The Mynabirds: The New Revolutionists Week at TVD

In tandem with the release of The Mynabirds’ brand new LP Generals, front woman Laura Burhenn has embarked on an ambitious portrait project entitled “The New Revolutionists,” the purpose of which is to “pay tribute to the vast web of women who do various types of important work: artists, community organizers, doctors, mothers, women who embrace their lives and work to help and empower those around them. It is an awareness campaign for non-profits, women and works of art that empower.”

The week we’re turning TVD over to Laura to delve a bit deeper into the lives and inspirations of five of the many revolutionary American women the project serves to spotlight who are making a difference in their own communities across America. —Ed.

“I spent last year on the road touring as part of Bright Eyes. And when we met up with Titus Andronicus in Minneapolis for a short tour together, I was immediately taken with their guitarist, Amy Klein. It could’ve been that we were the only two women in a band and crew comprised entirely of men. It could’ve been that she played guitar like she was breathing life into it, and beamed in ecstasy with every full-fisted strum — you get as much joy watching her play as you can see she’s getting from playing.

It could’ve been that after only a few sentences into our first conversation I could tell that she was a deeply caring person and genuinely interested in getting to know the people and world around her, and in changing things for the better. I’m sure it was all of those things together that made me develop an immediate girl crush on Amy.

We stayed in touch long after the tour and have both since moved onto other things. I’m on the road with my own band, and now she’s got her own — Leda — and also plays in another band called Hilly Eye. She co-founded a feminist activist group in NYC called Permanent Wave (which now has chapters in Philly, Boston and the Bay Area, too), and remains active as a blogger and freelance journalist, contributing regularly to publications like SPIN magazine.

She inspires the hell out of me with her sunny can-do attitude. We sat down for a late lunch last time I was in Brooklyn; we traversed the full spectrum of catch-up subjects from relationships, to music, to big social issues, to feminism and activism, to fashion and food. And she approaches each one with a gentle spirit, really trying to get to the bottom of it, and never getting outraged (though her blood will boil). She’s a question-asker, a seeker of understanding — not an off-putting soap-box-screamer. And that is an approach I admire and know will take her — and the modern feminist movement — far.

Amy was one of the first women photographed for the New Revolutionists project. It was late summer in Brooklyn, the same day we photographed the Generals album cover as well as Lagusta Yearwood (featured here on Monday). She wore her Permanent Wave button. And in her eyes she wore the expression of a whole new generation of women who are listening to your every word. Who will be kind and gentle. But who will not stand for any sort of bullshit treatment towards women any longer.”

What do you think makes someone revolutionary, particularly in America in this chapter in our history?

I think that being revolutionary means having the courage to express a strong opinion on an issue that you really care about and not backing down from your stance. I also think that being revolutionary means creatively using all the skills, talents, and tools you’ve been given (leadership ability, empathy, technology, the arts,) to make something new.

Who are some revolutionaries who have inspired you in your own life?

I’m really inspired by Patti Smith. She broke a lot of boundaries for women in music, and she was one of the first people to really invent the punk sound. I don’t think she was conscious of being a revolutionary when she got started making music. It was just that she was wholly and completely herself, and she felt an intrinsic sense of freedom to express herself however she wanted.

You’re one of the founders of the NYC feminist group Permanent Wave. I’ve noticed groups of young feminist women cropping up all around the country (including offshoots of Permanent Wave in US cities outside of NYC). To me, it seems like there’s a zeitgeist — young women coming together to do something, to create something — a whole new wave of feminism, very much inspired by the movers and shakers in the 60s as well as the 90s Riot Grrl movement. What do you think has brought about this sense of urgency among young women in America?

I think that it has to do with the way we were raised without feminism in our lives. The feminist discourse and mode of thinking was very much absent from popular consciousness during the 2000’s, having been replaced by this weird emphasis on “girl power” which had to do with being cute, looking peppy, and listening to the Spice Girls.

As a generation, we were raised to believe that gender had no impact on our lives, and that, as girls, we could be whatever we wanted to be. I think that as we got older, we realized that there were still all these forces at work in the world that made being a girl a different experience, and that we were facing significant challenges as girls that we needed to be able to understand and overcome.

Some young women are coming to feminism after being sexually harassed at work, or after being raped, or sexually assaulted. For some young women, feminism becomes important through overcoming eating disorders or negative perceptions of their bodies. For others, feminism is simply a way of finding female role models in a world that still doesn’t place women’s actions in the foreground.

The political climate, i.e. the war on contraception and a women’s right to choose, has angered a lot of young women and made us realize that we cannot take our right to reproductive healthcare as a given. We need to keep on making noise and fighting for it.

I also see young women coming together simply out of a desire to connect with one another. I think that we’ve realized that, if we’re going to take on big problems, we can’t compete with one another. At this point, we want to really get to know one another and help each other lead richer, deeper, and more meaningful lives. We know that we have to work together to try to make things better for all women and girls, instead of just for us.

What do you think are the most important issues facing our generation? And what do you think it will take to really effect change for these issues?

Some really important issues for the coming years are:

1. Making sure that all women have access to contraception, reproductive healthcare, and family planning, regardless of their income,

2. Ending harassment of women and LGBTQ folks in public spaces–for example, on the streets,

3. Building leadership potential in girls and giving more women leaders places in government, business, and the arts,

4. Creating a society where women earn as much money as men for the same job, and,

5. Dismantling rape culture, ending victim blaming, and making sure that every child grows up understanding that sexual activity should be based on mutual consent.

As a musician (who’s been the only girl in a band shredding on the guitar on par with the boys, who writes and performs your own music in your new band, and who’s contributed to Girls Rock camps in NYC), how do you like to see music used to create change in your own community or even worldwide? What would you say to someone who thinks that music and politics should be separate things entirely?

Well, I don’t think that musicians have to write about politics. Musicians can play and sing and express whatever it is that they are feeling. I’m not into the idea of placing any limits on what is or is not valid creative expression. What I do think is that, when a girl gets a guitar and starts creating music, and steps out on stage, and plays the song that is about her life for an audience of listeners, there is something very political about that act.

Even when the song is about something completely apolitical, for a girl, who has been implicitly told by society that she should be quiet, to seize the microphone and express something that it is important to her, that is a way of breaking down people’s expectations–other people’s expectations, and her own expectations–and it is a way in which she gets to actively define herself, instead of relying on anyone else to do it. I don’t believe that girls or women have to define themselves in any particular way.

The point is that everyone should have the freedom and the ability and the confidence to be able to define themselves however they want. Making music is one way for women to take control of a room and bravely insist upon who they are. As strange as it is, when women are absent from the top positions in government and politics all over the world, it is hard for insist, through legislation and through political power, that their lives matter. Women need other ways to insist and to claim that their lives matter, and to make themselves visible, and understood. Music is one very powerful way to do this.

What 5 songs would you insist be on a New Revolutionists mixtape?

ESG – “Erase You”
Patti Smith – “Free Money”
Azealia Banks – “212”
EMA – “California”
Team Dresch – “She’s Amazing”

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The Mynabirds’ Generals is on your local store shelves now via Saddle Creek.

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