South by South Left: SXSW Honors Chelsea Clinton, Assange, Snowden, Abortionist

One of the more depressing truths of contemporary society is contained in “O’Sullivan’s First Law,” from British conservative journalist John O’Sullivan: “All organizations that are not actually right-wing will over time become left-wing.” For proof, look no further than South by Southwest (“SXSW”).

SXSW started as a meetup for tech experts, but attendance has grown 300 percent since since 2009 (as many as 150,000 people are expected to come to Austin, TX, this year starting March 7), and it has turned into a pop culture party, featuring more celebrity special guests each year. This year, the guest list includes Jimmy Kimmel, Seth Myers, Mindy Kaling, Rosario Dawson, Jason Bateman, Jon Favreau, Nicolas Cage, Andy Samberg, CeeLo Green, Wiz Khalifa, 50 Cent and Bill Nye.

Of course with the addition of more celebrities comes with more radically left politics. This year, documentaries and sessions honor abortion doctors, the environment, and the LGBT community; and speakers include HBO’s “Girls” Lena Dunham, Wikileaks’ Julian Assange, NSA leaker Edward Snowden and Chelsea Clinton.

Janet Pierson, a SXSW film expert told Variety that SXSW filmmakers have an “instinctive sense of what makes sense for us. We like to take chances; we like stuff that’s out there sexually, politically incorrect or not glossy, and there’s a bias towards naturalism and authenticity.” (Right, because there’s nothing politically correct about greens and gays.)

But celebrating the “out-there” and left-wing certainly defines this festival, which will feature frequently nude feminist/actor/director Lena Dunham as a keynote speaker along with Wikeleaker Julian Assange, who will be giving his talk through video broadcast, since he is hiding from criminal charges at the Ecuadorean embassy in London. Another fugitive, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden will chat via teleconference with ACLU’s Christopher Soghoian, March 10. Former “Guardian” journalist Glenn Greenwald, who broke the NSA scandal, will also be talking on a panel Saturday.

Notice a theme? According to the South by Southwest website, this was purposeful:

“Surveillance and online privacy look to be one of the biggest topics of conversation at the 2014 SXSW Interactive Festival. The number of sessions on this topic reflect the importance of this issue to the digital creatives who converge in Austin each March. As organizers, SXSW agrees that a healthy debate with regards to the limits of surveillance is vital to the future of the online ecosystem.”

If there was another theme for this year’s festival speakers, it would be “famous feminists who are famous for doing nothing.” Along with Lena Dunham, Chelsea Clinton will be honored as a keynote speaker at SXSW Interactive. What key role she has played in the media and technology, is anybody’s guess. National Review’s Jim Geraghty brought up,

“Last year it was SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, co-creator of PayPal, founder of Tesla motor sports, and the inspiration for Robert Downey’s portrayal of Iron Man.” But this year it’s Chelsea Clinton. “We all had to pretend that Chelsea Clinton deserved to have her first job in journalism be that of a prime-time network correspondent,” Geraghty wrote. “Now we all have to pretend she deserves the keynote-address slot at SXSW.”

Plenty of left-wing celebrities will be on panels too. Rosario Dawson, George Takei, Melissa Etheridge, Lady Gaga, and Rahm Emanuel are most notably aggressive in their left-wing politics. Dawson is an anti-fracking activist, while Takei, Gaga and Emanuel have frequently attacked conservatives, Christians, and businesses on gay rights; and Emanuel famously banned Chic-Fil-Afrom Chicago. Emanuel is not the first Democratic politician at SXSW. New Jersey Democrat Senator and media darling Cory Booker was named “Speaker of the event” last year.

Of course, a lefty festival wouldn't be complete without documentaries bemoaning the state of our environment, transgender issues, and women’s rights. This year will feature the world premiere of “Vessel,” about Dr. Rebecca Gomperts, a pirate abortionist of sorts. As described by SXSW:

Dr. Rebecca Gomperts sails a ship around the world, providing abortions at sea for women with no legal alternative. Her idea begins as flawed spectacle, faced with governmental, religious, and military blockade. But with each roadblock comes a more refined mission, until Rebecca realizes she can use new technologies to bypass law – and train women to give themselves abortions using WHO-researched protocols with pills. From there we witness her create an underground network of emboldened, informed activists who trust women to handle abortion themselves. "Vessel" is Rebecca’s story: one of a woman who hears and answers a calling, and transforms a wildly improbable idea into a global movement.

Another doc, “Above All Else” follows one man’s quest to rally his community and environmental activists to block the Keystone XL Pipeline from being built. Another film, “Lady Valor: The Kristin Beck Story” about a U.S. Navy Seal who became a woman, will also premiere at the festival.

Left-wing activism also makes an appearance on panels like,“Allyship: Becoming a Champion for Inclusion,” and “Artists Plus The Affordable Care Act: Get Covered.” Though South by Southwest does not promote itself as political, clearly their choice of keynote speakers, documentaries and panels reveal a different story.

Kristine Marsh
Kristine Marsh
Kristine Marsh is a staff writer/analyst for the Media Research Center's Culture and Media Institute.