“A changing of the leaves/A dousing of the flames/Too many stories that sound the same/Is the scene/A glimmer of hope/Or is it all just a glorified hoax?” — Sellout by Face Value
From August 2017 until April 2019 I took my longest Hobo’s Holiday since I gave up my room at the South Side Punk House in West Lawn, Chi in April 2004. Besides working and doing fiber arts, I spent a great deal of time reading. It was then that I tried reading Growing Up at 37 by Jerry Rubin. I was also 37, and basically resigned
to a quiet life doing the Catholic Worker thing, moving furniture, weaving, sewing, going for long walks and reading. But Rubin’s book was unreadably bad. I started to brainstorm, what would a book look like if it was about growing up at 37 without selling out? What led me to this point?
I’d liked a couple of Rubin’s earlier books, DO IT! and We are Everywhere. Michelle Tea wrote a remarkable memoir, How to Grow Up, and later I read How to Be a Man: (and other illusions) by Duff McKagan, which was noteworthy, so I don’t think it was all in my head, on Rubin, or garbage material. Maybe I could write a memoir called Coming of Age. No way, too cliché. But Coming of Age is a great song by Face Value. It’s on an amazing album, The Price of Maturity. Bingo!
Cleveland, OH’s (Clevo) Face Value is my all-time favorite white hardcore band. Their anthemic, youth crew masterpiece, The Price of Maturity, was one of the only things that got me through my freshmen years of high school. Seeing them open for 7 Seconds the Wednesday before Thankstaking in my second freshmen year was my watershed moment for white hardcore. Their front man at the time even handed me the mic a couple of times, and at 15, my introduction to crowd participation hardcore solidified my burgeoning Love for things Do It Yourself (DIY).
Grassroots, underground, local hardcore bands taught me how I could live my dreams. Ringworm, The Spudmonsters, 9 Shocks Terror, Run Devil Run, One Life Crew; I saw all of them but I somehow magically never saw Integrity. Technically, I went all the way to Baltimore to see them semi-recently, but I didn’t make it to Maryland Death Fest in 2018. Sort of similarly, I went to go see The Committed once way back when, but the
word was one of the other bands’ members pulled a gun on them and they left. But now I’m getting side tracked. The thing I’m getting at is I vocalized for a couple bands that played shows when I was a teenager, and played bass and vocalized for another. The much more important thing was, I started contributing to and doing ‘zines and going to protests before I got rid of all of my musical equipment and CDs, and got On the Road, both literally and figuratively.
The transition from Traveling for family, fun, spiritual reasons and/or music to protest hopping was lengthy and a bit rough, but all I regret is not making it a faster process.
I often think of September 29th, 2001 as my birthday. It was the first time I marched in Washington, DC, and in many ways was the culmination of a process that started about three years earlier when I found out about the School of the Americas (SOA), a Latin American military officers’ training facility located at Ft. Benning, GA. But that day in DC there were two demonstrations (demoes) against the impending war in Afghanistan, and I participated in both.
I had been to protests before, but nothing I had experienced in Clevo prepared me for the tense and sometimes violent Anti-Capitalist Convergence (ACC) march on the World Bank, which ended with hundreds of us getting detained in the plaza in front of the building.
In retrospect, of course, the differences make total sense. What’s demonstrating for the legalization of marijuana with maybe three hundred people mostly too stoned for any sort of serious shenanigans, or participating in a so-called solidarity rally while people on the actual front lines are breaking unjust laws elsewhere?
This on the other hand, was something akin to a front line. Don’t forget, September 29th that year was just 18 days after 9-11, and DC had been hit.
Though I technically had been informed that the ACC march was unpermitted, I had no idea what the implications of that were. By the time I got to the initial rally point with a handful of other young radicals who had gotten on the bus at Cleveland State University the night before, and some students we had picked up from Kent State along the way, the sight alone of the rows of riot cops waiting for the march to start let me know in no uncertain terms that it was about to get real.
Dozens of young people wearing mostly black, masked up, some carrying shields, formed a Black Bloc that was ready for violence I wasn’t expecting. Again, I was totally unprepared.
