All posts by robert eggplant

Love who you will, say what you must: New words as insult or acknowledgement

The motivation of this article was obliterated on the night we were proof reading for a project due the next day. This article — observing the phenomenon of radicals using the prefix “cis,” was in the back of my mind for weeks. The central point I wished to make is that I only hear people using the term in a derogatory, angry manner, as a sneer, a put down. But when I off-handedly mentioned this analysis to a good friend who was helping proofread, I was given another perspective. “My housemates use the word all the time and it’s more clinical — detached”. That’s good I thought, now I don’t have to write an embarrassing rant.

I’ve primarily encountered cis as a prefix placed before the noun ‘man’, or ‘men’, often paired with the adjective ‘white’ and it seems to connote “straight” as in vanilla, man & wife…heterosexual? The underlying meaning depends on the person using the word. My friend the other night described its function as a counter attack “so that trans is not considered the other.” Trans-Gendered brave hearts have multiplied in the last 40 years and their actions rally us all to challenge the pressures to disappear and accept 2nd class citizenship. My first experience hearing cis in a derogatory manner just so happened to be from someone at odds with some of the community who was getting kicked out of a local house and left a turd on the floor of their former room. Since then I’ve questioned the word, and wondered about the intent behind it.

A fundamental question that motivates me to write this is ‘what kind of world are radicals making in the process of working to achieve a goal?’ A big part of creating new worlds is language, for language informs perception. I think words are great. I like listening to people talk and sing, passionately discuss issues and make indescribable noises. I go to meetings, I dig the collage of noise at cafes, I get mesmerized by radio talk shows as well as underground musicians. I think words hold more value than money. Early on in life while playing in the streets of Berkeley I heard my first slang word — or at least one that wasn’t going to be taught in a classroom anytime soon. A kid said something was “Icy,” and I had to stop what I was doing and decipher it. It was the early 1980’s and I could relate that it had something to do with cool and fresh, except done with more style. Icy wasn’t likely to be a banner on some cheaply made product. It lived on the streets.

Also common since the 80’s is the rise of techno corporate babble that is useful for international trade. Mostly names for products of dubious worth, they represent the fact that common day to day words were eaten up by patents. People couldn’t name their garbage after a familiar mythological character or something in the natural world anymore, so instead a hybrid word would be used. I’m thinking of all sorts of alien words used to sell shit like pharmaceuticals, computer software and hardware, car insurance and the like. Words that just reek of corporate board rooms. For me, cis had a similar feel.

Well I guess looking at the word without looking it up, it could be “SIS” as in “sis-ter-man,” that doesn’t seem so bad to me. I like the incongruent mixings of that and the disorientating of every day norms. But cis comes out of the mouth something like a snake sound — or someone booing an unpleasant speaker. The first time I heard the word, the way it was used, it reminded me the feeling I had when I first heard “HPV,” a word noting a new sexually transmitted disease. In some ways cis resembles HPV, for both words imply something you don’t want to catch. Nor does it seem to be something people can get rid of. You are a straight male indoctrinated by capitalism, and you will die that way.

Radicals have a history of bringing soul and togetherness with their new words. Sure some hate speech is invented and used. But radicals generally use words and ideas that encourage pluralism. Think of a rainbow. They tend to encourage people to identify with others across boundaries.

A part of me could have started this article with an investigation; drawn up a list of intelligent people I know sharp on trans issues and throw them a couple of questions about cis. At the very least you would think I could do is troll around on the internet looking for definitions and people’s opinions and insights. But by not going that route there is also a purity of direct experience. I simply encounter people use “cis-men” in a derogatory vein. Usually it’s after a frustrating experience and the cis-man is judged a problem by labeling him as such. I wonder, sometimes, if they know the meaning of the word as they say it. It strikes me to be similar to another word — “hipster,” which is also used in an abusive manner very different from its origin describing jazz aficionados in the 40’s. The sneer of being called a “hipster” is pretty interesting. What is a hipster these days? Generally it seems to be someone who is young and dressed with noticeable style. It is the common parlance of people who are also confused to be hipsters themselves. What I think it says really is that the Hipster is a person who is not likeable. Cis then is the new thing to scrape off your shoe.

I most often hear it as “cis white man.” The rhythm of that could be a form of casting a spell — the sticking of needles into a doll. But what I’d like to raise is that these are assumptions. Is the person really white…hetero…male? And only that? Did your experience allow you to ask them to define themselves? Scruffy Frank rudely hitting on you at the party just might be a FTM transguy who is of mixed Irish and Navaho stock. His actions may be shitty, but why should radicals do the border checking of identity politics?

If I may mention as an aside, I think there is some discrepancy in labeling people white. Just what does it mean to be white in the “West”? One analysis is that white is all about assimilation. Distinctions of people’s ancestors are set aside for membership in the great white hope. In losing cultural distinctions one is more easily controlled. There is a difference between European people you know, be it Finnish or Spanish. The white question spirals out and ruins the harmony worldwide. Plenty of people get put down for being “of color” and having a “white” inside. Many communities of color also berate people for looking too white. It’s a kind of insanity that desperately needs a dissent. If a person sucks let’s find a more imaginative put down, that is, if we choose not to understand them.

Cis white man can be another category to shelve people in this consumeristic culture. In this light I can see radicals using cis as a put down — as another adopted tool of alienation. My friend and her community use it descriptively, but everyone else I encounter teems with frustration and righteous anger as the word erupts from their lips. So much in our environment allows us not to see how we are complicit in creating oppression.

For the people angry at the insensitivity of people perceived to be White, Male, and Heterosexual, allow me to suggest reading Shere Hite’s work. Her Hite Reports from the mid 70’s are pretty common in free boxes and used bookshelves. But even more worth searching out is her synthesis work called Women as Revolutionary Agents for Change. In it, her research leads to the conclusion that male roles and privileges not only hurt women, but men as well. In the act of keeping up the fronts and expectations of gender roles, there is a psychological price to pay — just like how soldiers who terrorize, harm and murder people start to crumble and disintegrate inside. I feel the work of queer and trans activists is awesome. It’s empowering to give people more options in how to identify. Its just that these categories we create can also be a slippery path and new words can go to building a new prison. Please consider this as one person’s attempt to figure these things out no matter how indelicately. I look forward to seeing responses and other attempts discussed in a paper like this.

