If you’d rather have Jello Biafra than Arnold Schwarzenegger as your celebrity California governor, I’ve got a movement for you. It’s called Punx for Dean, and it’s all about bringing together the fractious punk scene to support one candidate for President, Howard Dean.
Political punk rock isn’t a new thing, obviously, but some still find it strange that there’s a punk rock organization supporting a Democrat for President. However, Howard Dean’s campaign has been far from ordinary itself. To Kimmy Cash, founder of Punx for Dean, the grassroots campaign funded by individual donations of $100 or less, supporting the Vermont governor who was the first in the country to legalize civil unions for gays and lesbians, speak out against war in Iraq, the Patriot Act, and other freedom-infringing post-9/11 legislation was a perfect fit for punk rock.
Getting young people inspired to vote is an uphill struggle, but using music to do it isn’t a new idea either. Rock the Vote has been doing so for years, and more recently, Fat Mike of NOFX and Fat Wreck Chords started Punkvoter.com to address the punk community. But the bands playing at the Punx for Dean “Showdown for the Victory Express” in Santa Fe, New Mexico, were there to support a specific candidate, and rally their scene around his cause.
At the Aztec Cafe in Santa Fe, a table was set up just inside the door, covered with Dean pamphlets, stickers, and voter registration forms, as well as T-shirts that proclaim “Hey President Bush!” with a sketch of a hand with a certain finger held aloft.
In the next room, a drum kit, microphones and speakers were set up, and tattooed boys and girls milled around. The age range of the attendees ran from too young to vote to old enough to have voted against Nixon. Kimmy ran around greeting people, her blue eyes sparkling with excitement and pride. Radio news crews were there, as well as the head of the Dean campaign in New Mexico, Francisco Castillo, and volunteers who rode buses out from Los Angeles that Friday. Mohawks mingle with designer bags, and everyone shut up with Gregg Turner, formerly singer and co-founder of the Angry Samoans, stepped up, guitar in hand. Gregg was the local contact in Santa Fe, having found the venue for the other bands, all from California.
Gregg played two songs by himself, and then stepped aside to let the Transers (who you can hear at punxfordean.org) step up. All black-haired and wearing sunglasses, they played swinging psychobilly-punk that had the kids dancing even in the crowded, hot, small space.
After their set, the crowd took a collective cigarette break and then filed back inside to hear Nicole Panter, former manager of The Germs, speak. Blonde and pretty, with a California drawl, Nicole got the crowd’s attention and cheers when she declared, “It’s great to see young punks claiming their fucking franchise.”
“My entire voting life,” she continues, “I have held my nose and voted, because that’s who the Democratic party put up. My entire life. There isn’t one candidate that I haven’t gone, ‘Shit, I really hate this guy but he’s the Democrat.'”
Panter told the story of how Dean gained her support, at a speech in Portland. “And this guy Howard Dean, for the first time in my adult life, represents someone that I don’t have to go ‘Hm, ok, he’s a Democrat.’ This guy’s great. And as far as his being impassioned, since when is being impassioned about something a fuckin’ sin?”
On John Kerry, Panter had this to say. “John Kerry? He’s had a chance to make a difference for 30 years and he hasn’t.”
Following Panter, fellow Californians The Wreck played. Their singer announced that while he used to write songs about hot rods and girls, recently he’d been inspired to start writing political music again. It was easy to feel the hot rod influence in their Social Distortion-style punk rock, but the political sincerity was there as well.
By the time The Wreck finished, it was a veritable sauna inside the Aztec, and the crowd was grateful for the snow outside to take a final break before the closing band, California Redemption, took the floor. More hardcore than the first two bands, California Redemption didn’t mince their politics. Screaming and gesticulating, the singer whipped the crowd into a frenzy. Even the older audience members were dancing and standing on benches in the back.
Punx for Dean has a CD due out soon, so look for my review of that coming up as well, and check out the website at www.punxfordean.org. And don’t forget to claim your franchise back.