No use for indifference

A local musician helps get the word out, one punk at a time

No Use for a Name’s Tony Sly punks the vote.

No Use for a Name’s Tony Sly punks the vote.

Tony Sly has come to appreciate in the last few years just how far a presidential election can go in determining the future of our nation, both here in the “homeland” and abroad. In the aftermath of the 2000 campaign, the Roseville-based lead guitarist for punk collective No Use for a Name decided it was time to get more politically involved.

Intent on preventing a repeat of our last election, Sly and his bandmates are taking an active role in raising awareness about the importance of voting, through the voter-education group Punkvoter. “The elections were so incredibly fucked last time that when [organization founder] Fat Mike came and asked us if we wanted to be affiliated with Punkvoter, we said, ‘Sure,’” said Sly. “We share the same belief about getting more young people involved and President Bush not being re-elected.”

By joining forces with other likeminded bands, No Use for a Name is using its formidable punk talents to help mobilize America’s youth. “I think we, as a band, have some kind of clout to go out there and say that you guys should be registered to vote,” said Sly. “And I think that if we do, generally, people will listen. I don’t know if they’ll necessarily listen to us, but they’ll listen to people like Fat Mike or Jello Biafra.”

Founded by NOFX bassist and Fat Wreck Chords label exec Fat Mike, Punkvoter is a coalition of more than 100 artists that ranges from punk-rock pioneers like former Dead Kennedys frontman Biafra and MC5 founder Wayne Kramer to relative youngsters like the Donnas and Blink 182. Punkvoter uses their musical clout and visibility as a way to promote what, according to, are the group’s three objectives: “to activate punks and other disenfranchised young people to participate in elections,” “to expose the chaotic policies of George W. Bush and his current administration” and “to build a coalition of informed voters who can individually and collectively influence public policy.”

Recognizing the potential that young people have in swaying this year’s election, Punkvoter is determined to right the historically poor voting records of America’s youth. In the 2000 election, only 32.3 percent of our nation’s more than 23 million young people (ages 18-24) exercised their right to vote. Furthermore, a mere 45.4 percent were even registered. In California alone, of the 2.73 million young people who could have voted in the 2000 election, only a little more than 1 million actually did.

A kind of indie-rock answer to Rock the Vote, Punkvoter is setting out to change all of that. The group put on a well-attended tour this past spring—featuring performances by NOFX, Alkaline Trio and comedian David Cross—and recently released the CD compilation Rock Against Bush Vol. 1, which boasts contributions from Ministry, Social Distortion and Sum 41, among others. Although the album wears its anti-Bush sentiments on its sleeve, Fat Mike is quick to point out in his liner notes that the purpose of Rock Against Bush is not about “being punk rock and hating the government,” but rather “being punk rock and changing the government.”

With sales of more than 200,000 copies and well-promoted shows that include voter-registration booths and free literature, Punkvoter has been surprisingly effective. Factor in Fat Mike’s appearances on high-profile programs like CNN’s Crossfire, and it becomes clear that Punkvoter is putting a new face on grassroots voter politics.

Meanwhile, No Use for a Name recently laid down an acoustic track for the upcoming Rock Against Bush Vol. 2, which is set for release in August. “I’d like to see Bush out of office, but I don’t have the attitude that you should vote for anybody but Bush, because I don’t necessarily agree with all of John Kerry’s views either,” said Sly, noting that he doesn’t want to “ram Kerry down anyone’s throat.”

“It’s going to be hard for whoever it is,” figured Sly, “because Bush has screwed things up so much, as far as relations with other countries and relations in this country. The important thing is to make the choice to register to vote. Who you vote for—that’s your choice.”

This summer, many of Punkvoter’s better-known members are enjoying center-stage billing at this year’s Vans Warped Tour, which came through Sacramento on July 8. Whether such efforts will have any impact on the 2004 presidential election remains to be seen. The ultimate measure of Punkvoter’s success could lie in its ability to outlive this year’s election, an ongoing challenge that all voter groups face.

Jay Strell, communications director for Rock the Vote, which has been in existence since 1990, cites Rock the Vote’s proactive efforts during an election’s downtime as a key to its success. “In the off year, we work to find issues that are important to young people and that affect their future,” Strell said. “And by doing that, we can show young people that, even though it’s not an election year, there are ways to be an activist and get involved.”

Strell also cites Rock the Vote’s nonpartisan approach as having played an important role in the group’s continuing success. “I think that organizations like Punkvoter that have a more partisan stance are important, but I think the reason an organization like Rock the Vote has been able to sustain itself through the years is that young people trust Rock the Vote,” Strell said. “Young people know that we’re not trying to push any particular agenda, other than to say that if you want to change your world, one of the first steps is to get registered to vote and get involved.”

Sly’s personal sentiments echo this approach. Though he may not endorse what sometimes comes across as an anti-Bush-at-all-costs attitude, Sly sees Punkvoter as an important start in getting young people involved. “[To me], Punkvoter is about awareness and getting young kids to vote,” said Sly. “I know it’s a tired cliché, but it’s more important now to vote than it used to be because of the situation that we’re in over in Iraq and the situation we’re in here in the states. Your vote counts, so get involved.”