- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 2, 2004

The punk rock movement is trying to make a difference in November’s presidential election, with one side set on an administrative change in Washington and the other on keeping at least some semblance of conservatism in charge.

Leading the way in a left-wing-fueled drive to put a Democrat in charge is Punkvoter.com, a coalition that has enlisted nearly 200 bands to get out the anti-Bush vote.

Punkvoter.com is backed by a contingent of tax-exempt liberal interest groups, including NARAL Pro-Choice America and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

“In punk rock there are pretty progressive thinkers,” says Mike Burkett, alias “Fat Mike,” frontman and bass player for NOFX, a punk rock mainstay since 1982. “There isn’t much progressive thinking on the right.”

Mr. Burkett says he was so shaken by President Bush’s 2000 victory that he became a political animal.

He says he put up $100,000 of his own money to fund Punkvoter.com, “and we got some money from NARAL,” although he wouldn’t say how much.

“The whole point is to [anger] people,” says Mr. Burkett, 37. “Kids don’t read newspapers, and I want to tell them what they don’t see on TV and I want them to get angry at what this administration is doing to the world.”

The groups backing Punkvoter.com have their own considerable resources. NARAL took in $19 million in income in 2002, according to tax records, while PETA reported revenue of $17 million.

Anti-Bush rockers are offering a compilation featuring platinum-selling bands such as Offspring and Sum 41 as well as tours in April and September.

Later this month, several of the Punkvoter.com bands will play the South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas, followed by a brief tour of Western states.

“This is how we cure apathy,” Mr. Burkett says. “We may not have a huge effect, but I would say between 100,000 and 500,000 people are joining our movement. And we get around 350,000 hits a day on our Web site.”

The site links to Internet pages with the same stance, including www.bandsagainstbush.org, www.michaelmoore.com and www.naral.org.

More support for the anti-Bush bands will come in the fall with another compilation that is scheduled to feature MTV stars Green Day, Foo Fighters and Good Charlotte.

Politics and punk rock have gone hand in hand since the music was born in the late 1970s, when socialist-anarchist bands such as the British group Crass were advising listeners that government should “owe us a living.”

In the United States, aged punk activist Jello Biafra, one-time mayoral candidate in San Francisco and singer for the Dead Kennedys, in the early 1980s railed against politicians of every stripe from Jerry Brown to Ronald Reagan.

The morphing of aggressive punk into palatable pop, though, has sapped much of the original underground energy of the movement as “alternative” bands such as the Foo Fighters now sell millions of albums.

MTV has tried since its 1982 inception to inspire young voters to cast ballots.

Its Rock the Vote effort, backed by a cast of liberal players including REM singer Michael Stipe, says it has registered more than 3 million young voters in the past decade.

Although many rockers lean left, conservatives can claim one of the most famous names in punk, a Republican who names Ronald Reagan as the best president in history.

“I send money to the [Republican National Committee] and to Bush/Cheney,” says Johnny Ramone, guitarist for the seminal punk band the Ramones.

Now 55, retired and living in Los Angeles, he says, “I will argue politics with people all day long. I am one of the few Republicans out here.”

Born John Cummings, he says he has been a Republican since he was 12. The guitarist who inspired a generation of distortion-crazed players with his fret-bashing on tunes such as “Commando” and “Today Your Love, Tomorrow the World” says drives to increase voter turnout are the wrong way to go.

“I’d like to see it harder for people to vote,” he says. “Maybe they should have to take a test to see if they really know what is going on.”

Mr. Ramone’s pro-Republican punk stance is applauded by Andrew Heidgerken, a graphic artist in Chicago who runs a Web site at www.GOPunk.com.

“Actually, being a Republican in punk rock is its own rebellion,” says Mr. Heidgerken, who wears a studded black leather jacket emblazoned on the back with “Vote Republican.”

When John Kezdy fronted the influential Chicago band the Effigies in the early 1980s, it was taken for granted in most quarters that the politics of punk were left.

“Punk rock attracted kids who tended to think more about music,” says Mr. Kezdy, 45, now a prosecutor and a member of the Federalist Society in Illinois. “So you would think that they would also put thought into their politics. And if they thought about it more, there is nothing punk rock about voting for a party that wants to put more government in your life.”

Most punks know Michale Graves as the singer for the New Jersey band the Misfits. But he also writes a column for Conservativepunk.com.

“Punk rock, to me, is about being the minority against the establishment,” says Mr. Graves, 28. “But people like me are outnumbered. The other side now has a lot of money.”

Conservativepunk.com was developed expressly to combat the growing number of politically liberal sites that spring up as the election season gets moving.

“I have listened to punk rock since I was in junior high school, but I never fell into the same politics as they were singing about,” says Nick Rizzuto, 22, who runs Conservativepunk.com.

“We have no one bankrolling us,” says Mr. Rizzuto, who works in promotions at a suburban New York radio station. “I live hand to mouth and all the work done on the Web site is done pro bono. It’s really punk rock not to have money.”

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