Downtown Boys, “Wave of History”

Post Author: Liz Pelly

“Know your enemy. Know your context.” That is good advice to any politically-oriented band trying to make sense of the culture industry in 2015. It’s also good advice to give anyone fighting for equality and justice in a world run by the prison industrial complex and a racist criminal justice system, where marginalized folks still need to fight for their lives every day. Such advice opens the new video from Downtown Boys, a radical band who seem to firmly understand that cultural and political change can only happen with an understanding of history—specifically, that today’s struggles against mass incarceration, police brutality, and economic injustice have historical roots in colonialism and slavery.

Their new video for “Wave of History” lays this history out plainly in animated illustrations and text by Faye Orlove. It starts by visualizing diminishing Native American land from 1830 to present as well as the roots of U.S. slavery. “Many modern finance corporations got their start profiting off the slave trade,” the screen reads, before flashing animated Wachovia, AIG, Aetna, and JP Morgan logos. “They continue to profit off that capital today.” The clip presents the history of North American slave revolts; shows illustrated portraits of revolutionary women of color; and eventually connects those histories to animated statistics about rising prison populations, the number of folks killed by cops every day, and wealth inequality. It’s a crucial video full of crucial information.

Downtown Boys’ Full Communism is out now via Don Giovanni.