With the election approaching fast, politics are taking up much more of our headspace than maybe we’d like. With one as pivotal as this, it is certainly a stress-inducing event. The term “Voter Fraud” has been thrown around haphazardly by the current administration, and mail sorting machines have been disabled. Our political efficacy (or the feeling that we, as individuals have democratic agency, have faith that our vote counts, have confidence in our leaders to reflect our needs and concerns) is waning.
Such a feeling is disheartening and only plunges us as citizens into a state of apathy toward government and politics. It is so easy to fall into this hole of believing we cannot affect change (let us not forget that President Trump lost the popular vote by nearly 2 million; the votes from the electoral college, an outdated system, took precedence). What I am here to remind you, however, is that the youth of 2020 are not another Generation X. In other words, we are not another generation discounted for a “supposed” lack of political activism. I’m here to tell you that our opinions, our conversations, and our voices challenge the sense of powerlessness we feel in the current moment.
As a young, burgeoning feminist, zines are the apple of my patriarchy-despising eye. I mention Generation X above because the youngsters of the early 90s were considered wholly apathetic and uncaring of political trends in their historical era. However, looking back at this time period, this claim is just false, and the early 90s femme zines are there to prove it.
Riot Grrrl was a political movement defined by fierce feminist rhetoric, reclaiming punk for women, and the “radical” notion that girls’ opinions are worth valuing. But to “define” Riot Grrrl is to misrepresent it completely because, as zinesters have so often noted, Riot Grrrl is not any one thing. In fact, it is many things . . . it’s everything. Riot Grrrl may have been centered around the punk subculture and strongly associated with both zines and music, but it was so much more. It aimed to reimagine a lifestyle where young girls are respected as creative individuals capable of social change (a notion that would impact every aspect of our living existence).
With that said, Riot Grrrl zines revised feminism because it put a political discourse into what is termed the “vernacular.” In other words, it made talking about politics and complicated social issues for several different women of varying ages, educational backgrounds, economic classes, ethnicities, etc. accessible. Feminism wasn’t just some academic subject written in scholarly journals or explored in texts such as The Feminine Mystique. Zines can be made and distributed cheaply, and they range in genre from manifestos to pseudo diary entries to creative fiction. Not to mention, they function as visual art themselves with the remixing of print materials, photographs, and original sketches. This form of personal activism challenges the apathetic label to Gen X.
“BECAUSE I believe with my holeheartmindbody that girls constitute a revolutionary soul force that can, and will, change the world for real.”From Bikini Kill II by Kathleen Hanna
The saying that the personal is political is whole-heartedly (pun-intended) present in the manifesto that Bikini Kill writes in its second zine. In a series of “becauses,” Kathleen Hanna and her bandmates outline their thoughts and feelings as women in a male-dominated world. They spread a discourse here that encourages solidarity and participation. They smush words together, and they ramble off ideas. Here, we see the process, or really we see the effort to create such change, and as a result, we learn that our political engagement is often more about said “process” than it is about the result. BECAUSE our effort to engage with like-minded others is what makes us learn about our own true selves inside.
A lot of unmatched puzzle pieces have been floating aroung inside my skull and I’m starting to put them together even though I’m sure some of them are mismatched but I’ve learned that mismatched puzzle pieces are really essential.From Gunk #4 by Ramdasha Bikceem
Another zinester, Ramdasha Bikceem, reminds us that not knowing the answer is okay because not knowing the answers is what makes us human. Bikceem relays to us in unfiltered honesty (typos and all) of her “process” or her specific bout with adolescence, her identity as Black-skate-punk-grrrl, and the unique challenges that come with that. The process of making zines themselves is multifaceted; there is a distinct feeling from typing up a passage, to pasting together pictures, to going to your parent’s office to mooch off of their copy machine and to later attend the local punk show and pass out the hand-bound entities of pure emotion. Zines are a therapeutic form of personal and political expression, much like music.
My own personal activism
The zines I have been studying now have only reinforced my own writing practice to make sense of the world we live in. I have been playing guitar since I was eight years old and have been composing original songs since I was 13 or 14. In these songs, I discuss my political opinions, whether that be feminism or feeling apathetic, or lonely, or bored, or an unnerving lack of motivation . . .
I want to share with you, like the Riot Grrrls, my thoughts here, but in a different form. This is not a manifesto, just some lyrics (or maybe it’s both?).
