Two Problems with the HAIM Fundraiser for the Tree of Life Shooting in Pittsburgh

Pop rock band HAIM created a shirt on their playful Haimukkah ditty as a way to show support for the 3 Jewish congregations targeted by a white domestic terrorist in October in Pittsburgh. It is a lovely gesture.

 

Dreidels, Candels, Latkes oh my! All the things you need to get your Haimukkah celebration going!

a portion of all sales of this long sleeve shirt will be donated to the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh

Happy Haimukkah!

But there are two problems that can both be easily address.

First, the language is inaccurate and potentially very harmful. The Tree of Life synagogue is home to three congregations, all of whom lost members on that terrible day and all of whom must move through the post-traumatic experience. It would be helpful if HAIM specified that they are supporting all three congregations and said their names online where there is space to do so. They are: Tree Of Life/Or L’Simcha, New Light Congregation, and Dor Hadash. Tree of Life owns the actual building, but Dor Hadash may have been the primary target of the shooter because of their immigration work. So it is best and most respectful to be accurate and share any proceeds with all three congregations.

It is also a matter of legalities. If people buy shirts to support Tree of Life Congregation, that Congregation is bound by federal law as to what it can do with the money – it can’t just say “Let’s give part to the other two.” It is not an unrestricted gift unless HAIM says the funds will be an unrestricted donation.

Second, I noticed the shirts only come in sizes S-XL. Since HAM is a feminist band, this is a little surprising – body positivity is an important feminist concept. I explored this in a piece I wrote in 2015 about feminist performers and their promotional swag after my first Sleater-Kinney concert.

Why does it matter?

Two reasons. First, I expect feminist bands to be conscious of the inclusion of all of their fans in the fan experience. The graphic designers and printers I asked about sizing told me that bands requesting 2X or larger usually do so because of an actual person that they know—a fan, a band member, family, etc. In other words, they have a personal awareness of the need for larger sizes. That makes sense, but I would expect feminist groups to have that heightened awareness on a systemic level—much like buying shirts that are sweatshop free. It isn’t just a personal favor; it is a conscious choice by the artists to invite all of us into the full-fan experience, not just those in typical sizes.

Second, the merch is a way to engage the community. If I walk around with a Sleater-Kinney (or HAIM) shirt, the world knows that people like me are fans and listen to the music. People whose bodies that look like mine. I’m not just a listener; I’m a fan. It is a message that transcends my personal engagement. The XL shirt that I bought is cute, but not comfortable so it will never see the world. Or be seen by the world. It will be a sleep shirt or a shirt used for layering during cool weather. I won’t put it on because I want to be a fan that afternoon; I’ll put it on without any real conscious thought. Or worse I’ll just cram it into the back of my closet because it annoys me to think that I dropped $25 on a shirt I don’t really like until a few years down the road when I finally think to donate it to Goodwill.

Ideally, feminist bands should intentionally offer sizes XS-4X with the same thought that they give to using sweatshop-free, union labor or organic inks and fibers.

Yes, there is often a cost different at the manufacturing level, but you simply factor that into all of the prices because the people wearing Medium shirts are better off too when their XS and 3X friends can be part of the fan community. Share the extra cost. No one will even notice.

Earlier this year, HAIM made headlines over demanding equal pay for their work as female musicians and artists so we know they are serious about their feminism and equality and respect.

I figured these special shirts came from a certain run and that’s why they stopped at XL. I was genuinely shocked to browse through their online store and see that everything is S-XL, across the board. Wow, that’s a significant way to exclude a lot of fans who don’t look like the stereotypical rock music fan we see in movies and such.

I know that myself and others have reached out to HAIM about both issues with no response. And even though I’m disappointed, I still included the shirts in my Holiday Shopping Guide at the Pittsburgh Current. Here’s hoping HAIM and their team will at some point stop to think about the irony of excluding 2 congregations and very small/fat fans from a fundraiser intended to resist bias and oppression.

But like I said, this can all be fixed. The promotion text can be clarified. The shirt ordering person can find a vendor who fits feminist needs.

In the meantime, I’m going to make my donation directly and hope down the road I can buy the very cute and cool shirt.