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Rolling Stone 2/23/95

Stamping Out Hate
By Peter Blackstock

On the surface, they appear to be different issues: anti-gay initiatives on statewide ballots in Oregon and Idaho; a proposition denying access to health care, education and other services to undocumented immigrants, which was adopted by California voters in November; fatal attacks on employees at abortion clinics in Florida and Massachusetts.

But they're all symptoms of the same disease: an increasingly pervasive atmosphere of intolerance in American society. That's the viewpoint of Artists for a Hate Free America (AHFA), a nonprofit organization working to turn back homophobia, rascism and sexism in this country.

AHFA has its origins in the "No on 9" campaign, a successful drive to defeat an anti-gay-rights proposition in Oregon in 1992. The organization, which consists primarily of musicians, held its first fundraiser in September 1993 with a benefit concert in Portland, Oregon, that was headlined by Melissa Ethridge. AHFA gradually became more active and visible in 1994, culminating in a September benefit in Seattle featuring Green Day, Hole, Weezer and others. The AHFA emblem -- a three-bar symbol meaning absolute equality, which is taken from centuries-old folklore -- made its debut in the booklet of Pearl Jam's recent album, Vitalogy, and information about the organization was included in the band's fan-club mailings, as well as in those of R.E.M., Soundgarden, Matthew Sweet and the Indigo Girls.

Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament and manager Kelly Curtis are members of AHFA's board. "We got interested because Pearl Jam does a lot of causes, and we get bombarded with requests every day," Curtis says. "We thought there should be an organization that turns the responsibility back to your audience by giving locally."

Indeed, AHFA's function is not to spearhead its own anti-hate projects but rather to serve as a networking arm for already established grass-roots groups. "Our primary goal," says AHFA director Sarah Stephens, "is to raise money and then grant it to community groups that are fighting hate -- for example, groups that escort doctors to abortion clinics or groups that fight anti-gay ballot initiatives."

AHFA, which raised nearly $100,000 last year, is also using public-service announcements recorded by artists to mount an educational campaign about hate-fueled activities, which often have been propogated by archconservatives, Stephens claims. "It's important to us to look at the radical right's political agenda," she says.

Another tool that AHFA employs is an 800 number that helps connect people who want to get involved with volunteer organizations that need their help. Ken Stringfellow of the Posies recorded the announcement that greets those who call in. Joining AHFA "is kind of like a positive form of revenge," he says. "I've seen this stuff happen when i was powerless, but now I can help."