Zine Reviews

These publications are often made on a tight budget and a small run. By all means contact them to receive their goods but be cautious of a couple items. Not all publications will send a free copy to prisoners. You all are the most persistent of Slingshot readers who actually write people. Most of the responses come from you, so thanks. Don’t expect them to give you a publication for nothing. Consider offering to contribute content in exchange for their work. Ask what they would like you to give — words, art, news — and send it to them. Also if you are reading this a year or so after the Slingshot’s print date, send a letter of inquiry before you send money, to make sure they’re still there.

PEOPS #7
PO Box 1318 Cooper Stn. NYC, NY 10276 fly@peops.org
A gallery of outcasts and rebels with brief candid biographies. Or maybe you can consider it as trading cards of feral creatures with face tattoos, dreads, exotic piercings; musicians of acquired tastes, and squat puppies. This has been a staple of underground art for close to 20 years now and I am used to being bored by its familiar art and narratives. But once I set myself down to really look at these people I find that this work really animates the subjects and makes them seem thoughtful and likeable. This issue covers 35 people in the arts, on the streets and in community spaces. The stories these Peops tell create a subway map of sorts, capable of guiding both locals and tourists into the thick wilds of underground culture.
AB #13 May 2012 (2 for $2)
c/o Lisa Ahne Po Box 181 Alsea, OR 97324
Every inch of page space is maximized here which is not unusual for the obsessive compulsive nature of many zines — but in this case it represents the writers’ approach to living off the grid, frugally and in transit. This is made by the same people who do Dwelling Portably, which covers similar territory. The 16pgs of AB mostly act as a message board where various people give short bursts of advice and insights to alternative living in all sorts of places (Arizona, Eastern Washington, on a boat off the coast of Florida). The mosaic of voices is made more mysterious at times by the coded language and descriptions to strange projects. People acclimated to tweeter speak will feel at home as well as the seasoned pros in “How to Live Better for Less.” The general tone is not complacent with today’s consumer culture, and most of the people have genuine hope in seeing a world from a different angle. Before we had the internet, there were many publications that provided this kind of service — I say it’s still needed.
Bitch King #3,4,5
madame.angela.chaos@gmail.com
This is the work of people running and hanging out at the Blood Orange Info Shop in Southern Ca. There is urgency to the writing as it uses a plain and direct language. Resistance is a major topic as well as the meaning of being queer in an oppressive environment. Issue #5 is quarter size with manifesto type content throughout it. There’s poetry in #3&4 that has some revolutionary sentiments — but also some eros-oriented words. The art seems mostly taken from kid’s books, giving it a feeling that it was quickly thrown together. Though this might not sell to some people, have in mind quickly thrown together zines usually respond faster to current events.
Muchacha #3 $1
muchachafanzine.tumblr.com
A mermaid adorns the cover with an ocean of ideas inside. Like a coral reef, there’s several pages of busy action to fill the eyes with complex collages, essays on current events, quotes, lists of cool bands, inspired lyrics destroying American Idol, historical sketches of activists, and manifestos. There are a few hands in the works, but the guiding force is one person focused on feminism and her family’s roots with Mexico. She started this zine as an endeavor to help represent a new movement called Feminism Is Not Dead (F.I.N.D.), Riot Grrrl being a major influence. This is an ideal publication to absorb during long waits at the DMV, while train-hopping, or during a life of working for real political change.
AVOW #24 $3
c/o Keith Rosson 1725 E. Linnwood Milwaukee, WI 53211 keithrosson.com
This is a sharp looking thing. It has the characteristics of where Cometbus left off in the late 90’s. The editor seems to be a DIY design nerd, given that his layouts could make people drool. He also fills the space with his unique style of writings and comics. The writing has a lot of personal introspection seeping from the pages. A record review will turn into an autobiographical flashback. This was made at a time of great change for the writer, and he sat with the content awhile before sharing it with us. The death of his father, moving, finding work, and quitting smoking fulfills the dramatic arch. Lots of pain and growth presented in a work that is both scruffy and slick.
Pipe Bomb #43
228 E. Clayton St. Athens, GA 30601 zinepipebomb@gmail.com
Brave crude comics fill the pages with various atrocities and fantasized nightmares. Images of punks, zombies, and body fluids all strung together with home cooked nursery rhymes. It’s all drawn by hand with varying levels of skill and time commitment. This zine has come a long way to remain straight forward and consistently be a labor of fun. I get the impression the editor has a hundred notebooks that she fills as the party rages around her, and later she giggles over the product.
Zine In Progress (ZIP) #2 $7(trade of comparable worth) zine.noisebridge.net/zip
PO Box 420051 SF CA 94142-0051
A space will inform what kind of work is made there. Check out the Noisebridge hacker space in SF; a fucking mind blowing endeavor to make you happy for revolution. This publication just bursts with active minds engaged with computers, potty humor and an impressive display of intelligence. Each page is intensely alive whether it is an interview with a Noisebridge regular or a page of goofing off. Of course, all the content is also available online.
Fluke #10
PO Box 24957 Tempe, AZ 85285
A music publication made on offset so it looks really fancy. They cover the punk scenes of the Bay Area and Arkansas. This issue is mostly interviews — the 2nd time in its 20 years of publishing. The majority of the interviews are conducted at exciting events so are pretty thin content wise. The value with this kind of dialog is in reading people’s quick-witted attitudes. A couple of the other interviews are from quieter environments but over all these people don’t seem to catch me. The conversations often look at punk rock and how it changed their lives, but I’m not sure if I’m into their definition of punk. Most of what they have to say isn’t too interesting, which is sad since so much effort went to making this.
Degenerate #10 $2
PO Box 3272 Berkeley, CA 94703 degeneratezine@gmail.com
A music zine that takes a chance with its approach. This issue contemplates, “Each man must kill the thing he loves,” and uses that idea to look at the deadening process of putting your ideas into records and zines. An interview with Meredith Graves of the band Shoppers consists of her analyzing the editor’s dream and doing word associations. There’s also reviews that are thoughtfully written and weird clip art. This is made by a shit worker of Maximum Rock n’ Roll and in some ways exhibits what’s missing from that established monthly.
High On Burning Photographs #8
c/o Ocean Capewell PO Box 40144 Pittsburgh, PA 15201 escape_well@yahoo.com
The introduction says this issue aims to help people in the current hard times. The whole zine gives a first person account of recovering from emotional devastation. A really honest opening up that peers into issues of broken relationships, abuse, and friendships. There’s a radical perspective guiding everything but one that doesn’t rely on canned slogans to answer to the issues. Instead the writer endeavors to understand the situation. The writing is enjoyable and doesn’t gloss over things, which tends to happen with personal zines. The introspection of a failed love even makes its way into a vignette/report of the Occupy Pittsburgh PA camp. This person also does a zine on carpal tunnel tendonitis and how to treat it.
No Fascism in the New Wave $5
c/o Goteblud 776 Valencia St. SF, CA 94110
This is put together by a radical media savvy proprietor of a store that deals with antique zines. This is a zine of clippings from rare publications put out in the late 70’s and early 80’s. The content looks at the then burgeoning punk scene and how it affected women, queers and people of color. It’s strange how studying history often reveals current events…a rising right wing, crashing economy, and a new music being made that defies categories. This makes studying history more like studying a mirror.
The Radvocate $2
3425 University Ave. Ste. 1430 San Diego, CA 92104
A free-for-all literary journal. This issue has 8 authors and 5 artists contributing to the delinquency of your mind. The randomness creates a hodge-podge of voices and approaches. The pages have an article on the scandal of a sports coach covering up child molestation. A travel story of skater kids going to Switzerland and being assholes. There’s also poetry, and other impressionistic writings that fill the pages. The writers are not particularly radical, but rebel in their own way. As one of them writes, “I believe rules should be challenged from now and then. Preferably now.” This zine seems so open it looks like you could be in the next issue.
Arming The Stripper
dkordani@gmail.com
I love zines for moments like when the page has a bit of wisdom that blatantly strays from the established narrative of the rest of the pages. In this case there is a nicely decorated message stating, “Burning cop cars are a girl’s best friend” just hanging out in the layout. A quarter size multi-colored wonder that opens a window to the world of Por(n)tland’s Smut Industrial Complex. The scenes behind the sexy dance aren’t pretty. Unpleasant and boring moments bring out the real characters that populate the sleazy dives. The oddball customers, club owners, and the workers struggling in a shitty low wage existence are accounted for with the damages they make on an up-and-coming young lady. The zine has random images from mainstream porn and a barely functional typewriter tells the story — with typos. But what shines is the writer’s attitude and style. The writing is sharp and enthralling, yet the whole thing is over pretty fast.

