FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Rage Against the Empire

In late 1999, 50,000 longshoremen, steelworkers, environmentalists, animal-rights activists, consumer advocates, Canadians, pacifists, anarchists, isolationists, French cheesemakers, Free Tibet fans, and Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence marched on downtown Seattle disrupting the highly secretive meetings of the World Trade Organization.  The so-called “Battle of Seattle” was a repudiation of the policies enacted by President Bill Clinton over the previous seven years.  Clinton, who pretended to be a liberal Democrat, had granted conservative Republicans their every wish – NAFTA, welfare reform, banking deregulation, globalization, and unrestricted economic growth.  Also, every time he needed a blip in the polls, which was often, he would bomb some country – Iraq, Pakistan, Sudan, or Serbia.

Throughout the 90s one of the few voices against the American Empire and its underlying ideology, technofascism, was the radical, heavy metal, hip-hop band known as “Rage Against the Machine.”

Rage provided a vivid reminder that since the Cold War had ended, there had been little organized dissent in America protesting our dehumanized, globalized, mass-market, over consumption, technology-driven society.  Its highly politicized, revolutionary music was a parody of the American Empire which it portrayed as “The Machine.”  Racism, poverty, greed, colonialism, and imperialism were targets of the band’s rage.  Rage Against the Machine was the band of choice of many of those on the streets of Seattle.

The band’s CD, Evil Empire, was not about the Soviet Union.  An upside-down American flag and a picture of Che’ Guevara often appeared when the band performed on stage.  The inverted flag was responsible for the band being abruptly kicked off the air by NBC on “Saturday Night Live” in April 1996 after playing the first song.  Shortly after 9/11 Rage was banned from the airwaves by the radio conglomerate Clear Channel.

Rage’s lyrics were written by vocalist Zach De La Rocha.  However, the most creative musician in the group was guitarist Tom Morello.  A Harvard graduate, Morello is the nephew of Mau Mau leader Jomo Kenyatta, the first president of Kenya, the George Washington of Africa.  Morello’s father was a Mau Mau and his mother an Italian gun runner.  With a background like that, Morello’s unconventional, innovative style is hardly surprising.  Paradoxically, Rage used its own high-tech sounds to poke fun at technology.

The band identified strongly with the downtrodden and the oppressed – Native Americans, Mexican Zapatista rebels, African Americans, and victims of American and European colonialism.  Death row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal, Native American Leonard Peltier, and the Zapatista Front for National Liberation were among the recipients of the proceeds from RATM benefit concerts.  Rage was the most politically radical band ever to sell ten million CDs.

Its 1999 revolutionary CD, The Battle of Los Angeles, which inspired many Seattle marchers, included songs like “Guerilla Radio,” “Calm Like a Bomb,” and “Voice of the Voiceless.”

Although the Battle of Seattle was followed by smaller protest demonstrations in other parts of the United States as well as Canada, Europe, and Asia, its long term political impact was minimal.  In 1999 globalization was still a fairly abstract concept.  Few had actually lost their jobs as a result of outsourcing.  Twelve years later millions of American jobs had been outsourced to China, India, and elsewhere.  The pain of globalization had become very real.  Also, with the war on terrorism, new meaning had been given to the term American imperialism.  We were engaged in wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen.  When Occupation Wall Street began on September 17, 2011, the economic, political, social, and environmental consequences of globalization and American foreign policy were no longer abstractions.

Shortly after appearing at a protest concert held outside the 2000 Los Angeles Democratic Convention, Rage Against the Machine broke up.  Not unlike the Battle of Seattle, Rage was probably a few years ahead of its time. Regrettably, it opted to sit out most of the Bush years.  However, in 2007 the band re-emerged with its loud, high-energy, antiestablishment rap, angry political rhetoric, and riveting guitar sounds.

Then on October 13, 2011, Tom Morello played songs from his new CD “World Wide Rebel Songs” in Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan as part of the Occupy Wall Street movement.  A few days earlier he had played for Occupy Los Angeles.  Rage was back!!

