On August 7th, 2004 MR representatives, John Morrison and Christine Bell got the opportunity to participate in a PunkVoter.com press conference. Mike Burkett, (Fat Mike), front man of punk band NOFX and founder/owner of indie label, Fat Wreck Chords; as well as Jay Bentley of the punk band Bad Religion served as the representatives from Punk Voter.
Fat Mike and other members of the punk community came together to form Punk Voter after the 2000 presidential elections. Citing “illegal and ‘chaotic’ actions of the Bush administration”(punkvoter.com), Punk Voter was created to mobilize the disenfranchised youth of the punk community and beyond.
For the sake of the reader, we have edited some of the interview. We have done our best to maintain the context of both the questions and answers to fairly represent Mike and Jay and ensure that their statements are not misunderstood or ‘spun’. The interview has been broken up into two segments: politics and music, the latter will be posted next week.
What made you organize Punk Voter?
Mike: Someone had to. Someone had to organize the scene. And I thought I was the perfect person because I know a lot of people and I don’t have many enemies. I can easily call all the bands, so it was easy.
Can you tell us more about the Punk Voter Tour?
Mike: Well, there are two different tours: Flogging Molly is headlining one and Anti-Flag is head-lining one, I think with International Noise Conspiracy, The Epoxies, and some others. But the Warped Tour, this is the most significant [tour]; 200,000 kids are seeing the Warped Tour. This is a Rock Against Bush tour, I mean, half of the bands are saying ‘fuck him’ and ‘go vote’ or whatever so, this is it, this is the big one.
Do you think Punk Voter is informing people on why they should vote or do you think your audience is already informed and planning on voting?
Mike: Well, I think 95% of these kids don’t like Bush in the first place. That doesn’t mean their angry, maybe they don’t know why. If they just don’t like him, it doesn’t mean they are going to vote. We tell them things like, ‘oh abortions going to be made illegal if he wins again, and it’s going to stay legal if John Kerry wins’ and they go ‘wow, it is important, that does effect me… and my college funding’s getting slashed and I’m gonna get drafted’ and these are things that directly effect kids. We’re helping them get off their ass. And a lot of these kids are anarchists and they don’t wanna vote for anyone, but we’re trying to show them that we’re gonna keep going downhill fast if this guy is in office.
Do you think that the traditional punk philosophy of Anarchy has gotten in they way of trying to organize support for the democratic party?
Mike: Punk Voter isn’t about the Democratic Party at all. It’s just [that] the biggest political problem in the world right now is George Bush. So how is he gonna get beat? He’s going to get beat by the Democratic Party. We have tons of other concerns, maybe some Anarchist concerns. The next big battle we’re going to fight are incest laws in this country; where if you fuck your kid you only get a couple years in prison, but if you fuck a strangers kid you get 20 years. And these incest laws are on the books everywhere and we’re going to try to get them repealed. So, yeah, we have nothing to do with the Democratic Party.
Are the “Rock Against Bush Tour” and “Punk Voter Tour” two separate things?
Mike: Well, we did a college/university tour and we called it the Punk Voter Tour, but when we played clubs we called it Rock Against Bush.
Mike: Well, colleges try not to get to partisan.
There are many other politically-driven tours out there, for example, the “Vote for Change Tour.” What are your feelings about it?
Mike: I think it’s great. Punk Voter is helping set the stage for these bigger tours because we’ve been doing a lot of these [political] tours and we’re very successful, and we’re not getting killed, and our record sales aren’t going down. The Dixie Chicks said one bad thing and everyone got a little scared, but I don’t think bands are scared anymore and everyone’s doing it. And really, almost every rock band is against Bush. Really, the only ones who are supporting him are country bands, and you know, generally people who like country music aren’t smart, they’re not educated (laughs). (Sarcastically) Midwesterners (laughs).
Do you think you are smarter than Bush? Would you be better in the White House?
Mike: Uh, no, I don’t think so. He’s an average thinker. You don’t want an average thinker in the White House. I don’t think I could give a much better speech than he could. That’s why someone like Clinton, who was a ‘President’ should win, not a C-student.
A lot of people are saying you are in a rock band, and what does a musician know about politics, why should people get their information from you?
Mike: Right, well, you should get your political information from anybody. If you’re in a cab and the cab driver gives you some good piece of politics that’s great. Me? I graduated from college, I’m not the smartest guy. I’ve read a lot of books, but I’m not the most articulate person. But, uh, I have a pretty big soapbox, so I’m using it. Everyone should use it. I tell everyone… they go, ‘how can I help?’ and I say, ‘get five people to change their minds.’ That’s it. I flew to Atlanta from San Francisco and I talked to this fucking idiot for two hours and I changed his mind. He was going to vote for George Bush, but he said ‘I’m honestly not going to vote for him anymore, because I did not know all these things[about him].’ So there it is; if everyone would do that, it’s over, it’s done, you know? So just ‘cuz I’m a musician you shouldn’t listen to me? That’s ridiculous.(sarcastically) Let’s only listen to billionaire politicians.
