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Why I'm Behind Beto

Beto at the South Carolina Democratic Convention photo credit: Brandy Lewis

I was born in 1980. Being at the tail end of GenX - I'm old enough to remember when the Berlin wall came down and have an idea as to magnitude of its importance. I'm old enough to remember watching SCUD missiles land in Iraq during the Gulf War while we sat down for dinner as a family and how unbelievably frightening that was to see. I'm old enough to remember how even more frightening it was to see pictures of POW Jeffrey Zaun all over the TV. He was from the next town over, and had gone to the same gymnastics school I was attending. So even when I went to gymnastics class, this ten year old girl was reminded of the horrors of war seeing the signs of support and well wishes hung at the school to honor Zaun. I'm also old enough to remember watching Anita Hill testify in the confirmation hearings for Clarence Thomas. The pube on the Coke can heard 'round the world. I was 11 years old but I learned one of the most important lessons of my life - that you can be articulate, respectful, and telling the truth, and those who are in power still won't listen to you...or do anything to help you.

Artistic inquiry made while I was writing an academic article on Punk Rock Art Therapy

So I was only starting middle school when Nirvana brought punk to the mainstream. Being at the younger end of GenX I didn't have the independence or freedom that my older counterparts did. I couldn't get in the car and drive off with my friends to go to shows or discover new music - I was only 11. Instead I had to rely on MTV to educate me. And educate me it did. September 24th, 1991 was the day Nevermind was released. I distinctly remember watching the video for “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on MTV and being confused and curiously intrigued... why was this song named after this stupid deodorant my friend made me buy? But I was immediately hooked. I had found a way to express the angst and frustration that I was experiencing through a medium that had long been a familiar friend of mine...the arts.

Jess circa 1996...local newspaper article highlighting our drug free teen events

Punk music, and more importantly punk ideology, created a much-needed space for me to have a voice in a meaningful way at a very young age. It gave me an education and an understanding of the world that highlighted humanity at it's core, but was bold enough to speak truth to power. Punk is INHERENTLY political. As young teenagers we got civics lessons from bands like Fugazi and Bad Religion, and learned that we could question authority and give power to the people. We learned the importance of community and accepting others just as they were. Before we could even drive we worked with our local government and created events such as open-mike nights and outdoor music festivals to promote drug-free activities for teens in safe and authentic spaces. And what I have come to understand as I've gotten older is that this version of "punk" is not widely understood in society at large. That punk had become a punchline, an insult, or even a lofty and unattainable ideal. But what many people don't realize about punk in the 90s is that at its core it was a way to expose the truth and find justice for others. When I got to high school in 1994 do you know the club where all the punk kids hung out? No, it wasn't art club or was Amnesty International. We spent every Monday afternoon writing letters to try to right international injustices. We found our value by seeing value in others.

Study for a painting done 1999

Punk saved my life, and the lives of countless others around me. My punk ideology formed the foundation of my philosophy first as a high school teacher, then a psychotherapist in a women's trauma program, then a researcher working in a NEA-funded arts research lab, and now as a college professor. While I have always followed politics, and I was a registered Green Party member who had voted for a number of dems and republicans over the years, I had NEVER truly felt that any politician spoke for ME. I never felt anyone I voted for shared my personal values or understood my perspective in life...until Beto. Every time I hear him speak, every time I read one of his policy statements, I feel like he was right there with me, sitting in the desk next to me writing letters on Monday afternoons. Or that he was on the committee with us, picking bands, working with the mayor, and spending hours planning our annual outdoor concert, A Scream in the Field, where we worked to educate youth about the importance of voting and respectful activism.

Local bands play in Marlton, NJ at Scream in the Field 1996.

No, I haven't met Beto, (yet!) but I've met others just like him. They are my family and my best friends, who as adults are still punk as hell and continuing to be advocates for the truth. Refusing to give up on the fundamental humanity present in each and every social interaction we encounter. Cooperating for the common good over individual greed. So, I'm sorry that I get a little fired up over articles that use punk as a footnote, a cliché,or a grab at nostalgia. Because it's not a chapter or a least not for me...and I suspect not for Beto either. It is the foundation of his platform, and the driving force behind his vision. And I know he cant market his campaign that way...I get that. But it doesn't mean that it's not the truth...and perhaps it's exactly what our country needs.

Beto at the South Carolina Democratic Convention photo credit: Brandy Lewis
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