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Episodes

× 1: Setting the Scene - Portland OR 2: The Murder of Mulugeta Seraw 3: Building Community Defense 4: The Minneapolis Baldies and Anti Racist Action 5: They Thought We Were Everywhere: the Portland ARA 6: House Defense 7: A Research Capacity: The Work of the CHD 8: SHARPer Times 9: The Story of Jon Bair 10: Less Booted, More Suited 11: Nothing is Final Bonus Episodes

Bonus Episode Three Transcript

Bonus Episode - Cultural Organizing with Maximum Rocknroll


CELINA

Episode 4 of It Did Happen Here tells the story of a friendship-based anti-racist skinhead crew called ‘The Minneapolis Baldies.’ In that episode we learn how the Baldies gave rise to the national group Anti Racist Action, or ARA, who established chapters throughout the country. In ARA, skinheads and punks united around a simple goal: to rid their cities of racist neo-nazis. ARA created a network that provided an effective solution to punks across the country troubled by racist skinhead violence. How was that network formed, in a pre internet time? Here’s Mic, from Episode 4:

MIC CRENSHAW

There was a punk zine called Maximum Rocknroll. There was another one called Your Flesh, and there were some of us in the punk scene who travelled a lot, or people who were in bands that were on tour, and they would meet people from different scenes and they would hear about what was happening in those cities and they'd get peoples' contact. You'd go in your kitchen and you'd pick up your clunky [laughs] telephone, dial the number, and you'd call somebody. Or you'd go to a phone booth. There were even chain letters.

MIC CRENSHAW

In this bonus episode of It Did Happen Here, we take a brief look at the cultural role that Maximum Rocknrolll, an independent punk rock magazine with radical politics, had in the fight against racist skinheads. I’m Mic Crenshaw

CELINA

And I’m Celina Flores. We interviewed Martin Sprouse, a long time associate of Maximum Rocknroll. Martin talks about the foundational role Maximum had in political and cultural organizing, especially for spreading fundamental concepts of humanity–ideas like anti-racism, queer liberation, anti war, feminism and animal rights. The zine’s ethos and commitment to connection impacted scenes far beyond its Bay Area post office box.

MARTIN SPROUSE

My name is Martin Sprouse, my connection to this thing is through the punk rock scene, the early '80s punk rock scene. Grew up in Southern California, I was doing a fanzine with my friends Pat Weakland and Jason Traeger called Leading Edge. We started that in 1982/83, and did it to about 1985. Then, in 1985, I moved to the Bay Area, got an invite to join the staff at Maximum Rocknroll.

MIC

Maximum Rocknroll was at the time one of the most powerfully influential media outlets for punk and punk adjacent scenes in the U.S. and internationally. Maximum came out monthly for most of their existence, but at the peak, they published twice a month with a print run of 10,000 copies. They had yearly subscriptions, and sold wholesale to independent book and zine stores, and also to kids who would sell it at shows. The issues contained tons of reviews and interviews with bands, with a lively conversational letters section, classified ads, news, and the before mentioned reports from punk scenes around the world.

MARTIN

So pre-internet, this sounds a little odd, but Maximum Rocknroll was one of the largest international punk fanzines there was, and it was more newspaper-like. So we put a huge concern or focus on communication - printing other addresses, like, we had scene reports, letters, contacts, fanzine reviews, record reviews, record label reviews. So there was always a lot of pen pal writing and phone calls going on. This big, thick, and shitty on newsprint. We never went glossy 'cause the idea was just to keep it as inexpensive as possible and get it around as much as possible.

CELINA

Here’s Mic again from episode four:

MIC

In these zines, these like, black and white paper rags, there would be scene reports from different cities. And there would be reports from the west coast, the southwest, the east coast. And you started to see, oh, these people are fucking having nazi problems everywhere right now. You'd reach out to people in those scenes. We built a network that way, and that network came all the way out to Portland.

MARTIN

For people that don’t know, the scene reports in those early days of Maximum, again, pre-internet, is people from different cities, just kids, would just handwrite letters, talking about what was going on in that actual city. And it could be from a big city like Chicago, or a small town where there's only one or two bands. And we would always print them. And so, what the scene reports would consist of, mainly, is talking about which bands come from there, if they have a demo tape out, if they have a record out, always including addresses. And they'd talk about local fanzines or anybody else that's doing good; record stores, promoters. So we'd get these in, everyday we'd get...I don't know, couple of 'em everyday and every issue would have, what, ten to fifteen scene reports from all over the world, not just the United States. And again, like the title says, it’s a scene report , exactly what was going on in that scene. You know, after internet, it's just so weird explaining this stuff to people, how it worked. But it really was mainly what it was known for, addresses and phone numbers.

