May Day, 1886, a general strike was called in Chicago with an “utopian” demand for eight-hour workday: “Eight-hour day with no cut in pay!”
In just no time, striking workers gathered en mass while the authorities run amuck. Police thugs, in collaboration with gangsters of the Pinkerton detective agency, attacked the peaceful Working Class protests around the town. Police clashed with strikers at least a dozen times, three with shootings, many workers have died of their wounds.
A few days later, on May 4th, a big demonstration took place on Chicago’s Haymarket Square. Unionists, socialists, anarchsits, reformers, and ordinary workers agitated about the ever-pertinent social inequalities of wage labor. All of a sudden, the peaceful demonstration was attacked by almost 200 policemen carrying Winchester repeater rifles. Then someone, unknown to this day, threw the first dynamite bomb ever used in peacetime history of the United States. Violent clashes erupted and eventually, seven policemen died of whom only one directly accountable to the bomb, the other supposedly killed in the panic by their own men.
The actual perpetrator was never to be caught, but in contrast, a wave of state terror and repressions reigned across the States. Union organizers were interrogated and eight anarchists were convicted only due to their political affiliations. One was jailed and the other seven received death sentences (four of them were hung on the gallows on November 11, 1887) in one of the most blatantly unjust political trials in American history known today as the Haymarket Affair.
Today, we celebrate May 1st as the International Workers’ Day not only to commemorate the Haymarket martyrs but as a continuation of the ongoing fight for dignity, human and labor rights. On this May Day, we speak with Redbait. Formed in 2017, this Saint Louis, Missouri, band has become an important voice for class-consciouss, inclusive and intersectional politics within the hardcore/punk/crust scene in the United States.
So let’s get into the conversation.
What brought Redbait together? How did hardcore punk and politics shape the world to you?
B: When we originally started, everyone knew each other from a community center in which we all did organizing and volunteer work. We have had some member changes since then. Our drummer we have been friends with forever, who we met from hardcore shows. And our bassist we met at police brutality protests in St Louis (and also vegan message boards).
Nicholas: Growing up in a very isolated Illinois farm community, the punk bands I heard (Minor Threat, Dead Kennedys, Misfits, The Cramps) were the first dissenting voices in my life. This was in the 80s when punk music still was asking more questions than offering answers, but still it was powerful to hear alternatives to living and thinking (think of anti-capitalism, anticolonialism, antifascism, straight edge, and questioning social constructs)
Richard: I’m a recent addition to the band, but as B alluded to, I first met Nicholas at a protest the day the verdict for Jason Stockley was released. I later met everyone else via reaching out for vegan straight edge friends as I was new to the city at the time.
Falling into punk was a bit of an accidental light bulb moment for me. I was way too into JNCO jeans and Korn way back when, but stumbled upon a friend of mine’s brother’s band Social Scare. When I first heard their record, it was like something switched, I realized this is what I had been after for a while but did not know it existed. From there it was easy to relate to bands as they were articulating things I felt but had never heard before.
What does the International Workers’ Day mean to you? Why do you think not so many punk bands speak about class consciousness anymore and what kind of meaning do you put in the phrase “All Power To The Workers!” when you use it today?
Nicholas: My first experience with May 1st was when I lived in Southern California. In St. Louis, September 7th is Labor Day, but the May Day parades in Los Angeles bring 20,000-50,000 marchers. Class consciousness is (sadly) a highly evolved level of political maturity in the United States. The average person on the street does not even want to identify as Working Class despite meeting this identity in every aspect possible. Times are visibly changing. As capitalism loses more support by the day, class consciousness expands.
However, the average band does not want to tackle Working Class issues, as the expectation of retribution or ridicule continues. We say “All Power to the Workers!” because we know what the Working Class is capable of creating. Workers want four real things: peace, necessities (food/shelter), work, and leisure. When workers stand together, our strength to succeed in our own interests is immeasurable!
Madeline: I think the apprehension of talking about class has a lot to do with Americans’ understanding of it. It’s there, but no one talks about it. There is also this ambiguous “middle class” terminology used to obscure the fact that there is no middle class. There is a working class and an owning class. Those who use this term don’t want people to recognize their power as workers. “All Power to the Workers” is an acknowledgement of the strength we possess in numbers.
Hardcore, punk, crust, grind, metal, and extreme music in general have always been an outlet for left-wing/anarchist political ideas. However, there are so many bands whose message is too broad to actually give an insightful perspective on a specific issue. What comes first for Redbait, the music or the message? And how do you manage to keep it relevant to the current political climate?
