Piss and Moan about the San Francisco Punk scene
A short piece I wrote before leaving San Francisco after living there for a year and a half, giving my general impression of anarchy within the punk scene.
I’m leaving San Francisco, temporarily, after living here for a year and a half. As you’d expect it would, the decision to move has afforded me some moments of reflection on the overall impression the city has left me with.
Just to clear up before moving on though, I love the place. It’s not the world apart I was expecting from home but it provided so many experiences, if I had never lived here I would probably never have gotten off my ass and actually become politically active or had any piece of work published. It provided the kick in the teeth I needed to help me realise that it’s not that hard to find the things you’re interested in. At the same time, it offered plenty of ammunition for my natural cynicism, especially in regard to scene mentality and the punk scene’s attitude toward Anarchy specifically. I can’t leave without addressing some of the issues I’ve noticed.
I tried to get a sense of every aspect of the Bay Area but of course came short. For the most part I mingled with the hordes of break-dancers, ravers or punks, mainly because a lot of these people were fellow transients. All were interested in certain literature styles, presentation through dress sense, body manipulation etc., and so their conversations had a general theme aswell, like say leftist politics or conspiracies surrounding iconic deaths. The most popular thing to talk about though was themselves (I guess since most of them had left home; bound to lead to a bit of soul searching at some point or another).
“How was the movie?”
“Well, as you know, I’m my father’s son and he was born in Baltimore to Ugandan/Polish/Portugese/Irish parents who washed onto Ellis Island clinging to a cello case full of photographs of famines and oppressive regimes. His divorce from my new age medicinal turned corporate health guru mother allowed me to really relate to it’s themes of working class struggle, middle class isolation, upper class snobs and teenage alienation.”
So many conversations were a competition. People wait until their turn to speak and they’re off! See how much self-analysis you can fit into the time it takes your confidante to sip and swallow from their soy latte before they jump in when you take a break to breath and start off on their own, all in a desperate attempt to prove you’re unique through the enforcement of generalisations.
“I’m from here, so I think this way.”
“My parents did this, so I have this outlook.”
“I have this many siblings, so this is my position in life. I will always be the baby/the middle child/the older sister.”
So for people who do a lot of pissing and moaning you can come here and do it about whatever takes your fancy, which is amazing except it makes all causes a fantasy. San Francisco is seen as the city where everyone’s always kicking up a fuss: Mecca for the misunderstood, but it’s expected so it goes unnoticed. It’s really more like a pen for misfits than their holy land, a place to kick and scream and shout about whatever’s on your mind rather than, as advertised, a breeding ground for change. This and what I said before leads me onto anarchy in the San Francisco punk scene.
That’s what it is: a scene, a badge, a dress sense: complacency. An ideal seen as so “radical” that those who champion it believe the simple expression counts as revolution.
“I am an anarchist. I wear the patches and talk a great deal about the imminent downfall of our neo-liberal civilisation. Given half the chance, I will rant in you ear opinions and issues you’ve heard, read and thought about a thousand times before yourself.”
Anarchy is anti-authority but so many assume that means anti-organisation aswell. Anarchists support direct action. We support genuinely getting in authority’s face rather than waving a banner outside its window, but that becomes the be-all and end-all of the matter.
People say you should protest in a way that makes you feel autonomous, express your anger your own way. I totally agree with this but it means when we come to regard any genuine method it’s never really approached.
So windows are smashed, bins are lit, smoke is set off and signs are defaced. Symbols are attacked but they are sign posts of society that are a normal part of a persons walk to work. All that’s left are emblems of symbolic struggle, nothing real. This to me is indirect reaction rather than the directness that wants to be achieved. Just broken glass and a clean-up in the morning. What does it gain? A reputation for vandalism rather than instigation, kids who don’t really know what they want, who are just pissed with what they see. A burden. A joke.
If it’s symbols that should be attacked, it should be the big ones, the ones with which everyone can make the association. If it’s a problem that wants to be attacked, it should be at the roots. Banks, factory farms, government information hubs, car manufacturing factories, not some isolated McDonald’s where some teenagers work who don’t know any better. The supply lines, not the stores.
To some anarchy is an image to be worn, a symbol in response to the others we don’t like. Present a problem for the cops; walk around in black and bullets. Look like an anarchist; show what you are and your presence. I’m not saying this to discount representing yourself but sometimes the need to be seen is a detriment to what needs to be done.
Here’s an actual example to help show what I mean: There’s a counter protest happening, in response to a march along the Embarcadero, organised by some right-wing Christian groups whose target is abortion. The anarchists appear at the starting rally so the cops immediately register their presence. They wear their black masks and spread hand signals around and get in the cops faces so no direct action can be achieved, nothing stopped Everyone’s too busy trying to look like an anarchist to be able to achieve any true anarchy. Even before the day, when trying to organise something, it was hastily attempted and any progress was shut off by everyone doing their best to bitch about what they read in the paper that day. So many people I met seemed concerned only with getting out the speech they’d been practising that morning, barking loudly in a room full of people who already know what they’re talking about and probably for the most part agree. It’s that beautiful anger at how fucked everything is barely contained and badly released, inevitably wasted.
It’s completely reactionary when it should, in all honesty, be a form of insurgency. Like a new kind of guerrilla army, at war for the people and fighting the methods of men rather than men themselves, the results of our actions being obvious rather than the action itself. People seem to forget that we’re striving for results not recognition.
In the end though I have to concede that, like all those speeches we’ve all heard before about how we’re being controlled, this is just another train of thought that’s been heard before and will be again. And so it’s just another victim of that problem that pervades every effort to show discontent: stop talking and act.