The numbers are flat out scary: suicide claims the lives of 30,000 Americans a year. About 5,000 of these are young people; people like you and me who have their entire lives ahead of them. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people ages 15 – 24. It is also the second leading cause of death for college-aged youth and considering that many of our readers fall in this age range, the numbers take on a greater relevance.
Louis Posen and Reese Butler aren’t superheroes from a comic book, but if there were such a thing in real life, Louis and Reese would be flying high above the clouds. When most people say they support causes and say they want to help out, there is a lot of talk but little action. Talk is cheap. Louis Posen of Hopeless/Subcity Records and Reese Butler were tired of all the talk and took action against suicide with the Take Action Tour.
In 1998, Reese Butler lost his wife to suicide. That same year, Butler decided to take action; he founded the National Hopeline Network 1-800-SUICIDE. He explains his motivation, “My wife Kristen Brooks died on April 7th, 1998 by suicide after the loss of our stillborn child. I wanted to donate money in her name to an organization actively preventing tragic deaths such as hers. When I discovered there was not even a national toll free number for people in a psychiatric crisis, I set about creating the Kristen Brooks Hope Center and developing the National Hopeline Network 1-800-Suicide.”
For quite some time, Hopeless/Subcity Records have donated portions of the proceeds from their CDs to various charities, something that makes their label stand out above the rest. When Louis and Hopeless/Subcity were looking to expand their awareness, they didn’t have to look far. “The beginning was in 1998 when Hopeless realized we were reaching a lot of people” Posen says, “We realized there was a unique opportunity to reach a lot of people and do something positive with it. So we started the next year, we launched a tour to bring the charity concept of Hopeless on the road and that was the first Take Action Tour. Then in 2000, we hooked up with the Hopeline Network, 1-800-SUICIDE, we were looking for an organization who understood what a punk and hardcore tour was all about, understood that this was an opportunity for them to reach the type of people they wanted to reach with their mission.”
Reese Butler talks about the importance of music in helping spread the word, “Music is a universal language that speaks to the heart and soul. The passion from which artists write and perform allows people to be touched in a way no other medium can connect close to in terms of reaching millions of people with a message of hope and inspiration.” Hopeless/Subcity could have decided to use the Take Action Tour to raise awareness for anything, but suicide prevention is what the kids need. Posen explains, “The reason that suicide prevention and the cause of suicide became so important to Subcity is because of the audience that we’re reaching. We found a cause that hit home for kids that go to these shows and they are definitely dealing with issues around suicide.”
What makes the Take Action Tour so successful is the attitude and stance of those behind the cause. They believe in giving something back and they follow through with their actions and make it part of who they are as people and a label. They believe in using their music not as mere entertainment, but as education as well. “It’s something we feel we have to do” says Posen. “Its part of our purpose as a label and our purpose in life to take all these hours and all the money that we spend and try to do something positive with it beyond entertainment. I think entertainment is a really good thing, it makes people enjoy life, but at the same time, you can be educating people on issues that they care about but might not know about.”
The concept of giving back and raising awareness seems like an easy concept, but it’s something that not many other labels do. “I don’t know why (other labels don’t give back)”, says Posen. “To some people, they just don’t realize that maybe they can do it. It’s such a difficult business world out there, we all hear how the economy is tough, and so a lot of people are focused on survival and not on giving back, but what we try to do at Subcity is incorporate it so there is no difference between the two. As long as we’re surviving, we’re giving back, and I think everyone can find that.” In terms of laying down a foundation for other labels to follow, Hopeless/Subcity does an amazing job at this. When money and greed are overtaking the music industry, Subcity breaks from the norm and does things the right way. “Part of what we do with Subcity is to try to set an example for other companies and individuals to do the same thing. You don’t have to have a lot of money to do something charitable” states Posen.
