Tom Morello: Don't Believe The Convention Hype

A half hour before Rage Against The Machine took the stage a few hundred yards from the Democratic National Convention, Rage guitarist Tom Morello spoke with Street Teamer Gideon Yago about why the band was going to play for protesters, and explained why he thought the process inside the convention failed to address the concerns of the gathered masses outside.

Gideon: Is this a statement against Al Gore, or are you just doing this because the Democrats are in your backyard?

Tom: We are doing this to support the people who are left out of this electoral process. A lot of people feel that this campaign is not one of choose or lose but lose or lose, and don't vote because they feel there is not a real difference between the two weak candidates. For all the people who for years have been settling for the lesser of two evils -- that is what we are playing the show for today. We have had enough, and those people aren't being silent anymore. You

saw them on the streets of Seattle. You saw them on the streets of Washington D.C. You'll see them on the streets today, because politics matters to us, but we are not willing to settle anymore for the two conservative milquetoast candidates that the Democrats and Republicans are putting forward.

Gideon: Now you talked a little bit about [the protests in] Seattle and Philly and D.C. Is this some sort of one-shot deal that is happening this year, or are we seeing the beginning of a trend?

Tom: I think I think that it's a trend that has been bubbling just underneath the surface for a long time. While our economy is very healthy for the upper strata, many people are getting left behind and are falling between the cracks, and those are the people you are seeing, who want to stop this ongoing rush for profit. If you look at the two candidates this year, they agree on the death penalty, they agree on free trade, they are both pro-big business, and the shades of difference

are so narrow that we really live basically in a one party state now. We the other party, we the people, the people outside that 20-foot barbed wire fence out there are going to have their feelings known today.

Gideon: Let's talk a little about the people outside that fence. There has been a lot of assumption of violence. You see the police force in full effect here; you saw them in Philly. Why do you think so many people are assuming violence from these kinds of protests?

Tom: Yeah, well, I don't think they should. We expect it to be a nice rock and roll show today. I don't think there is anything violent about it, and for the Los Angeles police -- what an irony that they would be saying there may be some sort of violence. No one in Rage Against The Machine or in the audience today has shot an unarmed suspect or planted drugs on an innocent person. The LAPD cannot say the same. So we expect everything to be a fine show. Everybody's going to have a nice time.

We're going to have our feelings be heard on the streets. We have a very different delegation outside the barbed wire fence than the one inside the barbed wire fence today, but I think that's the one that is more important. That's the one that is more representative of America.

Gideon: A lot of the people we've been talking to inside the convention and on the streets don't really understand what these coalitions, groups, or what these protests are all about. Can you sum it up?

Tom: All you have to do is look at the last two presidential elections, where more than half of the eligible voters in America didn't vote. It's not because they don't care, it's because they feel unrepresented by the institutions that rule them, and by the parties, the two narrow choices they have, the Democrats and Republicans. Lieberman could just as well been Bush's choice for vice president. We have two pro-censorship, pro-death penalty, pro-big business, conservative candidates.

If you look at the options that both candidates were looking at for the vice presidents, they ignored women entirely; didn't even make a token gesture to the fifty-two percent of the population who is expected to vote. There are no minorities, there are no poor people. It's all rich, white, conservative dudes.

Gideon: I'll play devil's advocate and say maybe there is a difference between these dudes. Like, look at the Supreme Court. Who these guys are going to nominate to the courts is going to make a difference on the rules of how we live in this country. Isn't that reason enough to vote for one of the two parties?

Tom: I'm not advocating not voting. I think all progressive change that has happened in this country has not come from above. It's not come from the Supreme Court. Without Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement, there would have been no civil rights bill. Without the civil rights movement, there would have been no Brown vs. The Board of

Education decision. Pressure comes from below. Pressure comes from the kind of people that are outside the barbed wire fence today, and that's what we are trying to get across. Sometimes I feel cynical and feel that if voting really mattered, they would make it illegal. But I think that on local issues, it is very important. And then there is a guy running named Ralph Nader who is one guy who seems to make a lot of sense.

