Punks Are Feeling the Bern

Yet Another Punk-Supported Sanders Benefit Show and I Know Why

Photo Benjamin Zinevich

Last Sunday was not an average Sunday.

Besides the Blood Moon, and the Pope shutting down Philadelphia, last Sunday, Bushwick Berners brought more than just your average punk show to Bushwick’s Shea Stadium. Ostensibly, a great bill drew the locals, including Nine of Swords, Mannequin Pussy, Nonsense and Guerilla Toss; but people were out for more than just moshing that night. Part of the Weekend at Bernies event series, this show doubled as a fundraiser for Vermont Senator and Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders.

You read that right—a punk fundraiser for Bernie Sanders. Which is strange for a couple reasons. Firstly, I don’t go to benefits. I’m not into politics and neither are my friends, really. Obviously, we’re up to date, and we all have our personal opinions, but never, ever, have myself or any of my friends made the clear effort to proselytize for any politician. It’s never been necessary—no politician has ever represented us, really. In fact, the last politician to garner the ‘youth vote,’ a phrase come to mean any progressive making under $50,000 annually, was Obama, who promptly turned around and casually drowned the world in drone strikes. Suffice to say, most American ‘youth’ I know are significantly jaded with American politics.

Enter Bernie. The second reason this benefit and my attendance were strange is because this benefit, like the last two I went to, were thrown by punks, for punks. That’s right—it was punks for Bernie. Here was a fully packed Shea Stadium, a DIY venue in Williamsburg, sporting all the calling cards of a DIY show—a lot of smoking, a lot of smelly bodies, a lot of dancing and drinking. A scene I’ve witnessed and interacted with a thousand times before. The only difference: a totally sincere political bent.

It was a non-cynical political fervor, completely infecting the atmosphere. No joke, the air was drenched in genuine hope. After being greeted by a Bushwick Berners volunteer at the door, who politely and excitedly asked for some information “for Bernie’s records,” my friend Ben and I moved through the room, noting a wall covered in Bernie merch, and a table fronted by kindly youths assisting with voter registration.

It was a show with an unabashed cause, and every band made sure to mention it. Punk proselytizing is an interesting affair—one part angry cynicism with the current system, one part intense hopefulness for a coming change. Over and over it’s mentioned that this is a first, and I’m struck by the great truth of that. Never before have I ever heard of a punk show for a presidential candidate, never have I ever heard of a presidential candidate that cared about DIY music. Clearly, I needn’t look any further than Sanders for just that.

“My dad used to say there’d never be a black president, and now he says there will never be a Jewish president,” said Rachel Gordon, frontwoman of Nine of Swords, one of the four bands on the night’s bill. “Well, he was wrong once, and he’s gonna be wrong again.”

Bernie’s a lot more than Jewish, though. Among the crowd’s favourite characteristics of the Vermont Congressman are his lack of Super PAC funding, his place as creator and supporter of the Burlington punk scene (Fugazi, Operation Ivy, and Bane are just a couple seminal punk acts hosted at 242 Main, the all-ages sober venue Sanders and his wife, Jane, née Driscoll, founded back in 1984) and just his all around “chill factor,” as put to me by a friend. Bernie’s offering us something we’ve never been offered: recognition. It sort of feels like vindication, to hear him speak. Like we haven’t been ignored, just screaming into the wind.

So there I was, seeing some of my favourite bands, jamming in a crowd that was connecting in a way I hadn’t seen in a while, especially not in New York City, where shows tend to be a lot more isolationist just due to the sheer volume of shows/bands in the city. The nature of showgoing in DIY is inherently isolationist—this idea that this town, this state, this country, this world is so intensely fucked up a place that we have no choice but to take as much solace in the collective happiness mustered in music and showgoing. Usually, shows garner a feeling of being in another world, an alternative plane meant to give a little reprieve from the bullshit of everything out there.

Instead, this show, this crowd, was brazenly, unapologetically attempting to influence the world. Rather than being the reflexive, inward-facing scene meant to keep and cherish its own, carve out its own small world and try to live in it, I was at a show packed with politically-minded punks, being rallied to get their collective shit together and register to vote in the primaries and “fucking make sure we don’t fuck this up.” The show, the scene, is suddenly facing outward, attempting to enact change in the rest of the country.
“I guess we’re just tired of not being counted in the game,” Colin Regisford, a musician and friend playing the show, commented to me as we stood outside, staring up at the moon.
I just hope we don’t fuck it up.