MIC

When Martin describes the scene reports as ‘what was going on in that scene’ you might wonder why people wanted to know. Punk culture is highly migratory. Bands of course went on tour, but it was pretty normal for other people to get in the van and go along, drop out of their life and ‘travel’ with others or alone. They rode Greyhound, hitchhiked, hopped freight trains or got drive-away cars. Knowing anything about a town before you got there, like where to get free pizza from friendly local punks or what squat was safe to sleep in, was valuable information, kind of like an open-source yelp. For the punks, connection was the wealth we all built together. The network was woven into our lives at the time–along with a great deal of trust and varying overlapping degrees of privilege. That network made it easier to spread the word about everything, including how to fight racist boneheads.

MARTIN

San Francisco always had skinheads’, but they were more like street skins, and then, nazi skins started coming in and infiltrating again. We had the American Front and Bob Heick was part of that. That all came out of San Francisco, which people don't realize. This was before he hooked up with Tom Metzger. Tim Yohannan, who was one of the main people from Maximum Rocknroll and a couple of the other people, wanted to open up a club. So the idea is that I would come up there and help work on the magazine while these other people started trying to open up a club. Ultimately, Gilman Street was a byproduct of that move.

CELINA

‘Gilman Street’ is an all-ages, volunteer run, non profit, pro-kid, collectively run music and social club located in a warehouse at 924 Gilman in Berkeley, California. In the mid 80s, there were few public music spaces that could be accessed by people under 21. The founders saw a need for a space where punk kids could have and play shows without getting busted by the cops or ripped off by promoters. Gilman’s ethos was grounded in all ages collective organizing, where the audience had as much responsibility as the bands and the workers to make the show and the scene what they wanted it to be.

MARTIN

When we opened Gilman in ‘86, some of our first confrontations were skinheads, skinheads coming over from the city that were kind of street skins, assholes that wanted to beat everybody up. And, you know, anytime there was a fight at Gilman, we would immediately break it up, the bands would stop, everything would stop, and those assholes would get thrown out. We also had a policy, of course we wouldn't let any nazi skinheads in Gilman. So a lot of times there was huge confrontations at the door, but as Gilman went on, nazi skinheads started coming a bit more to Gilman, and these were the white boys from the suburbs, not so much from San Francisco. You know, Skrewdriver shirts and all that shit.

MIC

Skrewdriver was a northern English punk band with working class oi roots who embraced white nationalism in the early 80s. They were at one time the most notorious white power skinhead punk band in the world. To wear one of the band’s t-shirts is to declare an allegiance to white supremacy.

MARTIN

We didn't let those guys ever come in, so we just had huge confrontations. There were definitely a lot of fights. We always won because they never got in there. The shows wouldn't go on with anyone fighting or doing any bullshit inside, and if we caught somebody that snuck in with a Skrewdriver shirt, say they had it underneath their jacket, they would get thrown out right away, too. That was one way of dealing with it. It was successful, but ultimately it didn’t get rid of the skinheads. And after about two years, a second group of people kind of took over the organizing of it. And they were a lot more lax than we were and that was pretty bad. Then the third generation of people that came in, they actually had security, dudes from the punk scene that just went and beat the shit out of the skinheads and that really did take care of it. There were no more skinhead problems.

CELINA

At the height of the neo-Nazi problem in the late 80s, Kieran Knutsen, a founding member of the Minneapolis Baldies and ARA spent time on the road advocating for direct action as a way to fight racism in punk scenes across the country.

