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Punk the Vote!!

DOA's Joe Keithley is running for office in Tuesday's provincial election.

Interview by Michele Martin

Look out, Glen Clark! The B.C. Legislature is about to become a little louder. Joe Keithley, lead singer of punk rock legends D.O.A., is current running for office as the Green Party candidate in his home riding of Burnaby-Willingdon.

The election is to be held May 28, and was called a month earlier. Keithley's been on tour with D.O.A. all this time, which he acknowledges is a distinct disadvantage with respect to campaigning: "It's obviously difficult. We didn't know exactly when the election was going to be called."

The next question seemed obvious: How did the lead singer for D.O.A. end up running for the Green Party? "Well, for about the last year and a half, two years, me and a group of my neighbours been working on this plan to try and save this second growth urban forest in the centre of Burnaby located near the BCIT Campus. The area is called Discovery Park, which has now has been, unfortunately, renamed Discovery Place.... It's an area owned by the universities of British Columbia and they want to turn it into a high tech industrial park. A 60 acre site, the forest was chopped down in the [19]20's, but we found it's a very valuable wildlife area. Hawks were nesting there and eagles were coming there to feed, they've been spotted there and some other rare birds.

"We organized a bunch of stuff, like a 1,300 name petition we got from the neighbourhood, packed city council meetings and stuff like that and we just tried really hard to not let this development go ahead. We approached the provincial government, we approached our MLA in Burnaby-Willingdon, Joan Sawicki, and also approached Moe Sihota, the Minister of the Environment about it, and Burnaby City Council and there was a lot of platitudes and a lot of saying, "Yeah, we will help," but there was actually no help forthcoming."

And the outcome of his lobbying? "Discovery Parks Incorporated ended up giving up about 5% of the land, which was all topographically unsuitable to build anything on anyways, so basically we lost our fight with this, but as this was occurring, people from the Green Party asked me if I would run for the Green Party in Burnaby-Willingdon."

How did Keithley reconcile running for office with D.O.A.'s traditionally anarchistic stance? "Well, it's pretty easy actually, because the Green Party represents an alternative. It's a break from the mainstream parties like the Reform, Liberal, NDP, Conservative, all of which have had their various terms of power or attempts at it and not done much with it. We think that this is actually a real opportunity, especially for young people who have become disenfranchised from the political process and they're faced with the future of McJobs, like working at Mcdonalds, and a lifetime of clerk type services, right? And we don't think that anybody who has been in power, provincially or federally, has done anything to really address this situation., it was also an easy leap. I've always said that a musician could be a cultural politician."

What about D.O.A.'s brand of social activism? "D.O.A.'s been going for 18 years, we've put out ten albums, toured around the world a number of times and we've probably done like about 150 benefit concerts and several benefit singles and they would cover a wide range of issues. It was usually issues that we thought we could affect locally and have an impact on. I'm not talking about the sort of massive scale, like Food for Ethiopia, that sort of thing."

Has D.O.A.'s principle of "Talk - Action = 0" been inherent in D.O.A. since its inception? "Well, I think so. As I say, we've been involved in a lot of these benefits. The idea of D.O.A. always was, besides having fun and playing loud, raucous mind-numbing music was to...[brief interruption while, according to Keithley, bandmates point to him and gesture wildly and hold their ears...]. The original conception of hardcore was to think for yourself, and as a do-it-yourself type of thing. That's why we didn't sort of sit there and wait for a record deal, we thought, well, we'll put out our own record, we'll go tour and we don't need a big record company to do the whole thing for us. We sort of developed like a network and a community of friends around North America to do that and then eventually the same kind of deal over in Europe."

Having toured the world, Keithley has gained an appreciation for his home country. "One of the great things about being a Canadian, although this is something that kind of is slipping away and this really disturbs me, but one thing we have managed to do more than Americans is have a compassion for other people, people with less within our society. We're talking about the social safety net here which is now being marginalized or dismantled in some cases if you go to Ontario or Alberta, right?

"If you lose your public health system, and the ability to help others, so in a way, in a sense we're becoming more like American politicians want the world to be, more mean-spirited and just like a laissez-faire approach to society. I'm not saying that everything should be a complete heavy-handed government interventionist thing, I don't think that works either, but to let any sort of form of help just vanish, or get washed away is a big mistake, because it's hard to get back. It took years and years and years of social activists, people in the unions, fighting to try and get these things established in the first place. There was a lot of hard work and some blood along the way, too."

