Punk is Political. Punk is Community.
The last year has me thinking a lot about community, civic engagement, and politics - a lot more than I usually do. And I think about these things a lot. You see these three three things make up my career and a large part of my personal life. As a grassroots organizer and sometime lobbyist, 40 - 60 hours of my week is spent thinking about these things.
My job is to bring together a community of people, connect them with the tools and resources to make change, and work collectively to bring about said change. It’s exhausting, challenging, subject to burn out, and I love it so much. But this year, the immense, urgent need for change, community, and justice has me thinking about it in a different way. This year has raised awareness in previously civically disengaged people who are now looking for ways to get involved. Get out the vote efforts brought more people to the polls than ever before. What was it like for many of these folks voting for the first time? If they are a frequent voter, did the political and societal crisis of this year motivate them to find ways to get involved beyond voting? These questions make me think about two things: One, each person’s civic and/or political and/or community engagement awakening is unique and fascinating, and, two, I spend too much time thinking about how people are continuing to stay involved post-this circus of an election.
Instead of wondering, I’m hoping that you’ll share your civic and/or political and/or community awakening? (I use and/or because each of these things is decidedly different or often a combination of the three. Also, to use an old adage, the personal is political and means something different to each individual). So, what is your story? And how are you staying engaged?
My Own Awakening
My own awakening was a slow burn. I grew up in a household where politics were regularly discussed. The farm crisis of the 80s left my parents struggling to make ends meet while working hard to put food on our table and that of millions of Americans. Decisions made by local, state, and federal elected officials made a daily impact on our lives. I knew about the USDA before most kids knew that milk came from cows. Similarly, I saw a rural community come together to support each other through what was a really difficult time. I didn’t know it at the time but these roots would contribute to my growth into a grassroots organizer.
While my awareness of politics is rooted in childhood and the lived experience of a rural community, my personal understanding of politics was shaped and defined by punk rock, later polished by experience. I distinctly remember the first time I heard, and I mean really heard and understood, the lyrics of Good Riddance’s “Flies First Class”:
Tell me who will arrest the political pollution
Who's coming up with the eminent solution
Who's gonna sell you something you can't use
Who can broadcast fallacies and call it the news
Who's gonna fight the almighty legislature
When a woman's not a woman but another incubator
When the choleric voice of millions place another urgent call
And your right to choose is taken leaving no choice at all
At 14 years old, with a pilfered cassette tape from my brother’s car, I read these lyrics over and over again and listened to that tape until I wore it out. Over the mechanical chirps of dial-up internet, I searched for more information about the topics my favorite punk bands sang about. Going further and further down the rabbit hole, my outrage grew. I spent years shouting into the void, parroting the opinions of people I admired, criticizing “the man” for the way things were, but I didn’t actually do anything to work toward an alternative solution. I didn’t have a community. I didn’t know how to be part of a solution.
It was years later, through education and hands-on participation in feminist circles, that I learned tools and options for being politically and civically engaged. Where did you find your tools for engagement? Are you helping others access those tools? How are you engaging beyond voting and posting memes? How can we as a community and in our local communities connect people with ways to be involved? Specifically, what are accessible options for people of all backgrounds and means to be involved so their momentum isn’t lost?
That is why I wanted to start a resource for engagement for the Mable Syndrome community that can also be accessed by others. Politics and community are ingrained in punk rock. The punk rock community has many smart, experienced, and savvy folks with wisdom to share. Community is where change starts and as a community we can keep up the momentum toward a more equitable, connected community. Below is the beginning of a list of ways to stay engaged and make serious change:
How to Stay Engaged
Identify a problem in your community and work with your neighbors to fix it. Examples: Start a neighborhood clean up crew or a community food drop.
Check your privilege and create space. Hold each other accountable and lift each other up.
Start a food or personal hygiene product drive.
Contribute to a mutual aid fund.
Get to know your neighbors. Check in on your elderly neighbors regularly. Introduce yourself to the unhoused neighbors who live in your community.
Join a local organization or at least attend public meetings.
Vote in all elections - local, state, and federal. Research the candidates beforehand. Call the campaign office and ask questions about their experience and vision for your community.
Stay informed. Read books. Get your news from a variety of sources. Check the sources on internet memes and articles.
Attend local city council meetings.
Engage in legislative advocacy. Call or, if possible, meet with the state officials who represent you. Don’t know who represents you? Find out here.
A Few Pro Tips:
Call over sending an email, especially online petitions and form letters. Calls get noticed. Emails and form letters get counted.
When they do something you like, send a handwritten thank you note. Seriously, mail and thank yous get noticed. At least on a state or local level, they will likely remember that you sent a thank you note then next time you ask them to vote a certain way.
Sparingingly contact elected officials who don’t represent you. Unless you live in Kentucky, Mitch McConnell doesn’t care what you have to say and even if you do live in Kentucky, well...
Volunteer. Volunteer. Volunteer.
Vote with your dollars. Stop spending your money at places that promote values counter to what you believe or perpetuate inequitable systems.
Shop local. Shop independent.
Donate money if you have means.
Create or support public art.
What else would you add? Tell us in the comments so we can grow this resource.
Now is the time to organize a base for proactively defending our rights and laying the groundwork for real progress. There are many seasoned advocates in this community. Together, we can learn from each other’s experience and gain perspective from new ideas. Now is the time for solutions and collective action, even if our community is spread out around the world. It just means we can disrupt shit all over the globe. Disruption is punk AF.