Tim McIlrath of Rise Against discusses the unjust imprisonment of activist Tim DeChristopher, how music is a vehicle for change, and finding your purpose.
The punk band Rise Against is very well-known for writing songs about controversial issues that connect with, educate, and inspire their listeners to do more when it comes to social change. They create an impeccable combination of controversy, awareness and hope in their music that creates “the perfect storm” for getting their message across to their fans. Front man Tim McIlrath is a rare gem who is not only a well versed and gifted lyrical mastermind, but also a well-informed spokesman when it comes to representing the band and what they stand for. Tim McIlrath is not shy when it comes to activism, not only does he express this through his music but he is also well known for his work with PETA 2 and the It Gets Better Program. Being a bit of an activist myself, I was of course drawn to the band at a young age because of what they stood for, and because their music is just epic.
The adventure of the “Clash of the Ti-Tims” began when I fortuitously stumbled upon a correlation between Tim McIlrath and Tim DeChristopher, which goes a lot further than them just having the same first name. I logged onto Rise Against’s online chat that they had a few months back where Tim McIlrath was answering fan’s questions and when the question “Who inspires you the most right now?” was asked, what Tim McIlrath responded with brought tears to my eyes. He said “Tim DeChristopher, you should all look him up.” Not only am I a colossal Rise Against fan, I’m a member of the environmental activist group that Tim DeChristopher is a co-founder of, Peaceful Uprising. I am a not only a supporter but a friend to Tim DeChristopher, who back in December 2008 disrupted a BLM oil and gas lease auction for 116 parcels of public land in southern Utah. He obtained the bidder 70 paddle and won bids on 14 parcels of land. Months later Obama’s Interior Secretary Ken Salizar deemed the auction illegal and removed the parcels. Meanwhile, because of his interference, DeChristopher was indicted on 2 felony counts and later found guilty of both charges. July 2011 Tim DeChristopher was sentenced to 2 years in the federal prison system for his act of civil disobedience. DeChristopher took matters into his own hands, making a sacrifice in order to fight for a more sustainable and livable future.
After seeing that Tim McIlrath is a DeChristopher supporter, I emailed the band to inquire about conducting an interview with McIlrath when they came to Salt Lake City. I cannot put into words my feeling of pure elation when I got an email back saying that Tim McIlrath was into the interview, I had been given the opportunity to interview my idol about my hero. I can sort of describe my reaction as similar to a 7 year old girl getting a pony as a gift, but who had never ridden one before. There were screams of excitement whilst jumping on my bed, only to be followed by the sinking thought of “I have no idea what I’m doing.”
The day of the concert I was lead backstage to where the tour buses were parked, nervously carrying my recording devices, notes and a few items to give to Tim, thanking him for his time. As I approached, I saw McIlrath standing with a group of people, he waved and said “Hey Hillary, I was just telling them about Tim DeChristopher.” To which I awkwardly extended my hand in what I assume was an attempt at a handshake, dropping a few of my items, then announcing “Damnit, I’m already blowing it!” Tim, who could see that I was obviously nervous, asked what he could do to help and carried a few of my things onto his tour bus for me where we conducted the interview. Tim first asked me a couple of questions about myself, which calmed me down significantly, but not enough for me to not be a complete spaz. The following is our interview:
(For the actual audio interview on YouTube go here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B7_a_DG2nis)
Tim McIlrath: how’s Tim doing?
Hillary Hase: He’s hopeful. He was sent to “the hole” because an unidentified politician wanted to send him there. It was like an 8 by 10 cell that he shared with one other person. He was there for like two weeks and they only let him out for about 4 hours the whole time.
TM: That’s crazy.
HH: We took action. We called and we wrote letters and they got him out of there.
TM: Oh good, cool. So he’s out of there now. His release date is next year sometime? Is that what they said?
HH: He’s going to be, ya, February he’s going to be put on house arrest. It’s going to be nice to have that jerk back.
TM: Right, ya ya, (chuckle) totally.
HH: So I’m a huge Rise Against fan.
TM: Oh cool!
HH: I’m a little, I’m a little [nervous]. That’s how I knew that you were a Tim DeChristopher fan because I was on your online chat where you were answering questions.
TM: Oh okay, ya ya.
