Revolution #170, July 19, 2009

Learning, Leading, and Connecting with Youth at the Vans Warped Tour

We received this correspondence from a reader in Los Angeles

Dozens of bands, old and new. Loading up the van at sun-up and arriving back home at sun-down, exhausted but enthused. Jumping into a very polarized atmosphere to dialogue, debate with and challenge swaths of youth from geographically and ideologically diverse backgrounds. The Revolution Club in Los Angeles had a blast at the Vans Warped Tour on Friday, June 26 in Pomona and Sunday, June 28 in Ventura, the first two dates of this nationwide punk rock festival’s 15th anniversary tour. The concert has broadened its bill of bands to include the genres of emo, indie rock, hardcore, ska, and some hip hop, in addition to longtime punk heavyweights like NOFX and Bad Religion (and the younger leftist punk icons Anti-Flag) who also grace the stage this year.

Having a Revolution Books/Libros Revolución booth in the non-profit zone for both L.A. area tour dates this year enabled us to get out literature, raise money, gain organized ties, and learn firsthand about the ongoing struggle within the punk and hardcore scene over politics, religion, and ideology. Activists with The World Can’t Wait! also had booths at both shows to popularize their We Are Not Your Soldiers! counter-recruitment campaign and expose the ongoing wars for empire now being waged by the Obama administration.

In the capitalist-imperialist system we live under, many suburban youth are alienated and search for a way to rebel, or just live out an alternative lifestyle. Punk rock in this country has historically been a symbol for kids to celebrate egalitarian or oppositional values, and reject the dominant religion, commodity relations, and slavishness to authority this country promoted throughout the '80s (values that continue to be exalted in the age of Obama in both new and familiar forms). Though punk was always a contradictory phenomenon encompassing diverse styles as well as worldviews, its expression was very two-sided at this year’s Warped Tour. As one band member said to us, “You guys are definitely not just preaching to the converted out here.”

Indeed, besides several charities in the non-profit area with a Christian bent, there were military people siding with the U.S. empire, plus the widely popular band Under Oath from Tampa, Florida, which promotes Christianity front and center to a brutal head-banging soundtrack (

But in what we might call the crisis in morality created by the fundamental contradiction of the world capitalist system, in the alienation driven by the reduction of politics, culture, relationships and societal values to what Marx dubbed the brutal cash nexus of capital accumulation, disaffected youth across America who embraced the anti-religious, somewhat nihilistic, but politically radical ethos of bands like Bad Religion and the Dead Kennedys in the '80s are today increasingly turning towards prettified forms of Christianity as their anchor to find a sense of place and redemption. We in the Revolution Club find this as equally illusory and harmful. We were straight-up about this with everyone we engaged at these festivals. First of all, God doesn’t exist, so giving up on humanity whether in the cynical disillusionment still prevalent in the punk and hardcore scene, or in the more insidious guise that religion essentially teaches, condemns human society and the planet to continual suffering (or destruction) under the dictates of this present imperialist system, all of which is entirely unnecessary and can be ended with revolution and communism. Also, as spoken to in Bob Avakian’s Away With All Gods!, religion, like the bourgeois worldview in general, posits mistaken and idealist notions as to why the world is the way it is, and how human society changes and advances. Under Oath’s socio-political ethos, as can be true of the variety of reactionary cultural works being produced in recent years that try to make Christianity more palatable, can be boiled down to one formulation in their web journal’s most recent post: “We are going to hurt and be hurt. God is the only thing worth living for.”

While a chunk of the fans seemed to not be as committed to Christianity or right-wing politics, instead just digging bands like Under Oath for their sound, there is nevertheless a genuine battle taking place for the hearts and minds of this next generation, in schools, churches, concerts, and on the internet. Will more of them cross over into active complicity with imperialism and the crimes against humanity that this system continues to commit? Will they be soothed (or rocked) into acquiescing in and even becoming shock troops for fundamentalism, asserting that virginity and salvation in an imaginary Christ embody hip alternatives to the (equally patriarchal) ethic of casual sex and the modern commodification of women? Will young people learn to accept and even embrace capitalism and bourgeois democracy as the best and only possible way of living, or will more of them strengthen their resolve to break down all barriers between peoples, genders and nations, seek out the most advanced understanding of how to do that, and help write the soundtrack to the next round of rebellion, critical thinking, and revolution? We learned that these are some of the main questions posed for broad groups of young people at concerts like this one, and we think we had a significant impact on the overall battle for ideas on the L.A. tours. We expanded our contact list, sold subscriptions to Revolution newspaper, and increased our organized ties to pockets of potential revolutionaries.

In Pomona, a guitarist from a well-known Orange County emo-hardcore band was thrilled to buy 3 Atheists shirts, opting to wear his onstage in front of hundreds of fans, and a copy of Away With All Gods!. And in Ventura, the manager of a major punk band picked up the Atheists shirt, saying the band would dig it, as he filled us in on some of the tongue-in-cheek (but real) contention over religion between some of the bands that share the stage together.

