A NEW PUNK MANIFESTO
Punk has done important things in its short history. (It's done
some really stupid things, too, but that's for someone else to chronicle.)
Out of the waste heap of middle class values and shopping mall esthetics,
we've built a culture that has allowed us to survive the postindustrial
world while at the same time salvaging some semblance of our independence,
freedom, creativity, and human integrity. As important as this is,
it is now time for punk to enter a new phase. Punk has allowed thousands
of youths to survive in this rat heap of a world through its music,
zines, and communities; now it's time to change the rat heap itself.
For the most part, punks, have historically been interested in shocking
society. In North America, at least, punk's political practice has
been to reject the middle class values shoved down our throat. Being
a largely white, middle class youth movement (again, at least in
North America), punk's relations with the outside world have been
concentrated on shocking and rejecting that world, from the most
political Crass punk to the drunkest Sore Throat punk to the sincerest
Minor Threat punk to the most idiotic Exploited mall punk. About
the only punk subgroup I would exclude from this generalization
would be the wave of upper middle class straightedge and pop punk
fans, although there are significant numbers of people in these
groups who also spend most of their political activity (where "political" is defined as one's relations with the social world) rejecting the
morals and values of white bread America.
This rejection of our roots, our middle class backgrounds, is important,
for (theoretically, at least) we are the inheritors of the white
supremacist, patriarchal, capitalist world order. A prime position
as defenders of the capital of the ruling class and the overseers
of the underclass has been set aside for us by our parents, our
upbringing, our culture, our history, and yet we have the moral
gumption to reject it. As punks we reject our inherited race and
class positions because we know they are bullshit. We want no part
in oppressing others and we certainly want no part of Suburbia,
our promised land.
However, as important as it is for us to reject our somewhat privileged
backgrounds, it is also not enough. Our goal needs to be not to
merely reject society, but to recreate it as well. Punk's effectiveness
up to now has primarily been negative in the sense that its primary
political acitivity has been to criticize and reject America and
everything it stands for. Now it is time to take positive action.
We need to turn our anger and disgust with middle class America
and creatively channel it into mass-based political action.
To say that punk's effectiveness has been entirely negative and
reaction-oriented would be dead wrong, and I don't mean to demean
the accomplishments of punk by any means. To see the positive influences
of punk, we need to look beyond the average mosher at an Agnostic
Front gig and examine the smaller, more active community of punks
who do zines, write mail, run independent labels and distribution
services, organize gigs and/or demos, etc. The people in these communities
do an enormous amount of very vital work, work that keeps us from
going insane within this fucked up Amerikan society. That work needs
The positive political activities of punk primarily fall in two
categories. One is our work in developing the punk community. This
kind of activity includes writing fanzines, putting out records,
setting up gigs, having picnics, distributing punk materials, writing
mail, traveling, and simply hanging out with our good punk friends.
The second kind of positive punk political activity is the focus
on changing our individual selves. This includes vegetarianism/
veganism, emphasizing recycling, exploring racism, sexism, and homophobia
in our punk communities and within ourselves, etc. As I've said,
these activities need to continue. They are absolutely necessary
in creating change, and in making change fun. After all, without
punk, what would the disaffected middle class youth of Amerika have
to listen to, the goddamn Grateful Dead? The Chili Peppers? Yeesh.
However, we need to add a third element in our goal to make positive
change: organizing with other revolutionary elements in our society.
In case you didn't know, punk is and needs to be revolutionary.
The fact that it doesn't seem so indicates not that punk is liberal
or reactionary but that we as punx have been selling ourselves short
in realizing the potential of punk and our potential to thoroughly
fuck up this society. Punk is one of the very few middle class youth
cultures in North America that actually rejects middle class values.
This puts us punks in a unique position, and we need to use this
position as rejectors of the inheritance to our advantage and to
the advantage of oppressed peoples by working with them: women,
blacks, Native Americans, homeless, queers, i.e. the underprivileged.
We've abandoned our middle class backgrounds, now it's time for
us to unequivocally side with the oppressed.
Punk rejects America completely. Punk demands something new. Punk
is and needs to be revolutionary, and if you don't agree, maybe
it's time for you to turn in your 7" collection for a Columbia
House CD Club membership. Just don't be surprised when we bulldoze
through your fucking house someday.
Punks do an excellent job, for the most part, in developing our
own community. It's time to take that experience into the larger
community and infuse our spirit and creativity with mass-based revolutionary
potential. We need to help organize and work towards a mass movement,
one that's set on destroying America as it stands and empowering
the dispossessed. We need a revolution and it's time for punk to
be a part of it!
Further, we need to be more than superficial. We need more than
another zine. We need to organize and get established in our local
communities. We need to offer our collective strengths to the struggles
of oppressed people, which, after all, are our own. I'm talking
about expanding our present facilities, I'm talking about developing
new ones. We need to continue to put out zines, but we need to get
them out beyond the punk community, even if that means giving them
away. We need to make better use of our present facilities and open
them up to the rest of the community. Epicenter, the punk-run nonprofit
record store and community center in San Francisco is an example
of this, like when they opened their doors to the community as a
meeting space for the General Strike meetings during the Gulf War
and when they open their space for various community groups to hold
their meetings. Not every city has an Epicenter, to be sure. It's
time to work with the rest of the underprivileged people in our
communities and build them.
We need other new resources. We need outreach: punk soup kitchens,
community groups, free stores, etc. We need to let people know that
we are on the side of people, not privilege. The fascists are organizing
in our communities; we need to beat them at their own game. Why
do you think the KKK and the racist populist movement enjoys such
success in poor farming and lower middle class communities? Because
they actually go into those communities and work with the people
there and help them in their struggles with the rich and powerful
who are trying to destroy their lives (e.g. by helping farmers keep
their land from the banks, etc.). We need to do the same thing,
but we need to offer anti-fascist alternatives to the people who
need help in empowering themselves. This will take a mass, broad-based
movement, and punks need to take an active part in that.
The fascists are organizing in our communities; we're not. Time
to change. Make no mistake, war is coming to Amerika. It's overdue.
Look at the economy, look at the deteriorating condition of our
cities, look at whatever you want. The New World Order of Bush and
his lackeys is heralding in a new age, and it's not going to be
pretty. The New Right want a piece of you, the racist Right wants
a piece of you, the upper class want to keep their piece of you.
Are you going to let them? War is coming to Amerika, and it's time
to prepare, punx. We need to fight if we are to survive, and being
punx, we undoubtably can figure out a way to have a good time doing
Getting involved in the community does not mean we have to sacrifice
our identities. We don't have to "grow up," look nice,
act polite, or refrain from drunken binges to be revolutionary or
to work with non-punks. We're punks and we will change the world
as punks. We need to help out those who need help in our community
as punx and let folks know that we're on their side and that we're
ready for a revolution, even though we're white and largely middle
class and male.
So what are we doing here in Minneapolis? Profane Existence is taking
an active part in a new local anarchist group, Twin Cities Anarchist
Federation. TCAF has just started, and our focus will be on community
activities and creating solidarity with other groups in the Twin
Cities struggling for self-determination as well as working toward,
well, total social revolution. Further, Profane Existence will emphasize
and document punk activities and punks who are getting involved
in their communities. In this issue, check out the Anti-Racist Action
It's time to fess up. We're punks, we hate society, and we want
a new world. We're revolutionaries. As revolutionaries, it's time
to work with the underprivileged and angry elements in our communities
and to get organized. It's in our hands, and we should expect nothing
less from punk and from ourselves. We will make punk a threat again,
together. Let's do it!
Originally published in Profane Existence #13