ACLU 'Inspired' by Promised Donations From Protest Singles & Compilations

Nada Surf perform on Late Night with Seth Meyers on Feb. 29, 2016.
Lloyd Bishop/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Nada Surf perform on Late Night with Seth Meyers on Feb. 29, 2016.

"We are truly encouraged and inspired by how deeply the creative community recognizes the importance of the work the ACLU," says spokesperson Marsha Zeesman.

The American Civil Liberties Union thinks Americans have legitimate reason to be worried about some of the executive orders signed by President Trump in his first week. Even before Trump's controversial order barring immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. for three months set off mass protests across the nation and resulted in a record $24.1 million in donations to the activist group over the weekend, the ACLU was feeling very encouraged by the strong support from the musical community.

"A number of artists have donated proceeds from songs, benefit concerts and even portion of the proceeds from entire tours. We've had festivals earmark a portion of their ticket sales and we have seen an outpouring of support through social media as well as voiced in interviews," Marsha Zeesman, deputy director of Communications for the ACLU told Billboard on Thursday (Jan. 26), less than 24 hours before word of Trump's immigration order became public.

"They're the only beneficiary for our compilation and we talked about a bunch of different ones, but first and foremost we wanted to focus on the United States," Grant McCallum, director of marketing for Barsuk Records, told Billboard about why the ACLU is the primary focus for the label's new SAD! compilation.

Released on Trump's inauguration day (Jan. 20), the seven-track comp of previously unreleased cover songs by David Bazan (the Long Winters' "The Commander Thinks Aloud"), Mates of State (Death Cab for Cutie's "Technicolor Girls"), Nada Surf (John Vanderslice's "Wild Strawberries"), as well as tracks by Maps & Atlases, Ramona Falls, Say Hi and the Long Winters has earmarked 100 percent of proceeds to the ACLU. (Through the end of January, Barsuk has also pledged to donate 100 percent of proceeds from all its releases sold on Bandcamp to the ACLU.)

On Wednesday, the nearly century-old nonprofit, nonpartisan group that fights to protect the liberties and rights afforded to each American by the Constitution posted a story titled: "Trump’s Executive Actions Today Demonstrate He Will Follow Through on His Unlawful and Draconian Immigration Policies."

The ACLU is joined in its fear by a number of artists in the creative community, who have quickly stepped up to speak out and offer their help in the form of dozens of benefit singles and compilations with proceeds earmarked for the ACLU. "We are truly encouraged and inspired by how deeply the creative community recognizes the importance of the work the ACLU does -- and how through their art, they are meaningfully supporting the fight to protect and defend our constitutional rights," Zeesman said.

Inquiries offering help came in from "all different areas" over the first week of the Trump administration -- not just the music world -- with all the artists taking it upon themselves to find a way to help the organization, often without the ACLU's participation or even knowledge; at press time Friday, Zeesman was unable to speculate on the total of those donations. 

The group is, of course, grateful for the donations that will also help fund their new Constitution Defense Fund, which seeks to uncover "conflicts of interest and violations of the Constitution and federal law posed by President Trump’s and his family’s business interests." Zeesman said it hasn't been unusual to walk down a street in Brooklyn and see a sign outside a coffee house that says "proceeds from tonight go to the ACLU."

McCallum's team at Barsuk began talking about doing some sort of benefit compilation shortly after November's election. "We weren't sure what we wanted to do, but we already had these covers for a future project and we thought, 'Why not use them now instead of holding them?'" he recalled. "Our major hope is not just to raise money for the ACLU, but to get people to say 'I can do this' and get them civically engaged." Barsuk hopes that once fans spend their $7 on the album, they might be inspired to donate to another organization, or volunteer in their hometown and "spur them into action instead of despair."

Another compilation, Don't Stop Now, featuring covers of songs by Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Bright Eyes and David Bowie by The Menzingers, Laura Stevenson, Swanning and Lifted Bells, is also available now, as is Battle Hymns, which has unreleased songs from Stephen Malkmus, Boss Hogg and Quasi among others. Is There Another Language?, with songs from Mount Eerie, Dean & Britta and The Pains of Being Pure at Heart sold out immediately on inauguration day. Taking Back Sunday guitarist John Nolan's upcoming Music For Everyone, featuring tracks from Anti-Flag, Potty Mouth, Frank Iero and TBS, is due out in the spring.

It's not surprising that the ACLU has been the focus of so much attention from the music world, according to Jordan Kurland of Zeitgeist Artist Management (Best Coast, Postal Service, She & Him). "The very simple answer is that they're a very well-known organization and their mission is way broader than a lot of other organizations -- they're fighting for voting rights, the constitution, free speech -- I'm not saying it's a clearing house of anti-Trump initiatives, but it really does cover so much ground," Kurland told Billboard.

Kurland and author Dave Eggers launched their 30 Days, 30 Songs protest songs effort before the election, expanding it to 40 Songs and then 30 Days, 50 Songs and now the four-year project 1,000 Days, 1,000 Songs. "All profits raised from their efforts will go directly to organizations working on the front lines of climate, women's rights, immigration and fairness," the organizers promised.

Proceeds from the longer project are going to the Center for Popular Democracy because of their focus on universal voting rights, but Kurland said when he thinks about the issue that the majority of people are worried about under a Trump administration -- a possible curtailing of civil liberties -- the ACLU is the obvious focus. That's why the organization, along with Planned Parenthood, the AFL-CIO, the Sierra Club, Earthjustice and Black Lives Matter, are among the "organizations worth supporting now more than ever" listed on the 1,000 Days, 1,000 Songs site.

Though he couldn't reveal the names at press time, Kurland said two of his clients are planning upcoming benefits for "things Trump is trouncing on," one scheduled for Seattle and the other in Los Angeles. "It's awesome all these projects are happening," he said. Over the weekend Zedd encouraged fellow artists to donate to the ACLU and proposed doing a concert benefiting the organization featuring SiaCamila CabelloMacklemore and Grimes. Sia has vowed to match up to $100,000 in donations to the ACLU to support their efforts to protect immigrants as well as LGBTQ rights.