Socialist Worker

Rage Against the Machine Interview (from 2000)

The campaign to make Rage Against the Machine’s "Killing in the Name" the Christmas number one has renewed interest in the band. Here we represent a Socialist Worker interview, originally published in issue 1683 (12 February 2000)

Issue No. 2182

Killing in the Name

Killing in the Name


Over 12,500 young people saw US band Rage Against the Machine and Asian Dub Foundation (ADF) at the Wembley Arena in London last week. The concert was like an anti-capitalist carnival. Stalls defending political prisoners Mumia Abu-Jamal and Satpal Ram ringed the arena. During the concert thousands of fans chanted, 'Freedom for Mumia.' School student Robyn Mills and Martin Smith talked to Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello.

How important was last year's Seattle protest to you?

Seattle was a wake up call.

It has made people see the necessity of mass organisation. It was a rebellion of workers, environmentalists and students against the World Trade Organisation (WTO). It was planned, it was well organised and it was smart. It makes a massive impact when you shut down the WTO.

That's why the police reaction was so harsh. They realised that there was substance to the protest. It represented serious forces. It shows that there is a silent majority in the US who are not just toeing the line.

All of us in the band were happy to see a few of the Seattle protesters wearing Rage Against the Machine T-shirts. Right now we are working with some of the Seattle protest organisers. We want to bring the spirit of that protest onto our tour.

Did the spirit of Seattle find its way into the making of your new video?

Two days before we arrived in Britain we shot a video for our new single, 'Sleep Now in the Fire'. Radical film maker Michael Moore directed the video. We shot the film on the steps of the Federal Building, which is across the street from the New York stock exchange.

We invited Rage Against the Machine fans to come along and join us in our video. Around 300 showed up. Suddenly the police arrived and arrested Michael. They dragged him off to jail. The rest of us stormed the stock exchange. About 200 of us got through the first set of doors, but our charge was stopped when the stock exchange's titanium riot doors came crashing down.

Our protest stopped trading at the stock exchange for the last two hours of the day. I guess we stopped downsizing for at least a couple of hours. It was a good day at the office. What is amazing is that all of this is all going to be in the new video.

Do you think the commercial success of bands like Rage Against the Machine is partially due to young people's growing bitterness with society?

There have always been bands trying to make political music. But what is unprecedented is that Rage Against the Machine, an overtly political band, has sold 15 million records.

A lot of this has to do with the compelling nature of our music, which combines punk, hip-hop and hard rock. We see our music as part of a cultural battlefield. We want to cut through the bullshit the system slams down young people's throats.

We are trying to present an alternative view of the world. Rage Against the Machine want to build a bridge between the music and the movement. As well as doing a number of benefit gigs, the band also donates a proportion of every concert ticket sold to homeless charities, the Mumia campaign or the garment workers' union.

I've been arrested for civil disobedience. Zack, the band's singer, spends nearly all of his free time in Mexico supporting the Zapatistas' fight for freedom. The key to bringing about change is not music-it's about being politically active.

How did you become active in politics?

I grew up in a political family. My father was involved in the Kenyan independence movement, the Mau Mau, and my mother was active in civil rights movements and anti-censorship campaigns. I was raised in the white suburb of Libertyville, which is near Chicago.

There was only one black person, me, in a town of 14,000 people. Being black in America is an instantly politicising experience. Libertyville wasn't the most tolerant of places to live. My mother would find Ku Klux Klan material left in her office, and once a noose was hung up by some racist in her garage.

When I went to college I got involved in the anti-apartheid movement and I went on anti Ku Klux Klan demonstrations in Boston.

How do you think society is going to change?

I am a socialist. It is obvious that in the workplace you have the power to stop the engines. But I would never want to put any parameters on who's invited to the party. As far as I'm concerned it was vital at Seattle that everyone was welcome.

The band's support is more student based. But when we play a Rage Against the Machine show I look out and see all those young people and I think to myself that someday soon they are going to be workers.

I am very encouraged by Seattle and at the events that happen at a Rage Against the Machine show every night.


Voices from people who went to the concert

'Rage Against the Machine sing about what life is really like. They're opposed to New Labour's Tory values. We support the band's campaign to free Mumia Abu-Jamal.'
Student Samuel Jones from Liphook, Hampshire, and office worker Luke Edwards from Andover, Hampshire

'They're the best band in the world. The message Rage Against the Machine are trying to get across to young people is, be anti-racist and make a stand against oppression.'
Sarina Jesudason, 17 year old student from Dunstable, Bedfordshire

'Rage Against the Machine tell the truth – the system is rotten. Capitalism is destroying our planet, Tony Blair supplies arms to fascist dictators and the police are terrorising black people. We've got to find a better way to live.'
Angela Southward, school student from Barnet


Mumia must live

In just over three weeks time a US judge will begin considering whether radical black journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal will be put to death or granted a retrial. Mumia, a former Black Panther, was framed for murder and has been on death row for 17 years. Rage Against the Machine are calling on everyone to get involved in the campaign to stop Mumia being executed.

Tom says, 'It has been the international outcry that has kept Mumia alive. Labour organisations [trade unions] and Amnesty International have raised their fists and said that Mumia is a political prisoner. Make no mistake, he is in jail because of his race and his political beliefs. Rage Against the Machine are trying to make people aware of his case.

“The campaign needs money because unfortunately in the US justice costs cash. There are no rich people on death row in the US. The authorities would love to murder Mumia. We've got to make sure Mumia is not executed.'


Free Satpal Ram now

In 1986 Satpal Ram, a young Asian man, defended himself in a racist attack. One of his attackers died and Satpal was convicted of murder. Asian Dub Foundation have campaigned tirelessly for his release.

ADF member Pandit G explains why everyone should back the campaign: 'It's brilliant that RATM are raising the issue of Mumia. But it's also important that cases of injustice committed by the British state and police are raised.

Satpal has suffered beatings at the hands of prison guards and is constantly being moved from one prison to another. Satpal's stand against injustice should be an inspiration for everyone.'


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Wed 16 Dec 2009, 13:35 GMT
Issue No. 2182
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