Food Not Bombs (FNB) was serving, and I got some slices of cantaloupe and a cup of black coffee. Though I’ve at least occasionally drunk coffee for as long as I can remember, I had always thought unsweetened black coffee was straight up disgusting. Here I was stuck with a whole cup of it, figuring I should slug it down just so it wouldn’t go to waste and I actually enjoyed it. Being 21 at the time, I wondered if it was true that you had all new taste buds every seven years, or if your tastes changed systematically along those lines for some other reason. I have a reputation for being too serious, or serious all the time. But frankly most of my thoughts are exactly like this so I just keep them to myself.
As we started to march, about 4,000 deep, the police instantly surrounded us, with extra police in cars and on motorcycles or horses in front, alongside and behind us. The march itself was tense but largely uneventful, with chants such as “Pigs here, bombs there,
the USA is everywhere!” highlighting the basic confrontation. But as some of us filled up the plaza in front of the World Bank, apparently cops in cars drove through the march to divide us, followed by cops on hoof brutally dispersing those not in the plaza, while sealing up those of us inside.
Once we realized we were stuck, dozens of people began playing soccer, drumming in the largest drum circle I had seen up to that point in my life, or dancing around the drum circle. But most of us, including myself, mostly sat or stood around nervously, not sure what to expect. Someone gave me a bandanna soaked in vinegar to cover my mouth and nose with in case we were tear gassed, then a Kent student traded me a gas mask for it since she couldn’t breathe with it on. Someone stood behind an angry looking elderly person sitting on a park bench, with a sign saying something to the effect of, This is what an undercover cop looks like.
Apparently one or more people with a cell phone tried to get folks at the main rally to come and perhaps pressure the police into releasing us, even if just by their overwhelming numbers. From what I understand not many people were notified, and only the Trotskyist splinter group from the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), the Spartacist League showed up.
After about an hour and a half, we were allowed to march on the 20,000 strong, permitted rally organized by the Workers World Party’s then newest front group, the Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER) Coalition. Someone rockin’ a Clash back patch of their first album’s cover in the Black Bloc made “Remote Control” play in my head as I looked upon the capitol building’s dome:
“Who needs the Parliament /Sitting making laws all day/ They’re all fat and old/ Queuing for the House of Lords”
After another tense but largely uneventful march surrounded by the police, we eventually made it to the ANSWER rally. There was another FNB serving, and in line I met a comrade from Baltimore, Nicole, who I would repeatedly re-connect with at other demonstrations in Philly, New York, and again in DC exactly a year later protesting the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. It’s almost embarrassing how all these years later I can still remember snippets of our first conversation. We talked about Food Not Bombin’ in our respective cities, the commune she lived in, how Jack Kerouac received a medical discharge from the military when he left a drill to read… We kept in touch, and our interactions and correspondence still define the excitement of my protest-hopping phase, which lasted about a year and two months, but felt like at least two years. The things we talked and wrote about to each other were all the things I Loved about that time.
But this was all just beginning for me. On certain levels, I was aware of the Life of Brian-esque commie alphabet soup. As served in Clevo, I had already encountered the RCP, the SWP and the Non- Governmental Organizations that kept it confusing with their NGO ingredients. But holy smokes was that just the tip of the iceberg! I would go on to encounter the SLP, the PLP, the ISO… not to mention their front groups like NION, R&R, and the IAC which technically started ANSWER, making them the front group of a front group. Then there were so many different kinds of Anarchists
with their own rainbow of colors to rep various ideologies along with the standard black flag which I had made part of my uniform that I had taken on in opposition to the Nazis at my high school in the 1990s.
When we finally got to marching with ANSWER, I had the feeling of walking back in time with thousands of other misfit resisters who had once waged lonely arguments with high school classmates and teachers about what the US-trained and financed military governments were up to in Latin America in the 1970s and ’80s, which continued through the ‘90s until then claiming to be fighting drugs, then just being re-branded as part of this war of terror; but here, we were all together and there was potential power in that. Now we had to go home, organize, and come back stronger.
