I left the United States in the hands of a corrupt, incompetent, and unruly leader. I arrived in the United Kingdom where, it turns out, the leader isn’t that much better.
Yes, I’m talking about the ever-charming Donald Trump and his English counterpart, Boris Johnson (or as my politics professor likes to call him, “big bad Boris”), both of whom have landed in hot water this past week.
Johnson announced an Oct. 31 Brexit deadline some time ago, a spooky date which is rapidly approaching. On Sept. 10, he suspended Parliament for five weeks, some say in an effort to squeak around any anti-Brexit deals that might come about. In a historic decision, the UK’s Supreme Court deemed this suspension unlawful. Regardless, he has stated that he hasn’t ruled out suspending Parliament for a second time. He has consistently used words like “surrender” and “traitor” to describe anti-Brexit deals and those who support them, though many members of Parliament have asked him to tone down his rhetoric.
Does this sound familiar?
But as if that wasn’t bad enough, things came to an even bigger head when Johnson said the best way to honor the memory of Jo Cox, a member of Parliament who was murdered by a far-right extremist in June of 2016, was to “get Brexit done.” Cox had campaigned extensively for refugees in the UK, as well as supporting the movement to remain in the EU. He has refused to apologize, activity of the far-right has been on the rise, and extremists frequently praise Johnson for his words and opinions.
I thought I left the messy, racist politics behind. Day-to-day life will change very little here in Scotland if Brexit does go through, but the idea that far-right extremism is gaining momentum in places outside the States is alarming…
Which is why I was delighted to hear about Nancy Pelosi’s impeachment inquiry announcement. The evidence is stacked, the American people are more than ready, the only shame is that it didn’t happen sooner. Between this and big bad Boris, the next few weeks will be nothing short of a show. So much corruption, so little time.
So this week I’m listening to the band that inspired an entire previous generation to tell the higher-ups to go to hell: the Clash. More specifically, their 1979 double album, London Calling.
I’ll be the first to announce that punk has never been my scene. I dabble in a lot of different artists and genres and my taste is wide-ranging, but I’ll admit I’m a little lost when it comes to punk. Perhaps I’ve never been that angry in my life. But if there’s one thing I can get behind, it’s revolution and rebellion, and that’s something The Clash have always excelled at.
Here’s what makes London Calling a fantastic album, all nineteen tracks of it: it pays homage to a lot of good, quality rock n’ roll, blues, reggae, and jazz that came before it. It came at a time when The Clash chose to deviate from what people were used to as a punk band. When they toured in the states in the late 70’s, they opted for supporting acts like Bo Diddley and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, a far stretch from their early days playing with The Sex Pistols.
And yet, Joe Strummer was always committed to the left, and that definitely included writing lyrics that emphasized how the working people of Britain were tired of those in power using their authority for nothing but their own personal fame and comfort. “In these days of evil Presidentes, working for the clampdown, but lately one or two has fully paid their due,” he sings on “Clampdown.”
Now what’s more punk than that?
A possible answer might lie within the current young population of the UK. Imagine coming of age as a teenager and one of the very first political shifts you experience is your own country removing itself from one of the largest global influences to ever exist. According to a March 2019 poll, 74% of those who were too young to vote in the 2016 referendum but are now of voting age would vote to remain in the EU. It’s not certain if another referendum will be held; in which case, those young people, around two million of them, won’t even have the chance to voice their opinion. What happens with those young people if Brexit goes through? Revolution? Anarchy? Another guitar-smashing record like London Calling?
After London Calling was released, Strummer spoke about the message behind the title track. “We felt that we were struggling about to slip down a slope or something, grasping with our fingernails,” he said. “And there was no one there to help us.”
In New York, on the corner of East 7th St. and Avenue A, just across the street from Tompkins Square Park, is a mural of Strummer. It’s brightly colored and has one of his most famous song titles on it: “Know Your Rights”. These young people know their rights. It might be too late to use them.