ROT #4 NOT WRITTEN YET MAYBE 2”
c/o Witch Club Po Box 29335 Providence, RI 02909

Who’s running the Show? New collective seeks to amplify the voice of the dispossessed

The meeting had gone through the standard operating procedure–that is, it started late with only a couple hardcore attendants, it mushroomed in size and had to move just as the other meeting in the back room commenced. The other meeting–Berkeley Liberation Radio–became loud with maniacal laughter as the Bay Area Booking Collective upstairs struggled to write guidelines for shows. One show collective person added to the expanding list, ” ….a show space alcohol free, or a space where getting drunk is not the emphasis…” This was said just two and half minutes before the crusty old pirate radio people below lit up their weed, no shit. I waited till the butt end of the meeting to initiate my interview–an hour after an exciting show had started down the street, so my time with them was brief.

I asked, “Why combine your energies and your collective resources for something that is just about expression–for entertainment–when there are so many other hard life necessities not taken care of?” There was the obligatory silence of contemplation then I got my answer: “It’s about creating community–a safe space.”

A look at the demographics of the group was very, very Bay Area: it was multi-ethnic, all ladies & gender-variant folk, and discernibly under 30 years of age. This is the America that is denied stage time, and these people are beyond complaining about getting equal time but are determined to create it.

The Bay Area has a well-known history of movements creating art and culture outside the industry–be it from LA, NY, or Europe. It doesn’t mean that it’s easy to create, showcase your work, and gather with like-minded people. The truth is that it takes a lot of mental energy to establish a space and draw a crowd.

The Bay Area Booking Collective formed in January of 2010 and has had regular meetings in both Berkeley and San Francisco twice a month. Ties are being made to the outlands–places like San Jose–so that they can fully represent the “Bay Area” in their name. This writer first got wind of the project in a one-off-zine that had a print run of less than a hundred–but it is small steps like these that allow for new groups to gain ground. While holding meetings, the collective members have also been hard at work setting up shows, accommodating touring bands, and practicing and playing shows in their own bands.

When reading the group’s mission statement, it is clear that the collective comes from a place where people live within the reverberation of oppression. The collective seems ultra-aware of the need to not amplify the alienation of show participants, the venue’s staff, or its neighbors. The basis for them to support a show can be found in their mission statement. They seek to:

-Book events that merge different music genres, skills, resources, art, creative expression, and communities.

-Book events that are Trans-Bay.

-Book affordable events. No one turned away for lack of funds.

-Create a positive atmosphere where peoples’ physical access and well-being are considered and respected.

-Build a community that is accountable to one another, the neighborhoods we live in and have events in, and anybody the events effect.

-Create an environment that inspires relationships that are meaningful, enriching, positive, and supportive.

