Last year local punk rock icon “Fat Mike” Burkett started Punk Voter, a quixotic coalition of musicians and record labels uniting for the laudable goal of voting George W. Bush out of office in November. To get punks pumped about the electoral process, Fat Mike has enlisted the help of bands like Social Distortion to record songs for one of several Rock Against Bush compilations. There also is a Punk Voter tour planned, during which bands will implore their young fans to register and vote — against Bush. Fat Mike, bassist for NOFX and owner of successful San Francisco label Fat Wreck Chords, hopes to register and mobilize half a million young punks. That’s no easy task, considering his target group tends to view the political process with contempt.
Exhibit A for punk-voter apathy is Green Day, the East Bay pop-punk trio, which will have a track on the second Rock Against Bush album in August. But while the three millionaire punkers are exhorting fans to get involved and vote, they have rarely done so. Nor has Fat Mike. Burkett publicly admits he has voted only once, and county records indicate the same for 32-year-old Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong. Drummer Tre Cool (real name Frank Edwin Wright III), 31, has voted twice; and bassist Mike Dirnt (born Michael R. Pritchard), 31, wasn’t registered to vote in Alameda County until the day after the October recall election.
Feeder tried to get an explanation from Billie Joe, but the singer didn’t return a phone message left at his modest $1.8 million Oakland home. In September 2000, though, he told Yahoo!’s music site that voting is a must-do, although he argued that people can vote every day with their wallets by, for instance, buying coffee at local cafes instead of at Starbucks. (Armstrong’s one and only vote, records show, was in the November 2000 presidential election.) More recently, in an audio message posted on the band’s official Web site in January, Armstrong suggested listeners open their wallets and vote for Michael Moore‘s book, Dude, Where’s My Country? “It’s kind of eerie to think who is in power right now,” Armstrong said (after thoughtfully belching), “because the Bush administration are a bunch of corporate crooks.”
Hatred for Bush seems to be the antidote for voter apathy among progressives (witness the Howard Dean phenomenon). And maybe Billie Joe will summon his motivation and vote in this week’s primary, where he can choose the most electable person from his chosen party to take on Generalissimo Bush: Michael Badnarik, Gary Nolan or Aaron Russo, the three candidates vying for the Libertarian nomination.
The Veal of Retail
Unlike Billie Joe Armstrong, Bottom Feeder doesn’t eschew Starbucks just because it’s a chain. Is it a crime to spread overpriced gourmet coffee around the nation? No. Feeder doesn’t begrudge chains just because they’re chains. Well, except for Wal-Mart, the veal of retail. It pays shitty wages, undercuts independently owned dollar stores, and doesn’t sell Maxim or the Paris Hilton sex tape. The one place Wal-Mart isn’t skimping is in its campaign to defeat Measure L, the March 2 ballot initiative that would restrict superstores with electronics and groceries from opening up in unincorporated pockets of Contra Costa County.
As of press time, Wal-Mart had pumped more than $900,000 into the campaign against Measure L. The pro-L side, meanwhile, has deposited about $570,000 so far, mostly from labor unions and Safeway. That may seem like a lot of money for a local election, but both sides know this thing has national implications. If CoCo County goes for it, so might others. Measure L proponents privately acknowledge they’ll be lucky to pull this one off, especially considering how much dough the Walton clan is spending to stop them. And even if Measure L wins, a new Wal-Mart is expected to open in the near future at Richmond’s Hilltop Mall, where county land-use rules don’t apply. In other words, Measure L voters can have their veal and eat it too.
The Fading Storm
Somebody has to say it: Devotees of the former Vermont gov who unplugged his Democratic presidential bid last week are in Deanial. Even though Howard Dean announced that he will no longer campaign, Bay Area Deaniacs are forging ahead. His name, they reason, will still be on the state ballot March 2, so why not send a message to party leaders?
The true believers hope to send more Dean delegates to the July Democratic convention in Boston, and hope to convince the ultimate nominee to adopt their man’s political principles. “We’ve been doing it for a year; we can do it for two more weeks,” says Castro Valley housewife and political newbie Vicki Cosgrove, who has spent the last year volunteering full-time with East Bay 4 Dean.
In order to add to Dean’s current 190 delegates — 2,161 are needed to secure the nomination — Dean needs to win at least 15 percent of the vote in any congressional district. Fifteen percent buys one Dean delegate. That probably won’t happen in most places, but Deaniacs think they have a shot in East Bay Congresswoman Barbara Lee‘s Ninth District, and other hyper-liberal Bay Area districts. But even here on the Left Coast, it seems unlikely people will want to throw away their vote on a symbolic candidate. Besides, if they want to do that, they can vote for a certain loser who is still running, i.e. Dennis Kucinich.
Nonetheless, as of press time, an independent soft-money committee, TruthandHope.Org, had raised $6,740 to run pro-Dean ads on Bay Area radio stations this week. The committee’s founder, Orange County mortgage broker Eugene Hedlund, told Bottom Feeder that the sixty-second spots will stress the importance of carrying Dean’s agenda to the party convention so “Democrats will act like Democrats and not Republicans.” When told of the Dean people’s continued campaigning for a noncandidate, one Democratic presidential strategist offered this observation: “They’re smoking crack.”
Voting Their Conscience
It’s been an unusual election season so far. Fittingly, an unusual number of inmates being held at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin are voting in this primary. According to Lieutenant Jim Knudsen of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department, about twenty inmates awaiting trial have asked for absentee ballots. Usually, he says, officials get only five or so requests. The jailers, however, can’t explain the sudden demand. “They were kinda surprised by how many there were,” Knudsen says. This development may well signal the rise of a new voter demographic: the Cell Bloc.