30,000 MUSIC FANS KNOCK ON PMRC/RIAA'S FRONT DOOR!
By: John Woods
Armed with 30,000 signatures from Rock and Rap fans opposed to "Tipper Stickers," (album warning labels), representatives from ROCK OUT CENSORSHIP and the L.A. based RIGHT TO ROCK NETWORK rallied at the headquarters of the PARENTS MUSIC RESOURCE CENTER (PMRC) in Arlington, Virginia on October 30, and later that day at the offices of the RECORDING INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA, who were presented the petitions. What follows is a blow-by-blow account of the day's events.
Does the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) care about what thousands of music fans and record buyers from all across the country have to say about warning labels on albums? From the reaction we go on October 30th, one can only come to the conclusion that the answer is "Fuck No!"
The RIAA was paid a visit by nearly 30,000 fans of rock & rap who came with one clear message, "Take The Warning Labels Off The Records. NOW! Although only a couple dozen were at the RIAA offices in a physical sense, they were the advance envoy there to present the signatures of 30,000+ on petitions calling for the RIAA to immediately remove the "Tipper-stickers." The action was organized and coordinated by ROCK OUT CENSORSHIP and the RIGHT TO ROCK NETWORK.
The day was kicked-off with an anti-censorship rally at Ft. Myer park in Arlington, Virginia which is located directly across the street from the headquarters of Tipper Gore's and Susan Baker's PARENTS MUSIC RESOURCE CENTER (PMRC). Even though the group was small, their spirits were high as they made it clear that music fans will not tolerate any more bullshit from the PMRC. Not once did we attempt to enter the PMRC offices located in The Virginian Hotel, but an apparently rattled Susie Talaant, fearing that the office may soon be stormed called the cops. On the scene soon arrived three black & whites, an unmarked police car and a motorcycle patrol. The cops were calm and cool, but they made it clear that any attempts to enter the PMRC stronghold would result in immediate arrest. We explained that our mission (at least this time) was not to bail people out of jail, and we had no intentions of kicking in the PMRC's door or accosting "Sweet Susie" in any manner (even though she deserves it). We stayed in Ft. Myer Park for nearly two hours until it neared time for our 2:00 pm appointment at the RIAA.
The first thing we noticed upon arriving at the RIAA, was the line of "husky" security guards in front of the building. Gee, was all this for us? Yep! As we climbed the steps and attempted to enter the building, we were immediately blocked by the guards who wanted to know who we were and what we had in the box that I was carrying. We explained that we had an appointment with the RIAA and that the box contained the petitions we were to give them. They informed us that we were expected but they were not to let us enter the building until some RIAA flunky came down to escort us up. We were also informed that only a delegation of two people would be allowed in. As the minutes passed, our group formed a picket line on the steps and began to talk with people passing by about who we were and why we were there. When the RIAA flunky descended (via elevator) from the lofty suites above, she was flanked by additional security who opened the door and allowed ROC Associate Editor Mike Heck and myself to enter. We were whisked up the elevator and entered into the sacred halls of the music industry. Upon exiting the elevator, we were facing the great glass gateway bearing the RIAA logo. When Mike shot a picture of me entering the gateway with the petitions in hand everyone on the scene began to freak-out. "No pictures, no pictures are permitted" was chanted in unison by all the gathered assortment of flunkies. We were told to have a seat in the lobby/reception area while it was decided who would deal with us. We were supposed to meet and give the petitions to Tim Sites as per our prior arrangement with RIAA Director of State Relations, Michael Cover. We would soon find out that Mr. Sites would not be meeting with us. In fact, all of the top RIAA officials including President Jay Berman decided it was best to be somewhere else this time Friday afternoon. After several minutes of hushed whispered conversations around the corner from where Mike and I sat, a lady emerged and identified herself as being from the Public Relations Department. She invited us to accompany her into the conference room where we could talk. I immediately questioned her about why they were so jittery about photos being taken. I pointed out that when the RIAA struck the deal with the PMRC concerning the warning labels, the top RIAA brass were only too happy to have their mugs snapped with the Senators wives at the press conference. Why all the paranoia about having a few shots taken with the representatives of 30,000 music fans? No reply!