By the end of the day my book bag was full of newspapers, flyers and a slim book, and my head was awash with all sorts of ideas. That pile of literature became an interesting feature of my room. Added to and subtracted from quite a bit, eventually spawning a couple more piles, but maintaining a roughly chronological order that made pawing through them a sort of archeological trip every time I did so.
Now I felt like it was on. After 9-11 the president had a 92% approval rating, and I opposed him more than any previous politician. Now I was fully part of a movement to stop the war in Afghanistan and people were trying to connect it to so many other struggles. It was electrifying!
At the same time, though, I felt like I had my feet in two different worlds, heading in a direction that was by and large neither sustainable nor effective. I still worked for wages and/or went to school most of the time, had ties to my white supremacist, racist,
xenophobic family who hated the poor and to frenemies who were not supportive of my political work for the most part. Without a doubt all these connections were fading fast as the reports kept coming in from all fronts of what was shaping up to be a world war of sorts, and I proceeded along ever more complicated and narrow paths towards what I hoped to be a Permanent Revolution.
The feeling of being in two different worlds played itself out in so many bizarre ways it’s hard to know where to begin trying to describe them, or if it’s even worthwhile.
Local actions and national convergences became my world. I was used as a human prodding device at a Free Mumia! demo in Philly, then watched riot cops goose-stepping as chemical weapons and puppet parts flew through the air during the main day of action against the World Economic Forum meeting in New York, Saturday, February 2nd, 2002. That day I handed Nicole a leaflet during one of the marches for an upcoming action in Ohio, and as soon as we made eye contact she hugged me so hard she spun me halfway around as she kissed me on the cheek, telling me how she had been looking for me all week. I can’t believe how happy that memory still makes me, and it sort of weirds me out that I also remember the exact date, along with so many others. Sometimes this is because we used the date to name the actions, like those which occurred on and around April 20th, 2002 that were called A20.
A20 was during some of the fiercest fighting of the Second Intifada, so the actions ended up taking on all sorts of things other than the original SOA Watch call to lobby against Plan Columbia. Protests were also held against the war in Afghanistan, the impending war in
Iraq, military funding of Israel and the spring meeting of the IMF / World Bank. The main march was 75,000 strong, including many of the by-then usual suspects, but also a fairly large number of Arabic students from my community college.
This was the best part of my life up to then. I lived for the next action, and spent my time between them reading, writing, leafletting and distributing other forms of literature, talking with people, listening to speeches, watching films; all of this building up to the next action, which in turn I hoped would lead to some sort of Libertarian Communist Revolution.
Again, I knew this was totally unsustainable, but hoped that out of the swirl of politically charged actions would emerge a place to fight, a group to advance with, and paths by which to organize and form sustainable strategies for our movements. This search culminated for me in November of 2002, when the TransAtlantic Business Dialogue (TABD) met in Chicago.
I had met my original political contact for Chicago doing jail support after a Free Mumia! demo in Philly. What had started as a hundreds strong demo, had degenerated into a handful of Anarchists a little too close both literally and figuratively to the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade (RCYB, Maoist) singing and dancing around, “Who let the pigs out? Oink, oink, oink!” It was embarrassing to be with them, and I crossed the street with a couple from southwest suburban Chi, and another Traveler, from Baltimore if I’m not mistaken. I ended up trading contact info with one of the people who claimed Chicago as home, and the other lone Traveler.
Every once in a while we’d e-mail each other about actions worth mobilizing for and other Travels.
Almost eleven months after we first met, I finally re- connected with one of them at a Really, Really Free Market held in opposition to the TABD meeting in Downtown, Chi’s Federal Plaza.
The weekend turned into a wild time for me, and is when I consider myself to have moved to Chicago in spirit. It was my first time visiting an Infoshop, a real Punk House, the Haymarket Martyrs’ Memorial and eating Costa Rican food (mmm). Also being my first Chicago political actions, meeting, spoken word event, concert and party, even the things I’d done elsewhere took on a whole new life.
