A Philadelphia city councilman’s widely criticized bill was recently withdrawn by none other than it’s creator. The move marks a decisive victory for the cities music scene–the bill’s targets. It would be wise, however, to not only learn from this experience, but remain prepared for its resurgence.
Philadelphia council member Mark Squilla shocked colleagues upon proposing what some viewed as an attack on musical freedom. Squilla’s bill, in addition to upping venue prices, would’ve forced owners to compile the names, addresses, and phone numbers of performers. From there, the bill mandates that venue’s transfer the information to police, who’d reshape it into an all access, personal database. Squilla used the inconveniences of loud concerts with trash and partiers as justification for his proposal. From band members, to DJs, to rappers, no one would be exempted from the mandated police
Problematic crowds, under Squilla’s proposal, could actually get artists placed on a ban list, barring them from the city. Festivals, concerts, and individual performers alike were fair game for Squilla’s musical blacklist. “Crime, traffic, litter, noise”, the criteria for exile read more like the complaints of a notoriously feisty old man than lawful mandates. “Giving performers’ information to police when requested”, Squilla argued, “enables them to review past performances to see if there were any public safety issues during their events.”
Public backlash was nearly instantaneous, the majority of such voices from the music scene. A crowd of them, mostly industry rep’s, The Key reports, confronted democrat Mark Squilla at an open meeting. “We don’t want to discourage artist expression”, Squilla plead, “that’s the last thing we want. By no means am I anti-artist or anti-venue.” After explaining his aim to close a loophole in venue licenses, Squilla claimed “there’s no way the city was going to create a registry.”
Isn’t this last comment, however, a tad disingenuous? There’s a difference between Squilla proposing it in a bill, and the rest of the city approving it. It’s similarly disingenuous to use the word “request” to describe officers pulling information from a database on their own, without warrants, without court approval. Additionally, what Mark is advocating for will most certainly “discourage artist expression.” By singling out artists for the conduct of the people who come to their shows, the bill punishes them for things they can’t control. People who don’t even listen to that particular artist, but just want to have a good time, may go to a music festival. Simply having that in the proposal shows a complete lack of understanding on Squilla’s part of the sub-culture he’s attempting to target. Squilla, after withdrawing his bill, will reexamine his proposal, specifically its language and semantics.
It’s a remarkable victory not only for Philadelphia’s music scene, but for music crowds nationwide. Numerous festivals more resemble pilgrimages for counter-culture than the predictable, mundane gatherings of music fans. They’re times of centralized catharsis, creation, and alternative interaction. Oftentimes particularly large festivals serve vital roles in local economies regardless of any unfamiliar, or undesired, cultural conduct they attract.
Even without a “ban list”, increasing police pressure, or even presence, may prove undesirable to audiences. Police already have roles in monitoring activity at concerts, these other measures are unnecessary. The bill violates several fundamental ideologies regarding freedom of expression, and only served to expand Philadelphia’s police state. It’s withdrawal is encouraging, but not finial, and a revised version may be on the horizon. Those who pushed back so valiantly against Squilla’s proposition would do well to heed this possibility, and not become complacent.