B: I think it’s safe to say that people are drawn to this band because of our message. While we work super hard on the music and making sure it’s good and unique, the lyrics and our message are what we’ve always considered to be the whole point of this band. Though it doesn’t hurt to throw some riffs in there.
We are able to keep our message current because unfortunately a lot of the stuff our lyrics draw attention to, are issues that just haven’t changed. And there’s always new spins on the same old injustice our world faces.
Nicholas: I echo B above. Our message comes first. Luckily, we play well as a unit. We love and trust each other, and that comes through in our playing. As far as relevancy goes, we are fortunate to have two incredible lyricists with a unique chemistry: Madeline writes from the scholastic critical perspective, and Rebecca applies the real life experience.
Listening to the song “Our Town” I think it’s important to ask you to what extent St. Louis makes you the people you are and have shaped Redbait as a band? Can you talk a bit about the history, politics and underground music scene of your town?
Rebecca: I was born and raised in Saint Louis. Missouri was a slave state despite being north of the Mason-Dixon line. Following that, some serious structural racist policies were put in place. Black families were only sold houses in certain areas. The schools were segregated, etc. And on top of that racist taxation caused only the taxes from the poor areas to fund those areas.
I began school right when they enacted a desegregation in schools program and was bussed to the ghetto to attend an arts school. There were a lot of punks in that school. Nothing opened my eyes to the devastation of decades worth of structural racism than attending school in North St. Louis. UPS won’t deliver there. There are no jobs but a gas station that gets robbed every couple of weeks, food deserts, poor transportation. No opportunities at all. Most people drop out. Most people are poor.
Though most of us are working class, that hasn’t translated into a lot of the punk music that has come out of Saint Louis, in my experience. The punk scene that I remember growing up was much more apolitical and nihilistic. Hopefully Redbait is changing that.
Nicholas: I grew up playing in punk bands in Illinois, and then spent 12 years playing in punk and hardcore bands in California. I have never really been too deep in the St. Louis scene. I first organized here with CPUSA (Communist Party USA), fighting for a higher minimum wage and capping interest rates. I worked as a union representative for SEIU (Service Employees International Union), organizing healthcare workers, for several years. When the killing of Michael Brown happened in Ferguson, SEIU was one of only two unions with ties to the Black community (our membership at the time was 92% identifying as Black and 96% identifying as woman). I fully recognize how knowing thousands of Black workers shaped my understanding of St. Louis and structural violence.
With people locked down at home, domestic abuse is on the rise. Have you got any practical suggestions how people can actively show solidarity and do something about it? Are you aware of any organizations or self-organized initiatives that bear witness, help and uplift victims?
Rebecca: Getting away from a domestic abuse situation always requires careful consideration and planning. All you can do is listen to the victims and abide by their wishes, even if their wishes don’t make sense to you. Every situation is unique and there is never going to be a kind of blanket solution that will be right for everyone. Make yourself available and listen is the best you can do.
Nicholas: I wish I knew of organizations that could help with the current situation. Almost acutely, a victim of domestic abuse must be willing to leave the physical location and find protection. My mother was a long-time victim. The socio-economic hierarchies of capitalism force most women into domestic partnership in order to pool resources and afford to survive. Since domestic abuse is often a byproduct of the power struggle between two partners, and society seems to side with the dominance of a violent male by granting him the higher pay rate, two things we can do is join/support unions and join/support anti-capitalist organizations. Unions do not allow discriminatory pay differences by identity (male v. female), and anti-capitalist organizations push against wage disparities by grassroots activism and direct action. The psychology of domestic abuse is rarely solved by an exterior influence. The best tactic is to undermine the power disparity.
Hardcore is still very white, cis-het and middle-class, however, there seems to be much more diversity now. Do you agree with such a statement? What do you think we should do to make it more diverse? What are some DIY punk related projects or bands with people of color, female-identified, non-binary, etc. members that you’ve shared the stage with Redbait, or you would just like to recommend checking out?
Nicholas: As 2042 approaches, America is evolving ethnically. Geography plays a major part in the make-up of participation in punk and hardcore. I have lived in Miami and San Diego, where the music scenes are diverse but dominated by Latinx kids. St. Louis is still a place where a non-white kid sticks out. A stellar change of events is the greater inclusion of women in recent years (Power Alone, Faim, Mortality Rate, Abraxas, Closet Witch, Dryad, Ursula, Redwoods, Thirdface, Soul Charge, Black Mass, Material Support, Dying For It). Trans kids, too, have defied exclusion (Transgression, Primitive Rage, G.L.O.S.S., Life Force).
