1127 s. 51st, street West Philadelphia, Pa. 19143
What communities do infoshops represent? Are we going to be limited to a white, middle class, male-dominated activist/anarchist/punk subculture? Will infoshops serve as a spark of real social change? What are we doing exactly? How do we get better involved in the community issues and not just be a clubhouse?
This was a subtext to a workshop at the Infoshop gathering in Baltimore. This isn’t the first time I have been to a workshop like this. It isn’t the second either and I can’t even count how many times I’ve had conversations on the subject. It is an interesting one and I have heard a number of different views, but there is one common theme that I keep continuing to hear, and it is not one that I wholeheartedly agree with. The attitude wasn’t vicious in this workshop, not like other expressions that I have heard, but it was there. It was that if your infoshop became an Anarchist/punk clubhouse, you are doing something wrong.
It was in the opening personal introductions where Trey, my friend and roommate announces that He, for one, was “championing the Clubhouse mentality”, this caused a bit of a stir, as it was definitely out of the general dominate mentality of the workshop. As the workshop went on, there was discussion about how disappointing it was that people’s goals for “involvement with the community” were unfulfilled. “The community” as a catchphrase is mentioned often- this ambiguous title for those who reside around an infoshop and its proclaimed “target audience”. An interesting point that was brought up was from a person from San Francisco. He was responding to the group’s thoughts of what “the community” is, and at this time the workshop was focusing on race dynamics. He was discussing a space in the Mission and the Latino punk kids that hung out there, raising a question of whether they could be considered part of the community. A lot were not originally from the Mission and came to this space because they identify as anarchist punks. They had migrated, as many or most punks do, to centers of their adopted culture and were primarily staying in that community. I could see this had stumped many people as there is a mentality aiming to move away from building anarchist/punk spaces- and if a project becomes such it is seen as a failure. It was then that I started thinking again of why it such a fuckin’ sin to identify as a “punk” in activist circles in the USA.
I have wondered where this “punkaphobic” mentality has come from and the effects that it has brought on to the punk community and culture. In many activist circles, punk is viewed as a phase that one goes through until you graduate to proper activist roles. The punk “culture” is one to pass through, “grow-up” and leave. The very idea that someone can keep their punk identity and still do serious political/social justice work is seen as an anomaly. There is social pressure among activist circles to put a punk past behind you. The outcome for American anacho/punks is an effort to more away from their culture, to blend into a more mainstream political leftist-activist counter-culture. This creates and age imbalance in the ranks, as the older population disappears. Therefore, the American anarcho/punk culture remains a primarily “youth culture” and never reaches a stage where it has generational longevity.
This phenomenon is not a universal rule, and it is common to find multigenerational anarcho/punk/crusty communities in other countries. In my own personal experience I’ve seen this across Europe, where a political punk/traveler identity is often maintained beyond the years of youth. There isn’t the social pressure to make this transition, both in terms of other active political groups or the greater society at large. The entitlements given by the social welfare states create an added economic pressure release. The punk culture continues building their own political counter-culture across communities in Europe.
Here in the US the activist situation is radically different, and you can find numerous examples of punkaphobic behavior, forcing away a potential radical movement among the punks, and causing friction among their respective ranks. For example, the idea of a space for counter-culture groups to identify with and hold as a social space is looked at by most activists as an invalid activity, a wasteful project, and one that only helps “those of privilege” instead of the “community”.
One reason for this prejudice is because of the social habits and beliefs that many anarcho-punks maintain. Many of these traits are distinct to them and perhaps exclusionary to some, but this is because of their created lifestyle that challenges mainstream materialism, social behaviors, and beauty standards. This needs to be respected in order to build true solidarity for all disadvantaged groups. Diversity needs to be acknowledged as a trait that should be respected by everyone; regardless of gender, race, or sexual identity. Every culture has there own norms, languages and methods of acting and simply because one group finds your norms strange doesn’t mean you are obligated to eliminate them. Sometimes I really can’t believe it has become such a widespread and promoted activity to attack punk. How individuals that try to be so respectful of marginal cultures feel completely justified attacking punk culture and those who live that life. Asking punks to give up their created identity, is a cultural genocide of its own. It is an attack of the desired artistic sensibilities and social behavior of a group - it is a statement that anarcho/punk’s merits are invalid and not worth surviving. This is a shame and shows serious flaws in the solidarity of radical cultures in the USA. Just because a space is founded and carries an anarcho/punk attitude doesn’t have to mean that it is totally exclusionary to the outlying community, and I say this because I have seen numerous examples where this has not been so.
The outcome of developing of a primarily anarcho/punk space is not one of pure exclusion, as many anacho/punk have a true desire to reach out to other proletariat groups around them. Through social events, food distribution, and basic hanging out, bonds are made between the punks and “the community”. These bonds routinely create social support networks between the different groups and this is when cultural and political beliefs are shared. A good deal of anarchist ideas have been passed on to other groups through their informal and neighborly interaction. I have seen true bonds of social support and respect form between anarchist punks, and the communities behind them, even when the punks didn’t hide their freak flag or colors.
This makes me think about what people mean when they talk about “the community”. Too often “the community” becomes some blanket statement, for other groups that share the neighborhoods with activists/anarchists/punks. The idea the “the community” is one group is ridiculous, as in every neighborhood there are multiple factions and cultures, all with their own visions and desires. Sometimes it carries a tone of “us” and “them,” like all others besides activists/anarchists/punks are a homogenous population just waiting for intervention. This attitude of conversion bothers me. Instead I feel that a sharing of beliefs is a better way of interaction. Maybe people need to “kick it” with others who live in their community - talking about what everyone is about will strengthen ties among people. Sometimes I think some activists suffer from an attitude of self-importance- assuming (or wanting) the world to revolve around them and their cause, instead of looking at what everyone’s world would revolve around. There shouldn’t ever be a “savior” mentality, and condescending tones shouldn’t be spoken. Instead, what really needs to happen is some basic interaction with those around the space that is created. Show people what you are about, not just in the words that you say.
View infoshops for what they are - a place for information about radical thought by a group of individuals who are active within it. If these people are from an anarcho/punk background and identify with this, the infoshop will take on this identity. Infoshops can be seen as hubs of activity of anarchist culture- like how other groups have churches, meeting halls, bars, parks etc. These are gathering places of people who have similar ideas, and provide basic social support. When living in a marginalized culture, with a degree of separation from your birth families, these networks can be of utmost importance. Punk is a culture, and can be a substitute family for many people. Anarcho/punk is truly a worldwide phenomena; I have seen this personally from both my travels and the correspondences I keep. I have gone to many anarchist infoshops, in many different countries, and found a temporary home, and people to relate too. Many times the simple fact that we have the same cultural identification has led to me to people who I would have never crossed paths without this common trait. This is important, and this should not be downplayed or ignored.
PS. An issue I also want to talk about is the dominate mentality that Punk is simply the hangout for middle-class white kids. I believe that punk has become a refuge for marginalized working class white kids too. It is a culture that has developed in a large part because of the soullessness of mainstream white culture. From a lack of alternative ethnic resistant culture that they could relate to, these working class white kids have had to create their own culture within punk. (Is there much wonder why Appalachian folk music has become so popular with traveling Anarcho-punk kids?)
But this subject needs more than a few lines and I am already over both my space and time quotes for this column - so I will talk about this in the future, or give me a beer at the next show I go to in Philly and I will talk to you about it between bands... or even during bands if they aren’t good. As I have said before, good dialogue is more important than many crust songs.