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October 2004
Punk Politics
The Satya Interview with Toby Jeg


From Peace Signs
Artist: Jai Redman
Title: Skate Poster
Organization: UHC Collective
Country: United Kingdom

For the uninitiated, punk rock means little more than mohawks, angry kids, and loud, obnoxious music. Undoubtedly, these elements exist, but for many, punk rock is much more than just abrasive music and teen angst run amok. In spite of the commercialization and mass marketing of punk, this music and culture still has a pulse. For the devoted, punk is a way of life that is as much about ideas and politics as it is about music. True punk is not simply just a sound; it is sound coupled with substance. Which brings us to Punk Voter, a collection of punk musicians, record labels, and fans coming together to do what all self-respecting punks do anyway, talk politics and make a whole lot of noise while doing it.

Founded by Fat Mike, the president of the über successful punk label Fat Wreck Chords, Punk Voter has set out to make the voices of punks throughout the U.S. heard this November. With issue-oriented advertising in magazines from Punk Planet to Rolling Stone, and with stories on media heavyweights like CNN, Punk Voter is being noticed. Just as one of punk’s legendary acts, Minor Threat, implored listeners to, “Stand Up and Be Counted,” Punk Voter is carrying the torch with its two Rock Against Bush CD compilations, informative website, and punk tours featuring bands and voter registration.

Recently, Eric Weiss spoke with Punk Voter organizer Toby Jeg to find out more about punk politics and the upcoming election.

Tell me a little bit about the impetus for Punk Voter and how it got started.
[At Fat Wreck Chords], we’ve had a long history of being politically aware, but it wasn’t until the 2000 election... I don’t even have the powers of articulation to properly express the outrage we all felt when we found out that George Bush was going to be president of the most powerful nation in the world. After a show one night, my boss Fat Mike, who is in [the band] NOFX, was like, “I’m going to start getting real vocal about this.” I think his motivation was, “I just played in Florida to 50,000 people; if I had just said something…I could have made a difference for once.”

I think one of the ideas of Punk Voter is to remedy voter apathy and bring back an element of activism to the punk rock scene. We also want to make sure that people have a better awareness of what is going on in America. You don’t hear about it from the corporate owned news so we’re trying to get more information out there.

How’s the response been? Because some bands on Fat do have a real history of politics, but then if you think about NOFX, they’ve always seemed like one of those bands that’s just out to have a good time. It seems to me that punk in the last bunch of years has become watered down and is almost wearing on its sleeve how apolitical it’s become.
It depends. And I don’t want to get into what’s punk and what’s not...

No, my question is just… I’m 30 years old and I grew up with punk, and to me punk and politics is one in the same.

I feel like there’s a whole generation of kids now who may not even know that.
You’re absolutely right. It’s refreshing to hear people’s response actually. First of all, the general response has been overwhelmingly positive. The website gets 17 or 18 million hits a month; we’ve sold over half a million of the Rock Against Bush compilations; we were the number one independent record in the country; we’ve been on the Billboard [charts] for months. [So] as far as a tangible barometer to [measure] your success, we think it’s been pretty successful.

[But] you’re right. There was a time (we don’t need to name any names) for awhile you’d turn on MTV and every quote-unquote “punk” band was singing about high school and girls. It was nothing like the Dead Kennedys or the Clash or Propaghandi—nothing relevant. It’s a hard sell and sometimes kids are like “we’re just in it for the music,” but you know that’s not what it used to be like back in the day. Back in the 80s there was definitely that [activism], [which] was much more vibrant. But I think we’re doing our part to bring back that element.

One goal of Punk Voter is to educate, register, and mobilize over half a million voters. Since Punk Voter started, about how many people have you registered to vote?
On the Rock Against Bush tour, we were [registering] about 200 people a day. We had a Punk Voter booth on the Warped Tour, which is almost 60 dates. Granted, the Warped Tour is like a big corporate traveling circus, but it’s also the biggest thing that happens with punk bands, so we wanted to make sure we had a voice of dissent out there. And we were kicking ass—in some places we got as many as 600 or 700 people [registered] in each town. I don’t know what the total is but we’ve definitely registered 10 to 15,000 kids on the Warped Tour; maybe more.

The other thing is, it’s not just about registering to vote—a lot of people are registered, [but] maybe haven’t gone out to the polls. The Warped Tour shows are playing to 20 to 30,000 people a day, and all these bands are bringing the message to the shows.

Tell me a little bit about the Rock Against Bush tour.
There’s going to be different tabling going on, like Food Not Bombs and other leftist, activist folks doing tabling and holding press conferences throughout the tour. To kick off the show in Portland, we’re going to have Jim McDermott hosting, probably the most liberal Congressman in the House; he was in Fahrenheit 9/11.

The tour is a very diverse lineup. We wanted it to be a reflection of the very diverse punk voter community. We think we’ve got a dream team of political punk rockers. There are bands from different genres, people from all over the country, we’ve got men and women, we’ve got people that represent all different elements of leftist politics.

One of the things I’ve noticed about punk is that for all of its lofty ideas and goals it seems like it has been better at changing individuals than it has been at changing larger society. Do you think Punk Voter can have a role in changing that?
One of the things that Mike aimed to do early on was have [Punk Voter] be like the NRA or the League of Women Voters. If we get enough people with enough electoral power, they’ll have to take us seriously. That’s how political action groups work.

There are certainly hundreds of thousands of punk rockers out there, and we think lawmakers are finally [going to have to] recognize that we vote and they’re going to have to answer to us.

So our first dreadlocked congressman can’t be too far away? [Laughs]
Who knows? There should be a dreadlocked congressman. Maybe Jim McDermott could grow dreadlocks.

If you were speaking to some young punkers out there—or anybody—what are the most important issues and what is Punk Voter telling people to do?
[With] Punk Voter, we set out to do something very positive, and we want people to know that we’re not just out there to bash Bush. We would never want to be a tool for John Kerry either. Our goal is to expose the destructive policies of the Bush administration. We’re trying to make positive, progressive change in America. We really like where we live, we just don’t like the people in charge. And I think the last election taught us a lot of lessons about how important voting is.

There’s so many reasons why people need to be aware of what’s going on in their society. You can start by going to to check it out.

Eric Weiss is Director of Operations of FaunaVision / Oasis Animal Sanctuary. He is also publisher and editor of the excellent DIY magazine


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