Something that we, as bands and promoters, must do is make room for equity. These days, no show should be three bands with five straight white guys each. It’s just lazy. I am a strong believer that making efforts to include bands with POC, women, non-binary, etc. is not a negative move to “check a box”. I am a privileged straight white male, and I MUST use that privilege to make space for those less privileged… or the fucking show shouldn’t happen.
Many people within the left-wing circles still reject veganism as bourgeois, classist, ableist, etc. Are there any political arguments for veganism and animal liberation that you’d like to share and go beyond the typical vegan outreach we hear from mainstream veganism?
Nicholas: A plant-based diet (veganism) necessitates far less resources (land, water) to feed a greater number of people, with less ecological damage. That is the Socialist angle. The meat industry is run by the propertied class holding hyperconcentrated wealth. That is the Anarchist angle. Those denying either of these basic positions are engulfed in their own individualistic bourgeois concerns.
Madeline: It is a shame that veganism isn’t often associated with Marxist political discourse and vice versa.
When veganism is associated with the Left, it’s usually associated with Anarchism, but in my opinion, it is better understood through a Marxist lens.
The capitalists that we are forced to sell our labor power to in order to survive are the same capitalists that will throw a baby chicken into a meat grinder if it means they can turn a profit. Humans and animals are both forced into the capitalist mode of production.
White people didn’t invent veganism and I don’t think many people realize that because white vegans have been the mainstream representation of veganism. This mainstream idea of veganism is completely divorced from any kind of political reality or consciousness. Veganism is something you don’t get to be apolitical about. Vegans who have a material understanding of the world aren’t going around shaming people because they live in a food desert or because plant-based options aren’t as widely accessible in capitalist society. A smart vegan factors class into their position and considers the obstacles that prevent others from adopting veganism.
Veganism should not just be viewed as a moralistic argument, but it should also be considered as a part of a larger emancipatory context. All forms of oppression are connected. This includes the commodification and consumption of animals.
Rebecca: If we shop at the same grocery store, you should be vegan. If it’s just a matter of choosing one product before another for you, you should be vegan. But I will never judge anyone for anything they do in order to simply survive.
This COVID-19 lockdown is taking its serious toll on the global economy, politics, and people’s lives. What are some things that we can do to make it through not only for ourselves but also for those we care about? What does terms like mutual aid, solidarity and leaving no one behind mean in a situation like the current one?
Rebecca: Rent Strike! Demand mortgage freezes, utility freezes, interest freezes. Banks owe this to us!
I am fighting mad over the way that working people, vulnerable populations are being called upon to service the monied classes at their own peril. Our lives are being exploited for the comfort of others. Landlords should demand relief from banks, but instead they’re squeezing their renters. Don’t stand for it. Support rent strikes.
Remind people who own every resource you need to survive, that they are being inhumane if they do not stand with the people. If your bosses tell you that you must come back but aren’t providing proper protection, tell them to go fuck themselves! And if your coworkers tell your bosses off, stand with your coworker. They need us more than we need them. Health is the only true wealth.
Nicholas: I will admit that I feel helpless outside of my family bubble. The infrastructure to organize I have known for years and years is off limits. In this time, most of us rely on social media to connect with others, and more than ever we should recognize that the people yacking online are workers, too… So treat them with more patience and compassion. It’s the best way to organize currently: listen to the concerns of others… and then smash them over the head with the blatant and naked shortcomings of capitalism and consumerism.
Madeline: It’s hard to give an informed response when this entire situation is an uncharted territory. People gathering together is the key element to organizing, so when people can’t physically congregate, communities have to get creative to support one another.
Richard: The impact of our collective action is more apparent than ever now. Landlords, bosses, etc. cannot make money without us. The services we provide and work we do is what makes the economy go. It’s important that we come away from this with an understanding of the collective power that gives us.
With Biden running for president, and probably a second Trump mandate in a post-COVID-19 United States, do you have any hope for a world not so horrendous as it may seem?
Rebecca: I guess maybe the silver lining of all this might be an excellent argument for universal healthcare and universal basic income.
Madeline: I’m in my twenties so I’ve never had a chance to hope for anything, haha.
Thank you for this interview! Anything else you would like to add?
Nicholas: Join an organization, and then get involved in that organization. If they won’t let you be involved, find another that will. Unions and neighborhood orgs are paramount to change.
Redbait would love your participation in a new project. Even if English is not your first language, write us anyway and we will do our best in the response. We hope to hear from you soon!
Redbait 2608 Cherokee St. Saint Louis, MO 63118