MARTIN

Kieran came out to San Francisco in 1989 for a Without Borders conference. It was kind of a loosely-based Anarchist gathering, an international thing. They had 'em in different cities every year. Kieran gave a workshop about Anti-Racist Action and militant anti-racism. It just was so different than all the other workshops. Kieran, he's a union president now for his local chapter, he had this really amazing ability to organize a meeting in a different way than other people had. He was just right there, really present. His politics were very hard, very militant, but very inclusive. It was just a really amazing thing and he just caught my attention. I was just like, "oh, this guy knows what the fuck he's doing." And also coming from the punk scene, we've always confronted racist skinheads, but it was really interesting to find skinheads beating the shit out of racist skinheads. And then said, "this is the way we dealt with it. We think this works." That workshop was crowded as hell, there were so many people there because everyone was dealing with skinheads at the time - again, 1989. And there was people from all over the country at that one workshop. And then I introduced myself and I brought him to the Maximum house and we did a long interview with him. We made it the center spread of Maximum, which was, god, what issue? I think it was number seventy-eight. So Kieran talks a lot about the Baldies, and ARA, and doing community organizing and their tactics for dealing with things and doing outreach with other cities. According to Kieran, it really helped ARA; that this group exists, that these tactics work. Kieran didn't shy away from the violence or beating the shit out of skinheads, but talked about, you know, working with the community and working with other groups and other people outside the punk scene to really confront and stop these racist skinheads. And it was very inspiring to other people in other cities to do the same thing and also probably start organizing other chapters in other cities. Maximum also had a surplus of cash from ad revenue, and stuff, so every end of the year, we'd give money away to different groups, different fanzines, different bands, different organizations. This could be, like, $100, $500, $1,000. Kieran just reminded me of this story. He said the second time me and him met, he had just come down from Portland with two other Baldies. They needed some money for people who were in Cincinnati to get out of jail. They were part of their group. So Maximum, we gave 'em money and Kieran wired that money to Cincinnati to get those people out of jail. You know, we were able to do those kind of things.

MIC

Here’s a brief excerpt from that centerfold interview with Kieran in MRR number 78:

CELINA

“Getting ARA mentioned in the MRR scene reports created a big response because people wanted to do something and we were the first thing that came out that involved kids organizing against Nazis. We have letters pouring in, you could see the sentiment out there and a lot of it was from anti-racist skinheads. Some people get this fear that skinheads are these supermen that can’t be beat, but the fact is that any two people should be able to beat any one person if it comes down to that. One of the reasons why the Baldies won so much isn’t because we’re on some macho trip or that we're all huge people but because we’ve been able to get the numbers to support us and that’s what’s most important. For the most part, Nazis are not the majority of the scene and if the majority of the people in some way resist them by not speaking to them, not letting them into shows, or fighting them, they’re going to be gone.” MIC Maximum Rocknroll, and other fanzines and infoshops and show spaces and record stores made up a conduit of culture where people who didn’t have personal wealth or resources could, through their efforts, create shared resources. Nowadays we’re all familiar with online campaigns and how people use platforms and influence to raise ideas. Hearing from Martin shows us the continuum of media activism, and how for many, Maximum was a foundation for a life dedicated to social justice and personal cultural freedom.

MARTIN

The majority of punk kids in the community were there for different reasons; we’re there for politics, we’re there because 'cause we liked the music, we’re there for the people, we're there for all the causes. These racist kids, you know, just such a bankrupt thing, that they're there for a couple years, not that there aren't lifers sometimes, but a lot of those suburban white kids, rich white kids with the Skrewdriver shirts that came in, that definitely there to start shit. Once they got the shit beat out of them, they just didn't come back. It's just such a bankrupt thing. They're just not gonna last that long. You know, just as an example, like the Antifa kids now, or groups like that or anybody like that. You know, they're doing bake sales, they're doing community outreach, they're helping people when their houses burn down. They're helping kids when they come out of jail, they're raising money, they're also putting their asses on the line. They're beating the shit out of these dudes. That's 'cause it's a sense of community, has a sense of purpose. You don't see any of these fucking stupid Proud Boys doing any of that, or any of those racist skinheads doing any of that shit, you know? Such a big difference.

ERIN YANKE

Thanks for listening to this bonus episode of It Did Happen Here. There are transcripts, show notes with links, and other relevant content at our website: ItDidHappenHerePodcast.com. You can also listen to the podcast on the KBOO website, on Spotify, Stitcher, and Apple podcasts. This interview was by Erin Yanke, and your hosts were Celina Flores and Mic Crenshaw. This podcast is produced by Celina, Mic, and me, Erin Yanke. Music in this episode is by A Touch of Hysteria. Thanks to them, thanks to Martin Sprouse and all at Maximum Rocknroll, and thanks to the Marla Davis Fund, KBOO Community Radio, and to the rest of our production team: Icky A, Julie Perini, and Moe Bowstern, and thank you for listening.