Tens of thousands of Oklahoma teachers and educators poured onto the lawns and streets surrounding the state capitol on Monday as part of a massive walkout over state school funding. Under gray morning skies, a group of music teachers hefted brass instruments and blasted into the opening chords of a classic rock song synonymous with fist-pumping, 1980s MTV and big hair.
“We’re not gonna take it!” the crowd of teachers belted in unison, according to a video capturing their rendition of Twisted Sister’s 1984 hit. “No, we ain’t gonna take it! We’re not gonna take it, anymore!”
Eight hundred miles east, the marble atrium of the Kentucky State Capitol building in Frankfort was clogged with hundreds of teachers protesting drastic cuts to their pension plan. Again, the educators packed into the government building threaded together their voices to the metal anthem’s melody.
“We’re not gonna take it!” the Kentucky teachers shouted. “We’re not gonna take it, anymore!”
Last month, decades of budget cuts and salary paralysis led teachers in West Virginia to mount a campaign against the state government, culminating in a nine-day strike that forced the closure of the state’s schools but eventually won teachers a 5 percent pay increase. On Feb. 17, when 10,000 teachers and staff reportedly collected around the statehouse in Charleston, the marchers sang “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” The same song echoed from inside the capitol on Feb. 26 as teachers protested inside the building.
Since then, the song has caught on at similar teacher rallies across the country. From Jersey City to small-town western Pennsylvania, to Monday’s events in Oklahoma and Kentucky, the Reagan-era rock song serving as music shorthand for the long-simmering outrage of working educators.
“You can tell they’re teachers because that’s the last new song they heard,” Seth Meyers quipped on “Late Night.” “I know they’re striking for better pay and health insurance, but they could also save the school money for a prom band.”
Woody Guthrie scored the plight of Depression-era workers. Gospel music accompanied the civil rights movement. As West Virginia continues to inspire action, the hair metal foot-thumper — a teenage kiss-off to adult authority — has suddenly become the unofficial anthem of the growing teachers’ movement.
The Twisted Sister hit was from the New Jersey band’s third album, “Stay Hungry.” Penned by Twisted Sister’s frontman (and son of an art teacher, the New York Times reported in 2004) Dee Snider, the song was the band’s only Top 40 hit, peaking at 21 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart. The song shot to classic status thanks to its video, which was a regular fixture on MTV’s “Headbangers Ball” in the 1980s.
Snider has personally never shied away from the political world.
At the height of the band’s hair metal popularity, Twisted Sister was targeted by the Parents Music Resource Center, a group helmed in part by future second lady Tipper Gore, for making obscene music. In 1985, the metal frontman fought back before the U.S. Congress, testifying before a Senate committee alongside Frank Zappa and John Denver against warning labels on album covers.
Snider defended his music before the committee in a cut-off T-shirt. “There was no suit in my closet. Jeans, cut-off T-shirt, cut-off denim, hair, it was, ‘This is who I am,’” he told Rolling Stone. “I was very proud of being a dirt bag in high places.”
Instantly memorable and catchy, “We’re Not Gonna Take It” was a natural for political rallies — and that’s been a problem for the band.
In 2012, then-Republican vice presidential candidate Paul D. Ryan (Wis.) used the song at campaign stops, earning a rebuke from Snider.
“I emphatically denounce Paul Ryan’s use of my band Twisted Sister’s song, ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It,’ in any capacity,” Snider said at the time, Rolling Stone reported. “There is almost nothing he stands for that I agree with except the use of the P90X.”
But when Donald Trump launched his bid in the 2016 election, the New York real estate mogul actually asked Snider’s permission to use the tune as his own exit rally music.
Snider, who appeared as a contestant on Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice” in 2013, initially agreed.
“When Donald started running for office, he asked me,” Snider told CNN. “He says, ‘Can I use the song?’ And he’s a buddy. And I said, ‘Yeah. Go ahead.’ But as the months went on, I heard a litany of his beliefs that I’d never discussed with him. I finally called him and I said, ‘Man, you’ve gotta stop using the song. People think I’m endorsing you here. I can’t get behind a lot of what you’re saying.’ … He has not used it since.”
Snider has used his anthem to promote other causes.
In 2016, the musician retooled his signature hit as a power ballad to raise awareness for cancer research.
Courtesy of Kyle Swenson for The Washington Post