After the protests downtown, there was a TransAtlantic Booty Dancing party at the Buddy Space in Wicker Park, Chi. The invitation said to come dressed as a CEO or an undercover, and there was a pile of plastic vampire teeth next to the door labeled CEO costumes. As music boomed and people danced, some folks with a small letter set press were printing flyers for a demo the next month, D20, and also distributed literature about the factory take overs in Argentina which is what D20 was celebrating. Who says we’re against everything? FNB was served, and I was introduced to spicy pumpkin soup, one of the few noteworthy things I went on to learn how to cook. When I was sick of the music or wanted to cool down, I could go out on the roof and watch short films that were playing, projected on a giant white sheet. There was a Business verses Pleasure wrestling match, piñatas of a riot cop and a capitalist were smashed, and paper was put up on the walls so people could paint all over them. It was the best party ever!
Even jail support was fun the next day, as some 30 of us mobbed the court and refused to leave until our
comrades were released. I was declared a South Sider before I even moved to town and joined my first Collective (and my second, third and fourth for that matter) and started to experiment directly with communal living.
Much like protest hopping had improved my wellbeing, in Chicago I was introduced to the concept of Counter-Institution building as a strategy. Though I had been to a few authoritarian Communist book stores in Ohio and New York and read about Dual Power in Trotskyist literature, hanging around various kinds of non-partisan Collective spaces for the first time gave me a real taste of the possibilities, much like visiting a commune for the first time in 1996 had convinced me of wanting to be involved with that form of living. Some 17 years later I remain committed to Counter-Institution building as an integral strategy for radical social change. Upon moving to Chicago I was also introduced to the runaway greatest music scene I’ve ever even been aware of, over the years including: Reaccion, Bosque, Tras de Nada, Sin Orden, Los PKDores, La Armada, Sospechosos, Non-Fiktion Nois, Everything is Ruined, Human Order, Disrobe, Canadian Rifle; the list goes on and on!
All this established the trajectory that eventually found me returning to my birth place, the San Francisco Bay Area in 2010. The East Bay Free School, Long Haul Infoshop, Slingshot Collective, Ft. Radical, Cat Haus; even though it was a milieu similar to that which I would associate with urban living, after having a couple of my articles printed in Slingshot, I decided to move back to the Bay Area to squat and join the Slingshot Collective in the fall of 2013.
When I first started earnestly brainstorming this book, I thought it needed the art work, descriptions of Collective “processes” that would make Ayn Rand either jealous or proud depending on how low they sunk, and all those sorts of things that make Slingshot… Slingshoty, for better and for worse. But then I decided after gaining some more computer, printing and bindery skills, to just let my words speak for themselves, at least for now.
If you read this and want to know more, you can hit me up. Maybe something more elaborate can be published later. Until then, this is everything by me that the Slingshot Collective published under the bylines of Alex, Alex Iwasa, or A. Iwasa, except the bit about the Cascadia Forest Defenders. For some reason that had no byline. Also, I set up and transcribed the interview with Osha, but insisted on the Slingshot Collective byline as part of my circa three and a half year dead horse flogging effort to make Slingshot an actual project, not just Jesse Palmer’s ‘zine, co-edited by The Eggplant.
All I’ve changed is my e-mail addresses, to keep them updated. The excerpt from Book not Bombs might be missing a Call for Submissions to a book project about squatting in the Bay Area that I was working on, and a plug for my ‘zine, Thoughts on Squatting in the San Francisco Bay Area: the 1970s to 2015 published by Little Black Cart, because the final draft was never posted on Slingshot’s website. I’ve also removed a link to a website that I know is defunct. Otherwise, I stand by everything I wrote, even when Slingshot changed it deeply, my politics were ham fisted and/or wording clunky.
When I think I really hit my stride as Slingshot shit worker, everything I wrote for it was a Love letter to the world.
As I saw it, Slingshot had four major constituencies: Bay Area radicals, US prisoners, hangers around at radical spaces and ‘zinesters committed to print the world over. Of course there was some corss over in these, but I figured, the goal was to build the choir, retain recruits, improve and win. While I was a Slingshot shit worker, we increased our print runs from 20,000 copies per issue to 22,000, at the same time that print project after print project was shutting down. Being consistently published by Slingshot was the culmination of my life’s work up to that point, and a hard act to follow.
