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The Source: How Activism, Outreach Built 'The Politics of Punk'

Rowman & Littlefield

Punk rock erupted on to the American music stage in the late 1970s with a stripped-down sound, aggressive tones and manic beats.

Over the next decade, punk’s music and attitude demonstrated a calculated rejection of the cloying excesses and insincerity of the music and media of the disco '70s. But it was also a rejection of the "Greed is good" mantra of the Reagan revolution. Certainly punk meant different things to different people, but there was definite trajectory and central theme, which gave much of the music a dominating political message.

David Ensminger writes about that in his book “The Politics of Punk: Protest and Revolt from the Streets.” He says it's epitomized in this 1988 song – “You are the Government” by the band Bad Religion 

Guest: David Ensminger, author of "The Politics of Punk: Protest & Revolt from the Streets," instructor of humanities, folklore, and English at Lee College in Baytown, Texas.

From the publisher: Punk rock has long been equated with the ever-shifting concepts of dissent, disruption, and counter-cultural activities. As a result, since its 1970s and 1980s incarnations, when bands in Britain — from The Clash and Sex Pistols to Angelic Upstarts, U.K. Subs, and Crass — offered alternative political convictions and subversive lifestyle choices, the media has often deemed punk a threat.

Bands like Circle Jerks, Dead Kennedys, Bad Religion, and Millions of Dead Cops followed suit in America, pushing similar boundaries as the music mutated into a harsher “hardcore” style that branched deep into suburban enclaves. Those antagonisms and ideals were, in turn, translated by another wave of bands — from Fugazi to Anti-Flag — whose commitment to community building was as pronounced as their taut, explosive tunes.

In "The Politics of Punk," David Ensminger probes the conscience of punk by going beyond the lyrics and slogans of the pithy culture war. He paints a broad, nuanced, and well-documented picture of the ongoing activism and outreach inherent in punk. Creating a people’s history of punk’s social, cultural, aesthetic, and political features, the book features original interviews with members of Dead Kennedys, Dead Boys, MDC, Channel 3, Snap-Her, Scream, Minutemen, TSOL, the Avengers, Blowdryers, and many more. Ensminger highlights punk money’s influence on philanthropy and community involvement and paints a contextualized picture of how punk critiqued dominant culture by channeling support and media coverage for a wide array of humanitarian programs for gays and lesbians, the homeless, the disabled, environmental and health research, and other causes.


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David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi
Jan Ross Piedad Sakian is TPR’s News Operations Producer. In this role, she develops strategy on collaborative and digital initiatives for the station. Since 2016, Jan Ross has served in a coordinating capacity for TPR’s state and national partners, including The Texas Newsroom.