Wednesday, April 6, 2011

White Dope on Punk: Chapter 11. Avenging the Haymarket Martyrs

By Greg Kim
2500 miles away in Philadelphia, Jimmy Page was butchering "Whole Lotta Love." His “G” string was flat, which made every stroke of the guitar uncomfortable to watch and hear. He wore an oversized button-up shirt, flowing white high-waisted pants and a white scarf that got in his way—he looked a little like a skinny Gonzo from the Muppets. Zeppelin was finishing up their set at Live Aid. The event would eventually raise 84 million dollars for starvation in Africa.

On the West Coast at the Club Foot, my band was playing a benefit for the first Haymarket Anarchist Gathering in Chicago. It was a coincidence that both gigs fell on the same day, but we took full advantage of letting people know that Live Aid—or as we called it, Band Aid—was all about the entertainers’ careers and nothing about helping people. People seemed to buy it.

I was wearing a black peacoat, cloth china flats, which had holes where my big toes met the fabric, and the standard black pants. I utilized a pink tube top to pull back my dreads into a nice ponytail. This was as fancy as I got, and friends commented that I looked nice. The darkness and the nice cut of the jacket had something to do with the compliments. In the right light, I almost looked ethnic because of the tube top. The pink tube top was my flair and looked down upon by some friends. The anarchist scene had a uniform and pink tube tops were not standard issue.

As was customary with Anarchist Peace Punk events, we set up an information table to peddle our ideas: animal rights, women's rights, anarchism, music, etc. The other bands—Trial, Atrocity, PLH and Sleeping Dogs—all had tables, too. Most of our products were free. If they did cost money, the price was printed on the record or pamphlet, so the consumer couldn’t get ripped off by the retailer. This was a customary practice of all Peace Punk bands: Pay No More Than $2.00! To help defer printing costs of the free material, we hung a small sign from our table that said “Donations Excepted.”

One of the guys from Trial, who hailed from Berkeley and probably had some academic pedigree in his family, told us it was “Donations Accepted” not “Donations Excepted.” For some people, this may have been benchmark moment, sending them running back to school; however, I don’t believe any of us really got what he was talking about, so there was more confusion on our faces instead of enlightenment. We changed the sign to “Donations Acceppted.” The Trial guy didn’t have the heart to correct our spelling. It was the thought that counted. This was indicative of our brand of anarchism. If you pressed us on our knowledge of Anarchism, eventually it would end with: “I didn’t learn how to throw a brick from some dumb Anarchist book.” We were doers, not readers. To us, it was about the freedom to fuck things up and a little about theory!

When it was our turn to play, we set up our banners on the wall behind the stage: “The Urge to Destroy Is a Creative Urge" (Bakunin) and “Destroy Power, Not People" (Crass). We talked revolution and the Haymarket martyrs and how their deaths would be avenged (even though they had been dead for 100 years). Our music was loud and discordant, but despite this, most people sat down and listened intently to the lyrics, as was customary with these events. It was mostly a very peaceful scene of young people, not many over 25 years old.

As we launched into ”Take Action,” our anti-music anthem preaching direct action over letter writing, one the banners (The Urge to Destroy…) behind me dislodged and partially covered me and my drums. I continued playing, despite the hindrance, until the song was over. Anybody with a sense of humor would have to think that the banner was trying to stop us from playing. But we played through it, expressionless. We really were a god-awful band. In some ways that was the point. Or at least that's what we told each other.

That night, I met a woman named Rachel. She was young, a senior at Berkeley High. We talked, got along and I asked her if she wanted to come over to our warehouse and have dinner with us. “Us” was me and my roommates. Our warehouse had some cachet in the peace punk scene, so I assume the warehouse was as much of a draw for her as any attraction to me.

Having Rachel over for dinner was a big deal. Joseph was the only one that had girlfriends and guys outnumbered girls in the punk scene 10 to 1. In the peace punk scene, where not adhering to veganism and anarchism were deal breakers, the ratio went up to 20 to 1, so when somebody new appeared who met our standards, we took notice and started acting our age again. Girls trump Anarchism, in the end.

On the day of the date, Ramin, Jeff and I made a big pot of spaghetti and red sauce. This was my idea. When I met Rachel, I didn’t look myself. I was put together, my dreads pulled into a cohesive stalk. This image was far from who I was and I wanted her to see the real me when she came over. Like the spaghetti, my clothes were calculated. I wore cut-off pajama bottoms, a few ripped shirts and kept my dreads down. My dreads were not fashion dreads. They clumped together forming branch-like patterns and cow patty clods. They weren’t pretty. (A few years later, I was prompted to cut my dreads when the owner of a Laundromat mistook me as homeless and offered me clothes left by customers—that and all the Berkeley Rastas saying “Hey Mon!” when addressing me.)

Instead of buying Rachel flowers, I went to the Co-Op and bought her a nice bunch of carrots, the kind with a bouquet of greenery. I thought this was creative and went well with our vegan vibe.

Rachel looked the part: black jacket, black jeans and cloth shoes. I wonder if she gave some thought to what she was wearing. She was younger in the daylight and, like all the Berkeley Peace Punks, had an air of sophistication. Most of them had parents who were academics or at least hippie parents that took them to the Museum of Modern Art instead of the Water Slides on the weekends.

Whereas many of these kids bordered on arrogant, Rachel was friendly, smart and not pretentious at all. I gave her the carrots and she blushed, not knowing how to respond (as if anybody would). I filled up an old spaghetti sauce jar with water and placed the carrots in it like flowers.

The spaghetti was bland and the talk was of revolution through violence, which we thought was imminent. Even though she may have agreed with us, our statements were made to differentiate ourselves from her and to alienate. We knew we were in a bubble and relished our standing. And through extremist talk about revolution, we constantly reaffirmed who we were. Without it, we were poor and lost.

