Members of the San Francisco Bay Area's only all-mom rock band, Placenta, are fed up with the state of affairs in the public school system. Their controversial new punk song, "Oakland Unified School District (OUSD)" is a rallying cry for angry parents.
Oakland, CA May 2, 2005 -- "It was a madhouse; television cameras, hundreds of people protesting. We couldn't find parking, and when we got to the building, we couldn't get in."
Rachael "Yellow" Huang describes the scene at the Oakland school administration building, "The school board had announced they were closing more schools. Parents, students, teachers, everyone was upset. We were just there for the charter renewal for my 10-year-old daughter's school. Our school had a 4:30 slot on the board's agenda. My kid was going to read a little speech about how much she loves her school."
Jostled around by angry protesters, Huang and her daughter finally convinced the security guards to let them in, and they joined other students and parents from their school. But the school board wasn't interested in their charter renewal. The children had to wait five hours to be allowed to speak, and one board member publicly announced that that he didn't feel they had a right to be heard, since the charter school kids weren't "our (the school district's) kids".
"I guess he only worries about the bedtimes for children in the schools he's about to close," quips Huang, "But I couldn't erase the image of all those other upset parents, many of whom were chanting in Spanish. My kid's school, their kids' schools, it's all part of the same problem."
What's a mother to do?
Huang, a.k.a. Mother Nature, is the lead singer for the San Francisco Bay Area's only all-mom hard rock band, PLACENTA. The band is known for rocking feminist songs about the mothering experience. They perform tunes about escaping abusive relationships: "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown", impossible beauty standards: "I'm Ugly", the drudgery of daily existence: "Laundry Song" and relationships gone awry: "Don't Dis a Hottie".
"When Rachael gets mad, she puts it all in a song," explains bassist Eileen Alden, a.k.a. The Down-Low (author of "Women on the Verge"), "Really, it's not nice to fool with Mother Nature."
"Rock-n-roll is a soapbox," adds Karen Elliot, a.k.a. Kjetset, Placenta's lead guitar player. "People listen to us, we might as well say something significant."
"I'm always writing songs about things that anger me¡ªthings that need to change. I shine a spotlight on problems and get people to think about them," Huang says, "The night after the school board meeting, I was hopping mad, and I knew I wasn't alone in my feelings, so I cranked the amp and let it all out."
"Oakland Unified School District (OUSD)" is a hardcore punk song, a thundering call to action, complete with screeching guitars, growled lyrics and a light-speed drum beat. "Yeh, I can't imagine my mom playing hardcore punk, either!" laughs Karen Toloui, a.k.a. KT, the drummer for Placenta (and only band grandmother), "but punk rock doesn't pull any punches, and I think parents are fed up with the bureaucracy. We've been playing nice, trying to work within the system. The system doesn't care about our kids. It's time to start yelling. OUSD is a rallying cry for parents."
"The title just came about because of the school system I'm dealing with. I don't think Oakland is any worse than other school districts out there. They're all top-heavy; they've all forgotten what's important in education¡ªthe children," Huang explains, "We parents have to advocate for our children, but we all work, we're all tired; and, dang it, we've entrusted the schools with the care of our children. The schools are failing. We need to focus our energy to affect change."
PLACENTA will be premiering "Oakland Unified School District (OUSD)" throughout the month of May. Angry parents can join in the sing-along across the country:
May 7th in Portland, OR at Hip Chicks Do Wine urban winery, 4510 SE 23rd Ave.(near the intersection of SE 26th & Holgate) (a benefit for "hipMama" alternative parenting zine)
May 13th in Berkeley, CA at The Starry Plough, 3101 Shattuck Ave (near Ashby)--Headlining for Mamapalooza SF.
May 21st in Berkeley, CA at Belladonna, 2436 Sacramento (at Dwight). Rockin' for Girlstock, a benefit for the Youth Emergency Assistance Hostel (YEAH).
May 25th in Manhattan at the Cutting Room, 19 W.24th Street, New York City, punking out for Mamapalooza NY