But on that token, is it an act anyone would want to follow? It was regularly something embarrassing to be a part of, printing stunningly bad articles and/or artwork as often as good material. Spending a fair amount of time doing damage control for people who couldn’t care less about you gets old fast. I considered being a Slingshot shit worker to be my job, and in many senses both good and bad, it was. This is the main product I have to show for that work.
In his Eleven Theses on Feuerbach, Karl Marx wrote, “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.” I think this remains too true, and would add it’s also about artists, especially writers.
Thanks in roughly chronological order not importance, except where indicated, to: all the other Slingshot shit workers, People of Color Organize!, East Bay Free School, Ft. Radical, Long Haul Infoshop, Cuatro Caminos Collective, No More Deaths, Dry River Radical Resource Center, Vegan Straight Edge Punk House, Havoc House, Bicas, Taala Hooghan Infoshop, Black Mesa/Big Mountain resistors to forced relocation and
their supporters, Protect the Peaks, Outta Your Backpack Media, Beaver Dam, Ft. Oogle/Honey Bucket/Choogle Palace, Flagstaff Family Food Center, Pigeon Palace, Barnyard, Earth First! Newswire, Halfway House (the real house of havoc), Gloo Factory, Tan Line Printing, Arizona Radical Coalition, Campbell Club, Laughing Horse Books, Right To Dream Too, Lorax, Hydra House, the Nomads, Media Island, Thurston County Food Bank, Little Black Cart, PM and AK Presses, Evil Twin Publications, Aileen St. House, Purple House, Oakland Omni Commons, Station 40, Niebyl-Proctor Marxist Library, East Bay Homes not Jails, Synchronized Chaos, Standing Rock’s water protectors and their supporters especially from the Twin Cities, Minnehaha Free Space, Boneshaker Books, Parker St. Egg Farm, Pinball Palace, Fabrica, Stone Soup Community Center, Collective A Go Go, North American Anarchist Studies Network, Anarchist History Nerd Brigade, Universalist Unitarian (sic) Church of Riverside, Not a Compound/Casa de Nada, Earth First! Humboldt, Sanctuary and Outer Space Arcata, Opal Haus, Jank House, libraries open to the public, Windmill of Corpses, 115 Legion, The Tick, Starving Artist Movers (Chicago), KPFA, Chicago ‘Zine Fest, Sisters of the Road Café, Anarres Infoshop, IntersectFest, Portland ‘Zine Symposium, Seattle Anarchist Book Fair, East Bay Anarchist Book Event, Osha Neumann, Bernardine Dohrn, Bill Ayers, all of my Road Dawgs too many to list by name, anyone I’ve forgotten and everyone else who supports this work especially those who share resources like transportation, shelter and/or food without being sketchy such as FNB, especially in the East Bay, Tucson, Phoenix, Flagstaff, Eugene, Portland, Olympia, San Francisco, Austin, Worcester, Minneapolis, Philly, Arcata, Riverside and last and least, Santa Cruz.
An extra special thanks to The Spudmonsters for being the first hardcore band I ever dug, especially Chris Andrews for being the first person I ever interviewed. Face Value for providing seemingly endless inspiration, especially Tony Erba for being committed to the grassroots at least in the mid-1990s to the early 2000s with 9 Shocks Terror, the Gordon Solie Motherfuckers and Step Sister who I got to see, and the H-100s who rocked, among other bands that I’m sure are right on to this day like Fuck You Pay Me who at least sound good. Ringworm for continuing to make great music and getting me into the Circle Jerks and Angry Samoans, especially Human Furnace who remains the only person to ever give me a review copy of a recording, and is an epic visual artist who drew the covers of Face Value’s The Price of Maturity, Take It Or Leave It (also on a poster for Kick It Over) and Choices. Also, and perhaps most importantly, Descend, who were all printers circa 1995 and were the inspiration for me taking Graphic Communications as my vocational in high school. Years after I quit playing music, I still occasionally work in the industry, and visiting a library, publishing event and/or bookstore can, and has for years filled me with as much joy as shows and record stores could when people were being cool back in the ‘90s.