The Satya Interview with Toby
Artist: Jai Redman
Country: United Kingdom
For the uninitiated, punk rock means little more than
mohawks, angry kids, and loud, obnoxious music. Undoubtedly, these
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 punkvoter.com 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 Rumpshaker.