It was inevitable. As soon as the results of the 2016 election were confirmed, and we knew that Donald Trump would be the 45th president of the United States, you could practically feel creative minds whirring. And of course, the punks were not going to be left out. Since the genre’s birth, “protest” has been its fuel. Right now, there’s a lot to protest.
Of course, a ton of excellent art doesn’t make up for the pain and suffering that Trump has already caused. We’re living in a shitshow. Only this week, his claims that he is entitled to effectively pardon himself of crimes echo dictatorial sentiments. It’s all frankly terrifying. And yet not particularly surprising, given the anti-immigration, pro-life — fuck it — racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic (etc., etc.) platform that this administration has built itself up on.
Art offers an outlet. It always has. And the aggro nature of punk — the often simplistic musicianship combined with to-the-point lyrics — makes it an ideal genre to aid venting. While we shouldn’t ignore the white supremacist elements that made their way into the Oi!/skinhead movements (the detestable Skrewdriver and the like), punk has a grand tradition of being on the right side of history.
Proto-punk pioneers The MC5, managed by internationally renowned marijuana advocate John Sinclair, were known as much for their politics as their music in the beginning, creating a whole manifesto for their far-left White Panther Party. The Clash were watching, as were the Dead Kennedys and countless others. Even The Ramones, who generally stayed out of that sort of thing due to the fact that guitarist Johnny Ramone leaned right, the opposite direction to his bandmates, penned “My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down (Bonzo Goes to Bitburg)” about Reagan.
Of course, that tradition has continued to this day. The George W. Bush years, while harrowing, inspired a lot of Fat Wreck Chords bands to put out a lot of great music. Again, not a proportional payoff but worth noting.
This weekend, the Glass House in Pomona hosts a two-day Punk Against Trump Fest, with T.S.O.L., Dwarves, Guttermouth, Voodoo Glowskulls, Go Betty Go and many more standing firm with the tagline “Making punk a threat again.”
Elsewhere on the bill, East L.A./Boyle Heights punks Corrupted Youth perform. The band formed in 2008 after being inspired by other groups in the local scene that drummer Raul “Riff Raff” Cuellar says had views that aligned with their own, encouraging them to be a voice for their community.
The band developed a sound heavily influenced by hardcore and street punk, as well as their backgrounds. Cuellar says they draw inspiration from all genres, and that's evident. Since their debut album, Class Struggle, they’ve also drawn from politics.
“The record was very politically driven and we as individuals are as well,” Cuellar says. “Our next record will be a bit different, with more of a personal aspect yet politically driven as well. The U.S. administration in its current state has escalated us to write our new music.”
That’s where Trump comes in. Cuellar and vocalist Nacho were born in Mexico, guitarist Eugene has Mexican and Filipino parents, bassist Adan has Mexican parents, and the family of guitarist Hector is from El Salvador. They've all been personally affected by the current president’s policies regarding immigration.
“As it stands now, some of us being immigrants, the DACA deterioration has caused some pain in our personal lives,” Cuellar says. “Friends and family being threatened with deportation when all they know is the U.S. as their home makes us sick. An example of this law not being effective within its purpose is the Rosa Maria Hernandez incident. The heartlessness of our government has turned into a numbers game instead of it taking care of its people.”
Cuellar is right, of course. And because of the uncaring attitude of Trump and his administration, it's more important than ever that we don't stop holding them accountable. It sounds like a cliche, but knowledge really is power.
“The lack of education about our judicial and federal system scares me at times, yet I understand the lack of resources that the youth faces,” he says, “Especially when the candidates, whether on the left or right side, don’t fit your voice. With the band, we hope to inspire that dialogue where political views are challenged. … I remember watching D.C. hardcore docs where punk and activist communities were one [thing] in itself. Especially with the way things are going now, we hope to inspire a movement as they did then.”
The Glass House show is a step in the right direction — a valid means to raise awareness.
“We want to inspire our community to practice their privileges, like the right to assemble,” Cuellar says. “Something we practice in our own backyards and abroad proudly.”
Brad Logan, guitarist with Huntington Beach band Rats in the Wall, also performing at the event, says that Trump is a total nightmare.
“In the beginning we didn't know what would happen, now it seems like a comedy sketch,” Logan says. “The only thing he hasn't done yet is launch missiles … maybe that's what we have to look forward to next week.”
The answer? Get out and vote, and use your voice.
“Voting is vital, as is participating in demonstrations/marches, and trying to treat your fellow human with kindness and empathy on a personal level,” Logan says. “Joining local activism groups is also helpful to show our current 'leadershit' that they are outnumbered. Also if you are atheist/ agnostic, consider joining The Satanic Church. Our current administration is pulling us backwards in favor of the Christian Agenda, but if you haven't claimed a god your rights aren't technically being infringed on. Joining The Satanic Church (which celebrates self instead of a god) is a way to protect the freedom of religion and keep the church and state separated… plus, they're awesome! And did I mention voting? You have to vote. Seriously… vote.”
Punk Against Trump takes place on Saturday, June 9, and Sunday, June 10, at the Glass House in Pomona.