Episode Eleven Transcript
Episode Eleven – Nothing is Final
This podcast contains lots of swearing and violence, occasional use of the n word, and other content that some people may find disturbing or offensive.
It's a piece of history and I know a lot of people are talking about it. And I feel like I've seen people write books on . . . I'm like, they weren't even there. You know, I was definitely there. This is a part of my life. And I know there are some other people that this was really a lot for. I'm glad that I was a part of it. And I felt like we needed to do that. The struggle continues.
Welcome to ‘Nothing is Final,’ Episode Eleven of It Did Happen Here. I”m Mic Crenshaw
And I’m Celina Flores. Last episode you heard about the final years of the Coalition for Human Dignity. Now, we’ll hear from the punks.
We started with China, who also opened our first episode. In the 80s, China was a Black punk rocker, a fierce young street fighter and anti-racist activist. China survived that and built a life for herself, in defiance of the targeting she endured in her youth.
The city of Portland grew and changed as well. In 1990, the median home price in Portland was around eighty thousand dollars. In the year two thousand, it more than doubled to one hundred and sixty six thousand dollars.
Now, in 2021, it’s at five hundred thousand dollars.
As an effect of this gentrification, by 2010 there were no majority Black neighborhoods in the city. The former industrial northwest district just north of downtown transformed overnight into the condo-laden Pearl District. Crime was down, property prices were up, and the realtors and real estate developers were drunk on prosperity.
The notorious Pine Street Theater, the site of much conflict with the boneheads, and host of dangerous and exciting shows by northwest hardcore bands like the Accüsed and Poison Idea, was rebranded in 1992 as La Luna. La Luna closed in 1999. Starry Night flipped ownership and became the Roseland. Satyricon officially closed down in 2003.
What happened to the punks in this rapidly gentrifying city? For most of them, it was pretty good for a while. There were new places to get burritos and pizza, new record stores. Basements of rental houses became venues for touring regional and national punk bands, so lots of punks quit hanging out downtown. Hundreds of young people moved to the medium-sized city to launch bands or make art or just party in the local punk scene. There were lots of group houses and interesting projects; jobs were scarce but rent was cheap, for a while. Anti Racist Action had been a vital force to galvanize the punks in the fight against racism and fascism. Conditions were prime for anti-racist organizing, but by 1992, the local ARA chapter was on its last legs–why? Here’s Jason:
The ARA scenario lasted intensely for two years. The national meeting was in Portland in ‘89, and in ‘90. And we tried to do more in ‘91. And it was just proving really, really difficult. It was hard to get people more involved. I think, one, because we had already made such strides that it wasn't life or death. People felt like they could sit back a little bit. And they did. ARA nationally totally got hijacked in ‘91, ‘92 by the Trotskyists. They tried to hijack it from us in ‘91. They came in with a big contingent and tried to get us to vote to ratify all these things. And we were like, "this isn't us." We're not a left wing, political organization. We're anti-racist activists. We're not just looking at the tips of our noses either. We see a bigger picture, and so we're willing to work with the people, but you're not gonna come in and take over our meetings, and you're not going to take over our structure. And they did that in many places.
Without the immediate threat of skinhead violence, and also distrustful of the organized left, the punks turned inwards:
Most of the punks had walked away from it. I mean, they were still there and there was still really, really political shows going on. Resist was huge, Deprived was great. They were still killing it, doing a lot of stuff. Deprived became Defiance. They never stopped doing what they were doing. It was through music, instead of through this political apparatus.
Kelly Halliburton was a member of three of the bands Jason just mentioned, Resist, Defiance and Deprived.
It wasn't just laziness or selling out on our part. There were some, some issues with the activist groups that we didn't completely align with ideologically. We were more focused on the musical part of things and that was important in its own way, too. Our hearts were in the right place, and we were definitely, I think we were part of a culture that, that made Portland the way it, the way it is now, for better or worse. A lot of that came, I feel like as a direct result of some of the things that, that my culture was pushing for back then. These are things that mattered, anti-racism, this feeling that other life forms can feel pain and fear. And maybe you should think about that when you make your dietary or fashion choices, or the homophobia that we've been raised to accept our whole lives. There weren't a lot of other people at that time outside of our culture, it seemed that were really thinking along those same lines, and I know there were other groups of course. We didn't know the older activists. We were young, we were a punk rockers and we're finding our voices and at that magic point in the late 80s, we found each other. And we found some strength in that and some, some unity. And it was, it was really great.
Anti-racist skinhead Pete Little continued working with various political groups.