Young people are stereotypically apathetic, do you think that young people now are more likely to go out and vote in the upcoming election?
Mike: Every one is getting excited now, because everyone is finding out what’s really going on and they’re getting angry and scared. And really, they don’t want to go fight in a war. When kids get scared that’s when they start to do something, when everything is fine that’s when they are apathetic. I didn’t vote until the 2000 election, until I was 33. I didn’t care either; things were ok. It took someone like George Bush to get people off their asses.
Punk was thriving when Reagan was in office. Do you see Bush as a bigger threat than Reagan?
Mike: Uh, Yes. Well Reagan sold arms to Iran, took the money and gave it to who? the contras. That was pretty fucked up. [He] started some small wars, had a lot of people killed. But I think George Bush is really spinning the world in a huge downward spiral, especially for America. There was not this much American hatred when Reagan was president.
Jay: And half of George W. Bush’s administration are the people that came out of Reagan’s camp. And they’ve been waiting for the right person to say, ‘here’s what you are going to do.’ I mean, this isn’t something he [Bush] thought about on his ranch, eating pretzels. This has been waiting for the right guy. It was actually ’91, when his father went to Kuwait and that was when Tim (Yohannan)… they(“Maximum Rock ‘N Roll” magazine) put out the “‘Maximum Rock ‘N Roll’: New World Order” flip-side. And there was a lot of activity in the punk world, but it didn’t last long because he [George H.W. Bush] was also a one-term president.
Mike: And when Reagan was president the punk rock world was very united. There was a “Rock Against Reagan” tour. But, you’re getting 500 kids in every big city, and that was about it. Now there’s millions of kids, so it’s a lot easier now, and it’s a lot more effective. But yeah, I think Bush is a much worse president. I mean, he’s trying to ban abortion; to make it illegal. And he will, if he gets elected again.
What do you think about Ralph Nader running in this election again?
Jay: Do I have to get down on my knees and beg him not to, like Bill Maher?
Mike: Yeah, I just think someone should really off him (laughs).
Mike: He’s got some kind of crazy ego going on, because there is no reason why he could be doing this, other than ego. This is the ONE time we don’t need a third party.
You don’t think it’s possible for him to get 5% and for Kerry to sneak in with a win?
Jay: No, that time came and went. The goal right now is not to get votes to a third party, it is to get votes to get Bush out of office, and the way to do that is to vote for someone who middle America will also vote for and feel strongly about, someone who will protect them. My other feeling is, it’s not a very good idea to vote for a third party president without a third party.
Mike: Right, the Green party even rejected him.
Jay: What if Ross Perot had actually won? No one thinks that far, right. You have to be realistic about this. There should be a third party, but there should be more than just one sitting senator.
Mike; Right, and a third party should be able to take votes from both sides. You know, like the Labour Party in England, it’s the smallest party but it can swing its votes either way, depending on where it sends its people. Which makes sense, that’s the third party that helps out. This third party, it’s not helping anyone but itself.
Jay: You should see what they say on the website, they say that Nader is going to start taking votes away from Bush (laughs). It’s true (laughs).
Mike: No, I think that the Bush administration has something over Nader, they have him in some compromising position and they’re blackmailing him to keep him running. He’s certainly not helping anyone in this country. Any liberal. He should be on John Kerry’s cabinet; he should be head of the EPA. Get a cabinet post, be in government, make a difference, but you’re (Nader) just wasting everyone’s time right now. And if you like him – just not this election. That’s what we are telling all the kids, all the Anarchists, all the Green party members: not this election! We have to stand together.
Jay: Right, get Bush out, and then you have four years to build up your party and make a good presentation.
Mike: Right, I mean, you could have a Republican president, that’s not the worst thing ever. It’s this president that’s the worst thing ever.
Is PunkVoter going to be as critical of John Kerry as it has been of George Bush?
Mike: Uh, dunno. We’ll see how he does.
Jay: Well, right now, the Republicans are basically in ownership of D.C. Senate, House, President. So what happens now is, replace a Republican sitting President with a Democrat sitting President, and work from there.
Michael Moore has said that as soon as he is done with Bush, and Bush gets voted out of office he will be just as critical of Kerry.
Jay: As he should be.
Mike: Yeah, I don’t see why not.
I’m just curious if Punk Voter is going to keep its base mobilized to try and reform the Democratic party instead of just trying to get rid of the Republican party.
Mike: Sure, we’ll be on Kerry’s ass for sure.
Jay: We all want something. We all want something better, don’t we?
Mike: Your not going to get anywhere with Bush though. He’s not going to compromise on anything. You know, I think if enough lobby groups say this, say ‘we want three strikes laws to be made unconstitutional’ you might win, you might win some small battles [under Kerry]. I don’t see why not. But, you know, the Iraq situation is so bad that Kerry is probably going to do things that none of us are going to like, but it’s not a problem he made, he’s just trying to get out of it. You know, a draft could come back with him in office. What can you do?