In some ways their task at hand is easier than the past. For one, having a rock n’ roll good time is now more commonplace. The old people of today can appreciate (or ignore) the booty shaking, the modest volume, and the unclassically trained performers. Also, the Bay Area lived under what once was referred to as the “Hippie Mafia” till the peak of the Baby Boomers in the early 1990′s. Mostly this referred to Bill Graham, a figure lionized by historians, but hated by the people trying to book their band at his gulags or argue with his thug security guards. They would have loved to feed him to the lions. Bill helped to make an industry of grassroots music that is still in operation but now there is no illusion that his legacy is attached to the counter culture.

Thankfully the days of the Hippie Mafia are gone. One of the groups who directly challenged the monopoly of Big Bill was Maximum Rock n’ Roll, who helped to open a club in radical Berkeley using a criteria of eradicating racist, sexist, homophobic, and violent behavior on the stage and off. The Gilman Street Project has itself been greatly lionized for these and other reasons. Sadly, counter-revolutionary times have turned the space into the “Alternative Music Foundation,” a showcase for hetero-normative, violence-saturated white boy bands. What was “for the punks, by the punks” is now just a shadow of the Bill Graham venues, motivated at the bottom line by making money rather than making revolutionaries. A lot of the people in the Bay Area Booking Collective grew up going to Gilman, but have been largely alienated from its resources and forced to make their own version of a radical night out.

The booking collective is trapped in the old song and dance of wanting but being unable to open their own club. They, as well as many before them, have been trying to open an all-ages music space in San Francisco, but with no result. The war on youth has never ended, neither here nor in other big cities like New York or Seattle. But it’s not like this problem will go away–or the need for all-ages shows and spaces that people can truly call their own. The libratory nature of rock n’ roll, punk, and most of the creative arts is that they are as accessible to ordinary people as they are to the stars or the abnormally privileged.

I asked if they plan to make their events tie in to what goes on in the outside world. The news the day of the collective meeting was of another oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, of “peace” talks between Israel and Palestine, of the sit/lie ban in SF. Could the collective’s events respond to issues like these, both far and near? They told me they have info tables with pamphlets and zines at shows. They strive to have speakers and workshops along with the standard bands and DJs. This indicates that they are setting up a pattern to address the outside world. This doesn’t seem to be that far from the tradition of political entertainment in the Bay Area–events like the punk show counter-protest outside the Democratic National Convention, or the time MDC (Millions of Damned Christians) played to the Pope’s passing motorcade. The point is to set up a space where we as artists are not just responding to events, but creating them–and tipping the balance into a visionary new world.

The steps to making a new world are often tiny at first, but consistent meetings and shows go a long way towards creating spaces infused with radical politics–even if only for a few hours at a time. Punks often sound like a skipping CD, beeping about how they hate going to meetings, but gathering twice a month, as the BABC does, actually helps to make the wheel of revolution move. They meet the first Thursday of the month at the Long Haul in Berkeley (3124 Shattuck), and the third Sunday of he month at Modern Times Bookstore in SF (888 Valencia). Of course one can also find them by logging onto their internet site, or you can call the Bay Area hotline 510-BAD-SMUT, which lists events that they and others create. Or better yet, start your own group to fit the local needs where you live, and reach out to form alliances with BABC or the other groups presented in this rag.

Eat the 30 year old Souptstock – food for the poor spills into a class insurgency

Food Not Bombs has won, it is more commonly accepted than hated. Despite intense police repression, terrorist watch lists, and the stigma that is common fare towards homeless and the poor — most people who have heard of it think it is okay to feed people for free. It has a simple straightforward model that can be replicated all over the planet — and it has.

Bay Area Food Not Bombs may be a model organization that other places can look to with envy. It’s located in an intelligent and active urban environment that has a largely sympathetic population. It is close to excellent farms and food producers who donate plenty of eats. Long-running and consistent servings further solidify its place on the streets and in our hearts.

Oakland Food Not Bombs now has one more day of hot meals cooked and dished out to folks. This is at 32nd & San Pablo Ave. and has been going strong for 6 months. Despite initial concerns that this would detract from getting help for the Berkeley People’s Park serving that happens at the same time, so far it hasn’t. There is also a food give away on Thursday mornings in Downtown Oakland, which initially had the difficulty of getting the large crowd not to push and shove for the food — behavior that our enemies mislabel as “Anarchy.”

Also coming down the line for the East Bay chapter is a move to make the organization a stand-alone non-profit. For the past 16 years it has been under the umbrella of the Long Haul non-profit, which enables many places to legally donate to it. There is some reluctance from people who shun any paper work dictated by “THE MAN.” Now it is time for the organization to stand on its own feet. This may be a good time too, because funding from a major source has just been hit by the hard times that everyone is talking about. The Berkeley Flea Market has made a cut in the monthly donations it gives that helps to pay for essentials such as bulk grains and beans. This does not rule out the traditional means of grassroots fundraising. There is talk of doing benefit shows and a self-published cookbook that has a focus on making meals for large numbers of people — as well as an angle of food security. But it is a small miracle of daily creating a way out of no way that testifies how money can’t replace people power.

Then there is San Francisco Food Not Bombs. They have as an impressive long run of serving since January 1988 — which is after the whole thing started in 1980 in Boston. The 30th Anniversary celebration will take place in Boston on the weekend of May 23, but celebrations will happen in just about every city the organization operates out of — which is over a thousand cities. Now some people have set out to put together the San Francisco celebration of Soupstock. We must have food to live, and we must celebrate to mark the season change and to break from our work. Help is needed in planning the Anniversary. The thousands of details to be addressed are now being examined. Last year was poorly attended. But if people know it’s coming maybe more excitement will be generated. How much activity can you imagine? Stop by on Thursday nights at Station 40 (16th and Mission St.) to informally talk about it. People gather at 5pm to cook for the night’s serving. For further info you can also call Diamond Dave at 415-240-0286.