Currently the Take Action Tour is making its rounds raising awareness and funds for suicide all over the country. The tour intertwines the message of suicide awareness and the entertainment very effectively. The bands appearing on the tour are Poison The Well, Dillinger Escape Plan, Shai Hulud, Avenged Sevenfold, and Further Seems Forever to name a few and when all is said and done, it’s the music on the tour that is the driving force behind raising suicide awareness. Many of the bands on the tour are of the hardcore/punk genre and Posen explains why this is the case, “It started with Poison The Well coming to the table first. Then other bands who they were friends with or look up to them wanting to be on a tour that they are associated with and a cause that they care about. I think other hardcore bands have followed Poison The Well’s lead.” Butler doesn’t just limit the tour to punk and hardcore but feels they relay the message the best, “We did not choose punk/hardcore at the exclusion of other genres. Specifically we are most proud of punk/hardcore as that genre is targeted at one of the highest risk groups for suicidal behavior and depression.”
The tour has helped out countless kids over the years; Posen and Butler hear positive feedback from them every day. “That’s why we do it” says Posen. “We get that positive feedback and it’s scary how much feedback we get. It does hit you hard when you read it. There’s a bittersweet thing there, the bitterness of realizing there are a lot of kids out there in trouble and need a place to turn, and the positive side is there is a place lucky enough. Sometimes, there isn’t a treatment or cure or a place, and in this case there is. There are 24-hour confidential hotlines that know how to deal with this and have the references to help you. There is a letter that always comes back to me.” Butler shares his feedback that he receives, “Every show I go to I end up connecting with many special people who have been touched by suicide and tell me how the work we are doing gives them hope.”
There is hope out there and sometimes it takes special people like Louis Posen and Reese Butler to rekindle it. Even though the Take Action Tour continues to improve and increase in raising awareness, the work will never stop.
Butler sums things up in the best way possible, “It is the most incredible feeling to know that my wife’s life and death had a far greater meaning than she even knew, and that my life and the entire Hopeline Network team has a higher purpose. Prior to starting the Hopeline I was adrift with no purpose in life. This work has become a mission and has consumed me and rewarded me with the greatest purpose for my life. To help others not go through the same pain and tragic loss that Kristin’s family and I went through.” If only God made more people like Louis Posen and Reese Butler.
Divided We Fail: How Individualism is Holding the U.S. Back
The bootstrap mentality is about as American as apple pie. But it’s destroying our already frayed social net and education system. Can we resist our individualistic roots to mobilize and enact progressive policies?
To understand the swampy depths of American individualism is also to acknowledge that we have a serious inability to comprehend looming disaster. In fact, we’re uniquely terrible at it.
Loosely defined, American individualism is the idea that prosperity and growth is overwhelmingly the result of an individual’s hard work, cleverness, grit, and all that. (It’s both hilarious and fitting that one of our most reviled and economically disastrous presidents, Herbert Hoover, was the main architect behind the notion of American individualism.)
On one hand, this belief in individualism seems empowering. It tells us we are the captains of our own ships. It tells us we don’t have to be defined by our childhood traumas or underfunded school systems. It tells us that through scrappiness and ingenuity and discipline, we can rise above our circumstances and succeed, no matter what.
The inverse, of course, is that our failures are also ours alone to bear—with little regard for the systems and circumstances that cause some people to spend lifetimes catching up to where others were simply born.
American individualism explains so much of what we get wrong as a country, even in 2019. We downplay the systemic racism and violence of our police force through tunnel vision that tells us there are only a “few bad apples” rather than a flawed, oppressive police state. We’re unable to treat things like healthcare or housing as basic human rights, positing instead that those without access to food or shelter probably just haven’t “earned” it. And higher education—often treated as the great equalizer by meritocrats—is so expensive, it’s crippling our economy as a whole. Yet too many students are blaming themselves, and too many people are blaming students.
One is the Lousiest Number
These days, it’s hard to pick what to worry about more in the U.S. The list of societal threats certainly is long—climate change, the impending retirement crisis, the ongoing student debt crisis. These problems have been worsening for decades, and they’re all the result of failures at a systematic level.
The climate crisis was ramped up by decades of poorly regulated industries that pumped carbon emissions into the atmosphere. The retirement crisis that will likely come full force when Generation X starts leaving the workforce was set into motion by a shrinking pension system and the increasingly uncertain future of Social Security. And higher education became outrageously expensive over years of unchecked soaring tuition and fee increases.
