On Tour With Propagandhi

18 06 2007

repost from my old blog, from June 1st, 2007.

we may face a scorched and lifeless earth.
but they’re accountable to their shareholders first.
thats how the world works.

– Propagandhi

I got to spend the last week touring with Propagandhi.

joshua kahn russell josh

read on for videos, pictures, and stories.

They just released a DVD to benefit an indigenous community in Canada struggling for autonomy called Grassy Narrows. Grassy is a community in resistance. The current face of the ongoing colonization and genocide they face is a company called Weyerhauser – the world’s largest logging company – who is trying to clearcut their traditional land area that sustains their entire way of life. Grandmothers and high school students from Grassy have been blockading the logging road and shutting down Weyerhauser using Direct Action for the last 5 years. So inspiring. They have been asking for support from RAN in running a campaign in the US and Canada against Weyerhauser to help give indigenous organizers space and breathing room up north to organize their own communities. And I got to go on tour with the band and speak and rant and rave and hopefully inspire at least a couple folks to take action and get involved in the campaign.

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I first heard Propagandhi in middle school. Their early 90s LPs taught me to question things like gender roles and patriarchy, and taught me not to pledge allegiance in my 6th grade homeroom class every morning. Eleven years later, the down-to-earthness of the band was refreshing and inspiring. I crowd surfed like I was 15 again. It’s been so long since a punk or hardcore band has inspired the kind of catharsis and meaningful connection and release that meant so much to me growing up. The tour was a kind of reconnection to what made my life meaningful growing up, and reaffirmed my faith in punk as an entry point into organizing and social change. I guess getting to talk to a sea of 500+ sweaty, excited kids per night, with one of the most popular independent political punk rock bands of all time can help do that.

Propagandhi hasn’t toured the U.S. since before 9/11, so a lot of the kids who came out to see them have come from all over – many having driven up to 17 hours (Boston to Kentucky) just to see one show. The average night goes like this: all the other bands play, and then Propagandhi comes on. They tune up, look like they are about to start rocking.and then introduce me to talk first. What a tease. The kids, thoroughly itchy to see their favorite band – and fully betrayed by the fact that there is someone to talk politics with them instead – often seem ready to burst. I expected to be heckled out of existence.

The first night I mostly mumbled awkwardly as I tried to get a feel for it all.

The heckling was somehow all POSITIVE – though a little over the top. Kids would shout things like “LETS GO CLEARCUT WEYERHAUSER’S HEADQUARTERS!!!.RIGHT NOW AFTER THE SHOW! LETS DOOO IT!” But after the first night of experimenting I had my messaging down – keeping it super simple, focusing on romantic direct action and ways to plug in, peppered with dumb jokes and profanity, was surprisingly relatable. By the second night, things got pretty great.

The latent energy from people was amazing to work with – and by the third night, there were hundreds of people flailing their fists yelling such nuanced and thoughtful singalong style chants as “FUCK STEVE ROGEL! FUCK STEVE ROGEL! FUCK STEVE ROGEL! WOOO! WOOO!” I learned that depending on the dynamic, you could get a crowd of 500 people to shout cheering no matter what you are actually saying, just based on the intonation of your voice. So fun. If there is one thing I learned, its that kids across the midwest now REALLY hate Weyerhauser, and totally love RAN.

After the set, the RAN table – which is not so popular during the beginning part of the night, gets flooded with kids. This is also, in no small part due to the props that Propagandhi and the other amazing bands – Hiretsukan and GFK – give RAN during their set, asking kids to come check out the table.

Hiretsukan is a band I have been wanting to see for years and years. Getting to see them for a week straight was such a privilege. Those folks are so sincere and wonderful, too.

The shows, as one would expect, were mostly attended by white punk boys – but what is fascinating is the kind of cross section of white punk boys that Propagandhi attracts. The crowds are often rather intergenerational (for punk shows), and turn out people who would otherwise never be caught in the same room together.

The tabling let me talk to all sortsa folks – from young kids who would say things like “I am so interested in this kind of stuff but have no idea how to plug into activism in my town? Can you help me?” to know-it-all arrogant self-righteous anarcho dudes, to the guy in a purple mohawk who carefully looks around and discreetly whispers that he is a bigtime financial consultant and supports what RAN does.

I got to visit lotsa friends and mentours on the road. I also got to tour with Joe, which was really nice.

More updates soon…

(thanks to dave and michelle from hiretsukan for these photos!)

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