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Punk the Vote

With punkvoter.com, punk music star Mike Burkett seeks to change the shape of American politics. But will a few thousand societal outcasts make a difference? Burkett thinks so.
 
 
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Musicians from Pearl Jam to the Dixie Chicks have spoken out on issues from the war on Iraq to Bush's rollback of environmental safeguards. Now "Fat Mike" Burkett, owner of Fat Wreck Chords and leader of the punk band NOFX, has taken things one step further. His new site, www.punkvoter.com, is a clearinghouse for anti-Bush information while simultaneously encouraging voter registration.

Burkett's goal is to secure 500,000 new voters -- primarily punk rockers that he hopes see politics his way -- in the 18- to 24-year-old age bracket (which had a dismal 38-percent voter turnout in the 2000 election).

Burkett admits half a million is an optimistic number, but nevertheless feels strongly that getting anyone to register to vote is a positive step toward defeating President Bush. Making people understand that they are "part of a greater good" and that "their vote can make a difference" should drive people to the polls, he says.

But can a group of punk rockers, which are generally perceived as societal outcasts, garner the attention of the candidates? Burkett thinks so.

What was the impetus to start punkvoter.com? I mean, why target punk rockers? Who's going to listen to a bunch of people generally perceived to be pierced, tattooed and mohawked outcasts?

Mike Burkett: First of all, I stated punkvoter.com after the 2000 presidential election when Bush didn't win, but moved into the White House anyway. I couldn't sleep for a few weeks and one day I came to the conclusion that I am a public figure, a celebrity of some sort in the punk rock scene. You know, I don't like having one vote. I want to convince tens of thousands of kids to vote with me instead of not doing anything. So I felt I had to use my notoriety for the greater good.

Who am I going to get to follow me but punk rock kids? I'm in a punk band. That's the audience I'm going after. I'm not going after college students. I'm not going after the hip-hop scene. I'm not trying to make this bigger than it is. We are trying to get a few hundred thousand kids to vote. And there are a few million kids who listen to punk rock, so if we can get 5 or 10 percent of them, that'd be great.

The second part of it is that I think the politicians in Washington will listen to us if we have 100,000 registered voters. Why wouldn't they listen to us? It doesn't matter what type of group we're from, we're voters and if they want our votes they're gonna answer some of our questions about our concerns.

You don't think that because of the average perceived attitude toward punks your average politician isn't going to worry about 100,000 votes spread over the electorate?

I don't think so. I think that's a lot of votes. And what do they think? We're just people, people who can vote. We may be more concerned with humane drug laws or the Rave Act or the Patriot Act, but we still have concerns like any other citizens. ... I think the reason today's youth haven't voted before is they don't think their one vote makes a difference, and no one has taken the time to organize the youth. The National Rifle Association, they do it and the League of Women Voters and the senior citizens -- what are they called?

AARP

They organized those people, but no one has gone after the youth. Rock the Vote tells kids to vote: "You're an American, vote." But they're not part of anything. We're not a non-partisan organization. We're an anti-Bush organization. I won't even say anti-Republican, but we are specifically against this administration. We're trying to educate today's youth about why it's bad, and if we vote together you don't have one vote, you are part of a greater good, you are part of 100,000 votes. I think that will get kids to think they are part of something and their vote does matter.

This only seems marginally different than MTV's Rock the Vote.

I think it is completely different. They're not against anything, they just tell people to vote. They can't be against anything because of the kind of organization they are. They're not a non-profit -- they'll take money from anybody. If they gave a Democrat airtime, they have to give a Republican airtime.

It seems you have a definite agenda that is somewhat leftwing to remove Bush--

I don't think that is leftwing at all. I think that's anywhere from leftwing to completely centrist. George Bush is not just a Republican, he's a radical Republican. He's changing the Constitution; he doesn't like the way America is right now so he's changing it. He's making it harder for poor people and easier for rich people and he's taking away our privacy laws. And he's taken us to unjust wars. He's changing this country and the people he's listening to are neo-conservatives. It is different than any political situation since I've been alive.

Why not just get people registered and let them examine the issues in their area and decide on their own?

MB: Because I don't think people will register and care unless they know ... that's why I want an informative Web site. We put up news items every other day and we're trying to inform people what Bush's policies are because you can't watch the news and find this out. Teenagers don't watch the news anyway. ... (Early last month) the Bush administration took away overtime for 8 million Americans. That affects teenagers and young people. Everyone gets a tax cut except for payroll taxes. How many people have payroll? A lot of people. Everyone who is on payroll they don't get a tax break, but their boss who owns the company, they get the tax break. So, kids don't know this. You have to tell them what's going on in the world.

Your Web site is full of news and information that seems geared at getting people riled up against the government. But will this get them to register?

Absolutely. Why wouldn't you register if you're not pissed?

Isn't it enough that it's your civic duty to vote?

Yeah, but that's not going to fly with apathetic kids. I didn't vote until the 2000 election.

How do you make sure people know what to do to vote?

I don't think you have to know that much. You don't have to go to college or be a political science major. You have to maybe read a book. If you read "Stupid White Men" by Michael Moore, that's enough. ... You can read a pamphlet about what's going on and be informed enough -- then just vote. Or, get a couple of your friends to vote. You don't have to change your lifestyle.

I don't actually read as much as I should because the more I read the more bummed out I get, when I read political books. I don't want to have anything to do with this garbage. I don't want to be doing interviews; I hate interviews. I don't want the FBI tapping my phone. I don't want to be giving speeches in public. This all sucks. I'm just doing this because someone has to, because our government was taken over. Citizens of this country have to take a stand and I have to do it because I am a public figure. It's my responsibility. I hate it.

That puts you in a rather ironic position.

As long as we get him out, I am done with this. We'll keep punkvoter.com going. There are a lot of people involved with this that really enjoy it. I don't. I prefer gambling and golf.

Glenn BurnSilver is arts and entertainment editor of Fort Collins Weekly.