Revolutionary Worker #1035, December 19, 1999
There was what you could call high energy in the van: 17 people under 22 (plus this reporter), on a 2-hour trip to: a) the greatest concert of the year? b) the greatest canceled concert of the year? c) a police riot? d) all of the above? No one could say for sure.
But people were ready for anything as we cruised from New York City to Philadelphia. Rage Against the Machine was playing a stop on the tour for their new CD "The Battle of Los Angeles." This CD, just released November 4, is a trip itself--a breathtaking journey from the sweatshops of L.A. to the rebel camps of Chiapas to the U.S. killing fields in Iraq and back to L.A. just in time for a rebellion.
Tonight, Rage was playing the First Union Center, a giant arena in Philly, home of death-row political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal and the site of numerous ugly threats from the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), who have launched a nationwide campaign against Rage and other artists who speak out against the execution of Mumia.
Over the past month the Philly FOP had threatened to "stop traffic" going to the concert and launch a boycott against the First Union Center and anyone booking it. To their credit, the arena recently issued a statement saying they don't feel it's appropriate to choose artists to perform there based on their political beliefs.
I was traveling with members of the Youth Network of Refuse & Resist!, a group which has been invited by the band to set up tables at their shows, along with Leonard Peltier's support group, International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia, and Students Against Sweat Shops.
Between tapes of Hendrix, Rage and WuTang, people strategized: How to explain what's happening with Mumia now? How to deal with the police? "The FOP represent death for Mumia, they represent lies, intimidation, repression," one youth said, "We represent life for Mumia, the youth, the future, resistance, truth, justice....This band has a right to say what they want, and we will defend them."
At the December 3 Rage concert in Nassau, Long Island, fans were kicked out and physically assaulted by uniformed cops simply for having a Mumia flyer in their pocket. A few days earlier in Worcester, Massachusetts, a town outside Boston, 400 off-duty cops confronted Mumia supporters outside a sold-out Rage show. Concert-goers were threatened if they refused to take the anti-Mumia flyers of the police. And when two women led the crowd in a chant "Brick by brick, wall by wall, we're gonna free Mumia Abu-Jamal," they were arrested by a riot cop in a ski mask and charged with disorderly conduct. As they were dragged off, the masked man told another cop, "These two were the loudest." True Rage fans, the women bailed themselves out and returned to the concert.
At the same show, 35 more concert-goers were arrested, and the Boston Globe reported that one woman had her arm pulled out of its socket by police. Police spokesmen claimed that none of this harassment had anything to do with the cop protest or the politics of the band.
Zack told the sold-out crowd of 14,500 in Worcester: "Cops have been following us around all over the country saying we support cop killers. Let's make it completely clear. We don't support killers, and especially not KILLER COPS. We do support innocent brothers and sisters being framed up in prisons all over this country, people like Mumia Abu-Jamal."
In a brilliant comic move, Rage had four dozen Dunkin Donuts delivered to the protesting cops.
Across the country, the FOP are using their position and privileges as the armed enforcers of the state to undertake an unprecedented national political campaign against artists who speak out against the execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal.
With so much at stake, the thoroughly unrepentant attitude of Rage is just plain thrilling.
David, a member of New York City Youth Network told the RW: "This boycott adds a new dimension to the criminalization of a generation. Now, for just making known your political beliefs or even simply attending a Rage concert, you're treated like you've committed a crime." But he adds, "Every time the cops attack like this, it just blows up in their face, because more people are politicized."
Artists in various scenes--including Chumbawamba, $Money Mark, Edward Asner, Ozomatli, Culture Clash, Dread Scott, Boots of The Coup, Danny Hoch and Ossie Davis--have signed a statement by the Artists Network of Refuse & Resist! which says in part: "We artists condemn the police attacks on musicians for their political beliefs....This kind of censorship will not be tolerated."