Gideon: If you had any advice to give kids about getting involved in the local issues that you are talking about, how would a kid who is interested in politics get involved?

Tom: The first thing they need to ask themselves is, "Do you really believe that Al Gore and George W. Bush are the two most qualified people in the United States of America to lead this country?" I mean, come on. [Laughs]. No one, without cracking a smile, could really think that this is true. The way to get involved is the way people have always gotten involved. They

act and they organize in the place that they live, whether it is your school, whether it is your place of work, whether it is your community, or whether it is on the streets of Los Angeles today -- by not simply sitting back and letting others make decisions for [them], not sitting back and just taking whatever is handed down from above. People have workers' rights, women's rights, civil rights in this country that have all come from below. All come from people like you and me, not from people like inside the convention center today.

Gideon: So do you think, then, that this kind of movement and all these protests will have some sort of effect on what goes on inside the convention center?

Tom: I don't know if it will have an effect on what goes on inside the convention center, but I think it will have an effect on goes on in our country. 'Cause you are seeing young people waking up, young people taking action, and people not sitting back and taking anymore.

They are out on the streets now. They are saying very clearly that they do not feel represented by the two big-money political parties that are foisted upon them, and they want something else. They are going to start making history on their own. They are not going to wait for it to come from the rich dudes inside there.

Gideon: I know you worked for Senator Alan Cranston. How did working inside the walls of government color your political education?

Tom: Well, I don't think that it's that we live in a checkbook democracy -- I know it. I am an eyewitness to it. I worked with U.S. Senator Allen Cranston from California as a scheduling secretary for two years, so I got to see one of the more progressive members of the U.S. Senate. Every free moment, he was on the phone asking some wealthy business dude for a lot of cash -- for his campaign, for someone else's campaign -- and at the end of the day, who are these people beholden to, no matter what the ideal they

come into [the position] with? Politics is big money. The reason why you are not hearing more from Ralph Nader or the reform parties or whatever is because they don't have the hundreds of millions of dollars that it takes to mount a presidential campaign. And in a democracy, you have to have hundred of millions of dollars to have your voice heard. I mean, Lieberman's opinion on subjects are no more valid than yours or mine is, yet he's got that corporate backing to get his face on the news.

Gideon: Do you think that this [event] will effect change? Do you think this is the right way to do it -- much better than voting?

Tom: Well, no, I'm not saying, "Don't vote." I think that voting is very important, and I'm registered to vote and I always do vote. But I think it is no longer good enough to settle for the lesser of two evils. Ever since I've been eligible to vote, every time you're like, "Well, I'd really like to vote for this candidate maybe, but I don't

want to waste my vote 'cause..." and you just end up settling for one of these two schmucks they foist on you every four years, who you don't believe in, who you don't feel passionate about... I mean, more than half of America doesn't vote at all, and of the 46% that actually does, who believes passionately in the Gore-Lieberman ticket? Who believes passionately in the Bush-Cheney ticket?

Gideon: I'll give you that, but by the same token, people might think, "Well, why are they here [protesting] the Democrats?" I mean, the Democrats are traditionally more of a liberal party. Why weren't you guys out in Philly?

Tom: Because this is our town. And we are not singling out the Democratic Party by any means. We have the exact same feelings about the [Republicans]. We do not feel represented by the people in the Staples Center tonight. We do not feel represented by the Republicans at their convention either. That's why you saw protests there, just like you're seeing

protests here. Most of America doesn't feel represented by the two major political parties. It is clear. They don't vote. They just don't feel represented. It doesn't matter to them [by] who, because they're two shades of the same thing.... We're actually in the middle of doing a video for the song "Testify" where we sort of line the two candidates up, and we see that they are two people who speak with the same voice.

Gideon: Thank you. Have a great show!