Thoughts & Stories of Mike Straight #74

     So this column, so unlike other column’s I have done for this magazine, starts out with some drawn out, personal story, before it gets to the central point that I am trying to get at. You may think this is a waste of words, but I look at it as ‘setting building’ where I personalize the political, making the theorizing more accessible for you, the reader. Plus I like writing little tidbits of personal life—of course this month I don’t start with anything as exciting as an attractive Canadian clad only in a bulletbelt—no, no, nothing that exciting this time. Though I can give you another picture to imagine—so there he is, sitting shotgun in the van, wearing an Amebix shirt, fire-resistant pants, a leather cap, and dark sunglasses. Then he, Jeff Schwilk looks over to me and says; ‘oh, I think we were suppose to make the last right, but I couldn’t tell from the sign.’ Yea, not as exciting as the ‘sunrise over Montreal story’, eh? Trust me, I know. Haha. Well read on anyway, the record reviews will still be there 10 minutes from now. And I won’t complain about being back in the USA this issue, yet from this paragraph, I already had.  Anyway read on, my friend, as this month ‘let’s talk about voting’. 
    So every Saturday Schwilk and I head out yardsaling. We always make big plans about getting up at 8am and setting off—but normally Jeff either calls or bangs on my door around 10:30 and we don’t really set off until nearly noon. Anyway we spend most of the afternoon cruising around Portland, searching through peoples belongs offering tidbits of change for the materialistic things they don’t want/need anymore. Yea, me and Jeff live in what is known as ‘the fast lane’. Still it is pretty fun and we get all the things we want/need at a fraction of the new price. Of course cruising around PDX, searching through junk is the perfect setting for us to get into long, theological conversation, ranging from music, non-monogamy, bird migration patterns, to our goals/confusion of life. Now since it is election time in these parts, we naturally got into the subject of voting.
    See Jeff didn’t register. Never has, never will, he says. I ask why, as I get curious about these sort of things. He reasoning revolves around the idea that any participation in the electoral system would give it a sense of legitimacy, and since we do not live in a true democratic system he doesn’t want to play in the little game. Not voting is a form of protest, and since it matters little, because it is a choice of two evils, why bother?
    You know I understand this train of thought and even feel it myself at times, but I still feel that in certain instances it is a foolish, unpractical step when going about social change. This becomes apparent when looking at ballot measures. Here in Oregon, there are a number of yes/no measures on the election ballot. Here, the people choose directly if they want a certain measure to be passed. Pretty fuckin’ direct, eh! Yep, but there is major problem, which keeps this from being fully democratic - the PR campaigns surrounding the issues, but still an informed public can actually make real positive gains through the ballot measure system. There are also important measures to vote for!
    Ok a prime example of this is measure 27. If this measure passes, Oregon will be the first state requiring all genetically modified foods to be labeled!!! While this common in more advanced places of the world like the European Union, big agri-business (like Monsanto) have done everything they can to make sure this does not happen in the US. 
    Tons of resources are being spent to mislead the public about what this measure really states, but the simple fact is the measure asks Oregonians, yes or no, if they want GMO’s to be labeled. Yes Punk, the state is asking if you want this - what are you going to do? Other measures, which only reflected Portland, were taxation measures concerning parks and libraries. Now, when looking at things from a ‘punk perspective’ - not many punx own large estate houses, which are the primary market for property taxes, yet ‘da punx’ are primary users of parks and libraries! It just makes sense to vote for the property tax increase - or -well... I guess you can just still complain that it takes forever to check your email—yea it’s your choice. So after my tirade about the measure ballet votes, Jeff does agree that there is some merit to voting on measure issues, but still insists to ignore voting on any people. 
    Later that day we are sitting with burritos, reading the Oregonian (the mainstream daily Portland paper), which has published the total campaign contributions for both contestants for governor. Now it is pretty obvious in this country that elected official basically follow the orders of who ever contributes financially. Well, here it is, who got what from whom. The republican candidate received $100,000 from the four major logging companies, while the democratic candidate got about the same amount of money, from the teachers union!  Interesting, eh? So I have to turn to Schwilk asking, ‘What will it be, more teachers, or less trees? Here is your choice - the puppet representing the teachers or the puppet of the logging companies? What will it be? More teachers, or less trees? Kind of clear, eh?’
    Also here in the Portland there is a Metro council which makes most land-use and transportation decisions. There are two people running for this position, one guy, who is pushing for more mass transit, bike lanes throughout the city, and protected green spaces where suburban developers cannot touch with bulldozers. The other person running has just moved to Portland from one of the most unlivable spaces in the western hemisphere, Las Vegas. She wants to build more freeway lanes, say bike programs are ‘a waste of money’, and wants to protect developer’s rights to make profits from those ‘crazy environmentalists’. Really, you get to choice between these people. Really. All the same you say—no, not quite at all.
    Now, OK, before all the hate mail comes in - I know that this system is fucked. The US is based on class oppression and a hierarchy, which maintains its positions of power. Yes, I think the presidential election is a running joke but there are certain issues which are but on the ballet that You can actually vote for. Really. Now, I see your next argument ‘by passing all these reformist measures, you just prolong the people from realizing the shitty conditions we live in. So we should let it all go to hell, then the revolution will come, and then Anarko-utopia will be ours.’ Hummm, maybe you are right, but, I am still living right here, right now and to tell you the truth I want to have a decent library and I actually like having bike lanes added to Portland’s streets instead of more lanes on I-5. And the state has actually asked us if we want these things! Really. So what are you going to tell them?
Mike Straight -

