Punk is a small word for a music genre with a huge range, but one emotion that unites differing types is anger. Punk is pissed off: primal screams and metal studs covered in spit. The raw power of punk anger can explode into self-destruction and violence or implode into apathy—yet if focused and sharpened, that same anger can fuel meaningful change and even political action.
Seattle musician Rachel Ratner (Wimps, formerly Butts and Partman Parthorse) aims to tap punk’s potential for fired-up action with Punk the Vote, a monthlong series of get-out-the-vote shows leading to Election Day. Beginning October 14 at music venues in Seattle and beyond, local punk bands, guest speakers, and volunteers will urge showgoers to register to vote, and then actually vote. Organizers will even provide free stamps for mail-in ballots.
Ratner sparked the idea for Punk the Vote in late July, just after the Republican National Convention. “Suddenly Trump was the candidate, and it felt like I was in some crazy movie, like in Back to the Future II,” she recalls. “Only in this real future, Biff is not only corrupt, but his polarizing and dangerous views threaten the very progress our society has worked so hard to make.” That week Ratner met for drinks with Shannon Perry, her old bandmate from Butts (a humor-heavy duo that disbanded in 2011). “We thought it would be fun to do a reunion show,” says Ratner, “and that it would be awesome if we could turn it into a get-out-the-vote rally.”
On August 1, Ratner wrote a Facebook post “about wanting to put on an anti-Trump voter registration show,” and in one night received more than 40 responses from people wanting to help. Plans for a single show quickly expanded as enthusiasm flowed in. “One person started making shirts,” Ratner says, “another made posters, another helped with promotions and video, another with booking, and suddenly it was a series!” Word spread beyond Seattle, and soon people in Everett and Eugene asked to host their own Punk the Vote shows.
Wimps’ record label, Kill Rock Stars, stepped forward to help sponsor the seven-show series, while KEXP’s Audioasis and Sonic Reducer offered to assist with promotion. The enthusiasm Ratner received is reflected in the series’ hefty lineup, which includes Wimps, a reunited Butts, SSDD, Nail Polish, Mommy Long Legs, Girl Mountain, Malidont (JT Champion), Corey J. Brewer, Spray Tan, Night Boss, and S1UGS. Venues range from the Vera Project to the Funhouse to a house basement.
“I’ve booked shows before, but never for a specific cause,” says Ratner. “I always liked politically minded bands like the Dead Kennedys, Crass, and Fugazi. And I grew up with my mom listening to folk activists like Buffy Sainte-Marie and Bob Dylan. But other than trying to be informed and vote, I’ve never taken any real political action. I don’t think I ever knew how. So this has been exciting, empowering, and a little nerve-wracking for me.”
In large red letters, the words “#DUMPTRUMP” top Punk the Vote’s Facebook event pages. It’s no secret the series isn’t just a call to vote, but specifically a pushback against the possibility of a Trump presidency—anger transformed into action.
Daniel Enders, vocalist of Night Boss, says his band of self-identified “progressive dirtbag” rockers (whose live sets involve Enders stripping down to his undies) wanted to join the series because Trump “is one of the only things more repulsive than us. We want to help throw him in the trash.” Mommy Long Legs bassist Leah Miller expresses similar disgust with Trump, a man whom she and her band believes “encourages hate via racism, sexism, classism,” she says. “We want to put more love into the world instead of perpetuating hate.”
Some musicians are participating in Punk the Vote because they worry certain Bernie Sanders holdouts simply won’t vote. Spokane musician Nat Mooter (who performs as S1UGS) is frustrated that “a lot of white liberal dudes I know have said they’re not going to vote because of their bitterness over what happened with Bernie,” a decision he calls “selfish.” Mooter, who will travel from eastern Washington for the event, explains that “Driving through the countryside paints a stark vision of how much support Trump has outside the liberal cosmopolitan bubble, and I don’t think anyone understands how real a threat he is.”
Seattle singer Kennedy Carda of SSDD echoes similar concerns about Bernie-or-Busters: “Honestly, there are a lot of politically minded people in the music community who just don’t vote and especially don’t vote when their preferred candidate didn’t get the nomination.” Leah Miller admits “No politician is perfect, but we do believe that the punkest thing you can do is to be politically active.”
Solo music-maker Corey J. Brewer, who will play the Butts reunion show, thinks “voting is one of the few ways I feel like I can participate in something American that I actually enjoy (like baseball and jazz). It sounds horribly square, but it’s true. I also believe that the more people that vote the better, so I’m happy to cheerlead for getting people registered.”
While Punk the Vote’s goal is indeed to, as Ratner puts it, “support a Trumpless future,” the series also emphasizes the importance of local political change. “Although the presidential election is paramount, it’s the local initiatives that directly impact our day-to-day lives,” she says. For this reason events will offer voter guides to explain the issues and give a little mic time to political speakers who serve Seattle. In addition, a portion of proceeds from the shows will benefit a community organization of the bands’ choosing, including Planned Parenthood, Black Lives Matter, and Seattle’s Downtown Emergency Service Center.
Even if Punk the Vote attendees who are eligible to vote choose not to (which is their right), they can still enjoy fast songs, let off steam on the dance floor, and educate themselves about close-to-home political matters. Plus there will be anti-Trump T-shirts to raise funds and commemorate this surreal fever dream of an election season long after the fever finally, hopefully, breaks. Punk the Vote, multiple venues (see Facebook for details), Fri., Oct. 14 – Sat., Nov. 5.