AP Op-Ed: Musicians Speak Out
by Andrew Vachss
Originally Published in AP International, Vol. 20, Number 209, December 2005
Editor's Note: Okay, so ANDREW VACHSS isn't technically a musician; but as part of the nonpartisan children's–advocacy organization PROTECT, the attorney and author has been instrumental in uniting PROTECT's cause with musicians familiar to AP readers. This month AP is proud to pass Vachss the soapbox as he, Fat Wreck Chords and over two dozen artists join together to bring the world PROTECT: A BENEFIT FOR THE NATIONAL ASSOCIATION TO PROTECT CHILDREN.
I'm dinosaur-school, and I came up with "punk" having a lot of different meanings, none of them too good. All of the definitions agreed on this—you didn't want to be one. And calling you one was the same as calling you out.
But words aren't pure things. Not a single one of them has inherent properties. Words, like handguns, take their meaning from their usage. Context trumps content, every time.
If "punk" means music, I can't play. But if "punk" means a rage for change, count me in.
Today, depending on how you used the word, I wouldn't take offense. I'd be proud to be part of a pack that won't go quietly, questions answers, defies illegitimate authority, and, more than anything, demands change.
With what I've seen—not read about, not watched on a movie screen, seen so close up that my retinas are permanently scarred with the images—I've stayed angry just about all my life.
Music. Anger. To me, "punk" is all of that, and more than that. Any movement, if it gets big enough, divides itself. Some players just want to party; some party–goers just want to pose. But there's always a hardcore inside the soft surface. For those warriors, it's not about the style; it's about the life.
When the pyramids were being built in the desert, they had many admirers. But there were also warriors enraged at the slavery and privilege that made them possible. That rage has formed another pyramid, one that is still being built. Its base begins with truth–seekers. The next is the level of the change–makers. And, at the very top, stand the protectors.
I wrote this haiku a long time ago. I've seen it quoted everywhere since, from literary journals to subway graffiti to tattoos:
Children know the truth
Love is not an emotion
Love is behavior
How many adults "outgrow" that knowledge? It's so easy to forget that, when oppression walks, there's only two choices: stand up, or stand aside.
That first choice is never easy. If it didn't cost something to stand up, nobody would be sitting down.
Decades ago, I ran a maximum–security prison for "aggressive-violent youth." Most of the staff were ex–convicts, many of whom had grown up inside those same walls. There was only one way to make that place work, which was to change the "imitate the oppressor" paradigm. That predatory system had ruled the staff as kids and was now ruling the kids behind bars, bars that still vibrated with the molecular memory of all the evil and ugliness committed over generations inside them. Instead of "defusing" the anger, we had to refocus it. Together. All of us, together.
On a huge slab of concrete at the end of the upper tier, I painted these words:
If you can't be counted on
You can't be counted in
That's what we lived by then. That's what those of us who are still standing live by now.
Like I said, I'm way past old–school. But, as I look around, I see old eyes in young faces.
If children are really "our greatest natural resource," why does the government treat those who are abused and neglected as if they were toxic waste, condemning them to a wasteland where their highest hope is to be "recycled?"
And why do so many "creative" people spend so much time pontificating about "revolutionary" movies and comic books while using the other half of their forked tongues to explain why "politics suck?" When people tell you, "you can't fight City Hall," all they're really saying is that they're cowards. They don't like the odds, so they don't fight. They call themselves "creative," but all they seem to create is hip–sounding reasons to cringe on the sidelines.
You know who I'm talking about. The ones who said "There's no difference between Bush and Gore, so I'm doing the revolutionary thing. I'm going to write in 'Mickey Mouse for President,' to show my contempt for the system."
Don't listen to the blogsters who tell you that kids are oppressed in America because "children don't vote." Guns don't vote, either. But they've got lobbyists, supporters, and, everywhere you look, politicians dancing to their tune.
That last piece of truth gave birth to the National Association to Protect Children, better known as PROTECT! Just think of it as an NRA for child protection. PROTECT! has only one way to measure any politician: have you done the right thing on our issues? If yes, we're for you. If not, we're against you.
Understand this is no "save the children" routine. It's not a shelter, not a counseling service, not an after–school special. It's not about playing the game; it's about changing the rules.
We change the rules by changing the laws. In most states, if a human has sex with a child, that's a serious felony, and prison looms — unless that child is his (or her) own. Their own property, see? Because, in those states, the prosecutor can charge the perpetrator with "incest" instead of sexual abuse. And that means probation, not prison. Why should we have a law that gives degenerates bonus points from the criminal "justice" system if they grow their own victims?
Who funds this effort? Government grants? No. "Faith–based" organizations? Get real. Tax-deductible contributions? Forget that. PROTECT! is a Political Action Committee (PAC), and political action is not a charity. If you give up dinner–and–a–movie once a year to pay the membership dues, you can't deduct it on your tax return. PROTECT! is so grassroots that, in some places, you can't even see the grass yet.
So how does the angry music crowd come in? How else but loud and hard? From the Barfeeders benefits to the support of Organized Crime Records to all kinds of individual efforts throughout the country, music has played a major role in raising the nickels and dimes we've run on since the beginning.
And now comes the most ambitious effort of all, the hardest punch thrown yet: Thanks to Jackson Ellis of Verbicide fanzine, Todd Taylor of Razorcake, Punk Voter, Fat Wreck Chords and the unstoppable Vanessa Burt, the PROTECT! CD is ready to roll.
You can't put your money where your mouth is when you haven't got any money. But you sure can put your body and soul on the line to earn money for the most righteous cause of all—standing between helpless children and those who prey upon them. And that's just what Matt Skiba, MxPx, Smoke Or Fire, NOFX, Coalesce, The Falcon, Tim Version, Joey Cape, Communique, Dead To Me, Darkest Hour, The Soviettes, Ergs, Anti–Flag, Grabass Charlestons, Tim Barry, The Arrivals, BARS, Tennage Bottlerocket, Jawbreaker, Rusty Pistachio, Mishaps, The Lovekill, Hot Cross, Western Addiction, and Against Me! have done.
Each donated their work to this CD. They put it all out there. This isn't one of those "percentage of the profits" handjobs. This is the real deal. Buy the CD, arm the PROTECT! war chest—that's as clean and pure a deal as you could ever want.
Remember their names. I know I will.
I've always been proud to be a member of PROTECT! This album would make me proud to be a punk, too.
So now you've got two superb reasons to buy the PROTECT CD—the contributors, and the cause. Either one will do.
Many paths to the same door.
And all respect to those who are helping kick it down.
Copyright © 2005 Andrew Vachss. All rights reserved.
Click here to buy Protect: A Benefit For The National Association To Protect Children.
 VARIOUS ARTISTS
Protect: A Benefit For The National Association To Protect Children
Twenty-six great bands + a more-than-worthy cause = one awesome mix tape
If only one thing must be said of the kindly folks at Fat, it's that they know how to put together a fine compilation (see the Fat Music or Rock Against Bush collections). Furthering this notion is the 26-track Protect, featuring a bevy of outstanding unreleased tracks from the likes of Coalesce, Anti-Flag, Hot Cross, Against Me!, Smoke or Fire, Jawbreaker (who contribute a live version of "Want") and the Lovekill, as well as vital fare from bands such as NOFX, Darkest Hour, Grabass Charlestons and Bars. Moreover, all proceeds go to PROTECT, a nonpartisan national pro-child association working toward the protection of children from neglect, abuse and other ills that befall the most innocent and helpless of society. —Janelle Jones (AP International, December 2005)
Click here to buy Protect: A Benefit For The National Association To Protect Children.