Ezekiel Ox adds energy to activism

Ezekiel Ox at a rally in support of Aboriginal Palm Island man Lex Wotton.
October 31, 2014

Ezekiel Ox is a long-term singer-songwriter and activist for social justice. He has a reputation for energetic live performances across Australia, the United States and Britain with bands such as Full Scale, Mammal and Over Reactor.

Ox is an artist who puts ideas into practice, founding Musicians Against Police Violence, organising actions and fundraisers to fight racism and regularly MCing and leading chants at demonstrations.

Ox is now touring nationally playing old and new songs. You can see the tour details here. He spoke to Green Left Weekly's Chris Peterson.

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Your art combines anger with a vision of a better world. What drives your activism and art?

You don't have to look to far too see what drives our activism. War, genocide, stolen children, attacks on workers, refugees, the elderly, sick and disabled ― the list could go on for days. It makes me angry, but it comes from a place of love for humanity.

Not only do the world's people deserve and have the right to safety, shelter, food, water, music and art in our lives, but there is no doubt that if resources were used for different purposes, with a focus on building a society that actually functioned ― instead of delivering war, famine and disease ― we could achieve it in our lifetime.

The only way to work towards that right now is to aggressively fight back against capitalism, which means putting a lot of our precious time and energy into activism.

The art is different, more of a visceral, pathological thing. Ideas just arrive and need to get out. They are the product of my environment as much as my nature, so in my case they are, the vast majority of the time, political, and radically so.

As an artist, I'm working on the craft of connecting with people, and if possible, changing them in some way when I do.

This year, Abbott has launched the most savage budget in decades, which has led to huge actions across the country. Why should we take action against the budget?

If we don't fight back now, then we will see a huge spike in people dying alone, cold, sick and poor.

Black mob will continue to die earlier and earlier. The environment will die, leaving our children a poisoned wasteland to live on. Women will suffer more and more oppression, violence and rape. Refugees' conditions will continue to worsen.

This is life and death, not some conceptual debate about the economy. Many more workers around the world are going to die if this budget and ideology are allowed to go unchallenged. It's a fucking disgrace.

And if you know this truth and don't fight back or speak out, you're complicit in it as far as I'm concerned. Don't worry about if we can win or not, just do something to challenge the system. They started a class war, I say we give them one.

You have been campaigning against racism for a long time. Could you share some experiences on observing it and fighting back?

The [Northern Territory] intervention is one example of how it clearly manifests in Australia. Rudd says “sorry” then continues with Howard's racist policy and desperate vote and land grab against the first Australians. That sort of shit just makes me sick.

This also shows very clearly that the ALP are nothing but LNP-lite, and that at their core both major parties are deeply capitalist, and therefore racist, sexist and homophobic.

The other racist thing I'm forced to observe is the national flag, with its Union Jack in the top-left corner. It's a constant reminder to everyone that this country was founded by a violent, oppressive, invading, criminal force 226 years ago. I can only imagine what the Black mob in this country must think when they're asked to salute that flag. We should be burning them instead.

Ezekiel Ox performs at a rally against Black deaths in custody.

What is your advice for artists swimming against the corporate stream? Do you think artists have a responsibility to take on issues?
Not necessarily. Art is a deeply personal thing, and should be pursued and nurtured in all humans, such is the positive effect it has on culture, community and lifestyle.

It is a huge part of what makes us “human”, and we should be free to express our artistic vision with no boundaries or even audience if that's what the artist wants.

I do think, however, that art imitates life, and if more people were willing to take responsibility in speaking up against the system that hates, assaults and kills us every day, we would see more art that dealt with that struggle.

To artists who are wanting to use their work to fight the system, I'd say take it to the streets. Engage people where they're moving, paint the streets, dance the streets, rock the streets. If more people did that, we would reclaim the space for creativity, expression and humanity. That would make conditions a little riper for revolution.

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