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How Punk Rock Made Me a Lefty

Rockers scold Ryan for misunderstanding their music, while the world fawns over Russian self-styled punks Pussy Riot. Who says political music is dead?

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KGB's chief saint descends/to guide the punks to prison vans./Don't upset His Saintship, ladies,/stick to making love and babies.

To ask why Pussy Riot rather than some other, more traditional dissident (or some other musicians), has captured the public's imagination might be as pointless as asking why, after decades of attacks on workers' rights, Wisconsin was the site of a dramatic protest, or why Occupy Wall Street spread across the US and the world. Sometimes, a combination of drama and luck and timing results in an issue, a person, an artist breaking out of their original context and capturing hearts and minds across the globe. As Ellen Willis, a rock critic, feminist and activist from the '60s until her death in 2006, wrote in Beginning to See the Light:

Implicit in the formal language of mass art is the possibility that given the right sort of social conditions, it can act as a catalyst that transforms its mass audience into an oppositional community. This is precisely what rock-and-roll did for teen-agers, and rock for the counterculture, in the fifties and sixties.

Meanwhile, Paul Ryan might be cheerily listening to Rage or Twisted Sister right now, but it is worth noting that those bands are entirely opposed to his agenda. It's symbolic of something right-wingers so often love to do: entirely ignore the will of the people and impose an agenda on them that has nothing to do with what they actually asked for. Ryan, for instance, was one of the co-sponsors of H.R. 3, the anti-abortion, redefining-rape bill, the third bill the GOP House pushed for after its 2010 election sweep—an election that was about jobs, jobs and jobs. If Ryan can't hear what Rage Against the Machine is screaming in his headphones, how is anyone supposed to trust that he hears what they say enough to enact policies that they actually want?  

Sarah Jaffe is a staff writer at In These Times and the co-host of Dissent magazine's "Belabored" podcast. Her writings on labor, social movements, gender, media and student debt have been published in The Atlantic, The Nation, The American Prospect, AlterNet and many other publications, and she is a regular commentator for radio and television. You can follow her on Twitter: @sarahljaffe.

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