It's important to acknowledge that, you know, a lot of the folks who came out of ARA and into and out of SHARP and into the anti-racist skinhead scene, there was also, I remember there being some sentiment of folks feeling wary and suspicious of the left. And feeling like oftentimes like they had been utilized when needed. The movement that had sustained ARA and SHARP, and the other, what I think of as militant, but subcultural elements. The movement wasn't there in the same way. You didn't have CHD, you didn't have ARA. You didn't have the kind of organizational and broader social movement context that made militants of the previous generation more survivable. And in some ways, I think, building countercultures is valuable, because it's a home for kids from the Island of the Misfit Toys, right? And it also can be a culture that offers different values than the dominant culture. Hopefully, those subcultures embrace values that lead towards freedom, and that they combat some of the more destructive elements of mass culture. But I think as well, within the remnants of the subculture where there was a lot of infighting and a lot of the same, like, violent energy that had been directed in a unified way against the boneheads, became directed inward in ways that were tragic and self destructive.
Subcultures were grappling with their own participation in forms of oppression as they attempted to fight against it in the community. Interpersonal violence, addiction, misogyny, homophobia - many who were active in this era were on a spectrum of understanding their place in the oppression, including just being oppressive. The destructive and self destructive actions of the SHARPs repelled a lot of people. Here’s SHARP member Michael Clark:
The daily involvement for me dissipated, the bigger my drug and alcohol problem got. [laughter] I got a little too messed up behind some drugs, and some booze, to hang on to my altruistic, good guy persona. And I went pretty south pretty fast. I had some differences of opinion. And I'm not going to go into how gangs or crews are run, but there's definitely a lot of politics, and sometimes things don't quite go your way. And we had some, some issues around someone beating a woman that I didn't really like, and I had a little too much booze, and I couldn't really let it go, and I kind of got a little busy with it. So it kind of went against the grain of following directions, which is something I've always been pretty good at. Long story short, in that kind of environment, I disrespected people. That was pretty much the beginning of the end for me. I was getting really into cocaine, and heroin, and methamphetamines, and drinking a fifth, or a half gallon a day to take the edge off. My nickname was “Psycho,” so I was really known for getting really intoxicated and starting fights we didn't need to be in. You know, I got beyond my, "there’s a time for that," kind of thing, and just pretty much wanted to kill everybody everywhere I went. That's a lot of energy for a crew to deal with. To be handling every fight you get yourself into, every crew that you start a fight with, that we're supposed to be affiliated with. It gets to be a lot, so I had to go, which was reasonable. Broke my heart at the time. I went down the toilet pretty bad. 5/17/06 was the day I walked out of a detox center, and I've been sober ever since. Pretty much have a commitment to nonviolence. And for me, violence and ego was a lifestyle that served me like, kind of like a broken tool. It did a lot of good. But like most things, I kind of ended up abusing it. That part of me is so linked to drugs and alcohol now, that I really have to have a commitment to not be violent. And one thing that really helped in ‘07 I got custody of my six year old daughter. So, I became a single parent of a beautiful little girl. And for the first time in my life, I was the respon- the, actually the responsible adult around. Which was pretty funny, because I was 34. [laughter] That really helped in that commitment to nonviolence, you know. . . I'm, I don't miss waking up in jail, and going, I mean, every time I woke up in jail, I’d I think to myself, "oh, god, what am I doing here with all these losers?" You know, you know? And I just, I was always in jail for fighting because I never knew when to quit. Haven't had to go to jail, and life looks a lot different today.
What was China doing?
By the mid 90’s, I was somewhere else. This was, had started in the 80’s for me, so I was kind of the beginning and then, you know, I kind of stepped out probably '92, '93. I had, someone had been murdered. I even moved to Eugene for a while to lay low because someone told me they were, came to kill me. The “N-bitch,” China. But this is real stuff. I mean, I feel like I tell people and they look at me like “really?” Really, but this is, this is what was going on, you know. There was a point that I realized that nobody was listening to me. I realized at a point, I need to go to college. So I went to college. I mean, it took me many years to graduate but I was just, like, I just realized I had to live.
At the height of the skinhead violence, many small groups in Portland presented a unified front made up of groups who embraced a diversity of tactics, stood in solidarity with each other and respected each other’s boundaries despite subcultural differences. Jonathan Mozzochi contrasts that with today:
Last year, year before, I can't remember when, Trump singled out the antifa for cops and soldiers and tough guys to attack. In the wake of his attack on anti-fascist forces, there was very little political support among the larger, more important leftist organizations, like Democratic Socialists of America. Bernie Sanders, they weren't out front defending antifa. So what that told me is that anti-fascists today are relatively politically isolated. And that perhaps there was a moment after Charlottesville, where Dr. Cornel West had said the antifa saved his life, that maybe there was an opportunity to give some political support to the antifa for the work that they were doing. But I think in large part it was missed. They were on the front lines. All over the United States, and Europe and elsewhere, these local groups need. . . well, what do they need? They need platters of brownies, they need political protection. I don't see enough of that. I think there should be more.
