I never wanted this blog to be political, but sometimes – to paraphrase my motto – being who you are and liking what you like requires you to stand up, show up, and speak up.
In 1995, I participated in a protest against anti-pornography legislation. Before you leap to the conclusion that I’m a staunch defender of porn, I should explain that the legislation in question was about protecting kids from material or performances deemed “harmful to minors.” That got my heavy metal radar pinging, as metal music is often criticized for its lyrical content, and any law that attempts to define “obscene” material is likely going to cast a wide enough net that might inadvertently, or quite advertantly, ban some great music. After all, one person’s litany of horrific atrocities is another person’s copy of Slayer’s classic Reign in Blood album, and I’m not handing over my copy to the authorities. The legislative proposals were a form of censorship, and I’m not o.k. with censorship. As a metal fan coming of age in the era of the Parent’s Music Resource Center (PMRC), the folks who brought you the “Parental Advisory: Explicit Content” stickers on “obscene” albums and CDs, I have been a long-time advocate for freedom of speech.
The protest was held on the steps of the Washington State Capitol Building. There were a few dozen young people there, including a 27-year-old me. There were also reporters, one of whom put my picture on the front page of the local paper. The foreground of the photo was a TV news camera crew interviewing Krist Novoselic, the bassist for the grunge/punk band Nirvana, who was the celebrity spokesman for the anti-censorship crowd. I was in the background, but dead center in the photo. I don’t look happy in the picture, but that’s just how my face looks when I’m not paying attention. I have one of those faces that defaults to a slightly negative expression. In fact, I was happy to be there, proud to have stood up and showed up for something that’s important to me and needed a bit of defending. I’m pleased to report that the law didn’t pass, but I retired from public protests after that. You may have guessed that I’m more of a written word guy than a spoken word guy, or I’d be vlogging these missives.
I’ve been thinking about that protest a lot this week, in part because I emerged from retirement to participate in the Women’s March last Saturday. I wanted to go because, first, I’m a big fan of women, and, I don’t mean that in a crude way. I aspire to Bernie Sanders’ status as an “honorary woman.” For example, long-time readers know that I am a member of a (previously) all-female running club and have substituted for a friend on two occasions when she was unable to participate in half-marathons. Just doing the math, I have more close women friends than men. My female friends and colleagues are great supporters and sources of inspiration for me. I wanted to show my support for their rights, which I do believe are at some risk of late. In addition, several of my female co-workers were going, so I know it would be a fun social event. Also, my mom was going, and I knew she would appreciate her favorite son (sorry, Mike) marching alongside. Finally, I wanted to be there for friends who couldn’t be, like my daughter watching over our puppy who is not ready for big crowds, the ones who were enjoying a visit from kids and grandkids, and the ones who can’t bear a crowd (anxiety sucks).
My wife and I arrived before the event officially got underway, and the crowd was enormous. We found Mom and two of my co-workers standing on the outskirts of the throng of ten thousand. Our little band of marchers was in the minority in the sense that we weren’t adorned with pink hats and did not carry signs, but we took great pleasure in seeing the creativity of those who did. I’m certain the obscenity monitors of the PMRC would consider some of the signs to be offensive, but, as a devotee of extreme metal music, my obscenity meter is calibrated a little differently than your average human. I thought they were hilarious.
After 30 minutes of standing, talking and taking pictures of hats and signs, we were beginning to get restless. Specifically, my friend Sherrie was getting restless and wanted to get moving. After all, it was the Women’s March, not the Women’s Stand Around and Take Selfies. She took the lead and got us into the flow of the crowd headed towards Columbia Street. I’m glad she took the lead and got us moving, as I was getting twitchy listening, over the PA system, to a small group of women singing, in a seemingly endless loop, what I presume to be a classic protest march song called, “One Foot in Front of the Other.” I assume that’s the title, as those words comprise the majority of the lyrics. Catchy but monotonous. As we began walking, the clouds parted and the cool morning was kissed by sunlight, making our short journey through the streets of Olympia quite lovely. I was happy to be among the thousands of women and men marching for rights, equality, dignity, and respect, and I was proud that I stood up, showed up, and marched for something in which I believe.
Of course, the march was, in no small measure, a protest against our new President, and there is no shortage of things about which I’m concerned with this administration. I won’t go into a lot of details, as I’m guessing your Facebook feed is as full as mine with all of the alarming activities underway. But, this morning, I was again reminded of my first protest. I read that the National Park Service, Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency, and Department of Health and Human Services are under a sort of gag order, barring them from making statements or providing any documents to the public or journalists. Excuse me, but that’s censorship, and I’m not o.k. with censorship. Twenty-two years ago, I publicly protested against efforts to ban certain artistic expression, but I’m more concerned about banning facts and science. I like heavy metal, but I like truth even more. I suspect I will have to stand up, show up, and speak out a lot in the coming months. My retirement from public protests is over; it’s time to get back to work. I’ll try to keep this blog focused on metal, running, grilling, writing, and managing, as I always have, but I will look for other ways to make my voice, and the voices of those who speak the truth, heard.
Whether you share my political beliefs or not, I hope you will stand up and show up for the things that matter to you. That’s very cool. Just remember, you might get your picture in the paper, so remember to smile.
P.S., As I was pondering the two protests I’ve participated in, I was reminded of something I wrote in my second book Metal Fatigue:
“The PMRC published a list of song they found particularly troubling called ‘The Filthy Fifteen,’ nine of which were heavy metal songs. Notably, the other five songs were by female artists, including Madonna and Cyndi Lauper. I love that the PMRC believed the two biggest threats to our children’s psychological well-being were heavy metal and women.”
Yup, Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, Vanity, Sheena Easton, and the Mary Jane Girls were the original “nasty women.” I aspire to be an honorary “nasty woman.”
P.P.S., the fifteenth member of the Filthy Fifteen was Prince, by the way. R.I.P.