And from the title song of his new CD Morello sang:

We won’t be coming home tonight, Love
The fight has just begun
So raise your voices all together
Motherfucker, here we come 

Unlike the Battle of Seattle back in 1999, this time around the protestors, Tom Morello, and Rage Against the Machine are all marching to the beat of the same drummer towards nonviolent revolution.  Ultimately it’s all about the Empire – an empire which is too big, too centralized, too powerful, too undemocratic, too intrusive, too materialistic, too environmentally destructive, too racist, too violent, too militaristic, and too unresponsive to the needs of individual citizens other than the superrich.  It is an empire which has too much unemployment, too many home mortgage foreclosures, too much student debt, too many people living in poverty, too many people without health insurance, and increasingly does too little to support the poor and the middle class.

The radicalization of America may have finally begun.  Americans may soon opt for jobs, health insurance, social security, education, and a cleaner environment rather than drones, Navy Seals, and Delta Force death squads.  Amazingly, it all began with only a handful of protestors in tiny Zuccotti Park.  How it will end, nobody knows.

Thomas H. Naylor is Founder of the Second Vermont Republic and Professor Emeritus of Economics at Duke University; co-author of AffluenzaDownsizing the U.S.A., and The Search for Meaning.

More articles by:

Weekend Edition
December 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
A Tale of Two Cities
Peter Linebaugh
The Significance of The Common Wind
Bruce E. Levine
The Ketamine Chorus: NYT Trumpets New Anti-Suicide Drug
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fathers and Sons, Bushes and Bin Ladens
Kathy Deacon
Coffee, Social Stratification and the Retail Sector in a Small Maritime Village
Nick Pemberton
Praise For America’s Second Leading Intellectual
Robert Hunziker
The Yellow Vest Insurgency – What’s Next?
Patrick Cockburn
The Yemeni Dead: Six Times Higher Than Previously Reported
Nick Alexandrov
George H. W. Bush: Another Eulogy
Brian Cloughley
Principles and Morality Versus Cash and Profit? No Contest
Michael F. Duggan
Climate Change and the Limits of Reason
Victor Grossman
Sighs of Relief in Germany
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Robert Fantina
What Does Beto Have Against the Palestinians?
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Sartre, Said, Chomsky and the Meaning of the Public Intellectual
Andrew Glikson
Crimes Against the Earth
Robert Fisk
The Parasitic Relationship Between Power and the American Media
Stephen Cooper
When Will Journalism Grapple With the Ethics of Interviewing Mentally Ill Arrestees?
Jill Richardson
A War on Science, Morals and Law
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Evaggelos Vallianatos
It’s Not Easy Being Greek
Nomi Prins 
The Inequality Gap on a Planet Growing More Extreme
John W. Whitehead
Know Your Rights or You Will Lose Them
David Swanson
The Abolition of War Requires New Thoughts, Words, and Actions
J.P. Linstroth
Primates Are Us
Bill Willers
The War Against Cash
Jonah Raskin
Doris Lessing: What’s There to Celebrate?
Ralph Nader
Are the New Congressional Progressives Real? Use These Yardsticks to Find Out
Binoy Kampmark
William Blum: Anti-Imperial Advocate
Medea Benjamin – Alice Slater
Green New Deal Advocates Should Address Militarism
John Feffer
Review: Season 2 of Trump Presidency
Rich Whitney
General Motors’ Factories Should Not Be Closed. They Should Be Turned Over to the Workers
Christopher Brauchli
Deported for Christmas
Kerri Kennedy
This Holiday Season, I’m Standing With Migrants
Mel Gurtov
Weaponizing Humanitarian Aid
Thomas Knapp
Lame Duck Shutdown Theater Time: Pride Goeth Before a Wall?
George Wuerthner
The Thrill Bike Threat to the Elkhorn Mountains
Nyla Ali Khan
A Woman’s Selfhood and Her Ability to Act in the Public Domain: Resilience of Nadia Murad
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
On the Killing of an Ash Tree
Graham Peebles
Britain’s Homeless Crisis
Louis Proyect
America: a Breeding Ground for Maladjustment
Steve Carlson
A Hell of a Time
Dan Corjescu
America and The Last Ship
Jeffrey St. Clair
Booked Up: the 25 Best Books of 2018
David Yearsley
Bikini by Rita, Voice by Anita
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail