Can Rage Against The Machine's Reunion Affect U.S. Politics In 2020?

We weigh up the pros and cons of Rage Against The Machine's reformation, through the lens of the U.S. political landscape…

Can Rage Against The Machine's Reunion Affect U.S. Politics In 2020?
Mischa Pearlman

The first clue came on October 27, 2018. On his official Instagram account that day, Tom Morello posted a photo of the ongoing protests in Chile that showed a large group of political demonstrators climbing up a statue in the Chilean capital of Santiago. A man on top of the statue waves the flag of the Mapuche – a group of indigenous people from Chile and Argentina famed for defending their right to land, and whose flag became a symbol of the protests as a result. In his caption, the guitarist wrote: “Chile is not messing around. USA next?”

Tom Morello has, of course, been incredibly vocal about his disgust and disdain for President Trump and his administration, so his encouragement for similar protests to spark up in the U.S. wasn’t surprising. But what happened next was completely unexpected. Five days later, on November 1, a then-unverified Instagram account with the handle @rageagainstthemachine posted the same photo with five dates for 2020, two of which were in Indio, California, the location of Coachella, on the weekends that festival is being held. All five are located near the Mexican border. The reunion was confirmed – and the Instagram account verified – a little while later.

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It’s surely no coincidence that Rage Against The Machine announced these dates for the year that the Donald Trump is up for re-election. It’s unknown yet whether more dates will be announced, but by playing shows in March and April next year, it’s clear that they’re going to have something to say about the state of politics in America.

The question, really, is whether it will make any difference. In a country where the division between left and right has been taken to extremes on almost every political issue, in a country where racism is arguably more open and prevalent than it was during the Civil Rights era, in a country where people are dying because the cost of healthcare is too much for them to stay alive, and in a country where the three richest Americans have as much wealth as the bottom half of the country, can Rage Against The Machine actually help sway voters?

The chances might actually be quite high. While the ‘Fuck you! I won’t do what you tell me!’ rallying cry of Killing In The Name, the band’s best-known song, can and has been dismissed as profane, juvenile outrage, there’s a lot more to it than that. In a few simple repeated phrases, it outlines the systemic racism of the USA and its police force, as well as the subservience of the people in the face of oppression. It’s the band’s quintessential call to arms, that has a lot more substance than the novelty of it beating an X-Factor hopeful to the top of the charts would have you believe. And live, the band will just not harness the ferocious energy of Zack de la Rocha, Tom Morello, Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk, but be able to talk about the issues – such as, say, immigration control – that will directly be affecting the communities they’re playing in.

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And while the band have taken flak for headlining one of the most corporate festivals out there, as well as always being signed to a major label, that’s actually one of the most subversive things they could do. Because while it’s unfair to make sweeping generalisations, it’s like your average Coachella attendee cares as much about politics as they do about music – which is to say not very much. So unlike a small punk show where, on the whole, everybody is of the same mindset, Rage Against The Machine, by taking to that stage, will be addressing thousands of people who otherwise wouldn’t be paying attention.

Of course, that’s not to say that everyone who hears them will agree with what they’re saying or vote how Rage may vote themselves, but talking to people who may otherwise not have been interested in politics in such a direct way will surely have an effect on a small number. The same goes for the other gigs they’ve announced, where they’ll be able to talk to communities directly about what’s happening and why. The first stop, for example, is El Paso – home to former Democratic presidential candidate (and friend to At The Drive-In) Beto O’Rourke, where a mass shooting at a Walmart on August 29 killed 22 people and injured 24 others. Despite that incident, and mass shootings across the country on a regular basis, gun control remains an incredibly contentious and divisive issue in the U.S.. Will Rage Against The Machine convince people to give up their Second Amendment rights by discussing gun violence onstage? Unlikely. But if they make a compassionate and intelligent plea to vote for candidates who promise to crack down on the use of assault rifles, they may well sway some voters.

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When it comes to the Presidential race, the band will likely be more unforgiving. In a recent Tweet Tom Morello lambasted Trump after the he made a statement about the USA’s control of oil sources from the Middle East. “We are keeping the oil,” said the President. “We have the oil. The oil is secure. We left troops behind only for the oil.” Tom posted a video of that statement on Twitter, adding: “Well, honest at least! Removes any of that 'protecting our freedom' baloney.”

To that extent, the most effective way for Rage Against The Machine to have an impact on this election would be to react and respond to what’s happening in the States at the government level – as Tom does above in that tweet – rather than push for the kind of revolution depicted in that scene from Santiago, because that kind of thing is much less likely – for now – in America. But with their shows, they can certainly open up a dialogue to reveal just how corrupt the political system in the U.S. is – on both sides of the aisle – and push for real systemic change. Because that, truthfully, is what America needs now more than ever.

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