Singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile has pulled out of the Fortune Most Powerful Woman Summit that begins today in Washington, D.C. She follows Hillary Clinton and “Surviving R. Kelly” executive producer Dream Hampton in exiting the summit over the inclusion of Kirstjen Nielsen, President Trump’s former homeland security secretary, who shared responsibility for implementing his family separation policy among migrants at the border.
Carlile was expected to address immigration issues herself at the summit, as her song “The Joke,” which was nominated for record and song of the year at the 2019 Grammys, deals with that topic.
In a series of Twitter messages Monday morning, the singer expressed profuse gratitude for the honor of being asked to appear and said she believes in dialogue with those expressing contrary viewpoints, but that appearing at the same dais as Nielsen was finally beyond the pale.
After quoting key lines from “The Joke” (“They come to kick dirt in your face / To call you weak and then displace you after carrying your baby on your back across the desert”), Carlile said, “At the end of the day I’m a mother with a ridiculous birthright and a heart for displaced people. i’m proud to have been invited to the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit in D.C. Dropping out of such a special appearance is rarely my style. I believe in showing up and lending my voice. Joining the power.
“However,” she continued, “I don’t believe that human rights violators and merit-based abusers of displaced people should be given a platform to ‘reimagine’ history. Ever. The atrocity of family separation at our Southern border needs to go down in history as one of the United States of America’s most merciless acts.
“Respectfully, I absolutely cannot support Kirstjen Nielsen having a voice among the most powerful and inspiring women in America. Her access to power is righteously over. I forgive her. I mean no disrespect. I wish her well and hope that she comes to understand the error in her part of this shameful policy.
“I am beyond honored to have been considered,” Carlile concluded. “Thank you for understanding.”
Hampton, the “Surviving R. Kelly” executive producer, dropped out Friday, saying in a statement, “Fortune should not be giving Kirstjen Nielsen a platform to rehabilitate her image. I’ve worked all my life to tell the stories of women, girls and families. Sharing a stage with Nielsen, who separated immigrant families and put babies in cages, would have put a stamp of approval on her immoral and reprehensible actions and help legitimize the terror that Trump is inflicting on immigrants and communities of color. So I’m cancelling my attendance and encourage other speakers to do the same. … Reputation rinsing ― using visible, celebratory platforms to restore and normalize monstrous abuse ― was actually common practice for predators like R Kelly and Jeffrey Epstein.”
In seeming recognition of the growing groundswell to remove Nielsen from the conference, Fortune has changed the name of the panel on which she was to appear. Formerly titled “Conversation,” the Q&A with Nielsen, to be conducted by PBS Newshour’s Amna Nawaz, is now being billed as “The Hard Questions.”
Clinton had cited a scheduling conflict in her exit from the summit, though sources told reporters that learning of Nielsen’s inclusion in the proceedings was key in her decision to back out.
Actress Sara Ramirez was quick to thank Carlile on Twitter, writing, “Thank you so much for using your voice, power and platform to speak to this. I am with you.”
A number of liberal or progressive politicians and activists are still scheduled to appear, along with some major players in the entertainment business. Those still on the agenda include presidential candidate Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Anita Hill, Eva Longoria, former U.S. national security advisor Susan Rice, and the CEOs, directors, presidents or board chairmen of such companies as Starbucks, Microsoft, Verizon Business, Deloitte and Cisco.
In response to a fan who asked why Carlile would not choose to stay on the agenda and speak truth to power, the artist responded, “I gave that a lot of thought because I would ordinarily totally agree. But I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to engage at the same time. She’s scheduled for a different panel. This was my only way to impact the situation this time.”
Well before “The Joke,” Carlile has been active in refugee causes with her Looking Out Foundation, which has worked in partnership with War Child UK.