San Francisco faced the most brutal repression in the first few years of serving. The thinly veiled war against the poor did not convince the courts or the general public that food could not be given away for free. Nor has the FBI deterred the grassroots by claiming Food Not Bombs as a terrorist organization. We have something to learn from this. Even here in the city where the first Human Rights charter was signed, just as many human necessities are blatantly disregarded. Not that anarchists give a fart over the UN, but issues like shelter and peace have to be wrangled out of the hands of the lying-ass of government and brought back into our hands — as Food Not Bombs shows us with food distribution. Today is very dire with people living without shelter — without homes. 2009 saw over 100 deaths of homeless people in the state of California alone. Unnecessary suffering while a large amount of houses and buildings remain vacant. The most practical solution is to make squatting as common as giving out bread. Other problems facing our communities would be the need to have conflict resolution that isn’t administered by the police. Having a locally controlled alternative to Law Enforcement seems more necessary in view of the fact that the present structure has its roots in vigilantes organized by the ultra-rich. Police have not evolved much from terrorizing runaway slaves, and recently immigrated workers organizing themselves. These problems can be seriously looked at when the 30th Anniversary comes around with the conference and the dozen micro-gatherings that grow around the main event. And of course once we’re together the possibilities of our ideas and dreams can get collective help in actualizing them.

Dance the eagle to sleep – University of California Regents vs. students, humans & the Earth

The reassuring aspect of fighting a bureaucratic monster like the University of California is that they often make decisions that are blindly dangerous to their goals to operate smoothly and without public scrutiny or contestment. I offer up as evidence the decision to hold a meeting in San Francisco of the governing board of Regents on the anniversary of the war and invasion of Iraq. The streets that day promised to be full of protesters. But perhaps reality is one part social engineering mixed with one part crap shoot. By controlling the communication lines and economic outlets, one can hedge one’s luck with insurmountable odds. The Regents’ meeting at UCSF on March 19 saw a mere 12 protesters blocking the doors, hardly enough resistance to even make the meeting start late, and business went on as normal. But the potential was there – thousands of people dissatisfied with the war, corporate culture, and poverty, could have overwhelmed and disrupted the monster’s course of devouring all.

Are You Angry Yet ?

The Regents are a small group of wealthy, smug people who manage the ten public universities in California. The system of schools helps the state be one of the seven biggest economies in the world. The economy is strengthened by agriculture, entertainment, high-tech and bio-tech, war and weapon industry, and rich natural minerals. Much of these resources are largely brokered through corporations who would like nothing but the populace at large to ignore their operations. The Regents likewise are not popularly elected, 18 of the 26 are put into power by their partner in the State’s governor seat. The Regents incidentally seem most interested in the pursuit of land acquisition and development, and forming partnerships with mega-corporations. Tuition continues to rise, doubling every couple years, along with the salaries for those with Regents’ seats. One could see a parallel going on with higher education and the society at large. The access to information is restricted as the middle ground between extreme wealth and poverty is being clear-cut, but if more people got a glimpse into the complete picture, there would be a dramatic increase in the number of lock-downs before administrative meetings.

The Empire Dreams

In the weeks preceding the Regents’ big day in SF, a group of UC Berkeley activists held a meeting to organize a rebuttal. Many of them were with the newly formed student group “Free The UC.” The group came out of a collective of progressive organizations called the Phoenix Coalition. They held a gathering a few weeks before hand which included a daily free school that was mostly ignored by the 30,000 plus people going to classes. The meeting this night was also largely ignored. Scheduled to start after a showing of a documentary on Iraq in one of the student co-ops, the group seemed small and low energy, though the film demonstrated the gravity and life damaging forces operating while we sleep.

When the meeting commenced, it was obvious that only three or four people were really cognizant of the proposal to do a direct action. The dry erase board was filled with an agenda of mundane tasks to get through that ranged from outreach to civil disobedience training. The day of action was in two weeks. During the initial introductions one potential protester obliquely asked, “What does this have to do with the Olympic torch?” referring to the contested, news savvy Tibetan crisis with China. Yes Indeed what does it have to do with the Olympic torch.

But the organizers showed considerable patience in not getting derailed. It is not a safe assumption to see everyone having the same experience and values geared for protests. Their work was not eased by the staggering work load students of today keep up with, which also keeps them out of activism. The effect of having brain melting high tuition is not only fattening the coffers of the absurdly rich, but in the people who would desire to make trouble for the rich and powerful out of the universities. Instead of going to this meeting or others like it, students are shitting anxiety with not only making it through school, but landing a good job afterwards. One cannot help but think that this is by design.

What we see now with our schools dates back to the mid sixties when Ronnie Reagan (then Governor of California) put a fee on the privilege of higher education. Part of his motivation was to cool down the momentum of people power enigmatic of those times. The activism bursted through on until the 1980′s when poor people could still get into UC Berkeley. Students were engaged in such successful campaigns as divestment in South Africa, support for Central American autonomous movements, and in nuclear disarmament. The campus could hardly keep a ROTC from burning back then, much less open. Ten years ago, the gutting of Affirmative Action helped dwindle enrollment of African Americans and impoverished people who actually live near Berkeley. Now with a year of classes having a price tag of well over $20,000, its no wonder the place is a play ground for chain stores, christians and an influx of team spirit colors.

A CLOSER LOOK

The actions and attitudes of UC Berkeley can be a localized example of the larger doings of UC Regents, and the unchecked power divining the world. The frenzy at which UC Berkeley is going for broke must be quite intoxicating for those who sit in plush board rooms making plans. Those plans may find a couple critics who cry out, but often those cries are isolated and ineffectual.

Native Americans have been making a stink wanting return of over 13,000 Ancestral remains. The University has not relented for it would damage their status of having the largest collection of Native American artifacts outside the Smithsonian.