“I write my songs not of love, but of angst / I don’t approve of this / limited space / And I . . . / try to remain”From “Ceilings”
In my song, “Ceilings,” I discuss my own insecurities living in a world where being a girl doesn’t feel like it gives me much clout. As someone pursuing a career path in the media industry, whether that be film, journalism, music, etc., I am constantly aware that I am trying to weave my way into a so-called “boys club.” Sometimes this is a scary thought that I might enter the professional sphere feeling somewhat invisible. I realize that my “invisibility” is a much different experience than the “‘invisibility” of women of color. That makes it ever so important that all voices be equally expressed, heard, and validated. Therefore, we exist in a perpetual state of reminding ourselves that ability speaks for itself.
“The old men (in power) / They say that youth are the future / but they occupy / office until they die / What’s the point when outcomes / are predetermined? / To me, it all seems like / hired bullsh*t”From “Wasted Potential”
“Wasted Potential” is a song I wrote for a Political Songwriting course I took in the spring of my freshman year of college (2019). As you can imagine, I was very aware and angry about the disastrous situation that is our current presidency. This song is me struggling with the apathy that I detailed at the beginning of this article. This is me stumbling and trying to comprehend how democracy can function when it feels like everything is a set-up (that no matter how much we protest, social injustice will persevere).
But the act of writing this stuff down and sharing it with others ultimately renders it un-apathetic. My voice is being heard, even if only by a few, and our personal lives will be informed because of it. Sometimes we have to step back and remember that changing the world does not happen overnight; in order for that to happen, we must first change ourselves and use our daily experiences to craft our own ideologies along with those immediately around us.
“And I’ve got enough time on my hands / . . . to figure out / What’s so f*cked with this world / I can’t take it anymore / I’m elated to be bored / And striving for something”From “Alanis Neurosis”
As you may have guessed by the first lyric in this section, I wrote this song during the pandemic. This summer was especially strange for me because, for once in my life, I had an overwhelming amount of time on my hands. I felt in a limbo of wanting to do something but feeling unmotivated, isolated, and sometimes lonely. Covid has wreaked havoc on our population, and for many people, it has also seriously affected our mental health. I am so fortunate to be physically healthy, but it is no joke that this pandemic can make you sort of a basket case. This song is my way of dealing with that. This song is trying to find that motivation.
I’ve talked about zines and their impact; I’ve demonstrated my own personal political expression, but what is a more modern example of what is out there to inspire us to join in a discourse, use our voice, and gain the sense of power to impact change? Well, for starters, you’re probably already interested because you’re reading this magazine (even if it’s online and not xeroxed by your friend). While the web and social media can be a dangerous place, it is also a powerful tool for engaging in political discourse. Check out @feminist on Instagram, and you can see the modern zine incarnate.
While you’re at it, head over to Tik Tok and see what people have to say. A recent account one of my roommates showed me is made by a group of girls that work as escorts at abortion clinics. They use their free time to help women make choices about their own bodies and spit facts back at the pro-life protesters that antagonize outside the clinic. This account seems all too relevant when Justice Amy Coney Barrett, a notoriously pro-life judge, is in the midst of being appointed to the Supreme Court.
If you take away one thing from this article, remember this: you are not alone. There are so many people, so many girls out there that feel the same that you do, and that feels like the government doesn’t give a sh*t about you. The election is only a week away, and it is totally scary . . . but there’s a whole herd of people out there that are using their voices, challenging their own apathy, and demonstrating the power to ensure that, in fact, it’s not the end of the world. We will struggle and triumph together.
I’d like to end with a little food for thought, expelled in the essay, “Revolution don’t come easy, honey.” from the femme-zine, Slant written by the brilliant, Mimi Thi Nguyen,
To me, it seemed/seems the revolution, girl-style, shrunk/shrinks to fit the size of your zine, the lyric sheet I shove in my pocket when I get out of the car, square my shoulders and face another bleary-morning confrontation with anti-abortion extremists blocking sidewalks and doors and women’s lives.”from Slant 5 by Mimi Thi Nguyen
She is right -revolution does not come easy. Our words are powerful . . . but they are still only words. Nguyen reminds us that we must put our money where our mouths are, much like the Tik Toks documenting the direct political activism of these escorts at the abortion clinic. Once we find our voice, we must use it. What can we do with all this discourse? We can vote, we can protest, and we can take action.