But not everyone recognizes these mass-scale problems for what they are. Instead, too many people are blaming individual choices for giant societal failures. And these arguments are distracting us from collective solutions. Realistically, no one should be arguing that student loan forgiveness is a “half-baked” idea steeped in self-interest. Or that climate change can be reasonably combatted through laudable (yet mostly insignificant) individual actions like going vegetarian.
The numbers prove just how puny our individual actions really are against these larger-than-us problems. For example, even the most generous, self-massaged estimates put a single company like ExxonMobil’s annual carbon emissions in the range of well over 100 million CO2 equivalent metric tons. The average American, through even the most radical lifestyle changes and discipline, would likely only lower their annual emissions from about 20 metric tons to 8 metric tons. It would take millions and millions of people selling their cars and going vegan to equate to just one ExxonMobil. (Spoiler alert: There are way too many companies just like it.)
As Aaron Huertas of the Union of Concerned Scientists eloquently states: “We can’t ignore individual choice and responsibility; at the same time, we also have to recognize that our individual choices are constrained by corporate practices and government laws and regulations.”
A Way Out and Up
All is not lost, though. There is hope.
While the 2020 presidential pool for the Democrats may be a bit flooded, the makeup of the pool has revealed a trend: the ideas of sweeping economic relief and safety net programs are becoming more mainstream. If the Democratic party can just avoid spending its time strategizing against democratic socialism, we could enact policies that tackle these problems at the level they’re actually at.
Party insiders and centrists aside, it looks like voters are—even if just subtly and slowly—pressuring politicians to stop blaming individual choice for societal woes. The idea of multiple presidential candidates touting competing student loan relief programs would have seemed outrageous even a few election cycles ago—and now Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Julián Castro are all on board.
The point is, we’re getting there. And if we can fight against our very American instincts, we can realize—en masse—that our efforts to save our planet might be better spent organizing than remembering to recycle our empty salsa jars. We can take solace in knowing a liberal arts degree isn’t a personal failing that deserves financial punishment. We can accept that, as individuals, we may not be as powerful on our own as we thought, but we also may not be as much to blame for our struggles.
And then, we can mobilize.
The Long Goodbye: A Spurs fan’s final salute to Kawhi Leonard
Am I a product of my generation? Yes, just like Kawhi and many of today’s younger generation of fans are a product of theirs.
The saga of Kawhi Leonard is over and while his signing to the Clippers means that two fanbases are left incredibly disappointed, there’s one group that is making their overdue final goodbyes. For Spurs fans like myself, it is clear that while the Board Man is a special player, he is a product of the current generation of players- loyal to themselves. It’s OK, I’ve resigned myself to moving on because I was happy that he won in Toronto, happy for everyone involved (except for Drake) because I knew that as soon as he signed for the Clippers, his legacy would no longer be built on unbreakable bonds but rather on personal pursuit alone. And that was never the trait of the silver and black. At times during this saga, I’ve felt like Elliott Gould in Robert Altman’s 1973 movie The Long Goodbye, blinded by what I initially thought was loyalty. But after living through Kawhi sitting out, his demands for leaving, and ultimately, his winning a ring for the North, I’ve realized that in today’s NBA, allegiance, integrity, and trust are the exception, not the norm.
One of my earliest memories of being a Spurs fan was the ragtag group of players assembled for the 1992 season. It was early in my Spurs fandom and only two years into the storied career of David Robinson. The Admiral would become my favorite Spur, and ultimately, my favorite NBA player of all-time, but it was clear early on that he needed help. While Sean Elliott, Willie Anderson, and Avery Johnson were nice pieces, it was memories of wayward Rod Strickland passes that would ultimately encapsulate that time as an NBA fan. But the truth is, it was an important learning phase for any true NBA fan- that success comes with smart moves and dedicated, loyal, and hard working players who forever would put team above the name on the back of the jersey.
The years that followed was a mix of frustration and hope. The team gelled, especially for the 1994-1995 season where the team finished 1st in the Midwest (62-20) and David Robinson would end up capturing the league MVP after a dominant season (27 ppg, 10 reb, 3 blks). It was all awash come playoff time where vivid memories of Hakeem Olajuwon “dream shaking” The Admiral out of his shoes still haunt me to this day.
