Punk and Protest: Laws, Counterculture, Action! Part III

Now then, here’s part III. You may have noticed that the theme of this blog is supposed to be about the American underground music scene. BUT here I am yattering on about a Canadian band, and “direct actions” that occurred in Canada. Well fear not: This is the part of the story that explores the wider punk community and that means I bring in AMERICA.

Well, eventually I might mention them, so read on!

So in the last post I mentioned some of the connections between the Subhumans and D.O.A., another punk band from Vancouver. The Subhumans also had a lot of connections with the wider punk community in North America as well. This punk community was made up of a network of regional scenes throughout the continent, and was able to survive outside the radar of mainstream music institutions by utilizing creative DIY tactics. The foundation of these strategies, such as starting fanzines and record labels, was based on people supporting each other within each local scene and in the wider network.   The Subhumans toured across North America and played shows with other underground bands vital to the network’s existence such as the Dead Kennedys, Minor Threat, X, Bad Brains, Black Flag and Hüsker Dü (www.subhumans.ca).

After Hannah and the other members of Direct Action were arrested, D.O.A. spoke up for their friends in the media. For example, in an interview with the Seattle music magazine the Rocket, the band was asked why they were supporting the members of Direct Action. They replied by saying that they had personal connections with most of the five, and had grown up with Hannah. They also argued that:

“these people, guilty or not…represent the class struggle that’s going on in the world. And they represent the side that…stands for life and the future for everybody. The question that should be asked to everybody else in the world: why aren’t you behind them?”

D.O.A felt it important to address what grievances had led Direct Action to act in the first place. The members of D.O.A. may not have used violence against property as a political strategy, but they were still engaged on many of the same contentious issues. As such, they then went on to say in the interview that “what’s really interesting is the issues they’ve brought out. It’s not really important whether or not they’re guilty.”

Finally, in relation to the trials specifically, D.O.A. conveyed that “it seems like a complete mockery of justice to be tried by your accusers. They’re being tried by the very state that their crimes were committed against. It’s a no-win situation. The state is trying to make it look like the judicial system is objective, but it’s complete bullshit (the Rocket, February 1984, 17).

D.O.A went further than simply speaking out for the members of Direct Action in a sympathetic music magazine.  The band donated all proceeds from the single “Right to be Wild” to the defense fund. “Trial by Media” was a song written directly about Direct Action. They, along with other punk bands like the Dead Kennedys, held benefit concerts for the five that went directly to their legal funds. The support for Direct Action was definitely not based on which side of the United States – Canada border one happened to be on, and support from the Dead Kennedys also showed solidarity within the larger punk community.  Fanzines like the Berkeley based MaximumRocknRoll also covered the plight of Direct Action. The publication covered the story in its Canadian scene reports, advertised benefit concerts and the “Right to be Wild” record, and had Hannah start a column from prison. MaximumRocknRoll had a wide international circulation and was thereby a way by which the wider punk community had access to, and was engaged with, information relating to Hannah and Direct Action.

Further to this, people from throughout the Vancouver community stepped up to support the five. Newsletters were started, and the “Free the Five” support group was organized. In a “Unity for Freedom, Free the Five…Free Us All” Rally, held on Saturday 30 April 1983, the event was also staged as a cultural and informational be-in, where issues involving subjects such as ecology, liberation movements,  and feminism were raised. There was music, speakers, and what would have gotten me to attend: food (see the rally poster).

The members of Direct Action were a small minority within a larger counterculture community when it came to advocating (and carrying out) violence against property to achieve political ends. That did not mean the community members did not support them or believed in the same causes – instead what they did not condone was violence as a legitimate strategy for chance. Whether people agreed with it or not, the story of Direct Action galvanized on all sides of the political spectrum.

And here ends part III. Already. As soon as I get a book back from the library was keeps getting recalled on me, I’ll finish up with part VI (and perhaps parts V and VI depending on how things go), and go into a more detailed “analysis” of the trial of Direct Action, the counterculture of the 1980s, and what the heck this means for us today circa 2010.


paints a picture for the people who need it
not somebody who’s breathing
but somebody who’s different
it takes brains, looks or weirdos
see them on the t.v.
taking life in their own hands
trying to live their own life
not kissing someone’s ass
marching in time to the modern sound
what you imagine, keeps comin’ down
day by day, week by week
where is the energy we all seek
we’ve got the future in the palm of our hands
still we wait on somebody’s command
but if you try to change the day,
you’ll just get locked away
they’ll just put ya… under trial
it’s a trial by media
trial by media
under trial, it’s a trial by media
they locked the five away
an’ threw away the key an’ now they world is safe
for them an’ you and me
but everybody knows
it’s really not that way
where are the lies comin’ from anyway?

Thanks to http://www.subhumans.ca and MaximumRocknRoll for the pictures!

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