It would seem lately that the University has no regard for undeveloped open space. A little off campus the proposal to build on the Memorial Oak Grove seems insane as buildings lie empty on nearby Telegraph Ave. The UC has already built a Nano technology building in the beautiful hills of Strawberry Canyon. They also have plans to fill those hills with several other large buildings, like a computational building and a 70 person guest house. Building plans are in the works to bring high rises in the downtown of Berkeley and to develop on the Gill Tract, a large urban garden in nearby Albany.

The most controversial proposal is in building a research lab for biofuel. This will put UC Berkeley into a financial bond with the mega-petroleum corporation BP, as well give it the distinction of making the largest known pact between corporation and University. This brings up the concern that a corporation will influence what is studied and why. But the University has a tainted and controversial history of partnerships with other giants of big money. Most easy to note are bio-tech industries, who are in the middle of their genetically modified food experiment on the public, and in developing nuclear weapons.

For every self congratulation the UC gives itself for being Green or the birth of the Free Speech Movement, there is the ugly reality. Take for example the interactions with the hotly contested People’s Park. The Stage at the park was painted over three times by the UC to cover up the simple message “Democratize the Regents”. Instead of entertaining a discussion of the notions of Free Speech the university passed a new decree– Any messages painted on the park’s stage will have to be approved by them, the self appointed owner.

The collective energies of UC Berkeley would reveal an insane élan behind their numerous atrocious acts. One can’t help but wonder if they are taking cue from the Bush Administration’s attitude of free plunder of our commons. In the sixties, activists in cities all across the U.S. uncovered a direct connection between the colleges they attended and toxic producing corporations, and the war machine. They soon learned that the research and work they did was being used in ways they found to be nefarious. There is little to suggest this funneling of resources ever stopped.

The Empire’s Nightmare

Sometimes when small breaks in our landscape of social control appear an angry and determined people get together and plan. The Anarchist book fair in S.F. on March 22 provided a space for such an event. It was days after the action at the Regents’ meeting and the largely ineffectual war protest. A discussion was held in a side room away from book sellers and speakers. The room of folks largely talked on the treesits happening in both UC Berkeley’s and UC Santa Cruz’s campuses, as well as issues of other California campuses like the growing unrest at DQ University in Davis, and problems at SF State. Toward the end of the hour people started to universally voice that it was time to expand this movement–for alliances to be made with protesters from all of the college campuses.

Treesit supporter Ayr said, “I would like to see opposition to the Regents be on the scale of what we see with the WTO, one where they can’t meet anywhere without disruption.” An idea whose time has come. The room was largely comprised of people who live on the fringes, so it will be hard to see what will come of this. What is needed is a unified opposition to unchecked power, but one that is not just comprised of students and counter culture types, but of the communities of people who live among the campuses and see their world transformed without their input.

The action to shut down the Regents’ meeting on March 19 didn’t go in the wind. The organizers kept the pressure on but sought another approach. This time, on April 13th it was a conference to bring into coalition all the progressive organizations on Berkeley campus. The list was heartening; gay/lesbian coalition, affirmative action, students for Palestine, etc. Time will show what actions they take. When The Phoenix Coalition held a similar conference, it gave birth to “Free The UC”. This then inspired a two week treesit on campus that challenged UC on multiple issues. The “Democratize the Regents” idea is catching. The force of people willing to lay aside the promise of a career or security within the system can threaten the smooth runnings of a monolith power such as UC, especially if the determination spreads exponentially throughout the general population to include youth, business people, retired folk, etc. It is such a direly needed exponent that will lay to wreck the plans of those who seek to shape our environment against our will, and gamble with our lives. This summer we could send a clear message to the next Regents’ Meetings; May 14-15 at UCLA and July 16-17 at UC Santa Barbara.

Cultivating community on Telegraph – Cody’s Books is closing – are the poor to blame?

“…Cody’s Books to close its store on Telegraph Avenue…” When this news got out about the iconic Berkeley bookstore, a shit storm went up not only in major television and print news, but in the casual talks around town. An air of apprehension lurks in the backdrop. For the record, the soon to be 50 year old book store suffered from the unsightly condition of poor people “allowed” to congregate on Telegraph Avenue near the store, but the forces of control have been in a prolonged effort to destroy the counter-culture that exists in Berkeley and on Telegraph Avenue.

Cody’s had earned its reputation in the 60′s by building one of the bridges between the growing youth and resistance movement and the intellectual community. After Andy Ross bought the store from the Cody family in 1977, he did his best to test the bridge between the two worlds by backing anti-homeless ordinances in the early 90′s. Then he started to open branches of the store on ultra affluent West Berkeley Fourth Street. and on Market Street in downtown San Francisco. By now abandoning Telegraph Avenue, he leaves the city to fret over the prospect of chain stores growing and erasing the village atmosphere that span a few short blocks on Telegraph.

To blame failing business on the homeless is simpleminded and thin. There is no shortage of growth in Berkeley, especially in students. Berkeley has been heavily redeveloped lately and if one looks at plans of the University and the Merchant’s Association, more is promised to come. Many are concerned that the Cody’s location will be replaced with a chainstore thus further advancing the mall-culture on Telegraph. Slingshot first noticed that Andy Ross was giving up on the village atmosphere on Telegraph when Cody’s stopped allowing this paper and most other free papers to be left for the public to take.

Context

One would think that the ongoing destruction of Iraq, one of the world’s oldest cultures, would be enough to occupy people’s gossip and concern for our collective future. But conditions there are that way in no small part because for most Americans, Iraq is too distant and abstract to connect blood and struggle. And that’s true as well for places like Gonaives, Kabul, Bogota; what do these places mean to most people but a blank stare? The irony is that Cody’s does a lot in the way of helping make the rest of the world more real to people. How we treat each other abroad may be closely related to how we treat each other at home.

