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Punk the Vote

Don Thrasher

President Bush had better watch his back. A growing number of punk rockers are gunning for him and there’s nothing the Secret Service, the CIA or any other government entity can do to protect him because it’s all 

legit. Members of about 200 American punk bands such as NOFX, Anti-Flag and Pennywise have joined forces with record labels including Fat Wreck Chords, Alternative Tentacles and Epitaph to combat Dubya through the most powerful tool at their disposal: the ballot box. NOFX bassist and singer Fat Mike was growing increasingly discouraged by Bush’s view of a civilized, modern America and in late 2003 mobilized friends, acquaintances and like-minded strangers to launch www​.punkvot​er​.com.

Only 29 percent of the 8.4 million U.S. voters age 18 to 24 cast a ballot for president in the 2000 election. Fat Mike and the other members of the grassroots voter education coalition such as former Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic, Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day and former MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer hope to register half a million young voters in an attempt to unseat Bush.

The Punk Voter campaign has its Web site set on dethroning the president, but the members don’t suffer from such tunnel vision that they are blind to other issues. The organization recently took on Urban Outfitters and its T‑shirt emblazoned with the message Voting is for Old People.” Now, Punk Voter is focusing on Rod Paige, Bush’s anti-teacher Secretary of Education who labeled the National Education Association and its 2.7 million members a bunch of terrorists.” Fat Mike also has invited liberal groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America to set up booths outside NOFX concerts and to deliver messages from the stage.

In addition to the Web site, Punk Voter members have taken their message to the people with a string of voter registration concerts on the West Coast and by spreading its messages through e‑mails, the Internet, and articles in punk zines and the mainstream press. NOFX — whose latest album, War on Errorism, lambasted the president’s policies — hosted an anti-Bush rally at the annual South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas in March. The event featured outspoken comedian and actor David Cross, punk rockers Dillinger Four, former Dead Kennedys singer Jello Biafra and others.

Of course, not just left-leaning punks are getting politically active. Bush has vocal support from many 18-to-24-year olds, including members of pro-Republican organizations Conservative Punks and Protest Warriors. With opinion of Bush so divided, the United States could see a rise in voting among younger people for the first time since 1972 when participation was at 43 percent.

I’m down with Punkvot​er​.com because I think it’s important that more people register to vote, get involved and show up on Election Day,” Jello Biafra wrote in a recent Punk Voter commentary. The head of Alternative Tentacles Records and a longtime political activist, Biafra has released a series of spoken word albums over the past two decades verbally skewering the conservative agenda, special-interest groups and crooked politicians.

Being patriotic doesn’t mean blindly following a criminal president into illegal and dangerous wars,” Biafra added. It means doing our part to take our country back from the corrupt corporate puppets who get into office because we sit on our ass and let them.”

Don Thrasher, a former member of Guided By Voices, is a writer and musician based in Dayton, Ohio.
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