Ani DiFranco Finds More Support Than Ever for Her Biggest Causes as She Kicks Off Rising Up Tour
"Through this terrible, terrible time, we are finding ourselves in a way that's been lost for a long time,” says the singer/songwriter & activist, who plays Clearwater Festival on Saturday.
For Ani DiFranco -- singer, songwriter, poet and activist -- the social and political causes close to her heart have been under attack since the presidential election of 2016. And that’s OK, says DiFranco, whose current Rising Up Tour brings her to the Clearwater Festival in Croton-on-Hudson, New York, on Saturday to sing for the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater.
“I try to focus on the positive or risk becoming completely overwhelmed, like any of us,” says DiFranco.
But she's also encountering a different feeling on this tour, during which she's performing songs from her 2017 album Binary.
“The difference is just the receptiveness, all around me, for things I feel like I've been running my mouth about for a long time, for the sort of resistance I’ve been participating in for a long time,” she says.
DiFranco has been a longtime outspoken advocate for human rights in every realm -- for women, for the LGBTQ community, for everyone -- with her environmentalism and anti-war stance and more. (She’s also been a hero to the independent music community as the founder and owner of Righteous Babe Records, with its DIY ethos.) .
“And suddenly,” she says, “there’s so many [supportive] people to my left and my right. It’s really thrilling, you know?
“Everybody I know who is an activist, who is running nonprofit organizations, that are doing the hard work on the front lines in many places, they all feel it,” she says. “Never have our donations and our volunteers and our support been greater.
“I think, through this terrible, terrible time, we are finding ourselves in a way that's been lost for a long time.”
DiFranco, who has invited Portland-based singer/songwriter Hayley Heynderickx to open dates on the Rising Up Tour, recognizes that the nitty-gritty of electoral politics is now key to advancing the progressive agenda she supports.
So with a record number of women running for Congress in the 2018 midterm elections, DiFranco has teamed up with Emily’s List, the political action committee that has supported women candidates since 1985. The connection occurred after the Women’s March of Jan. 21, 2017, when DiFranco was at a benefit event featuring a speaker who described the work of Emily’s List.
“I was like, wow, how can I help you?” she recalled.
Announcing DiFranco’s involvement this past January, Emily’s List president Stephanie Schriock described the singer as “a fierce activist and advocate for women’s rights. It’s an honor to have Ani join our 5 million-strong Emily’s list community. In a year when our work is more important than ever, her voice will help us elect a wave of pro-choice Democratic women to office this November.”
Says DiFranco: “The women that are coming out of the woodwork in unprecedented numbers saying, 'I want to run' -- it’s happening right now. Now is the time for their work more than ever.”
Another group focused on electoral politics has also inspired DiFranco this year: the students who led the March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C., on March 24, following the Parkland, Florida, school shooting on Feb. 14.
“I’ve got an 11-year-old daughter and she’s walked out several times from her school” in solidarity with the students fighting against gun violence, says DiFranco.
Early this month, the students behind March for Our Lives announced they would hit the road beginning in Chicago on Friday for a two-month summer tour to stage voter registration drives and call for more action on gun control. The “March for Our Lives: Road to Change” tour is due to reach 50 cities across 20 states over 60 days.
Back in February, DiFranco watched in admiration as Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School senior Emma Gonzalez, just three days after surviving the mass murder of 17 people at her school, called for action with the words: “Register to vote!”
“It’s voting. Voting! Thank God, young people are clear on the concept,” says DiFranco. “We had lost generations of voters, and I think we're [paying] the price. The fact that voting is one of the first things out of their mouth is the most hopeful sign for me.”