In the posh conference room with all the gold and platinum of various bands adorning the walls, the official handing over of the 30,000 signatures took place without any sign of emotion or concern from the representative of the music industry. It was a "ho-hum, who-cares" attitude that was displayed. She was more interested in how and where we gathered the names instead. She jotted down the names of all the shows we've set booths up at. We were also questioned as to whether we were presenting original petitions or photo-copies. We explained that all the petitions were originals since each name had been entered in a database for future reference. Had it not been for Mike breaking the RIAA ban on photos and snapping a shot of the actual handing over of the box full of petitions, no official record of the transaction would exist. I questioned the PR-hack if we could expect any official statements from the RIAA acknowledging receipt of the 30,000 names? I was told there would be no such statement issued by the RIAA. We were then lectured about how wonderful the warning labels were because they prevented more "stringent legislation" from being passed. What a bunch of bullshit this is! Could this be the official policy of the RIAA? The RIAA who tries to portray themselves as champions in the fight against censorship when in fact they are nothing more than traitors, sell-outs, and capitulators. Had they shown some balls back in 1985 by uniting the industry and the fans to stand up to this new up-start group called the PMRC and told them to "fuck-off," we would not be where we are today. But they had a little piece of legislation they wanted to get through Congress and the warning labels became the trade-off for the votes from the same Senators who's wives formed the PMRC. We have the First Amendment and the Constitution that will protect us from more "stringent legislation" being passed. The PMRC/RIAA warning labels have protected us from nothing. Was it the warning labels that stopped the State of Washington from passing the Erotic Music Bill? Hell no! It was the Constitution that eventually shot that bill down, not some stupid label. The RIAA, by the way, wasn't even involved in fighting that bill.
But arguing this with the RIAA hack was useless so we made our point that this was just the first installment. We let her know that we intended to continue gathering names and we would be back in the very near future. As we exited the great glass gateway toward the elevators, we again attempted to take a photo of the RIAA logo. When the individuals at the reception desk saw us raise the camera, they scattered like a bunch of mafiosos covering their faces with their hands. Paranoia does run deep at the RIAA.
At the elevators, we were joined again by our "honor guards." Down the elevator, we went to the street where our people were anxiously awaiting to hear what happened. Following a few short presentations we said our good-byes to the local folks who participated in the day's actions, boarded the van, and headed back to Ohio. On the ride back, I kept running it over in my mind, "was it worth it?" The only conclusion that I could arrive at was "fuck yes!" We showed the PMRC and the RIAA how music fans feel about the warning labels and their policies. We showed them that music fans will stand-up and fight back. It was amazing to see how a small group of rockers and rappers could rattle the big bad PMRC and their industry friends at the RIAA. My God, how are they going to react when we return in a few months with even more people and more signatures?
In behalf of R.O.C., I want to thank all the people who helped make the action in Washington a success. Thanks to everyone at ROCK & RAP CONFIDENTIAL and the RIGHT TO ROCK NETWORK. Our thanks goes out to the folks from POSITIVE FORCE who showed up and helped. We also thank F.A.C.T.S. from Ohio University in Athens Ohio for the representatives they sent, as well as the group from Akron Ohio who came. Our special thanks goes out to the group of students from the DC area who skipped school to join us. Thanks to Jello Biafra, Dave Marsh and the Kansas City Coalition Against Censorship for the written statements of solidarity they sent endorsing our action. We should not that we received an apology from Joey Ramone who tried to send a statement, but due to being out on tour couldn't get it through in time. We hope all of you will be able to join us when we make our next trip to Washington.
We urge all our friends in the anti-censorship movement and everyone who reads this to join us by intensifying our gathering of names on the anti-labeling petitions. When we go back to the RIAA again sometime soon after the New Year, we want to have double the amount of names. Anyone needing blank petitions should send a S.A.S.E. to R.O.C., P.O. Box 147, Jewett, Ohio 43986 and we'll send you one.