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"99 Percent to 1, I Like Those Odds": Tom Morello on Protest Music, Occupy Wall Street, and Bringing Class Politics to Comic Books

The former Rage Against the Machine guitarist has a new album, a new comic book about environmental and class politics, and has been visiting protests around the US.

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Reading the first volume, Orchid’s kind of unpleasant when you meet her.

She remains unpleasant for some time.

But what’s her process of coming to consciousness?

We’re only at issue one. One of the biggest challenges is this was written as a graphic novel, and making it episodic was a big challenge, and making each issue self-contained. People ask questions, and Issue 2′s coming, Issue 3′s coming. There will soon be a group of comrades who figure it out together and learn from each other.

Her mother doesn’t seem totally freaked out by the idea that she’s a prostitute. Does her mother know?

Absolutely. It’s totally accepted. Their family lives better than others because she’s able to skim off the top. Not because she’s a prostitute. Prostitutes make zero. But she’s skimming off the top.

You’re saying that prostitution’s accepted. But where are pimps in the social heirarchy?

Pimps do very well for themselves in this hierarchy as we’ll see in future issues. Orchid’s pimp brings all his money, brings his riches to another place where we end up, and we get a better sense of what his life is like…Those girls are his property. Literal property. Not figurative property. And it’s important to them…how Orchid has gotten where she is, the Queen Bee of the 16-year-old prostitutes is she knows her role.

Is the know your role brand something she chose?

I don’t know that I’m at liberty to tell! It doesn’t go away. There’s more coming on that front. It’s important that one of them is a tattoo and one of them is a brand. Her personal mantra is not I am property. It’s know your role. That role may change over time. It’s hard to say.

I know you were down at Occupy Wall Street this morning. Is it a nice coincidence that the comic’s coming out at the same time?

The fact that I have a Nightwatchman record called World Wide Rebel Song, I have a class-conscious comic coming out, and the world is being occupied is a fine coincidence.

What was your experience at Occupy Wall Street like?

I played at Occupy LA on Saturday and it was very similar. I’ve been to hundreds of protests and demonstrations. But between what went on in Madison last February when there were 100,000 people in the streets protesting anti-union legislation, and now the Occupy movement that’s now in 1,300 cities, it’s really the first time in my lifetime when there’s been a large, massive, class-based protest. This is not an anti-war protest. This is not a general sort of umbrella. We’ve identified the 1 percent of the problem. So get those sons of bitches.

Do you think the 99 percent obscures class distinctions to a certain extent? Obviously there’s a difference between being in the top 5 percent of the 99 percent and being in the bottom 5.

I think the 99 percent is very, very key. One of the things that has made this movement successful is the inclusion. It’s really the .001 percent that are calling the shots. But we’ll round up. But 99 percent to 1, I like those odds.

Do you think art can play a role in the conversations among the 99 percent? Solidarity is awesome, but the people at the upper stratum of the 99 percent need to learn more about what it’s like to be at the bottom.

Well, there’s never been, in the United States, a progressive, radical, or revolutionary movement that hasn’t had a great soundtrack. The Civil Rights movement, the workers’ rights movement, the anti-war movement —