Safety In The Scene: It's On Us

I will start off by saying how truly disappointed I am that I have to sit down and write this piece. I have a weird job in the music industry—a job that requires me to be a totally neutral, unbiased third party. A job that requires me to create a safe and welcoming space for music professionals of all types and fans alike. A job that not a lot of other people (or anyone really) also get to do. These reasons (and countless others) make my job in the music industry the absolute best…but some days, like today, it is not so fun.

As an unbiased and neutral third party, I am both fortunate and unfortunate enough to be required to keep my opinion on most controversial issues in our community to myself—my job is to support individuals who are bogged down by the stressors of working in music, and who am I to judge anyone for that? Additionally, we as a community, have adopted a very witch-hunt-esque mentality about social justice in the last year, one that I absolutely do not agree with for a number of reasons, which I will touch on later. However, when there is indisputable, very clear, caught-red-handed-no-doubt-about-it evidence in certain allegations, I feel comfortable stating my opinion on an issue. With that, I say very firmly that Punk Talks does not support Kevin Lyman’s decision to keep Front Porch Step on Warped Tour.

Because the allegations against Jake McElfresh regarding his sexual involvement with minors are currently just that—allegations—please know that I do not take speaking out about this lightly. Those who know me personally will surely tell you that I am never one to bite my tongue regarding issues of injustice, and maintaining a position of neutrality and professionalism in these matters has been incredibly trying for me, as it would be for anyone with an educational background in and passion for social change. I choose my battles in the music industry very carefully, and this fight is one I feel is not only worth choosing, I feel is absolutely necessary for me to take part in as a human being, as a woman, and as a social worker. Because of the very evident proof against Jake McElfresh, I am truly and deeply disappointed in the actions of Kevin Lyman and Warped Tour. I will admit that one of the best parts of my job is that I get to live in completely ignorant bliss about the business side of music—I absolutely love not knowing how money or contractual obligations or per diems or labels even function—but I think that after Kevin had voiced his commitment to safety and justice and clearly stated in this tweet that Front Porch Step would NOT be on Warped Tour, the “surprise” addition to Nashville’s Warped Tour is absolutely deplorable. Even if we ARE looking at this situation from an “innocent until proven guilty” perspective, as Lyman so sheepishly put it earlier today, even in a BEST CASE SCENARIO, meaning that he DIDN’T engage in sexual activity (digital or otherwise) with underage girls (he did), at BEST, he is undeniably a very emotionally abusive individual who has manipulated many, many women of all ages (as documented by lots of screenshots anywhere on the internet). What kind of message are we sending to young women who are interested in music? In allowing Front Porch Step back on the Warped lineup, we are saying “oh, it’s fine.” Women are, yet again, being systematically oppressed by the scene—this time, being told “your pain, your safety…it means nothing to me. Be quiet.” What kind of environment are we creating, or allowing the creation of, when industry monsters like Kevin Lyman ignore the cries of THOUSANDS, including current Warped Tour artists? To me, it seems that 2015 has been a constant onslaught of sexual abuse allegation after allegation. This has to stop. We, as a community, can no longer tolerate this behavior.

Now, that being said, there is a completely separate, but very much important side of this issue that I urge you to take very seriously. Because of the nature of the present-day music industry (aka existing solely on the internet), we have a unique opportunity to voice our concerns and expand our education. As a community, we are very socially-minded—we demand equality, justice, and social progression. That is a totally wonderful thing, and one of my favorite parts of our scene! However, sometimes, we can become completely blinded by our passion regarding a situation. With the onslaught of sexual abuse allegations in 2015, I have also witnessed an onslaught of “Tumblr Justice.” Tumblr (and all other forms of social media) can be a really wonderful place to be yourself—I rarely give my personal Tumblr to even my closest friends because it just seems so, well, personal. The thing about Tumblr, though, is that like all other forms of social media, news travels quickly. When we become blind to our frustration or anger over a situation, sometimes we can act rashly. As disgusted and sickened and disheartened as I am by the constant flow of allegations regarding abuse in our community, I am sometimes more disheartened by the reactions to it. The witch-hunt mentality that has been adopted within our community is not only unproductive, it is dangerous.

In the height of one of these controversies earlier this year, an individual facing allegations (the nature of which I will not divulge, of course) came to me. As I have said (and will always say), my job is not to judge you. My job is to help you manage the stress that comes with working in the music industry. This individual could not adequately handle the stress that resulted from the actions of the community following the allegations—this individual had people calling their (non-music related) employers. People were driving past this person’s house. Members of OUR scene were telling this person to COMMIT SUICIDE. The allegations against this particular individual were nowhere NEAR as serious or as harmful as those against Front Porch Step, and were certainly not as evident. I understand the desire to take action and keep our scene safe—but how can we do that if we are literally threatening violence or demanding self-harm from people? As a mental health organization, I am telling you that THIS HAS TO STOP. Yes, the alleged actions of these individuals (and the actual actions of FPS, as clearly documented online) are absolutely incorrigible, but to me, as an advocate and educator for mental health and well-being, telling someone to kill themselves is no better. These people may be abusive, they may be disgusting, they may be detrimental to our scene—but they are humans. What if one of these individuals actually did commit suicide? How would that be helpful? How is virtually burning someone at the stake an appropriate or effective method for change? How is threatening them going to make our community safer?

I am certainly not condoning the actions of these people and I am ABSOLUTELY not telling you to be silent—I am imploring you to be productive. Be educated. Be helpful. Go forth in your crusade for a safer scene with compassion. Be intentional in your actions and be an example for the Yung Punx to come. We can create a change in our community by not tolerating this behavior; by boycotting Warped Tour, by demanding (peacefully) for respect from bands and industry folks, by saying firmly but respectfully “we’ve had enough.” Remember, those who create the most change do not accomplish it with hatred or violence. They inspire others with their loving, but unwavering demand for equality, justice, and safety.

This is on us, now. I am so sorry for those of you who no longer feel safe at Warped Tour or in this community. If you are having difficulty managing your emotions, whether it be sadness, anger, or anything else, please get in touch. A safe space exists within Punk Talks for all who need it.

With great love,