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Don’t Just Sit Back and Hope Metal and Punk "Get Better” Under Trump

Write the songs. Buy the albums. Then hit the streets.

Kim Kelly

Kim Kelly

For what it turns out really was most of us, Election Night 2016 was misery. Pure, unabating, horror-struck misery, spent glued to the screen—whether it was a TV, or Twitter, or a livestream; whether we were home, or in a newsroom, or at a watching party (especially if we were at Clinton's). As I scrolled through my social media feeds, though, variations on one specific phrase stood out amidst the ocean of angst, anger, and fear—"At least we're going to get a whole lot of killer metal/punk records out of this!" And when I saw it, I was angry. So fucking angry. All I could see was red, and all I could think was, "We're teetering on the edge of descending into actual fascism, and you're thinking about your record collection?!"

It's true, times of political upset—and political repression in general— tend to result in a healthy, thriving underground heavy music scene. Having real, dire rage and frustration to channel into riffs and lyrics is an excellent way to get those creative juices flowing, after all; it's what's shaped and propelled both genres since their respective inceptions. It's part of canonical heavy metal history now that, for example, without Reagan and his suffocating policies, 80s thrash metal would've been toothless and that 80s punk would've had far less to sneer about. But without the threat of nuclear war to rail against, bands like Cryptic Slaughter, Subhumans, Nuclear Assault, and D.O.A. wouldn't have hit us nearly as hard. They wouldn't have needed to.

However, the "America sucking equals sweet riffs" model is inherently flawed in oh, so many ways. For one, it's far from a given. The George W. Bush years—which marked my and many others' first experience with political dissatisfaction and protest—resulted in, what, a few pissed-off compilations? An uptick in Anti-Flag ticket sales? A Fat Wreck T-shirt? Us needing to wake up Billie Joe Armstrong​ every goddamn autumn? Plenty of aggressive, angry music was released between 2000 and 2008, but one could say the same for every year since people figured out how distortion works. This is all without even taking into account the fact that many, many other countries across the world have been in and out of various states of political unrest, upheaval, or outright war—that we, the USA, are not different, or special, with our current upswing in political outrage.

While art and downtime and self-care are incredibly important during traumatic situations, the people embroiled in those conflicts are probably not thinking much about riffs. They're thinking about survival, and that's exactly what we should be doing now. For many of us—people of color, Muslims, immigrants, the LGBTQIA community, sexual assault survivors, women in general—we've just seen war be declared upon everything we are, and everything we hold dear. The time to sit and listen is over. The time to act is now.

By "act," I don't mean sharing memes on Facebook, or rattling around an echo chamber of similarly upset, like-minded friends; as Neill Jameson blogged yesterday about this trend, "it's not enough to post songs." It's not enough to just talk about fighting, organizing, and resisting; we have to fight, organize, and resist. True solidarity demands action. That means hitting the streets in peaceful protest—or engaging in less peaceful direct actions when warranted (that's your call). It means sitting down with your racist uncle, and explaining exactly what he and everyone else who voted Trump has just done—and then listening to him to figure out why they did it, so we can work to change their perceptions of the world and head off Trump 2020. It means supporting organizations who fight against oppression, bigotry, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, classism, and environmental destruction, and who work in aid of immigrants' rights, women's rights, LGBTQIA rights, and incarcerated peoples' rights. It means donating to Planned Parenthood, RAINN, and the ACLU, to keep our people and their rights safe—Jezebel posted an excellent list of worthwhile organizations that need our support. 

There are so many ways to help even just here in New York City—from providing women who are forced to travel here for second-trimester abortions with a place to stay during their trip via the Haven Project, to joining Make the Road's fight to build the power of Latino and working class communities, to showing up for a Black Lives Matter Peoples' Monday protest or donating books to a chapter of Books Through Bars. Send supplies to the Native American water protectors at Standing Rock​. Get involved with your local leftist, anti-fascist, or anarchist group. If that's not your speed, get involved with your community; volunteer for a cause you care about, whether it be prison abolition, or suicide prevention, or LGBTQIA youth. Join a union, or organize your workplace. Offer to accompany your Muslim friends on errands if they feel unsafe. Make sure your female-identified friends make it home safe. Accompany your friends to and from Planned Parenthood appointments to make sure they're okay. Do. Something.

The "metal/punk will be good again!" line is just wishful thinking, a way of plucking at nonexistent silver linings. It's a wholly understandable reaction, because the world's been plunged into darkness and any faint glimmer of light is precious. So, if helps you feel better, or makes you less alone, then by all means, dream of vicious new riffs. (Municipal Waste—spiritual as well as musical descendents of this 80s wave—have already chimed in.) Metal and punk have gotten a lot of us through hard times, and they'll be there for us now, too.

But, while you're out there getting pumped on new music, please, please work to channel some of that energy into something bigger than yourself (or your record shelf). If you're a musician who's feeling newly inspired, excellent—we need you. If you're a music fan whose hoping for a new soundtrack to the next four years of rage—great, we need you, too. Write the songs. Buy the albums. Then hit the streets.

Kim Kelly is out here on Twitter​. There are anti-Trump protests happening today, tomorrow, and all weekend in NYC—info on Saturday's action here​, and a longer list of upcoming NYC-area protests​ here.

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