PUNK & PROTEST
Music and action
DURING THE DEMONSTRATIONS
IN WASHINGTON IN APRIL 2002, SAM SMITH SPOKE AT A PUNK ROCK PERFORMANCE
AT THE KAFFA HOUSE ON U STREET IN DC. THESE ARE HIS REMARKS
ONE OF THE BANDS THAT
PLAYED AT KAFFA HOUSE DURING THE DEMONSTRATIONS - BLOWBACK
- ALSO SHOWED UP THE NEXT DAY ON THE STREETS OF DOWNTOWN
WASHINGTON [DC INDYMEDIA PHOTO]
What does punk have to
do with this weekend's protests? Among other things, this weekend's
protests - like those in Seattle and the ones that followed -
began in part in the garages and basements of America.
Once again music ran ahead
of politics - just as it did when Billie Holiday sang 'Strange
Fruit' nearly two decades before the civil rights movement. Just
as it did when we gathered at the Mount Auburn 47 Club to hear
a young singer named Joan Baez well before something called the
Sixties. Just as we listened to Thelonius and Miles when there
were hardly any verbal protests at all.
In 1993, in a protest
against censorship. Rage Against the Machine stood naked on stage
for 15 minutes without singing or playing a note. In 1997, well
before most college students were paying any attention to the
issue, Tom Morello was arrested during a protest against sweatshop
Rage Against the Machine
sold more than seven million records before much of the rest
of the country even got around to one little protest against
As a musician with more
than 40 years of gigs behind me I know that among the many services
of music is to say things we can't find the words for - perhaps
not yet or perhaps ever. As a writer with over 40 years of gigs
behind me I am still often humbled by what a better job music
sometimes does of it.
I was a part of something
they called the beat generation. Many of you are part of a beat,
busted, bullied, and bamboozled generation.
With the sole important
exception of black Americans in the post-reconstruction era,
no other generation has been so deprived of its constitutional
rights and civil liberties. No other generation of young males
has been sent to prison in such numbers for such minor offenses.
And few generations of the young have been so consistently treated
as a social problem rather than as a cause of joy and hope. And
again - except for blacks in the post-reconstruction era - no
other generation has been so deliberately cheated of so much.
If you think I exaggerate,
consider these figures from the Department of Labor, figures
you won't see on the evening news, or read in the Washington
Post. The earnings of everyone under 25 - black, white, latino,
male and female - have actually declined over the past twenty
years, about 5% for the most part. But get this: the earnings
of black and white males under 25 are down 17 to 21%. A typical
white male is earning $97 less a week in real dollars than 20
And if you think I exaggerate
consider some of the losses of freedom that have occurred since
many of you were born and well before September 11:
Roadblocks as part of
random searches for drivers who have been drinking or using drugs.
The extensive use of the
military in civilian law enforcement, particularly in the war
The use of handcuffs on
persons accused of minor offenses and moving violations.
Jump-out squads that leap
from police vehicles and search nearby citizens.
Much greater use of wiretaps
and other forms of electronic surveillance.
Punishment before trial
such as pre-trial detention and civil forfeiture of property.
Punishment of those not
directly involved in offenses, such as parents being held responsible
for the actions of their children and bartenders being made to
enforce drinking laws.
Warrantless searches of
persons and property before entering buildings, boarding planes,
or using various public facilities.
Closing of public buildings
or parts of buildings to the public on security grounds.
on student speech, behavior, and clothing.
Increased mandatory use
on attorney-client privacy
Greatly increased government
access to personal financial records
Loss of a once widely
presumed guarantee of confidentiality in dealings with businesses,
doctors, accountants, and banks
The greatest incarceration
rate of any industrialized country in the world
Mandatory sentencing for
minor offenses, particularly marijuana possession
of employees in the workplace
Increased use of charges
involving offenses allegedly committed after a person has been
halted by a police officer, such as failure to obey a lawful
Widespread youth curfews.
Loss of control over how
personal information is used by business companies.
Use of stereotypical profiles
(including racial characteristics)
to justify police searches
Warrantless searches and
questioning of bus, train, and airline passengers.
Random searches of school
Random searches of cars
in school parking lots.
Lack of privacy in transactions
such as video rental or computer use
Video surveillance of
sidewalks, parks and other public spaces.
Involuntary drug testing
increasingly used as a prerequisite for routine activities such
as earning a livelihood or playing on a sports team.
Steady erosion by the
courts of protection against search and seizure.
And, finally, persons
18 to 21 are routinely denied their constitutional rights by
being banned from buying alcohol. As late as 1975, virtually
every state had a drinking age of 18; now none does.
But then we all have moved
in many ways into a post-constitutional era. We all live in a
culture that offers us not liberty but demands subservience,
that does not foster the pursuit of happiness but rather relentlessly
pursues citizens seeking only a decent job and a little happiness.
Remember this weekend
the words of another musician - Woody Guthrie - who sang that
this land is your land and this land is my land. Don't let a
bunch of cynical, corrupt and cruel bullies do any more damage
to it than they already have.