We’re all aware of the stereotypical view of punk- the “postcard punk” look, all Mohicans and leather jackets. As well as the aesthetic there is also a stereotype of the manner and ethos of punk- that it is a snarling, destructive and nihilistic creed. But for those of us in the know, we know that actually, punk is almost utopian in its view- a pioneer of left-wing politics; at the forefront of many social justice campaigns championing cooperation and solidarity. To that end, it is also no stranger to charity. The willingness to challenge injustice was not just words- it was altruistic action. The concept of solidarity led to practical deeds- raising awareness and more helpfully for many causes- raising money.
Music and charity together don’t have a great reputation in the eyes of the public. Bob Geldof telling people to ‘give us yer fookin’ money’ in front of a load of smug millionaire superstars linking hands and singing ‘We are the World’ hasn’t done the idea any favours. Even Comic Relief and Children in Need aren’t immune to criticism with the preachy and self-congratulating-celebrity element really riling people up. Whilst charity gigs tend to lean people towards thinking of great big benefit concerts, punk tends to keep it smaller and more consistent. Look at the local punk goings-ons in your town and it is likely that your local punks are out there gigging for charity.
Punk caused a moral panic in the 1970s- parents and councillors alike were shaking in their righteous boots about the moral decay punk may spread- so much so that venues were cancelling punk gigs and parents wept at the thought of little Johnny and Sally being lost to a movement of snarling nihilists. But of course, this was a colossal misinterpretation of the movement which preached anti-racism; anti-sexism and care for the common man and the downtrodden. Qualities that surely, we should all aspire to.
The Sex Pistols were the punk poster children for spitting and swearing and being rather offensive to the delicate sensibilities of 1970s Britain but even they turned their hand to putting their money where their mouths were and actually supporting the working class. Seeing members of the band in the middle of a scene of marauding children at Christmas whilst putting on a party for the children of striking firefighters is an example of the kind of thing that is second nature to the punk movement. It is a combination of DIY and solidarity- if you want to support people then don’t wait for someone else to do it- do it yourself. If the system Is not providing for people adequately then the community will.
Punks turned their attention to challenging the growing threat of militant racism with gusto. One of the most iconic and public displays of this was the ‘Rock Against Racism’ concert in Victoria Park in 1978. Approximately 100,000 people marched through London in the Spring of ’78 to attend this event which was jointly organised by the Rock Against Racism group and the Anti-Nazi League. The line-up was illustrious and now reads as a ‘who’s who’ of punk personalities- The Clash; X-Ray Spex, The Ruts and Sham 69 all took to the main stage.
Over in the US in the late 80s/early 90s, Riot Grrl took direct action and political consciousness to the next level. Riot Grrl was a subgenre of punk that lit a fire under a whole generation of women in the US- they took to the streets; lobbied politicians to fight for their right to bodily autonomy; self-expression and protection. They focused on calling out the patriarchy and demanding access to reproductive healthcare and justice for sexual and domestic violence victims. Vital services in the US needed funds and fundraising gigs sprung up all over the US. Campaigners, activists, musicians and students all utilised and pooled their networks to ensure a sisterhood gave mutual support for feminist and LGBT causes. News was spread through a diverse and robust network of zines and bands and activists supported each other’s causes, often travelling all over the US to lend a hand to sisters in need.
This is the often-unsung part of punk. Even now, punk bands across the UK are out there lending hands and bringing in cash. The annual one-day punk spectacular and love-in that is Wonk Fest in London has collections for local food banks and women’s shelters. Loud Women publicise a vast number of gigs that are raising money for women’s causes around the country. In my hometown of Portsmouth, I’ve been to punk gigs raising money for the homeless; for refugees; for cancer charities…. the list is endless. And it is something which we should loudly proclaim from the rooftops- this punk trait of tirelessly trying to make the world a better place than we find it. Because as far as I’m aware, it really is the only genre of music that is doing this on such a large scale. Of course, if I’m wrong and Justin Bieber concerts regularly have collections for Women’s Aid or Kanye West holds Macmillan coffee mornings, then I will happily retract and make a donation on their behalf.