The need to smash shit — toss a molotov, topple some bronze oligarch, Soy Bomb the show — is as human as hunger. Zack de la Rocha has devoted his life to making sure we remember this. First as the vocalist of Rage Against the Machine, then as an activist, organizer, and solo artist, he’s fought tooth and nail against the late-stage capitalist institutions put in place to convince the general population that resistance is futile.
“Digging for Windows” — his first new solo song in ten years, produced by El-P of Run the Jewels — is his latest attempt.
"See, if I pay Edison, no medicine," he intones over a beat so pulsing, it could pull oil out of the ground. These are the terms of service one consents to when entering the workforce: Days go all night for workers laboring to make a single-digit percentage of what their CEO earns in a day. If everyone works hard, then everyone’s life will be easier. The power stays on because having electricity and water benefits everyone in your house. If the power stays off and you have children, you could be arrested and jailed for abuse or neglect.
At one point, de la Rocha takes on the voice of a convicted prisoner smoking a cigarette through the bars of his cell as a vengeful corrections officer laughs in his face and says "fuck your visitation days." He’s gotta pay. Prisoners who labor in hazardous environments, sewing tags into designer jeans or stamping license plates in windowless rooms, unable to distinguish night from morning, often receive less than one dollar a day in wages — certainly not enough to make phone calls, or buy toothpaste and ramen noodles, or send money home to help the family you left behind.
If your first reaction is to argue that criminals who have done terrible things deserve to be punished, recognize that your iPhone, the food you eat, and the raw materials for every Rage Against the Machine CD ever manufactured were very possibly made under similar, if not worse, conditions by people who are decidedly not criminals — oftentimes, they are innocent children.
This, ultimately, is what de la Rocha accomplishes on "Digging for Windows": reminding us that violence doesn’t always, or even usually, come in the form of raging against machines. It happens not with a bang but a whimper; quietly, as the status quo.
It’s waiting for the water levels to drop before digging bare-handed under piles of debris that the government should have removed to look for an entrance into the house you thought you owned. It's the way we’re raised to believe that prisons have always existed, and they’re very necessary, and that’s just how things are. It’s the way the government can outright deny equal rights to those of us digging for windows, while recognizing corporations, prisons, and governments as people.
Violence isn’t a symptom created by the machine — it is the machine. Because even if, as de la Rocha says, you’re busting "caps in capital," you still had to buy the bullets.