An unlikely tipping point in California's fight on domestic-violence shelters? Moby.
Wednesday, the California Legislature voted to restore $16.3 million in funding to the state's domestic-violence shelters previously cut by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger during the latest round of apocalyptic budget crises. To many, those cuts seemed like a particularly callous solution to California's funds dilemma, given the small amount of money involved and the vulnerability of those who use the shelters' services.
The restoration of those emergency funds -- which are allotted for only one year and must be paid back to the Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Fund -- still awaits Schwarzenegger's signature. But it is nonetheless cause for celebration. Many of the shelters faced impending closure without that money. But there's an unexpected pop musician whose late support might have been the needed final push to get the money back: Moby.
Two weeks ago, the New York-based electronica artist embarked on a publicity campaign to donate all profits from the California leg of his current tour to the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence and embattled shelters, and he became a visible talking head rallying support for the effort to restore the shelters' funds.
"It was such an insignificant amount of money, it felt like somebody was going out of their way to be mean-spirited," he said, from his dressing room before his show Wednesday night at the Wiltern. "The people that use their services are the most disenfranchised of the disenfranchised. If these shelters are open, people's lives improve, and if they close, people die. There's nothing abstract about it."
Moby, long an outspoken vegan and leftist gadfly in activist circles, cited his own mother's past involvement in abusive relationships as one of his personal rallying points in this effort. In a time when musicians are struggling to articulate the depth and breadth of our political problems, such specific aims may be a more manageable and productive pursuit for activist artists.
"This was a specific problem as opposed to, say, ending all war," Moby said. "There was a clear end game here, and we got there."
While the funding cuts were one of many pockmarks on a dismal Sacramento budgeting season, the relative speed with which they were restored surprised even the activist working to those ends. Moby hopes that the effort's success may be heralding a new attitude in the way we talk about social services and the people who use them in America, a shift in tone that might prove as valuable as needed funds.
"When Newt Gingrich and Ronald Reagan talked about the drain of welfare moms on society, it was so obvious that neither of them had ever been to a women's shelter," he said. "It's so easy to make flesh-and-blood people abstract. So often, people in government think they can pass laws while no one's paying attention. This was one time where people told them that yes, we are paying attention."
Above: Photo by Estela Silva / European Pressphoto Agency. Below: From left, the writer and Moby. Or maybe it's the other way around. It's hard to tell.