She told us that she was going to Sarah Lawrence in the fall. All of us responded, “What or who is that?” College was something we dabbled in, but never took seriously. We would start a class and then drop out.

When conversation turned to college and the future, we deferred to her and grew silent, our differences becoming apparent, waking our deep-seated insecurities. Even though we were strong in our beliefs, deep down we knew that what we were doing wouldn’t last. Our future was either jail, change or, worse, being a 40-year-old anarchist. When people talked about a future that involved change and a life outside of the present, it made us rethink our future and what we were doing. Because of this, outsiders were kept at bay. This was an unconscious thing.

Rachel went to Sarah Lawrence and we continued eating bland spaghetti.

The benefit raised $300 dollars for the Haymarket Gathering, which Steve and I would personally bring to the event. It wasn’t Live Aid cash, but for anarchists, it wasn’t bad.

Many months later, Steve and I packed up my 1981 Plymouth Champ and the $300 donation and headed across the country on I-80 to Chicago. Having very little money, we either slept in the car or on the side of the road. On the first day we made it into Wyoming. We had traveled hundreds of miles and needed to sleep. There were no rest stops, so we pulled over, reclined the bucket seats and slid into our sleeping bags. Not being able to fully stretch out, I grabbed my sleeping bag and headed for the ditch on the side of the road, used to catch run-off when it rained. It was cold and windy, but at least I’d be able to stretch out. The zipper on my sleeping bag was broken, so I woke up Steve and asked him to duct tape me into my bag. He gladly obliged, tightly wrapping me like a burrito. The next morning I laid duct taped in my bag until Steve got up. He had done too good of a job and I couldn’t get out. I tried yelling but the roar of the freeway was too loud. I had to wait for him to wake up and release me.

We stopped off and met some other anarchists in Des Moines, Iowa and caravanned the rest of the way. Locals put us up in the second floor of an abandoned apartment. We dumped our stuff and headed for the opening party. When we returned, all of our belongings were gone except our sleeping bags.

At the opening party, a local acquaintance pointed to a guy that would accept our donation. He was wearing a Fidel Castro/Che Guevara-type hat and carefully chosen working class clothes. We approached him and attempted to give him the money. He was talking to another look-a-like and was emphatically making a point: “It’s 3 am, you’re at stop light and nobody’s around. And you wait until the light turns green?” By his look of distain, it was obviously clear that anarchists—in his view of anarchy—ran the light. Who knew such topics as running lights at 3 am would be discussed? We edged a little closer until he looked at us. Enthusiastically I said, “Hey, we had a benefit and raised $300 dollars.” It was short and sweet. He took the envelope, barely acknowledging our presence.

Steve and I were not happy about this and it fueled our dislike of these snobby book anarchists. It was the mid-80s and these older anarchist types had no knowledge of punk rock and especially us peace punk anarchist types. I’m sure they looked down on us. They were used to union organizing and talking shit about communists…the good ol’ days.

The next day Steve and I were arrested for rioting and assault. During a protest downtown, we got bored with the chanting and pleas from the liberal anarchist for Jobs and Justice, so we decided to have a little fun and do what we were good at—breaking things. As we ran through the streets, not knowing where we were going, we knocked over garbage cans, magazine racks and picked up whatever we could find and threw it at storefront windows. Having no real plan, we ran into a mall and caused mayhem. Security chased us as we ran past startled shoppers, looking for an exit. Exiting the mall, the streets were filled with sirens and cops and protesters running. We ran one way, stopped, and bolted onto a side street, depending on where the cops were. While turning a corner, we blindly ran straight into a pack of cops. A paddy wagon was waiting for us curbside. Within a minute we were cuffed and in the back of the wagon with other unfamiliar protesters. While shutting the door, the cop said, “I haven’t had this much fun since the ’68 convention.”

In jail, they took our shoelaces (so we wouldn’t hang ourselves) and I had to take out all my piercings and relinquish my gaudy jewelry, so they couldn't be used as weapons against the police. It was May 1st and it was still very cold. They served us bologna sandwiches, which we refused of course. We enjoyed acting the part of political prisoners.

There were six of us in the cell. Besides me and Steve, the other four were radical faeries, a gay counterculture group. Naturally inquisitive, I asked them rather naïve questions. My suburban upbringing was showing. The obvious was first: “What’s a radical fairy?’ Instead of lambasting me for my ignorance, they were patient and answered my questions without derision. I wouldn’t have been so generous.

Eventually the topic turned to Gay. As much as Steve and I were open-minded and supported gay issues, we were both suburban boys and had little to no experience with gay people growing up. Our small scene of Anarchist Peace Punks was essentially straight anarchist peace punks. These gay, anarchist radical faeries were a whole different gay than we were used to, nothing like the ubiquitous Castro leather clones and queens.

In a monumental moment of pandering, I stated, “You know, sometimes I have gay dreams.” Unbelievably, they did not laugh or say the obvious, “Well, maybe you’re gay.” Instead, one of them admitted to having straight dreams and said it was ok to have both. Jail was turning out to be a growing experience. Still, at night when the faeries huddled together to stay warm, Steve and I took opposing sides of the cell for a restless, cold night.

The next day we were bailed out by the armchair anarchists. We learned that there were heated debates about what to do with us. The older, peaceful types wanted to have nothing to do with us while the younger people applauded our actions. Ironically, one of the biggest arguments was on semantics. There was a big fight over the term "paddy wagon." The early PC types were offended at the use of the word and the others were just plain dumbfounded that somebody would be offended by this. They settled on calling it the "police truck." So, correction, we were arrested, cuffed and thrown in the police truck.

Steve and I jumped bail late that night and went home, running every red light on our way to I-80.

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