Where does he stand on education? "A whole other aspect of what I'm proposing and the Green Party is proposing is education and this is getting back to young people. They're being completely disenchanted with politics and not wanting to... they end up having the McJobs and all that kind of thing, and that's the only hope that they have.... One thing we would say, and this is my special hobby horse, is dropping all tuition fees unless you're proven to be the heir to the Bronffman fortune or the Molson fortune, or whatever and you can afford to pay, but education shouldn't be based on your income level. That's completely ridiculous. The only way the country is going to move ahead, and the only way B.C. is going to move ahead is to have a more educated population."

A more educated population? "Higher levels of post-secondary education and people having more skills and also being taught the ability to adapt which I think is something that generations before mine, I'm just right above the so called X-generation or whatever right. I think now people are learning that they have to adapt because they won't be in an occupation for twenty years. ...if you don't have the skills or the education to make that adaption, then you have an awful lot of casualties along the way."

What was Keithley's take on a provocative quote from Ralph Nader, who is currently running for President of the United States as a Green Party candidate: "We'll never achieve any political progress if we continue voting for bad in order to avoid worse." "I think that would sum it up like, for example, a lot of people, social activists and stuff like that, maybe have voted for the NDP because they want to avoid Social Credit. But what's happened now is that the NDP has discredited themselves. They were supposed to be the party of conscience but if you look at the Nanaimo Commonwealth Holdings Society scandal, you look at the Hydro/IP Power... It's like they're too much into helping their buddies, right, and not helping everybody else, so it doesn't make sense."

So why has the Green Party, even with all its seemingly positive qualities, not really caught on? "It's a matter of education, right? We think we have an opportunity here within this election and the next one to make a breakthrough in people's consciousness. I mean the Greens have been very popular and quite a force in Germany for a number of years, but there's been no elected Green in North America yet, but that could change over the next five or ten years. People don't realize...they think that we're like a single issue party. We just say, "Okay. Hug a tree, don't chop it down," but there's far more than that... We don't have a lot of funding for one thing, that's one of our problems. We don't have the unions backing us like the NDP, or corporate sponsorship like that back the Liberals or the Reform, so that makes it tough to get the message out, because that takes money. So, unless we get co-operation from the major dailies [newspapers] then that's a pretty tough row to hoe. This is obviously a different angle because of my involvement with music and in this one area I thought I could help out the Green Party because of my track record." Keithley paused for a moment. "You know," he continued, "They say a politician should stand on his record, and I have plenty of good records to stand on."

What would happen if -- gasp -- Keithley were successful and won within his home riding? The question elicited complete silence, then laughter. "Boy, oh boy! Who'd believed that Joe from Burnaby North High School... I never thought he'd go anywhere! Well, there's one man around here who's not very far away who doesn't want me to win and that's Ford Pier -- he plays guitar for D.O.A.. It'll totally throw out our touring schedule if I won, right, so.... Well, I don't know. That would be a big step. That would be a big lifestyle change, wouldn't it? I'd have to plan D.O.A. tours differently, wouldn't I? I mean, the House is sitting between February and May, so forget it, we're not going to Europe!"

"I'm not expecting to win. I'm expecting to do reasonably well, not finish last or anything like that, I don't think that will happen. [ed. In fact, he finished 5th of 7.] It's the first time around.... You know, the thing is, the people with the Green Party, one thing, we're not careerists; I think that's part of the appeal that we're idealists, right, so, and it's not like a right or a left movement. We say we're not right or left, just forward, and start thinking now and planning for the future, not five years in the future, but like 20 or 30 years in the future."

Would the experience of having run for office in the first place be reflected in D.O.A.'s music? "I don't think so. I mean, I'm the same person I was before and after the election and I don't think that really changes that much. I'm just trying to do as much as I can. It's obviously difficult. We didn't know exactly when the election was going to be called. I'm out here trying to make a living for me and my family and this is something that we do to make a living: we travel to places and play music."

As we approached the end of our interview, I commented on my perception that D.O.A. were and continue to be spokespeople for a whole generation of youth. What would Keithley say to the next generation coming up? "Basically, don't be fooled by the mass media brainwashing. Think for yourself. Act within your community. Your town or area you live in is not necessarily a hopeless mess. You can effect changes and we've sort of tried to conduct ourselves that way over the years. And really, that sort of 'do it yourself, think for yourself' message. It hasn't really changed at all, that's sort of the basic root... that's one of the huge reasons why D.O.A. still exists, and has existed for 18 years."

First published in Drop-D Magazine on May 24, 1996

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