Democracy Is Everybody’s Business

By Vince Darcangelo, Boulder Weekly
October 8, 2004

Krist Novoselic, the former bassist of Nirvana, ditches grunge and embraces government.

In the early ’90s, Krist Novoselic played bass for Nirvana, one of the most popular bands of the decade. While politically active as a musician, in his post-rock-idol life he has become very involved in politics. In September, Novoselic released his first book, “Of Grunge and Government: Let’s Fix This Broken Democracy,” which takes on the issues of political activism and electoral reform. Novoselic is currently on a lecture tour, including a stop in Denver last month.

Vince Darcangelo: In “Of Grunge and Government,” you touch on how musicians can have a role in effecting political change. How did you get involved in politics?

Krist Novoselic: As far as music goes, I like to say that democracy is everybody’s business. Musicians have an edge on other vocations or pastimes because people really look for meaning in music, and I believe that people look for meaning in their politics. I say in the book that it’s no mistake that a political event is called a rally, because you want to rally people. I make the analogy that there is a time for a new wave in music when things get predictable and the establishment is just entrenched, and I believe the time is right for a new wave in politics. This new wave would be greatly facilitated by a change in our electoral system to have more inclusive elections and have more competition.

One thing that stood out with me, where you’re discussing different options for electoral reform, was instant run-off voting. I was very intrigued by that. That’s something that there hasn’t been a lot of press about.

No. There’s an instant run-off election being conducted in San Francisco right now. It’s very interesting how the press is covering it, how the candidates are interacting. Candidates are actually endorsing each other because they want to be the second choice because they identify this constituency of the opposition. They’re going to each other’s events. It reduces negative campaigning. It’s interesting how it works. It’s one of those things where it’s innovation and it’s inclusion. I say if you build it, they will come. If you have elections where people feel like they’re not wasting they’re vote or voting for the lesser of two evils, that could be the start to building a positive perspective toward our democracy.

I talk about cynicism, and I’m really tired of cynicism. It’s a trap. There’s a lot of fear out there right now, and a lot of cynicism ��� and for good reason; I’m not saying that people shouldn’t be fearful or cynical. I’m just proposing a potential remedy to those afflictions.

My feeling is that is where the book really succeeds. In the book you focus not only on the challenges, but the victories. How important is it that activists and artists don’t go too far to either extreme of cynicism and nihilism on one side and empty, rah-rah sloganeering on the other side and stay focused on the real challenge?

Neither feast nor famine. It’s just finding that balance. Meaningful work takes time. It’s going to be a colossal undertaking. The establishment is not going to like them because it’s going to change things. But if you look at the franchise of democracy in the United States, the whole thing has been about inclusion. We had slavery here and women couldn’t vote, young people ages 18 to 20 couldn’t vote. It’s all about expanding the franchise for inclusion. It has happened, and if the United States of America is going to endure, it’s going to need to keep expanding that franchise or we’re just gonna stay stuck in this rut and we’re going to have a lot of problems.

On page 33 you say democracy doesn’t end on Election Day. What can people do regarding year-round activities?

You just get involved up to your comfort zone, whatever you can take. Just support a lot of these activist organizations. Be another person in the room. It’s a good way to meet people and maybe even build some meaningful relationships. That’s what democracy’s all about, people getting together. It’s not about any ideological purity. It’s about working with people the best you can in whatever situation you’re willing to work with. The most important thing is to band together.

Do you have anything to say about any of the backlash that’s come about with so many artists getting involved in this political season and speaking out?

Well, that’s going to happen. People who are going to respond negatively, they are ideologically motivated. There is that attack-dog reflex… Again, democracy is everybody’s business. If musicians aren’t supposed to speak out, if only politicians and these pundits speak out, then we’ve basically abdicated authority to them… I think everybody should say something. Mechanics, hair dressers, truck driver, on the right or left, whatever. It’s supposed to be the people speaking. Nobody should tell us who should say what, when or where in the United States, because that’s not what this country’s about.

If you could have readers of this book, listeners of your music and people who come to hear you speak take one message from your work, what would that be?

Just be positive. Don’t get dragged down by negativity. Don’t let people tell you that things can’t happen or that it’s impossible. Things are gonna change, whether we like it or not. We have to make sure that it’s a positive change, a progressive change.

What are your predictions for November?

I think the Democrats are going to win big, as much as they can with this skewed system. Kerry’s gonna get it… I’m really positive about this year. I think people power is going to triumph. There’s going to be a great turnout.

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