For more than a decade now, Tim McIlrath has been fighting the good fight. And during that time, he’s watched his band, [artist id="1219791"]Rise Against[/artist], rise from scrappy VFW Hall stalwarts to genuine rock-radio mainstays. But somewhere along the way, he began to notice RA’s agit-punk, certifiably progressive politics were getting lost in the mix. And needless to say, this bothered him.
“Rise Against is a band that, we’ve played punk-rock dives and basements, that’s where we started, and at some point, we were adopted by a much-larger rock scene,” he told MTV News. “And when we were introduced to that rock scene, I found there were people that were unsure about who we are or where we stood on things … I found a lot of fans who were unsure about how we felt about if our fans were gay, and that broke my heart, to think that any one of our fans might even question for a second where we stand on that.”
So, with those questions weighing on his mind, McIlrath headed into the studio with his band to begin work on what would become Rise Against’s sixth studio album, Endgame. It was during that process that the suicide of Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi began making national news, bringing to light the rather-troubling issue of bullying and the plight of gay teenagers in the U.S.
As he had done throughout Rise Against’s career, McIlrath knew he had to speak up — especially since none of his radio-clogging contemporaries seemed willing to do so.
“When the month of September rolled around, and the wave of gay-teen suicides happened, I realized there needed to be a song about this, and also because the rock scene in general kind of fails to comment about this stuff — it sort of doesn’t comment about this stuff; it largely ignores this kind of thing,” he said. “And rock being a male-dominated, testosterone-driven place that I’ve been in the eye of the hurricane now for several years, I realized that it can be a place that can perpetuate homophobic behavior unless it’s addressed by bands like us.”
McIlrath wrote “Make It Stop (September’s Children),” a song that deals explicitly with the issues of bullying, homophobia and suicides within the LGBT community. His message is one of hope: Yes, life does improve once the years of high school hell recede into memory; you’ve just got to find the strength not to give up.
“The message is: It can get better, it does get better, give it a chance to get better, don’t end your life prematurely,” he said. “And don’t give credence to all these bullies that would give you all this crap and try to make your adolescence something that’s hard to deal with.”
In the new video for the song, Rise Against team up with Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” campaign to help provide hope to those in need. The clip — shot in McIlrath’s former stomping grounds, Rolling Meadows High School in Illinois — follows three teens as they are pushed to the brink by their cruel classmates, and it’s only when they find themselves at the (very literal) end of their ropes, do they realize that they have much to live for, and they resolve to press on.
Although McIlrath will be the first to admit that it’s just one song and one video, he said that if “Make It Stop” can even inspire even one teen from taking his or her life — regardless of sexual orientation — then he’ll consider it a success. And by speaking out, he hopes he’ll inspire others to follow suit.
“I think that bullying is something that’s existed for a long time, obviously, and will, in a lot of ways, always exist, but I think it’s important now to bring this issue to light and to talk about it because there are certain dots we can connect, as Americans, to look at what is producing the bullying that is happening today,” he said. “We live in a country that has legislation that still treats the gay community as second-class citizens. That’s going to trickle down to our high school communities, it’s going to trickle down to our kids … and as long as we have these types of laws on the books, as long as we have TV networks masquerading as news stations that are perpetuating really violent and anti-gay rhetoric, that’s going to trickle down.
“There are very real solutions to this, I believe. It isn’t just this intangible, ‘Oh, there’s always been bullies, there always will be bullies’ — it’s more than that, and it’s coming to a head now,” he continued. “And a lot of the suicides of September 2010 are the product of a culture and a media that we can really address, that we can really do something [about] and provide solutions for.”
Visit MTV Act’s “Make It Stop” page for tools, tips and resources for dealing with bullying or other stressful situations.
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