Charlie Bertsch

Charlie Bertsch is Co-Editor-in-Chief at Souciant. He was Music Editor at Tikkun and ZEEK and has also written about culture and politics for The Oxford American, New Times, and the pioneering internet magazine Bad Subjects: Political Education for Everyday Life, which he helped to found back in 1992. He has taught at the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Arizona and Arizona State University.




In the wake of the horrific shootings on January 8th, 2011 that left Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in extremely critical condition and six others dead, residents of Tucson, Arizona were looking for a way to express their feelings. By the evening, a large crowd had congregated downtown for an open-mic event at the Rialto Theater that turned into both a powerful response to those who would pigeonhole the city as another example of right-wing extremism in the state and a testament to the role that popular music plays in the populace’s self-conception.

Already suffering from Sound Strike, the boycott of Arizona by musicians angry about the anti-immigration bill SB 1070, members of the Tucson music community made the Rialto event the starting point for a concerted effort to distinguish the city’s identity from its conservative neighbors in the state. Perhaps the most impressive result of this effort is the compilation Luz de Vida. Featuring a wide range of contributions by local artists and “fellow travelers,” the vinyl-only album and its digital supplement celebrate the sounds for which the city is known best, while also making it clear that there’s a lot more to the place than what outsiders have been led to expect.

My presentation reflects on the implications of this attempt to showcase Tucson as a progressive place where diversity is not only celebrated, but constitutive of the city’s identity. Using interviews with participants in the Rialto event and the Luz de Vida project, as well as theoretical and historical treatments of multiculturalism and urban planning, I reflect on the implications of trying to “rebrand” cities through music. Acknowledging the limitations of this approach, I nevertheless conclude that Tucson’s response to the shootings provides a compelling model for other urban locales struggling with the complexities of immigration, poverty and political polarization

My Speakers Sessions

Sunday, March 25

2:15pm EDT