“But I’ve got better things to do” — musings of a “straight edge” punk

fist illustrationSAM FORD/THE REVIEW
The black “X” is the universal sign of Straight Edge, a movement committed to abstaining from dangerous illegal substances.

Staff Columnist

In 47 seconds Ian MacKaye changed my entire life.

With a dizzyingly aggressive outburst of raw sonic energy, he outlined the defiant manifesto of “Straight Edge” in the 1981 “Minor Threat” song of the same name.

In screaming, “Always gonna stay in touch / Never want to use a crutch,” MacKaye dispelled any premonition of the need for substances and proclaimed having “the straight edge” over his peers as a result. Not only did he present hardcore punk in its purest, fastest form, but he gave a voice to what would become generations of people, including myself.

Straight edge was originally a response to the rampant drug and alcohol abuse plaguing the D.C. hardcore scene in the 1980s but has had wider reaching applications. Fed up with the behavior of his peers, MacKaye penned “Straight Edge” and unleashed his dissenting opinion, creating a cultural movement in the process.

By marking a black “X” on each hand to show their commitment to a sober lifestyle, Straight Edge punks officially took a stand to set a positive example for others — one that has been upheld for over 30 years. This example is one that I have chosen to follow in my own life.

Being Straight Edge didn’t pose a particular challenge until coming to campus, where it immediately became evident that my opinions on the topic were in the vast minority. The utter excess of and casual attitude toward alcohol, drug and tobacco consumption were and remain to be startling.

What is perhaps most troubling is the lack of any sense of responsibility or ownership for anyone’s actions. Frequently substances are used as a crutch and an excuse for insensitivity, intolerance and, frankly, embarrassing behavior. After the hangover, nothing changes, and the cycle viciously repeats itself with no one being held accountable.

Even within the DIY music scene in Newark, a space that prides itself on complete openness and tolerance of all perspectives, nothing is mentioned about being Straight Edge. On a weekly basis, members of the scene drink, smoke and get high at shows and not a single person speaks up to reevaluate the practices or protect those who have or potentially could suffer at the expense of dangerous conduct.

For those of us who abstain, we are make up the minority in an already underground community, but we are there. We make the conscious decision to remain sober and do it with pride in the hopes of inspiring our peers to think about their health and well-being and that of others.

In writing this piece I am not expecting to convert every reader to this way of life or demonize anyone who partakes in substances. My message couldn’t be further from that and it should be stressed that I feel no sense of animosity or resentment toward those individuals who drink or smoke.

I merely want to offer a differing perspective from what’s commonly accepted as a large part of this campus’s culture and promote serious conversation. Making the choice to abstain from or even limit the consumption of harmful, mind-altering substances allows for a greater connection to one’s surroundings and more opportunities for genuine, memorable experience.

One does not have to drink, smoke or get high to be an active participant in college culture. The power to take a stand and hold oneself and others accountable for their unhealthy and reckless behavior is in one’s hands. Lead by the Straight Edge example.

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