PS. So last year I wrote a column about my feelings toward the sex industry. I got a lot of good letters from it, but I feel that certain ideas were misunderstood. My point was against the comodification of sexuality, how this capitalistic society has managed to turn sexuality into a product, sexuality into a ‘dirty’ thing, instead of a cooperative act of everyday life. It turns sexuality into another facet of life that can be bought and sold and the article was I, trying to express how I don’t want to participate in an industry, which commodifies sex into unrealistic images, and hierarchical, profitable industry. Now, while I dislike the mainstream sex industry, I am definitely not anti-sex. Trust me on that one. Instead I imagine something different. Personally I would like to see a reclaiming of erotica - coming from a punk perspective. I mean we have reclaimed so much else in our lives, why not? By producing punk erotica, we can reduce the explorative and co modification aspects that are so common in mainstream porn. I mean we are sexual beings, and we should take back this aspect of our lives ñ by producing our own stories, creating our own images, from motivation of sharing instead of the buyer/consumer dynamic that is rapid in modern capitalism. 

ATTENTION TRAINHOPPERS - I am working on a research project on youth who ride freight trains and I am looking for trainhopping zines, art, and other related written material. All names will be withheld upon request and I can reimburse for any mailing expenses. I am trying to create a good documentation of the culture, and it’s ties to older hobo culture. So send those zines to me in Portland...
Achtung aus Deutschlanders:
    Ok I don’t really talk about music much, as I figure people do that way too much in the Anarko/punk scene, but I have become obsessed with a few German bands that I am trying to figure out. Does anyone know anything about the bands EA80 and Fliehende Sturme? They are both incredible! Beautiful, dark, gothic influenced hardcore—yea like really that good. My friend in Berlin sent me these tapes without any titles or info and the curiosity is getting to me. Where are they from? Is either band still together? Are there more bands with similar sound?
    One thing I found agonizing about touring Germany was how everyone seemed to want to talk about American bands, especially bands from here in Portland. Yea there are some good bands here, but nothing compared to the musical greatness of ABC Diablo or Zorn.  The domination of American Hardcore is way out of hand and other regional/cultural styles should be embraced, especially when they fuckin’ rock. Oh and those Deutschland hardcore bands definitely do. There is one band in Portland that actually plays good German-like hardcore. Brutal, building HC parts with melodic emo-ish interludes. They are called the Gemlen Project and are really fuckin’ good. Schwilk, another musical critic agrees with me about the German influence, but the thing is, these kids have never even heard this whole genre. Interesting, eh. Now if their singer Jackie would screech in Deutsch, I probably wouldn’t whine to Jeff at every show about how much better this would be if we were at the Kopi.