Interview: Shawna Potter of War on Women on Vans Warped Tour

Photo Credit: Rebecca R. Photography, Photo courtesy of Bridge 9 Records

Photo Credit: Rebecca R. Photography, Photo courtesy of Bridge 9 Records

We attended the Long Island date of the Vans Warped tour and got to talk to a few bands, including Maryland hardcore punk band War on Women. This band is known for their feminist message, activism within the punk community, and their strong efforts to make shows safer for everyone. We talked to vocalist Shawna Potter about Warped Tour, the organization Safer Scenes, and safety at shows.


Ethos Live: Actually I just started listening and after I read your article with Noisey. I’ve had a lot of friends recommend you and I’m really excited to be here. So this is your first Warped Tour, how is it going?

Shawna Potter: It’s going, overall, very well

EL: How are things for Safer Scenes?

SP: Good, they talk to people, they talk to a lot of people everyday about what they can do to interrupt violence and be a good bystander. You know we talk to very young people, we talk to the parents. It's really cool. They're reaching a lot of people handing out a lot of free stuff and it's awesome.

EL: So let's say I'm at a show and someone is like really violent to me, what is some ways I could avoid that?

SP: Yeah well you know. So if someone chooses you as a target, to think that you can necessarily avoid it is a little bit victim blaming

EL: Maybe better to say: what can I do to empower myself in that situation?

SP: It's good to sort that out actually because everyone that is prone to experiencing harrassment and violence has to do something of what we call safety planning. So you're thinking about where are you going, what time, do I feel comfortable wearing, that's what you're wearing have anything to do with it. Just mental health you know. Do you feel like you're doing what you can to feel comfortable out in the world right and we're all allowed to take safety planning. You know like it's the same thing like hey would walk me to my car? Or calling someone on your way home to make sure they know that you got home safe. Right. That's fine. But yeah. To try to just completely avoid violence like that’s not up to us if you’re picked target and so, but things you can do to empower yourself at the moment. I mean one big thing is that if you're experiencing harassment or violence or whatever response you have is valid, whether you choose to ignore it, or confront them, or distract them or run, or delegate by getting someone else involved. Every response is totally valid and you're allowed to do whatever you need to do to feel safe. You know your safety is paramount. So what you really need is bystanders. We need the people that see you being harassed, that see you experiencing violence, we need them to get involved, we need them to confront the harasser or distract or delegate. Like we need them to stand up and say hey that's not cool. It's really hard to convince someone that's harassing you just to stop harassing you.

EL: Actually it happened once a show, there was this one guy who was like I think he was just really high, I think he was on ecstasy or something and he kept staring at me and I was there with my boyfriend and my friend Andy and one of them want to go to the bathroom and the security guard I guess noticed how uncomfortable I was, just walked up to the guy I was like you’re making people here very comfortable, you’re going to have to leave, like you know stop that. It was like a big thumbs up to venue.

SP: That’s a perfect thing, like especially people that are hired to do security, they should be really proactive, they should be on the lookout for that kind of stuff because if he's making you uncomfortable, he’s probably making other people uncomfortable too. Who do you want to hang out and drink beer, cool people? Or people that make other people uncomfortable and like get them to leave you know. So that was actually really great of him to do something and you know, if we knew that there places we entered were really like victim center and believed people when they say hey I was just harassed and we knew that they were trying to entice intervention that it would be easier for us to say; hey, security guard those guys staring at me is making me uncomfortable, because we don't know what everyone knows this, you don't often tell them, because we're afraid that they might not believe or they’ll minimalize it or maybe they'll harass us next you know. So that's really awesome that you were so proactive so that you didn't have to worry about it.

EL: I was able to enjoy the rest for sure, that’s great. I feel like a lot of time, it’s like me thinking as American and as a consumer, I pay for my ticket as much as every man there, why should I be uncomfortable and not have a good time?


EL: What are some of the things that you hope for the future of Warped Tour?

SP: Well, there is so many things I hope for the future in general and the future of all music festivals and shows is right. Like no matter how anyone is doing there's always room for improvement, and that's not a debt, that’s not a nag against anyone like I feel that way about myself too, just as a human being, there's always room for improvement, we can always be doing better. So with that spirit in mind, you know people can always be more victim centered. They can you know raise more awareness. They can have their very clear posted anti-harassment policy. They can have you know one thing Warped Tour has you know A Voice for the Innocent and this year Safer Scenes. So there are places to go to tell your story, they also work out a hot line to call if you're feeling triggered or you need someone to talk to you know for a longer period of time, you can call this number, they just provided that for A Voice for Innocent table, while Safer Scenes is talking over, and that's really amazing stuff you know, it would be cool too, like there are a lot of women following our band this year, I'd like to see that trend continue.

EL: There’s also a lot of women who work there.

SP: Of course, yea and they are all amazing but like your average show goer doesn't get to see that. So well, that's cool for me because I interact with this amazing women every day. To thousands of people that come to shows, they need to see women on stage, commanding this stage and you know kicking ass and so we need we need more than one or two women in bands to do that. This year Warped totally has plenty of women, I’ll say this is great, but guess what? There could be more, you know and it's cool that they're exposing all these audiences to like female oriented bands, female friendly bands I should say but there's always room for improvement you know and I hope that after a summer of talking to people about bystander intervention would have some stories or some suggestions, concrete suggestions to help Warped Tour in the future.

EL: That’s awesome. Where are some of the bands that you've been seeing?

SP: I see Barbed Wire Dolls and Bad Cop/Bad Cop a lot because we happen to catch each other sets, very supportive to each other, which is cool.

EL: Did you have a one off show with them?

SP: Yeah. Yeah, that was cool and then we had a one off with Valiant Thor which is great and Silent Planet. is it Candira? No, it’s a different band

EL: that's like the Jazz metal band.

SP: Yeah, it’s Candiria. That's pretty cool. I never heard them before, so I'm seeing some friends play and do their thing and I've also seen new bands. It's really cool.

EL: You're on the Bridge Nine records. How are you liking that?

SP: Oh, I love it. They are really supportive, they’re so supportive of us and our mission, like they're very cool and supportive of our band which is absolutely something that we need that's so political.

EL: So our blog is called Ethos Live and Ethos is like your contribution of what makes up your culture. What would you say makes up War on Women's culture?

SP: This is scary.

EL: I always ask this question, I usually you know in email interviews people like to think about over time. Now I have to ask people on the spot and they're going to be mad at me! 

SP: Do you mean more like what's the culture interpersonally, with one of them has their members or what does one of them contribute?

EL: Yeah, like what makes up your world, like what is the War on Women world and universe like?

SP: I would say that we, because we’ve gone through some lineup changes, we are very conscious now, open and honest communication and you know knowing the need for that if you're going to keep this thing going and moving forward. You can't hold on to any weirdness and you also need to be able to take constructive criticism and you need to be able to give it you know in a kind way. So like all these things we're always working on so that we can just be real with each other you know. So you know we care about that, just good communication, make sure everything is on the same page and then I also think again like kind of a self-improvement as far as always trying to become a better feminist, because none of us are perfect. We do our best, but there's always something new and we need to be open to that and taking that in and that you know goes for every single member.


Interview by Michelle Turk