Perseverance paid off. Both for the Spurs and to fans like myself. Then general manager Gregg Popovich took on the additional responsibility of running the ship from the sideline, David Robinson was never traded, he rarely complained, and the miracle of the 1997 NBA Draft changed the fortunes of the franchise forever.
The years that followed were graced by the very best kind of basketball for basketball purists. While the league continued to flourish under the star power and glamour of Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, the Spurs quietly put together championship pedigree devoid of front page drama, superstar whinging and a sense of loyalty to the city and team that has all but become extinct in today’s NBA. My generation of Spurs fans are lucky to have lived through 5 championships, but also lucky that we were able to stay true to a team that had loyalty in their DNA. We were blessed that Tim Duncan got to take the court with players Tony Parker and Manu. Both absolutely crucial to the titles and the teams, both exhibited the kind of character seemingly rare today.
Kawhi was supposed to be the next titan of the team. We saw what was possible with his captaincy and Finals MVP run for the 2014 ring. He was supposed to continue the Spurs legacy. What we got instead was an endless whinge-fest, culminating in his sitting out all but 9 games of the 2017-2018 season. The mysterious ailment that plagued him, his battle with Spurs management, his desire to “go home” to California, and his distance from other Spurs players led to so much unnecessary frustration. In March of 2018, Manu was quoted as saying; “For me, he’s not coming back because it’s not helping [to think Leonard is returning]. We fell for it a week ago again. I guess you guys made us fall for it. But we have to think that he’s not coming back, that we are who we are, and that we got to fight without him.”
It’s the kind of distraction that my 7th-grade basketball coach would have found embarrassing. Kawhi did the Spurs dirty, and while fans often project the burden of legacy on to players even when they never set out to be, it is the unfortunate fall out of being a great player- especially one that at the time, seem to fit the mold. Kawhi has now done the Raptors dirty, and if he wins a title in Clipper-land, he will most likely do them dirty too. It’s his MO, it’s his way, and really, in today’s 2K video game NBA, it’s OK because that’s just the way it goes.
Team basketball is dead, superteam basketball is now the play. Raptors fans are playing it cool, saying that the one title was more than they could have ever asked for. But really, if I was a Raptors fan I would be disappointed because Toronto seemed like such a great place for him to be. A good coach, a good front office, an adoring nation, everything he said he was unhappy with in San Antonio. If I was a Raptors fan, I would be disappointed not because the team didn’t do what the Clippers did and mortgage their future for a chance for more, but because Kawhi proved that there’s no such thing as loyalty- and that it’s OK today as long as there’s some transient success. Perhaps I have been spoiled by Spurs basketball. Spoiled by Popp’s team-first mentality where the glory of championship parades is not the end, but the next beginning. If I was a Clippers fan I would be wary. Not just because Kawhi isn’t as superhuman as we’ve all made him to be. But because the Clippers DID have to mortgage an entire future for Kawhi and Paul George to battle it out against LeBron, against AD, against an entire city that will always hold the Lakers above the Clippers. If I was a Clippers fan, I would be wary of Kawhi’s new 3-year, $103 million dollar deal (with the option to opt-out in two). Not because it means he’s positioned himself for that supermax pay off, but because potentially, he could weasel his way out of the Clippers in two years too.
Am I old and a little bitter? Maybe. I’m grateful of Kawhi’s contributions to that 2014 title- his performance during those finals, especially after the bitter disappointment of the previous year, proved that he was more than capable of being the next Spurs great. He came alive in Game 3, proved his MVP status in Games 4 and 5, and cemented what seemed like the future for the franchise. But in the end, what stands out more for me is the letdown that Kawhi just wasn’t up to par with the Spurs giants that he was supposed to follow. Am I a product of my generation? Yes, just like Kawhi and many of today’s younger generation of fans are a product of theirs.
He could have been placed next to The Iceman, The Admiral, and The Big Fundamental, instead, Kawhi becomes another in the long line of a new generation of NBA superstars beholden to no one but themselves, playing their former teams and fanbases for fools. I feel like Phillip Marlowe, manipulated, trust broken, hearing Kawhi telling me that “maybe I’ll never learn, maybe I’m a born loser”. Maybe he’s right, maybe I’m just waiting for my harmonica moment. It’s the way things go today.