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. 

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter, Jesus, and Radical Activism

So, today is Easter. Today is the day that families go to church and eat candy and look for colored eggs, and celebrate this guy, Jesus, who claimed he was the messiah.

Now, I don't really subscribe to the Christian mythology around Jesus being the sun of God and rising from the dead three days after he was killed by the Romans. You know, the whole point of Easter. But, I did grow up in a Christian home, so I have been inundated with these the teachings of the Christian Church my entire life, and you know what? It's not all bad.

In fact, if you really read the Bible, specifically the actions and teachings of Jesus, you might think that this Jesus guy is pretty cool. He was a radical activist who fought for what he thought was right. And, yeah, he claimed he was the Jewish messiah, but that wasn't entirely out of the blue at the time. I think it was a way for him to get a good following, and hey, it worked.

So, when you boil it down, Jesus was a radical activist who went around talking about and getting people fired up and angry about the things in society that he believed needed to change (hypocrisy of the church, poverty, prejudice, racism, etc.). Sound familiar?

So, let's take a look at his teachings, and why they were so damn radical.

Respect for all, including women:
In the time that Jesus lived, women had no rights to speak of. Seriously, none. They were not even allowed in the church. Jesus taught about respect and rights for EVERYONE. Women included. Jesus was a feminist.

Hypocrisy of the Church:
Jesus felt strongly that the leaders of the church were not doing their job. He used vandalism as a way to make a point about it by turning over the tables in the temple, claiming that the Pharisees of the temple were a disgrace to God. Jesus questioned authority, no one did that back then. He was a radical.

Turn the other cheek:
When Jesus said to turn the other cheek, he did not mean that we should lay down and take it or be complacent. The thing about the way that a person in power would hit a subservient, culturally, is with the back of their right hand. If you were to turn the other cheek, they would have to punch you, which is not culturally acceptable. This would enrage the person who hit you. The point was to enrage the oppressor, in the same way that boycotts during the civil rights movement did. Piss them off, make a point.

Go the extra mile:
Same principle as turning the other cheek, make the rules work for you. The law said that a servant was only allowed to carry a soldier's bag for one mile, so going an extra mile would get the soldier in trouble. It's a pretty goood way to call someone on their shit.

All of this, plus Jesus had Community Organizing down to a science. I mean, look at where the Christian Church is now. Yes, many of his teachings are taken out of context, but at one time the church operated much like a civil rights movement. At one time, it was illegal to be a Christian, so they had a sort of underground highway of information. What they were doing worked.

So, were the techniques used within the original Christian Movement? Things that we can take and apply to our own community organizing in social justice movements.

Community Building: Jesus's disciples were not just there because they had big 'ole man crushes on Jesus. They were there because they were his community and support system. And this support system was not just the disciples, but their families and friends as well. Support systems are so so so important in social justice work, partly because they keep everyone involved sane, and partly because they are there to do the work. Nobody changed the world on their own, change takes people power. People to support, people to spread the word and recruit new people, people to cook, people to house protesters right before a big demonstration, people to do whatever needs to be done. People and community are important. This is why we're called the "queer/LGBT community." It's not just a convenient term for sociology classes.

Training: Jesus was smart when he chose 12 people to be his core group of followers, save for maybe Judas who screwed him over. He chose these people because he knew that they had the passion and drive to lead the movement after he was gone. He trained them, and then they trained other people. They built churches, or small movements in other parts of the country, creating a national movement.

Large Demonstrations: Jesus made a huge ruckus with his activism. He tossed tables around and gathered large groups of people and talked to them. He got a lot of attention, and he got the word out. Without social media, or media at all. No newspaper was writing about the sermon on the mount, there was no facebook event for it, but people still showed up. Word of mouth had a lot to do with this, but also, he was a loud guy who talked a lot, about revolutionary ideas that no one had heard before. Of course people wanted to listen to him, it was refreshing. And the more people he got, the more the word got spread, until his following was massive. Radical ideas that make sense, that's how you get a following.

So, Jesus, maybe not the messiah, but he did know his activism 101, and there's a lot to learn from him, regardless of your religious affiliation. I would encourage you to read the Bible, not because I want you to convert, but because there is a whole lot of good stuff in there that we can learn and apply to this social justice movement. Because, it's always good to learn new tecniques.

Queer Fatigue, Part 2: What Now?

It occurs to me that I am most definitely not the only person in the queer movement to become tired due to the reasons I talked about in my last post. I can't be, because if I'm so passionate about these things, like other people, then wouldn't those other people also get tired or angry over the same things? We're frustrated because nobody is listening. Nobody seems to get our point of view. 

And honestly, this isn't unique to the LGBT or feminist movements, or unique to this time period. First wave feminists had a lot more to risk by fighting for their right to vote. In many cases, these women were going against the will of their husbands, in a time when his word was gospel and you followed it. No matter what. The women at the forefront of this fight went as far as to be put in jail because they were protesting in front of the white house. They gave up their children, their husbands, their reputations, and their legal rights, all for something they cared a whole lot about. And guess what? They won. Women now have the legal right to vote. It took them from the convention at Seneca Falls in 1848, up until 1920 to get it done. That is a long time, did they get tired? yes. Frustrated? yes. But did they give up? Absolutely not. 

Back in the 1950's and 1960s, it was illegal to be gay. The common belief was that homosexuals could be "forcefully assimilated" into heterosexuality. Not only were the gays of that time ignored, they were silenced. And jailed, and beaten, and killed. Did they get tired of fighting? Of course they did. But I would bet that it further motivated them to keep working on their cause. 

And I am further motivated to continue that cause. Because I don't want to be tired and frustrated anymore. I want to move on from this, and the only way to do that is to fight harder. Work harder, and make change happen. 

Sure, it's hard sometimes and we need to take a little break to refresh. Self care is super important to avoid queer fatigue, or burnout. But then it's time to get back at it, more aggressively. Otherwise, nothing will get done, and we'll always be tired.