The trajectory of the Bush presidency is a more advanced form of policy introduced during Reagan, that is: covert wars abroad, a gutting of the public sector at home, hyper development, a dumping of anxiety on foreigners and outsiders and a distrust and open snarl to intellectual life. Through-out, we’ve seen a deterioration in the commons; schools and libraries and open spaces are struggling while a proliferation of prisons and private corporations ensues. For twenty years now, the most vulnerable people have been stripped of their safety net and vilified for being poor.

Pincushion

One of the most hated of the outsiders are the homeless. Often despised for lowering property values, blamed for endangering safety and ignored when they assert their human rights. Many are on the street in no small part due to pro-business polices put forth during Reagan and since. So it goes that maneuvers to help business by cutting services would only come back and bite them in the ass years later.

Pat Wright moved to Berkeley in 1966 and himself barely skirting homelessness admits, “Having a business on Telegraph is horrible, I wouldn’t want to start one there. The parking is terrible. The people on the street are scary. It’s impossible there.” Though Pat has a firm foot in the counter-culture spending decades doing work at the punk rock club Gilman St., and KALX college radio station he observes, “The significant change of the past 15 years is you used to have a broader range of street people on the avenue. Now the people there are aggro. You don’t get the other types hanging there you used to..” The surly desperate people are seemingly the only one’s who can afford to spend downtime on the Avenue.

Several factors help with this. For one, college tuition at UC Berkeley which borders Telegraph Avenue has been steadily increasing since Reagan was governor of California and implemented fees. The price of attending has been doubling every couple years since then, ensuring students will spend years paying off loans, or that the people the school attracts are coming from rich families. The fight to bring back affirmative action may heat up soon thereby actually allowing low income people to attend UC, but it will do nothing to make living near campus affordable. As rents and the price of living skyrocketed in the Bay Area, it ensured that the people living in Berkeley would spend most of their time at work and not in the community. This undoubtedly affects who uses the street. So the people that remain on the street are either extremely impoverished or wealthy enough to live in this area and often frustrated with the poor. But when the hammer falls blaming Telegraph’s problems on the kooks and crazies, the real target may be dissent itself.

History Repeating Itself

The process to rid Telegraph of non-conformists started with the Long Range Development Plan in the early 60′s that sought to remove the growing radical element in Berkeley’s South Side. At that time, the key issues were civil rights, free speech, and a murmuring resistance to the war in Vietnam. The university’s attempt backfired when demolition of low-income houses helped create People’s Park. By the late part of the 60′s, the flood gates had been opened and with them, the envelope for social change. Since then the Park and any other liberated space in the vicinity has been in the cross hairs. The efforts to push out undesirables continued with the destruction of the Barrington Hall student cooperative in 1990 and then the Chateau coop just 3 years ago. Both places were student run co-ops that not only had a hand in turning ordinary students into activists, but had close ties to the counter-culture. However, every attempt to clean house of the rodents does not ensure that more won’t move in.

The fact that people are expected to shop in every common space disturbs me. Basing the value of a human on what they’re buying or selling is at the root of what’s wrong with the world. Many people who are homeless and/or destitute don’t want a job, they don’t want bills, they don’t want the system. This same sentiment was one of the motivations for People’s Park — to reestablish a place of non-commercial encounter. I get a little bummed out that the focus of so many young traveling kids on the Avenue is in getting money from passerbys.

Cody’s had at one time been a reason for me to go to Telegraph and check out the scene. Shortly after 911, I remember Bill Ayers of The Weather Underground was reading from his new book and I was interested in his take on the rise of Fascism. Bernadine Dohr was there as well and I felt that embarrassing melting most people get around their favorite rock or movie stars. Recently when Jane Fonda read from her autobiography, Cody’s had implemented a strange new policy — you could only watch if you purchased the book she was promoting. This was my further witness to business taking precedent over intellectual pursuits.

When all is said and done there is a lot of fuss over Cody’s closing when there is so much life being destroyed around us. Last year there were close to $98 million in sales for the short four blocks of Telegraph Avenue. That is considerably more than many countries have to run on, for example East Timore. Could it be that capitalism is insatiable and will never find satisfaction? That’s my guess, and would explain why an Andy Ross would expand to new markets rather than help the village atmosphere of Telegraph. But what is essential to save about Telegraph is the relation it has with every settlement worldwide as a central meeting space for exchange. Today, the emphasis is to refer to the space we gather in as the market, but ultimately the exchange that occurs in such a space cannot be so narrowly labeled.

Book Review: That’s Revolting!

That’s Revolting! Queer Strategies for Resisting Assimilation – Ed. Mattilda, AKA Matt Bernstein Sycamore (Soft Skull Press, Brooklyn 2004) 318 pages. paper $16.95

If this was a different era, say the 80′s, the reviews from establishment press of That’s Revolting would label it as a Politically Correct workbook. But the term PC is archaic and can hardly be useful as propaganda much longer. If any one thing these odd assortment of 27 or so contributors represent, its that they cut through the lies and misrepresentations of straight America and offer up a challenge to bigotry. Most of the writing is short-easy-to digest pieces. It’s ideal for getting acquainted with at a book store or keeping you occupied while waiting for a bus. Because the subject matter is dense with experience it is laborious to read right through for a lot is offered up to reflect on. The topics that surface are many although there’s a strong reverberating shoutout towards issues of queer people of color, youth, and the gay marriage question. There are also addresses on trans issues, inter sex experiences, guerrilla art and other things totally ignored in mainstream discussions. For example, what of queers in sex Ed class, much less encouraging youth to be acquainted with the skills of consent and pleasure. The writing is peppered with intelligence and humor. It is well placed considering the stark realities illuminated for us in pieces dealing with a murdered drag queen or a fag doing peace work in occupied Palestine.