How do we end a story that’s on a continuum? We are at the end of our podcast. We tried to give a slice of history behind this pretty picture of Portland in the 21st century with our gentrified shops and new condos. What did we learn from the three groups who generously shared their stories? Mulugeta Seraw taught us that no one is safe when white supremacists are unchecked; we can’t ignore them, even if the police and the city deny that there is a problem.
From the Coalition for Human Dignity we learned the role of queer people in bridging communities; the value of building and maintaining connection across different organizations; the importance of local research as a support for local activism and ways to show up to protect citizens in allyship. We learned that training in self defense is community defense; that owning political mistakes supports integrity, and neglecting internal equity diminishes group longevity.
Anti-Racist Action taught us how we can build a national network against hate out of a group of friends. Also, how to stand up, come together, and turn the tide from reaction to direct action. From Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice, or SHARP, we learned that to be bold is effective but the price of living with violence and conflict can be higher than we can afford.
And from the long years since, we have learned that we need to expand our thinking, that immediate local solutions may appear to be effective while driving problems underground, or to the suburbs. The hardest thing for many people to hear may be the following words urging activists to take care of ourselves and each other. Let’s start with Eric Ward:
We live in a time in the United States where many Americans, not just vulnerable communities, are experiencing vast income inequality for the first time. I do not, as an African American who has grown up under vast income inequality, I do not wish that upon anyone. We understand the stresses that that brings. We know it leaves people vulnerable to other messages as they try to understand why they've been abandoned in, in this society. And that income inequality, that anxiety around demographic change. And the fact that we are right now debating what it means to be American is a perfect storm. In that storm, the white nationalist movement has brought its bigotry. It will continue to recruit members until we build enough infrastructure and movement to start competing for that same constituency. That is the next challenge for those who oppose authoritarianism and totalitarianism, and who seek to create an inclusive America that's people-centered, transparent, and accountable. We aren't trying to start a race war. We're trying to end one.
I'm a mom, you know, I can't be there right now on the front lines. And at my age and stuff, I mean, I've done that. So, there are people that aren't there for various reasons, but there’s supporters and people that see the truth about what's happening. I would say that activists, keep your head. Keep your values, but go take care of yourself. Go get a medical checkup. Eat right, go to school, not that Western education is the answer to everything. But, having that piece of paper behind your name kind of gives validity to some of the stuff that you're saying. There's different activists, you know, I'd say if you're a white activist, keep, keep up the fight, if you're a person of color, if you're black, if you're disabled, if you're somebody that is in danger, I don't think you need to be up there on the front lines all the time. I mean, find other ways to do the work, but take care of yourself. We've been fighting this for a long time in America. I mean, I'm gonna say 500 years. Take care of yourself. There's people watching you, they’re taking heart, but ultimately, if you're not taking care of yourself, nobody's really going to care about you. But let some of these, these white kids privileged white kids and white people that see what's wrong, stand up and do some of the fighting because it really needs to be addressed by white people, people with privilege, white privilege and you don't need to go to jail. We need you out. We need you to go to school. We need you to take care of yourself.
That was China. We're going to go out with Reverend Cecil Prescod, CHD activist and board member, who offers a reminder that to love others we must love ourselves.
You know who you are, and what, the things that you are fighting for. The things you are struggling for. Maintain that focus. And also, you need time to relax, and to breathe. And to be able to build community and support one another, because it's hard work. We need to find ways to nurture, to be aware of one another. To be aware when someone's just, looks as if they're, they're tired, and to be able to spend time and to take care of one another. It's important to struggle, but also remember what we're struggling for. And we have to take care of ourselves so we can be here for the long haul.
Thanks for listening to Episode 11 of It Did Happen Here. There are show notes with links, transcripts, and other relevant content at our website: ItDidHappenHerePodcast.com. We have a few public events coming up: in February, we'll do a discussion with the Oregon Historical Society, and March, we'll have a two part event; one featuring Scot Nakagawa and Eric Ward and one with Mic Crenshaw, Celina Flores, and myself with the Multnomah Public Library. We'll also plan on releasing bonus episodes of the podcast in the spring. You'll be able to find out more information on ItDidHappenHerePodcast.com, or on Instagram @ItDidHappenHerePodcast. This episode, interviews were by Celina Flores, Erin Yanke, and Mic Crenshaw and your hosts were Celina Flores and Mic Crenshaw. This podcast was produced by Celina, Mic, and me, Erin Yanke. Music in this episode is by Xlyo Ziko, Kai Engel, and Anitek, all from the Free Music Archive, and by Chumbawamba. Thanks to the bands for the music, Thanks to the participants for sharing their stories and their experiences, and thanks to the Marla Davis Fund, KBOO Community Radio, and Cait Olds, and to the rest of our production team: Icky A, Julie Perini, and Moe Bowstern. And thank you for listening.