Who did you like in the Democratic Primaries?
Mike: Uh, Kucinich, but that’s pointless. Or Dean.
Jay: I liked Dean a lot until he kinda went nuts.
Mike: He didn’t go nuts, that was a media trap.
Jay: I know, I know, but…
Mike: He’s not a weird, angry guy. They got one [clip] of him going “YEAAAAAAAAH!” And then [Dean and his wife go] on Barbara Walters and every question is like ‘why is your husband so aggressive? do you fight at home?’ (laughs)
Jay: But when your goal is to replace the Republican President you have to realize how mainstream America is going to view this guy, so he’s no longer the rational candidate.
Mike: Right. But the Democrats took him out, it wasn’t the Republicans that took out Dean. But I think the ticket right now is fine.
Jay: I agree, I like the way it stands.
Mike: Edwards might make a better President than Kerry, who knows.
Jay: He’d make a better President then Quayle (laughs).
Mike: I wish I had my shirt on right now, I have this great Bush/Quayle ’92 shirt. Some kid gave it to me, I wore it on CNN; it was great.
What would you say to college kids who are undecided between Bush and Kerry? What would you say to help them make up their minds?
Mike: I’d say, firstly, Bush is going to make abortion illegal through the Supreme Court. Kerry’s not. That’s a big reason. Well, if you’re pro-life, go with Bush!
Jay: Well he’s also going to spend your college tuition money, he’s going to spend your book money…
Mike: He cut Pell Grants for universities more than anyone else…
Jay: His whole take on the “No Child Left Behind” thing, where each school is being funded by property taxes, that’s not working very well in the inner-cities is it? People who don’t pay high property taxes don’t have very good schools.
Mike: And when you get out of college you’re still going to be eligible for the draft, so if you wanna keep fighting wars for money and oil…. You [college kids] are the ones that are going to go [to war]. So, pay attention.
Jay: And I don’t think you can win a war on a verb…. Terrorism.
Do you think that if Bush is re-elected we are going to go into other countries/ And if so, which?
Mike: Iran probably, there making some sort of case against them now
Jay: (sarcastically) Canada, because they’ve got more oil than America… and water.
Mike: They are trying to take over the Middle East, mainly to get oil and stop nuclear proliferation. And, hey, you know, I think religious fundamentalists are the scariest people in the world, and I am scared of any country whose leaders are religious fundamentalists, including ours right now, because that’s what Bush is. But, uh, the Middle East is going to be the biggest problem in the world forever, and it’s because their countries are run by religion. Including Israel…
Jay: Well Kerry said it, he said ‘it is everyone’s problem’ and he said ‘I’m going to bring everyone to the table and make them realize that this is all of our problem’s’
Mike: And Clinton was doing great in Iraq. I mean, sorta, in some respects. They weren’t a threat to anybody. And they still weren’t [when we went to war]… and that’s what you want. Until Bush pretty much ruined everything. I was eating dinner with Scott Ritter, on of the first weapons inspectors. He was one of the first whistle blowers, he was the guy who came back and said, ‘hey! there’s no weapons there! and any weapons they do have are no good anymore because anthrax has a shelf life of two years and it’s from 1991…’ the whole war is based on bullshit.
Do you think that national security right now is good? Do you think that we could possibly see another 9/11?
Mike: There’s no national security. It’s like Risk, you can’t secure a country this big. [Look at] Fahrenheit 9/11, the Oregon boarder. All you have to do is but a bomb on a big boat and put it in the harbor.
Jay: Two words for you: Timothy McVeigh, how hard was it for him to get in the country? Oh wait!
Mike: …Or make explosives? There’s no way to prevent a terrorist strike. What you have to do is make sure the terrorists are happy…
Jay: Or find out why they’re so pissed off. Maybe it’s the 100,000 people sitting in Saudi Arabia right now with American flags on their shoulders.
Mike: I mean the whole thing Osama Bin Laden said is ‘we want American troops off our soil. Thanks for helping us out with Kuwait, now can you get off our Holy Land?’ that was the entire problem. There wouldn’t be any of this if it wasn’t for that. And you can’t blame George Bush for that. Anyway, you find out why these terrorists are so upset, and try to fix the problem. That’s why I don’t understand peace between Palestine and Israel, because people on both sides will never bend.
What do you think of George Bush’s failure to capture Osama Bin Laden?
Mike: It’s not him[Bin Laden], it’s the fucking movement.
Jay: Is it possible that he’s just going to wheel him out right before the election, ‘look what I got?’ It’s possible.
Mike: I just hope everyone is ready for it and doesn’t say (claps) ‘oh, look how good he did’
Jay: Well they also have to realize that it means nothing.
Mike: It’s not [Bin Laden] though, he’s the start of it… but if the Bush administration takes me out, Punk Voter’s not dying (laughs).
Jay: That’s right!
Mike: Hey Jay, you’re the second in charge
Jay: (feigns crying) Stop it! I am not!