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Column: Party Affiliation, Registered Punk

How Punk Influenced My Life in Politics
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Frank Turner, “Make America Great Again” – Be More Kind

I’ve been politically active since I was young. I remember watching the John Kerry 2004 debates in middle school. No matter how much homework I had, I watched Jon Stewart every night. I knocked on doors for Barack Obama in 2008. I nabbed my first paying job in politics in 2012, and for the next eight years, I moved all over the country fighting for justice, doing the hard work not mentioned in The West Wing to elect leaders I believed would provide for the people of this country. 

I grew up in Sheridan, Wyoming, a small, conservative town that is equal parts charming and oppressive. The mere act of being a girl with a strong opinion and a handy use of “I” statements was a political act of its own. My high school voted me “Most Opinionated.” It was their not-so-subtle way of letting me know that I was actually “Biggest Bitch.”

It was only natural that I found refuge where so many teens with chips on their shoulders and hearts that dared to beat a little faster and a whole lot feistier had: punk.

In punk, I was finally having complex discourse with someone about the issues that mattered to me. I was pouring over lyrics, studying their meanings, becoming one hell of an educated eighth grader on the War on Terrorism (or War on Errorism) as told by NoFX.

I lived in a world where there would never be an “American Idiot” greater than George W.

I quoted Anti-Flag lyrics to my teachers as irrefutable arguments: “Depleted uranium is a war crime!”

The Descendents were the inspiration for my college entrance essay, exploring the paradoxes of being an ‘Merican:

 I'm proud and ashamed
Every fourth of July
You got to know the truth
Before you say that you got pride.

I went to college and earned a Political Science degree. I was no longer a Teenage Anarchist. I also found the politics “too convenient.”

And then, just like that, at the age of 19, I was working (actually employed!) for President Obama’s re-election campaign. For the next eight years, I worked for senators, governors, and would-be presidents who believed in protecting and expanding equal rights. I “Oy Oy Oy’ed” my way across the country, listening to Bouncing Souls, Propagandhi, and Bikini Kill.

I officially left politics in 2019. I was ready to fill other holes in my heart and chase new dreams. I had also become pretty gutted and depressed since 2016 as a result of the obvious, as well as the hidden toll of working with people who were more concerned with their LinkedIn titles then the actual work.

With the newfound freedom of not working a 24/7 job that demanded so much of my physical, mental, and heart energy, I began attending shows again. At least once a week, I could be found (pre-COVID) dancing it out in a Chicago bar with a cheap beer splashing out of its cup, singing along with Off With Their Heads or Smoking Popes.

It was a hard year. I started my career over again. I had no money. And, for the first time in a long time, there was no one to define success for me. That’s sheer torture for someone who had just built their identity around their job description. It sucked ass, but I was also really, really happy to selfishly focus on me for the first time in a long while and not the soul of the country.


In June, one of my very best friends and former campaign buddies made the honorable decision to run for office. After years of community organizing and attempting to work with city leaders, it became clear that the only solution was for him to run for the mayor of Tulsa, and if elected, become the first Black mayor of the city, elected on the eve of the 100-year remembrance of the Tulsa Race Massacre.

When my friend announced, I got into my car and went for a drive. As I do whenever I reach one of life’s crossroads, I consulted Frank Turner. “Love, Ire & Song” came on. I sat and listened and sang and belted to it on repeat over and over again for the next 45 minutes in gasping breaths. This song laid out my last decade: incredibly idealistic, testing my idealism with messy action, jaded disappointment, and disgust with the right, but more so with those on the left, and now, one shining ray of hope in the flat plains of Oklahoma.

So, I packed my bags and went to Tulsa, the last place I thought I would be when counting down the New Year in a cheap impression of a 1920s dress. All because a punk song told me to.

Whenever you listen to punk, remember that it is its own act of rebellion and activism. Punk inspires us to not only find our values, but to defend them. As Frank says:

 Now who’d of thought that after all
Something as simple as rock ‘n roll would save us all

Image courtesy of Frank Turner

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Originally from Wyoming, Emma is a former Democratic political operative turned writer. Since leaving politics, she can be found mouthing off, watching baseball, and reading Stephen King. Find her on Twitter: @enlaurent

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