On March 1, the Sub City and Hopeless Records Take Action tour kicked off in Washington D.C., at the 9:30 Club. Since 2001, the tour and compilation album have benefited the National Hopeline Network, National Youthline Network and 1-800-SUICIDE. However, despite the focus being on suicide prevention and advocating mental health equality, Take Action stands more generally for improving the state of the world. The mission statement explains it all: “Creating a better world one word and one act at a time.”
“Take Action is about empowering people to do things that they’re passionate about, not necessarily suicide prevention,” said Louis Posen, President of Sub City and Hopeless Records.
“On the tour website, people can find organizations in their areas for causes they are passionate about. Specifically, we’re also doing petitions on the road to hand to Congress for allocating funds for mental health parity and suicide prevention.” Originally, Posen founded the tour and compilation album in 1999 to benefit the Foundation Fighting Blindness due to his personal experiences with vision loss since the age of 19. The first Take Action compilation album was one disc and had Braille on the cover.
The tour also highlighted other non-profit organizations. Since then, it evolved to focus on suicide prevention and mental health parity and has expanded to a two-disc compilation. The reason behind this shift in focus is clear. “The first year we did the tour, we asked fans and people who went to the shows what message they took from it. To them, there were too many unclear messages,” Posen explained. “Also, the things that connect with young people today usually are things that result in depression and suicide when they get bad enough: drug abuse, domestic violence, sexual abuse.”
Another expansion occurred when corporate sponsors such as Tower Records, Hot Topic and MTVU signed on. One might wonder now about the potential for compromising the original message in order to reach a wider audience.
“I don’t believe that the message is being diluted or compromised. We’re still a grassroots organization,” Posen explained. “Hopeless and Sub City are organizing the tour. We’re sensitive about that sort of thing; we wouldn’t sign a sponsor if they were just focused on profit. The sponsors have been great and believe in the cause. They’ve given money to help draw bigger bands along with providing free placement of our album in their stores and free marketing. They’re not just there to make money.”
The process for creating the album takes about six months, as Hopeless and Sub City receive 300-400 submissions after emailing all the labels and bands in their database. The process is democratic, with repeated voting to narrow down all the way to the two-disc set.
As for the tour, one booking agent contacts other booking agents in order to find artists interested in the cause. Previous bands include Jimmy Eat World, Thrice, Thursday, and last year’s headliner, Sugarcult. As far as what binds these bands together, Posen has a suggestion.
“We feel that music has a unique way of communicating to young people who may not listen to teachers, parents or politicians,” he said.
“A lot of people look up to bands and it is nice when what the bands say is something important.” On March 1 at the Capitol Building in Washington D.C., Take Action held a press conference to present the petitions collected while on tour last year to encourage Congress to allocate funds for mental health parity and suicide prevention. This year’s headliners, Matchbook Romance (Epitaph Records), held an acoustic show. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) will be the keynote speaker. The focus this year is to ask Congress to fund fully the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act, a Senate bill for suicide prevention, which was partially funded.
Another goal this year is to get the Paul Wellstone Mental Health Equitable Treatment Act passed, named for the late Senator who was an ardent advocate of mental health equality. This act would require insurance companies to treat physical and mental illnesses equally, reducing the burden on low-income families to cover the high costs of mental health treatment.