Interestingly, when the FOP has been challenged to public debate, they run from the spotlight like roaches. Tom Morello reported that the FOP were slated to appear on an ABC TV news program a couple days before the Philly gig. But when members of Rage volunteered to join them on-air, FOP canceled the whole thing. They pulled the same stunt in Nashville when a Mumia supporter from Fiske University was scheduled to debate them on a local station. Meanwhile, with the help of a Nashville radio DJ, the Youth Network of R&R! sent out their own press release and were interviewed by several members of the local media and a national internet news service.
This battle is a lot more two-sided than the FOP may have planned on.
"Battle of Los Angeles" dropped at No. 1 on the charts and sold almost 1/2 million records in the first week--revealing a world of difference between the sensibilities of the fans and the censorship of the FOP.
"Maybe the revolution will be televised after all," wrote the Denver Post music critic, (riffing on the '60s anthem "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" by Gil Scott-Heron). "These issues are usually avoided on the pop charts, removed from the lives of most American teens. But Rage's battle cries of social justice are just what they want."
"It's a `silent majority' of music listeners out there who aren't spoken to by the escapism that you normally find in pop music," Tom Morello told the Denver Post. "Our audience is a very intelligent one, and there are a lot of kids out there who don't like what they see. In the same way that groups like Public Enemy and the Clash did for us, it's music that resonates in a very different way."
We arrive at the show in Philly to find no FOP picket line--but loads of on-duty cops. The Youth Network crew are peppered with questions about Mumia from knots of four to five kids--the only ones from their school to brave the night. Thousands take leaflets or buy literature on Mumia's case. The YN kids tell me that the vibe here is really different from the Rage show in Philly a couple years ago, when snarling jocks ripped up their flyers. Tonight they encounter a few hostile individuals, but no organized packs.
The opening act is a cool young band called Anti-Flag from Pittsburgh, PA who specialize in thrash marches. In between short tight songs, they dis the FOP. Next up is Gang Starr, hip hop veterans with righteous hits going back 10 years. "What's a rebel?" they ask the audience. "They're the ones who aren't afraid to live and die for what they believe in...." A roar goes up and the mosh pit goes wild.
Rage has asked Pam Africa from International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia to introduce the band. "Rage is unbending, they don't kiss ass to no one, they ain't intimidated by the FOP," Pam says. "It is my honor to be standing on stage with the mightiest rock band in the whole motherfuckin world."
A giant banner of the new CD cover unfurls behind the band-- this time reading "The Battle of Philadelphia." Rage launches into "Testify," a complex track from "Battle of Los Angeles" that seems to draw a connection between the U.S. bombing of Iraq in the Gulf War and the L.A. rebellion of 1992:
"I'm empty please fill me
mister anchor assure me
That Baghdad is burning
Your voice it is so soothing...
On the corner
The jury's sleepless
We found your weakness
And it's right outside your door."
This crowd already knows all the words to "Testify." Likewise with the next track, "Guerrilla Radio,"--which is all over the radio (including stations that vowed never again to play Rage after their benefit concert for Mumia back in January 1999).
"Contact I highjacked the frequencies
Blockin' the beltway
Move on DC
Way past the days of bombin' mc's
Sound off Mumia guan be free.."
The magic moment comes when the beat drops out and the entire arena whispers along with Zack:
"It has to start somewhere
It has to start sometime
What better place than here
What better time than now
All hell can't stop us now!"
As all hell breaks loose in the arena, I am reminded of something Tom Morello said in an interview about the music and the politics: "It's big rock, spelled r-a-w-k. But contained within it is this kind of virus. Some people come to the party for the aggression and the grooves and they leave with something else. Others are attuned to it to begin with."
Before they dedicate their song, "Freedom" to Mumia, Zack asks the people, "What do you think the cops are so afraid of? Are they afraid of this music, this revolutionary music? Naaah. They're afraid of you...You could free Mumia. This year."
Our crew is the last to leave, and as we all troop out to the parking lot, squad cars are circling like sharks. We cram ourselves quickly into the van and head out. The people won this round. The battle continues.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker
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