True to the name of assimilation, the straight world does not want the outsider. Many of the authors are writing from an outsider perspective dealing with life ignored at best, but often under intense scrutiny. One piece suggests we consider why public displays of affection is acceptable to straights whereas queers are better off keeping it private. Another piece points to bathroom access for transpeople, how there’s a need to consider diverse needs and make safe access for all. Solutions are looked at: Create a clandestine queer cruising spot in a public park, form alliances with disability activists and scout out bathrooms on campus, hold meetings in them, survey them, and write up demands to give to the chancellor. Start a radio station, go on a sustainable living road show. Lots of what’s written is action based but the added bonus is that the participants (the authors) have reflected on their time spent pushing for change and wish to see us improve on their model.

The writing is a mix of styles most of it in a plaintive conversation like voice. A lot of them are concise and clear. Some pieces are rants, or like a personal zine where the surface of a topic is skimmed. There’s a dry academic type piece, transcripts from a panel discussion, an interview and memoirs. I really get the feeling that works were not heavily edited from the authors` original words. The variety of topics and styles and the fact that it comes across very relevant makes it read like a community paper. We hear from street fighters, a musician, a lawyer, a drug dealing homeless youth, activists but all in all, thinkers: thinkers in the ways that queers on popular TV would never represent. The introduction spends a few pages ripping at these programs with their white yuppie situations, lesbian characters played by straights. I found this part the most boring since I don’t keep up with the nonsense on TV, but still useful. But its not long before the book rips into passionate humor and pain. The first essay DR. LAURA SIT ON MY FACE got me laughing in the library, a crime no worse than the cell phone conversations people in there graze on.

Another recurring theme is the question of monied gays turning their backs on queer homeless youth. This is evident in NY with the West Village Piers being cleared of youth and the fights made for them to preserve it as a home. We also get a look at how the SF Castro community united together not to fight homelessness, but a homeless youth shelter. There is an account of the LGBT center hosting vampire gruesome Gavin Newsom, how they called police on his protesters, and their subsequent beating. There is a run through of Gay Shame’s growth by the book’s editor Mattilda, and the over the top tactics that makes them relevant. After a while I felt that some life changing events were brewing across the bridge from Oakland these past few years. In fact the majority of the voices represented are San Francisco/Bay Area in style. But the perspectives are ultimately from all over. Its good people are thinking and planning on changing this dreary American culture. Since Slingshot is not the establishment, I would categorize this book as a threat by example, a drive to stop the charade of normalcy and a bold challenge to assimilation. It is done repeatedly by linking issues beyond just queer topics. With people reading/writing books like this we will all have tools to dismantle that which oppresses us.

Free Space Report

The stated purpose of the Berkeley Public Library is free access to information. The model is that all walks of the public life can use it. Yet recently, with the all pervasive state budget crisis, libraries have had to fire employees, tighten new material spending, and shorten hours. The result, of course, is that working people in the commuter/9-5 lifestyle will not be able to access the books (as if the monotony of today’s working life lends itself to inspire bookish folks anyway). Also, students seeking to hunker down with the ever increasing work load of schools will have less time to study for free. Though the cutting of these library services are only a small blow to our progressive/sensible community repository, the whole picture looks rotten.

Thank crom they rebuilt the main branch library a couple of years ago. Trying to manage money issues during such a Republican coup as we currently live under would be hard to imagine. Still, the library is one of the most endeared public resources of our city. Well, that is, until one contemplates the transformation of a public resource in the age of privatization. I think the public library issue points to the root of this problem: we are treating every public space as if they were businesses. The top brass have a penchant for large salaries, at a time when pay cuts for them would mean more jobs and more services for all. Berkeley’s development trend has followed a model of everything-new-and-sanitary, that is, a shopping mall model. This model has been replicated with the San Francisco and Oakland libraries. In fact, one wonders if this style is a majority of American libraries. I know some would bemoan any criticism of cleanliness and order, but the ugly repercussions of such policies are akin to when San Francisco threw away hundreds of thousands of books. It wasn’t until they were in the process of moving into their new building that many openly wondered how little shelf space there was. Like S.F., Berkeley remodeled its old building so that it has an open feel to it. The problem is that it has yet to be fully staffed as the old building was.

Another side effect of treating information as a product is an emerging technology called Radio Frequency I.D. These tiny chips will be embedded in every book…and we don’t even know if they work correctly yet!

This whole endeavor will be costly while the whole library is under staffed and struggling for money. There are those who fear these chips were being geared for placement in every product and hence making our private lives traceable to people who would normally creep you out. This technology, already ushered in at the S.F. library, is set to appear in Berkeley in an eye’s blink. The question is easy for library managers: the primary concern of libraries is book theft (that is, if you can steal them before they get thrown out!). And I can relate to this, as I’ve seen both sides: being a hateful, heavy metal amoral teen who saw libraries as a part of the alienating environment, and (now) identifying as a lover of rare information and print. I know how few some documents exist, how fragile they are. Once gone, they’re not even a memory. Also, the radio chips are cited as being useful in cutting down on repetitive motion employees make. Eventually, they could replace the workers with self check-in and check-out, cutting perceived budget drains such as workers comp. Aldous Huxley wrote that the new fascism would be clothed in the guise of efficiency! What happens when bureaucracies are run by machines?

Local librarians assure privacy to a paranoid public who complain about possibility of privacy invasion. They claim that the chips will only activate information on the book itself with no patron data. They say they can be made this way, unlike consumer chips, but this is not a given. It is possible that the R.F.I.D.s will be as incompetent as much of the world’s modern technologies are. At least one could hope they are capable of being subverted. Is there a way to block the signal much like some places can block cell phones?

The whole battle taking place with the public sphere troubles me. Libraries around the world are small spaces that people liberate themselves in. Many of the lands that America plunders, sorely need the breadth of mind that a place like the Berkeley Library holds. But with the T.V.’s leaders chanting never ending war, libraries are more likely to burn. A real example of this plunder is the burning of Iraq’s library, erasing a people’s memory. This is a step in genocide or forced submission to live like the West wants them to live. In American cities today the war pigs don’t exert their death technology like they blatantly do to rouge states. But it is a devastation nonetheless. Albeit slower and not as obvious, its motivation is still money.