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Let’s punk the vote!

Let’s punk the vote!

Written by
Joe Keithley
September 17th, 2019

Vancouver punk legend Joe Keithley on why the climate change emergency makes it crucial that everyone votes to protect the Earth this election, and how he’s trying to engage younger people to take on the system by throwing a pre-election punk festival.

Let’s punk the vote!

D.O.A. frontman/city councillor Joe Keithley protesting the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion: “Find a candidate that takes climate change seriously.”

There’s only a short time left until Canada’s federal election. They say every election is critical, and no doubt some of them are and some turn out to be not quite as impactful on our society. But I noted with great interest this past May that the national polling started to come out with unheard-of results. Typically every election there are two issues that tower over all the rest as being paramount to the national interest and thus a large part of what the election campaign will be fought on. These two issues have always been the economy and health care. But the issue that has become number one is the environment.

When I heard this I was completely shocked and not shocked in pretty much the same moment. To me, it was a revelation that people were finally waking up to the critical importance of having a healthy environment and how that will impact their physical, mental and financial well-being. As a lifelong environmentalist, I was pretty happy, but as a human being living on this planet and looking at the potential impact of climate change, I can’t help but be dismayed at the state of things.

I’ve made this concert a non-partisan event with the intent being to get people to think about and help the Earth and future generations.

But at least this shows that a lot of Canadians are ready for action before it becomes too late. As for myself, I’ve never believed in giving up and resigning myself to my fate. It’s far better to fight to the end and try and pull out victory against long odds. So I figured that I’ll keep on attacking this problem in as many ways as I can.

One thing I’ve been working on officially since being elected in October 2018 to the office of city councillor in Burnaby, B.C. (population 250,000), is getting our city to do its part in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. On September 3, the city’s Environment and Social Planning committee, of which I’m the vice-chair, put Burnaby on the path to adhering to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change GHG emission reduction plan. Here’s what we intend to do: we will, based on 2010 levels, institute a 45 per cent reduction in GHG emissions by 2030, 65 per cent by 2040 and be carbon neutral by 2050. And this is not just “Let’s declare a climate emergency and look good in the press”—we will do our part and get to these levels.

This Saturday’s Punk the Vote festival aims to inspire young people to get out and vote for the planet

This Saturday’s Punk the Vote festival aims to inspire young people to get out and vote for the planet

But this is a big country and Burnaby is just one city, so obviously there’s a need to go big. And like many others around the planet, I believe we need to get our greatest untapped resource involved: namely young people. We are seeing this all around the world, where teens and people in their 20s are taking action. These young people will be around long after I’m gone, the generations that will inherit the mess we older folks have left them. The mess that a lot of us unintentionally made because we got sucked into supporting government after government that has been subsidizing the fossil fuel industry for 100 years or more and lying to us about the benefits.

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Trying to get young people to take action is something I’ve worked on for years—in fact, I keep working on getting folks of all ages involved—and there are a couple of different ways I’ve tried to achieve that. First off, when I’ve been going door to door as a candidate campaigning during provincial and civic elections in B.C. over the last 20 years, I’ve run into a lot of apathy. On the doorstep I’ve encountered a lot of young people who had never bothered to vote, and a lot of middle-aged people who had become bitterly cynical and had stopped voting. I would usually say to them, “Please give me five minutes to give me a chance to get you to participate in democracy”— which, needless to say, is great, right? Something people have gone to jail and died for. A lot of the time this would work, and the people became engaged and said they would get out and vote. And I would also encourage them to organize community groups to change things for the better. In short, I urged them to become involved in “grassroots democracy.”

As a veteran troublemaker, I’m always hoping for the new generation to get up and inspire people.

The second way has been using my position as leader and founder of D.O.A. (Vancouver’s unofficial “protest band”) to motivate our citizens. I knew we could do something that would make sense in metro Vancouver, so I have organized the Punk the Vote Festival, which will take place Saturday September 21, one month before the election. What I mean by “Punk the Vote” is let’s take on the system, which is the essence of what punk has been about all along: Question Authority and Think for Yourself.

I’ve made this concert a non-partisan event with the intent being to get people to think about and help the Earth and future generations. Through this action I’m urging you to strategically vote for a local candidate that will actually try to fight climate change.

Equally important is to let young people know that they are important and that they have a lot of power in their hands to decide what our future will be. So it’s also up to the politicians to communicate that they care about the environment and affordable housing, and if they are genuine about this, more young people will vote, which can only be a good thing for our future.

A student climate protest in Berlin (Photographer: Jonathan Kemper)

A student climate protest in Berlin (Photographer: Jonathan Kemper)

I take a lot of inspiration from Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, because they stood up against terrible odds and were jailed for their beliefs. I think of that generation of troublemakers when I play my old guitar (nicknamed “This Machine Kills Fascists”), and as a veteran troublemaker I’m always hoping for the new generation to get up and inspire people.

So I would like to issue a challenge to you: get out there and find a candidate that takes climate change seriously and supports other key issues like diversity, investment in renewable energy and green technology, and making university education accessible to all of our citizens—candidates that will work for our future. And if they don’t, let them know they are in for an ass-kickin’.


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