Monday, April 25, 2011

Revoulution is so Punk Rock: Music and Social Justice Movements

Music has long been a part of social justice activism. From The use of Jazz and Blues by African American slaves, to rock and roll during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s. 

Music is such a good tool in social justice movements because it gets people fired up, it gets people moving, and it gets people listening without knowing it. Let's take punk rock, it can have lyrics that have nothing to do with anything meaningful, but it still gets people moving due to the great beats and hardcore feel. People want to listen to it because they feel they connect to the sound of the music. Now, take that same music and add some lyrics about something like... How the artist hates former presidend George W. Bush. You now have Green Day's  song "American Idiot," an activist song that got people pissed off.

Green Day was not the first, or the last, band to write punk music (and I use the term "punk" loosely for the purposes of this argument).  There have been many bands in the past who have gotten political with their lyrics, and much more radical too. 

Starting as a response to a lot of anti-choice backlash in the 1990s, and ruled by the girl power of musical artists such as Pat Benetar, Joan Jett, and Patti Smith, feminists in Olympia, Washington started a convergence. Many of these feminists were musicians and began writing politically fueled songs about sexual assault, domestic violence, reproductive rights, and revolution, girl style. This convergence, and many like it across the pacific northwest, started a new genre of punk rock called "riot grrl." Many believe that the Riot Grrl movement is what started third wave feminism.

Riot grrl bands include Bikini Kill, Huggy Bear, Sleater Kinney, The Butchies, Heaven's to Betsy, Bratmobile, and Le Tigre. These band are not radical because their lyrics are all about girl power, revolution, and feminism. They are radical because they do not merely point out problems, but they demand changes. They actively work to inspire their listeners to go out and start their own revolution in their communities, to take back the power from the patriarchy and break down the systems of oppression. They are intentionally using their music to inspire change. 

There is nothing left to chance with these artists. They do their research and they know what's going on in the world. They are using punk rock as a tool for activism. And, as I've said in previous posts, the music can also be used to keep the movement alive by getting those involved in the movement out of their heads and dancing to the music. 

I don't know many people who don't like music. I don't know any hearing person who does not hear music at least once a day. Music is a huge part of the way our culture functions, and a lot of the mainstream music we hear today is total crap. The lyrics of mainstream music are rarely positive, especially in regards to women. But people, myself included, listen to this stuff whether they want to or not. And it effects our culture, because music is powerful. 

Music is power. This is why it is so useful in social justice movements. Music is inspiring, it gets stuck in your head, it makes you listen in ways that speeches and flyers, posters and demonstrations do not. Music is a tool, use it wisely. 

No comments:

Post a Comment