HH: And someone asked “Who inspires you?” and you said Tim DeChristopher.
TM: Yes. What he did was amazing.
HH: So how long have you been following Tim’s story?
TM: Uhm, I don’t remember when I first read about it, but…Where would I first read about it? (contemplation) I don’t remember but I’ve been following it for maybe like a year or so. I think when he was sentenced was when I finally saw what he did and then I realized his story and what he had done. And I just thought that it was incredibly brave and courageous and such an important move you know, and an important tactic in today’s world. I have a serious reverence for civil disobedience, you know what I mean? And I think that my generation has forgotten how important it is and how it like shaped the world we live in today. And so to have a modern day activist like Tim DeChristopher practicing civil disobedience in a very creative way, it’s very inspiring.
HH: (nonsensical stuttering.) So music’s a great way to spread messages, and Rise Against is very good at that. So what inspires you to write about political and controversial issues?
TM: I think just the, well, knowing that we have the ability to transfer that information in a creative way. From a stage, or via CD or a record it sort of makes doing what we do more fun because instead of just singing you a song or entertaining people on a night like tonight, hopefully we can sort of provoke some thought . And maybe like get people thinking about some of the things we care about. And to be honest, I do it because I don’t know what else I would do. You know I’m just one of those people who are like if you give me a pen and paper and said “put down your thoughts” those are the things I’m most passionate about. Our ideas of change and awareness, and where the pressure should be applied to do that, and then certainly informing our audience on some of the things that compel us to give a shit, and trying to pass that on to our fans. Who for some people this is their very first show tonight, so they’re sort of being introduced to this whole subculture, and they’re also being introduced hopefully to ideas of change and that kind of thing. That’s kind of, it puts like a different twist on what we do, its not like we’re just pulling up on our bus and playing a show and entertaining people and then we move into the next town. Hopefully we’re leaving people behind that are thinking.
HH: Well if definitely makes me think and inspires me, it actually inspired me to go vegan.
TM: oh awesome, good for you.
HH: You guys have always been up front when it comes to political issues, have you always been that way?
TM: Always been what?
HH: Always been…(idiotic stammering) ah.. …believing in what you believe?
TM: Oh, ya, I think so. It was kind of like it was a, I got into like punk and hardcore at a young age and then I got into politics because a lot of my favorite punk and hardcore bands were talking about things that my teachers weren’t talking about, my parents weren’t telling me about, it became like a secondary education of sorts. And so it kind of triggered my interest in playing music because I realized how you could bundle music and these ideas of these political ideas into a band and it becomes something really radical and really exciting and I think that probably been since I was 15. I got really attracted to music in that sense, I grew up listening to all kinds of music but it wasn’t until I saw music being used as a vehicle for like social change, and ideas and awareness. That was when it was like, oh man, this is really fucking exciting, and that’s what made me what to do it. And that’s why I still do it.
HH: Ya, you were in the Chicago punk scene.
TM: Ya Ya, Chicago punk and hardcore scene was really cool. It was really underground, we never had any really big bands come out of it but I was so lucky to be a part of it at that time, it was a great hardcore little community.
HH: so what are some important steps that you think someone should take to help fight for a more sustainable and livable future?
TM: I guess the very first thing is just to arm yourself with knowledge and arm yourself with the information that’s out there. And after that it’s whatever feels natural to you. Whatever you feel with your gut instinct, like what you want to do. I think that that’s the most important. Something you feel comfortable doing and something that, it’s important to kind of analyze who you are, where you are in the world and where you could best apply pressure to create some sort of change. And for everyone that’s something different, all of us come to different points in our lives, or do different things or have different creative talents. And for our band it was obvious that we wanted to do, but for someone else it may be something completely different. And that’s what’s important, don’t try to model yourself after somebody else, figure out where you could be most effective.
HH: What role do you see citizen participation taking in shaping our collective future? …Follow up question…
TM: Well I guess, I mean, we play the biggest roll as the citizens and as people. I think it was Margaret Mead who said something like “The only thing that ever changed the world was a small group of thoughtful people, that’s where change comes from.” It isn’t coming from the White House or people in power; it’s coming from the people demanding it until leaders have to listen. Until people who are making the policies have to listen to you, you demanded it, and that’s what’s so important. I think it’s easy for people to feel powerless in that sense, because you feel like you’re so far removed from the sort of those giant agents of change, but each one of us is an agent of change.
