Who Let the Punks Out?
"I've always railed against the whole oligarchy," said Al Jourgensen. This is expected. Jourgensen, a k a Buck Satan from the bands Ministry, Lard and the Revolting Cocks, has been scaring suburban parents for years with mechanical noises and angry lyrics. Recently enlisted by the voter education group Punkvoter, he railed very effectively against Urban Outfitters for selling an apparently antivoting T-shirt that read "Voting Is for Old People." The shirt also pissed off both the director and student chairman of the Harvard Institute for Politics and several members of Congress, who complained that it promoted apathy to a demographic group that tends to avoid the voting booth. Ultimately, Urban Outfitters gave in and recalled the shirt. But Jourgensen was still mad about one other looming political matter: the President.
"The one thing Bush does best is piss people off," griped Jourgensen on the phone from rural Texas, where he had just finished recording a new Ministry album. The Administration's foreign policy has been enough to make this industrial-strength rocker set aside, for now, some of his rage against the whole oligarchy to focus his ire on one primary target. "Democrats and Republicans," he admitted, "I think, basically, there's not much difference." But the truth is, there is little Jourgensen wouldn't do to get Bush out of office. He might even give John Kerry a good scream at the next Ministry concert.
"Absolutely!" he said, not railing at all. "I'll do whatever it takes. If Kerry wants us, we're there."
Voters, especially those under 30, who are upset with Bush, the war, the economy, healthcare, drug laws, the environment and the status quo of big-money politics do not have an obvious spokesperson in the upcoming election. Howard Dean was supposed to be the bold voice of the young and the angry. Dennis Kucinich snagged a few of the hard-core anti-warriors, until the dream seemed too impossible. Ralph Nader is still in the debate for some of the disaffected but has lost voters who believe that this is a high-stakes election.
And that leaves Kerry. Wealthy and senatorial, John F. Kerry is an unlikely candidate for anarchists and industrial rockers. More significant, perhaps, a recent Harvard poll suggests that the senator has so far not matched Bush himself in his ability to rally youth against the current Administration. Kerry now holds a ten-point lead over Bush on college campuses, but 37 percent of those surveyed said they did not know enough about the Democrat to form an opinion of him, or did not recognize his name. The study indicates that frustration with the President has drawn people to support Kerry by default, as the anti-Bush.
But is rage enough to turn out young anti-Bush voters in November? How about rage, a voter registration table and a good mosh pit? These are some of the unusual election-year questions facing organizers out to tap a strong dissatisfaction with the status quo and channel it toward a level of youth participation in battleground states that could swing a tight election. This spring, with an eye on mobilizing angry punks, Punkvoter commissioned Jello Biafra, NOFX, Alkaline Trio and Authority Zero to play to sold-out crowds of 1,000 to 5,000 in California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada and Arizona in the first part of their Rock Against Bush tour, and recently released the first volume of a compilation album, featuring an impressive roster of old-school and pop punks, which sold more than 35,000 copies in two weeks. Instead of targeting young voters en masse, as a presidential campaign might, Punkvoter employs hard-edged, partisan tactics to mobilize its core audience.
Punkvoter is just one of many start-ups working to engage angry young voters in swing states, though it's among the more outspoken and far-reaching. Complicated FEC rules make explicitly anti-Bush voter organizing a tricky business; the Oregon Bus Project, which handled voter registration for the Oregon stops in the Rock Against Bush tour, is an example of a progressive, youth-led group that appeals to pissed-off voters without ever expressing the goal of "getting Bush out of office." Instead, they stick to issue-based voter education and registration.