel. We don't want to live in an apartheid country with the vast majority of immigrants who make up more and more of our population having no rights of any kind while citizens increasingly give up their most basic rights to privacy, free speech and assembly in the name of "keeping us safe'

The whole direction the Bush team has taken the country since 9/11 has to be resisted and not given a mandate to continue.


Times like this drive people to look at those at the top of society--the ones with access to the halls of power--to address this, and right now a lot of people who should know better are caught up working within a logic that sets the political terrain further and further to the right. This is the road to Moloch's belly. (All the better to eat you, my dear!) No one at the top is listening. Certainly not Bush and the Republicans; and the Democratic Party has made it clear that they will not entertain opposition to the fundamentals of the Bush agenda--the war and the Patriot Act. Leaving things in the electoral arena will choke discussion and protest to death exactly when it needs to flourish and spread.

It is up to the people to act--to resist, to take the streets in great numbers.

A few years ago, in the months after 9/11--in the period building up to the invasion of Iraq--thousands of artists and intellectuals dared to sign the Not In Our Name Statement of Conscience. They told the world:

"We call on all Americans to resist the war and repression that has been loosed on the world by the Bush administration. It is unjust, immoral and illegitimate. We choose to make common cause with the people of the world.

"We must take the highest officers of the land seriously when they talk of a war that will last a generation and when they speak of a new domestic order. We are confronting a new openly imperial policy towards the world and a domestic policy that manufactures and manipulates fear to curtail rights.

"There is a deadly trajectory to the events of the past months that must be seen for what it is and resisted. Too many times in history people have waited until it was too late to resist."

This call is more necessary and urgent than ever. These convictions are shared by ever increasing--not dwindling--numbers of people in society. This is what provides collective strength for artists raising their voices. Artists who signed this statement must never forget these principles and their commitment to deliver a loud and unmistakable NO to the whole agenda of the American juggernaut and to do it in a way that will not be marginalized or silenced. The time is way past urgent and the people of the world must know that people here in this country do not want endless war for empire. They must know that we will not condone, sanction or give a mandate through these elections to the actions of our government being done in our name.

The irony is that artists who are just calling on people to vote for the Democrats have been accused of "hate speech" by the media. Meryl Streep caught flack for her comments at a Radio City Music Hall fundraiser, when she said, "During Shock and Awe I wondered which of the megaton bombs Jesus, our president's personal savior, would have personally dropped on the sleeping families of Baghdad. I wondered, `Does Jesus understand collateral damage?' " When Bruce Springsteen announced his participation in the Vote for Change tour coming up this October, a tour with the expressed purpose of influencing the elections against Bush, Ted Koppel asked, "Who the hell is Bruce Springsteen to tell anyone how to vote?" And at the Democratic Party convention, the party line was "don't go negative" in the name of offending some independent voter in a swing state. That in itself is a lesson in how the terms are set at the top levels of society--by the movers and shakers who really decide things and then blame it on the masses.

Let's just say it plain and clear. If artists and the people they speak for cannot express their anger and, YES, hatred for the way we are forced to live as a result of this rolling coup--if people cannot express disgust and repudiation of the torture at Abu Ghraib prison; if we cannot share in the hatred the Iraqi people have for the military destruction of their country and feel compassion for the people who this summer are living without a safe supply of water that is sure to kill even more than those directly killed by bombs; if we cannot hate the AIDS policy of this administration that is preaching abstinence to a continent where the loss of life is threatening to surpass the slave trade; if we cannot say NO to the Christian fascist agenda that is well entrenched in this administration and the officer corps of the military and hate what it means to pass a constitutional amendment that would ban marriage between people of the same sex who want to share a life together as equal and not as lesser human beings--then something is terribly wrong. If you don't hate the fact that your most basic needs are being met by the enforcement of child labor in much of the world and the forced migration of people to this country because free trade agreements have wiped out any means of making a life at home. If you can't hate and reject the simplistic script of good and evil and lies from your own government --- if you can't hate this then where is your decency?


We need artists to raise their voices and speak the truth today--nothing else will do. We need to break out of boxes, cages and traps of all sorts. And we need our artists to raise their voices, to stand with and inspire our resistance. I'm reminded of a story told to me by my sorely missed friend, the late jazz pianist Horace Tapscott. During the 1965 Watts Rebellion Horace dared to "score" the rebellion when he put his piano on the back of flatbed truck and toured the streets of Watts because "the people needed music" to keep them going. Horace knew then that in moments of great historic upheaval it is critical that artists raise their voices to inspire and feed our heads.

In the end it all comes down to this. What kind of world do we want to live in and how will we be judged by future generations? Will they say why didn't people speak up and resist? Or will they look back at the Republican Convention of 2004 as a historic turning point--where millions of people took to the streets and said NO! And together with people all over the world said we won't continue to live with endless war abroad and repression at home. Artists raising their voices now can be decisive in all this. The whole world IS watching.