HH: If you could say anything to Tim [DeChristopher] or ask him any question, what would it be?
TM: I guess I would just want to say that I have so much respect for what he’s done; I hope people are inspired by what he’s done. I think He said it better than I could in a lot of ways, that they can’t imprison his ideals. And those ideals live in so many of us. When we have nothing to lose, we have less and less to lose, then these types of actions will be far more prevalent. I think that the world needs more Tim DeChristophers in the future for sure.
HH: Peaceful uprising’s motto is to always meet intimidation with joy and resolve.
TM: Ya, that’s important. I think that his case is sort of indicative of how when criminal trials get political and how they can be skewed. What he has done, he was ruined the judges whole ambition, it wasn’t that big of a deal in the end, but because they haven’t broken his spirit I think that they feel like committing him to a prison will deter people but it’s only inspiring people, and it will continue to inspire people and I think in the future we’ll see more Tim DeChristopher‘s as the people in power give us less and less access to that kind of power.
HH: So I know you have two daughters, are you hopeful for their future?
TM: I am. I think that I can’t help but be hopeful here I guess. There’s a lot, there’s a lot, to be pessimistic about in the world. I’m in a fortunate position where I get to walk onto a stage like tonight here in Salt Lake City, and I see people who care. So even though I’ll wake up here in the morning and I’ll read the paper and all this terrible stuff is happening around the world, in our own country, at the end of my day I see people who want to see change. And it’s a constantly inspiring thing; I get to see the next generation. I’ve met a lot of people, a lot of our fans, a lot of our audience, and I know that it’s just some microcosm of the world, but in that microcosm I see hope, I see people who give a shit. And that makes me excited about their future, and my kid’s future, and their kid’s future.
HH: So I was reading online, and I think the definition of your name was your vocal chords are made out of lighting and you have the power to not only inspire people, but to change their mind and prevent kids from killing themselves.
TM: Oh wow (laughter)
HH: That is your super power.
TM: I like that super power. Ya, I’ll take it. I’m happy that the songs found the right people. You sort of create songs and you scream into this empty chasm and you hope that somebody hears on the other end. And so it makes me so happy when it connects to people that it’s supposed to connect with. They aren’t just falling on deaf ears because hopefully it makes the listener feel a little less alone. And it certainly makes us feel less alone because they’ll come to these shows and be like “I agree with that” or “I know what you’re talking about.” People identify with that.
HH: I saw an interview with you one time and is it, you “wait for the right moment” to write a song, right? Or when it just comes to you?
TM: Ya, I think that a song needs to be something that’s very natural, because if it’s not natural you can tell as a listener that it wasn’t natural. And so it’s a lot of sort of, it’s a perfect storm of many different elements and you just kind of have to trust your gut with and go with what you feel like. I feel like Rise Against can be most effective here, and this is the right song for it. So ya, it’s sort of real tangible content.
HH: I just want to say thank you, so much.
TM: Ya ya, I’m glad we talked, I love what your organization does and I have a lot of respect for Tim DeChristopher.
HH: So I have a few things for you.
TM: Oh cool. Thanks for coming to the signing too that was cool.
HH: Ya, I just wanted to get all giddiness out of the way. (which obviously didn’t work)
After the interview I gave McIlrath a few thank you gifts for his time. I gave him a Peaceful Uprising shirt, sticker, a solidarity sash and a couple of Tim DeChristopher coloring books for his daughters. We hugged, a photo was taken, goodbyes and thank you’s were exchanged and I was escorted back into the venue where I could enjoy the show. Rise Against of course put on an amazing performance, full of passion and messages of awareness. They had videos of protestors, war, poverty amongst other things playing on two LED screens behind them, and in between songs Tim McIlrath would say through provoking comments about the world today. Towards the end of their set, Tim McIlrath dedicated a song to all of those who aren’t afraid to fight for change, and he dedicated the song Midnight Hands to Tim Dechristopher and of course my eyes swelled up with tears once again. I miss Tim DeChristopher a lot and all I can hope it that this article helps spread his story to as many people as possible. Thank you Tim M and Tim D for all you do.
Tim and I