A member of another group who said he thinks the world would be a lot better off without religion got the same shirt and promised to wear it every day of the tour. A young unemployed Bad Religion fan from Riverside got a Wanted shirt in Pomona and gave an extra $5 donation. Walking around the entire concert area displaying our shirts as a fundraiser also helped to create public opinion, raise money through sales, and spur debate about the need to actually do away with capitalism as well as confront the damage done by religion over centuries and right down to today.

Our vivid Atheists t-shirts, F*ck Capitalism shirts and an array of buttons, “A Fetus is Not a Baby!”, “What the U.S. Brings to the World” and “Yes, We Can (cover up) Torture” displays, and other materials from the RCP helped to attract the more conscious people who wanted to fight the system and learn more about revolution. They also caused quite a stir among the more backward concert goers, who received from us a defiant introduction to revolutionary communism, as uncomfortable and infuriating as it was for them. Some people snapped photos of the Obama torture satire ("Yes, We Can"). A white woman and her husband asked us what we thought it meant. We spoke to how Obama is hyped as the man of change, the better to bring you back in to the fold of supporting the system, and how he's refusing to prosecute the war criminals in the Bush regime who knowingly authorized torture, and now he's violently expanding the "war on terror" into Afghanistan and Pakistan. They thanked us and said they feel the same way.

The Pomona Warped Tour seemed to have a more sizeable presence of concert goers steeped in slick creationism and anti-communism than in Ventura. There was a preponderance of youth at both tours who strongly believed that Christianity was fully compatible with social justice and science, and that without religion it is impossible to say that Hitler was wrong, or to even have a morality. They danced around all the slaughter upheld by God himself in the Bible, either saying it was metaphorical (a metaphor for what, we asked?!) or that it all happened for a reason so that Christ could come and redeem us. One guy said he felt all this oppression goes against God, and that we were much more like "true" Christians because we talked about what's affecting the people.

No small number of people would argue, with usually no historical context or evidence, that communism is responsible for more deaths than capitalism, that at least under capitalism people have the freedom to be rich, and that the Soviet Union's collapse is evidence of communism's "failure." We would respond by exposing capitalism's far higher death toll (preventable starvation, imperialist wars, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, etc.), by laying out some of the real achievements as well as shortcomings of the proletariat in power in Russia and China while they were socialist, and the way that wealth under capitalism is actually produced, and what that means for most people right here in the middle of this economic crisis (serious and growing unemployment, foreclosures, budget cuts, the world's largest prison population, etc.) We continually insisted that society does not have to be this way, that a revolutionary socialist state would put the needs of people first, while at the same time encouraging the widest possible ferment, dissent, and artistic expression, as a transition to a communist world.

When we got to Ventura, we learned from what we summed up that abortion and the Bible were very big issues, so we brought a sign that said "The Bible Taken Literally is a Horror!" and a detailed enlarged display of the Revolution centerfold, "A Fetus is Not a Baby! Abortion is Not Murder!", which many people stopped to read. Our pro-abortion stand created some of the most controversy. Some gave an enthusiastic thumbs up and slapped on the "Abortion on Demand and Without Apology" stickers, others vehemently opposed it, and still others weren't sure what to think. One young woman, after reading it all, said quietly, "I've never seen anything like this." Frequently young people would say that they personally opposed abortion, but didn't think it should be outlawed. We asked people what role they thought women should play in society, and responses ran the gamut from the biblical to the secular and equal.

Our Ventura booth was better placed and we met more enthusiastic revolutionary-minded folks, although some Christian Fascists kicked down one of our signs and attempted to provoke us into a fight.

But the greatest counterweight coming from the musicians themselves to all this apathetic and fascistic garbage emanated from the amazing new band Outernational, who rocked the West Coast tour dates with their irresistible fusion of rock, reggae, cumbia, hip hop and dead-on liberatory politics. If you miss Joe Strummer and Rage Against the Machine, and you think music represents a critical component to a better future and a culture of struggle and liveliness that aims towards that future, you had better not miss the release of their album and EP, recorded by Tom Morello himself ( Thirty fist-pumping minutes in the dance pit to these guys’ jams was an experience far more hopeful and fun than listening to some recycled religious nonsense that puts forward Christ and the slave-mentality of the Bible as the only salvation for a “fallen” and “sinful” human race. As one of Outernational’s anthems goes, “I don’t want it/I’m on another tip!” As we displayed our fundraiser t-shirts and got down with 30 other kids to Outernational’s set, we really turned some heads as people stood and watched this curious new scene in astonishment, while vocalist Miles Solay bellowed “Not another way of life, under this system/There’s a whole other way, we could be living...”

To all the young brothers and sisters coming forward, attracted to Bob Avakian’s re-envisioning of revolution and communism and eager to “fight the power, and transform the people, for revolution,” let’s continue hitting events like the Warped Tour all summer, and not be too afraid to jump in and play the re-polarizing role we need to play. Some people at Warped Tour are likely to try and limit our freedom to operate there, but there exists a tangible openness from bands and fans alike to our message. Let’s also not be dogmatic or simple-minded—we need to better familiarize ourselves with the struggles taking place in the superstructure, especially at venues like this one (Rock the Bells is coming up, hip hop fans!) so we can speak to questions on the minds of millions from the loftiest, most radical and most inspiring communist standpoint.

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