Letters for the Week of June 8, 2016

Readers sound off on boycotts, cops, and classical.

“Boycotters Accuse 924 Gilman Street of Ethical Backslide,” Music, June 1

Operation Ivy lead singer chimes in on 924 Gilman boycott

My name is Jesse Michaels. I was an original Gilman member and sang for the band Operation Ivy. I am not a current volunteer and am not writing on behalf of Gilman, but am a long time ally and concerned observer. This is a response to the Gilman boycott article in last week’s East Bay Express. For anybody who didn’t read it, here is a synopsis: Gilman Street is a long standing Berkeley punk venue based on egalitarian ideals. It has rules on the wall that say “no sexism, racism, homophobia” and so on. Some people are boycotting it, claiming it has strayed from its stated values.

The boycotters, who chose to remain anonymous, have valid gripes, but are also saying things that just are not true. The boycott manifesto opens by saying “924 Gilman is over as we know it,” then implies that Gilman was once ethical but has gone downhill. Actually, the same debates have been going on since 1986. Rigid political purity would not “save” Gilman; it would drastically change it and probably ruin it. The manifesto states that the recent booking of controversial bands Fang and Slapshot is “the last straw,” and a “giant middle finger to everything Gilman has stood for in the last 30 years.” In fact, both bands played Gilman in the early years of the club, when the people who wrote the rules were still there. The rules are important, but they were never meant to be absolute, dogmatic commandments.

The boycotters are politically absolute “safe space” people and, like some of their college campus counterparts, they have some great ideas combined with an unfortunate zeal for black-and-white thinking. As one of many examples, their manifesto says that “from the beginning” punk has been split between people who are “reactionary” and people who are “anti-oppression.” This is a gross simplification by any analysis. Punk has always been a collection of definitions and approaches, often in conflict, and mostly not overtly political. The “us and them” mentality is a convenient saw that allows a small minority to act without conscience when attacking a club that serves thousands of people.

The real rank-and-file of Gilman Street aren’t the old guard volunteers that the boycotters are demonizing, but less visible, mostly working-class and poor kids. A lot of them are from distressed, violence-plagued towns like Pittsburgh and Antioch and many are trauma survivors. Long after I was a Gilman regular, I would meet these youths week after week when I worked at Homeless Youth Alliance and did one-on-one work with recovering drug addicts. These were at-risk individuals, many of them queer, trans and POC, and Gilman was one of the only places they felt welcome.

I want to avoid the kind of personal “calling out” that has been going on around this debate, but suffice to say a lot of the main voices supporting the boycott are white, affluent college graduates who are not Bay Area natives. They are arrogating political oversight of kids that have already been pushed around their whole lives and don’t feel represented by them.

Maximum Rocknroll, a magazine notorious for scene policing, has issued a statement of support for the boycott that is so humorless and grandiose it verges on self-parody.

The boycotters claim to have exhausted the democratic process at Gilman and say that the venue has become insensitive to marginalized populations such as queer and trans people, and people of color. The membership meeting recently confronted this characterization directly.

As Corbett Redford, a Bay Area punk documentarian, put it: “A small contingent of boycott advocates finally showed up. Most appeared to be white, none of them were volunteers. What happened next is eight or nine volunteers from Gilman spoke up. Every single one of those kids was either queer, gender fluid or a person of color. They told the boycott people that they didn’t need their protection, that they could represent themselves and that the boycott was threatening something they cared about deeply. One of them said that Gilman had saved her life. They also said they have their own issues with the place but that doesn’t mean it should be attacked or shut down.”

Many people have spoken up about the boycott of 924 Gilman Street and, unfortunately, online threats have been made by unaffiliated trolls. To this affect, the collective’s representatives have issued the following statement:

“The Gilman volunteers and the board members are not behind any hate speech, threats, or acts of violence towards the boycotters or anyone else and condemn them. Discussion between people with opposing views is the bedrock of our collective, hence the meetings.”

My own history with Gilman is long and a bit mixed, but as a concerned observer I can offer a proposal for what to do about the boycott: nothing.

The boycotters have a right to their feelings. They have valid concerns. These should be considered, especially if it comes from somebody who is really hurting rather than from an invisible keyboard warrior. The boycotters have also issued an ultimatum and demands. These should be ignored. There is an organized-chaos democratic process in place. It is flawed, but it works, and lists of demands are not part of the program. Gilman will be OK.

And if the boycotters ever come back, welcome them back, ask them to speak up at meetings and offer them volunteer positions. Gilman is good at including people from the margins. It has been doing it for thirty years.

Jesse Michaels

“Off Your Phone, Into the World,” Culture Spy, June 1

Is that a burrito or a Taser?

I read all of the Rebecca Solnit pieces. I read almost all of the Alex Nieto coverage. I even read a long thing by the guy who called the police on Nieto. He didn’t call the cops because Nieto had a burrito. It’s because he thought Nieto’s Taser looked like a gun. I’d love to find out who decided Tasers should be manufactured to look like guns!

Dan Holliman, Oakland

“Cop blocked,” News, June 1, and “The Mayor of North Oakland,” Feature Story, June 1:

On the sad state of the East Bay ‘police state’

Ali Winston’s article shows that we live in a police state. If it were otherwise, cops would not do anything except what they were directed to do by our elected officials.

Instead, we have police unions and other similar organizations unduly influencing our cowardly and/or corrupt elected officials in order to allow the cops to do what they want instead of what the public wants. Police Officers Bill of Rights? Give me a break! Only in a police state would cops be afforded any greater rights than regular people.

This disgusting situation arises from fear of street crime, which is both real and imagined. The real portion comes from great inequality; the imagined portion comes from the corporate media, which constantly propagandizes people to think that street crime is much worse than it really is. This fear is then used to get people to worship the police for fear of the “bad guys,” which in turn gives the police undue and unwarranted influence and decision-making authority that they should not have. The logical conclusion to all this is the police state that we now live in.

Personally, I’d rather fend for myself than live in a society where cops regularly murder Black and Latino people with impunity, oppress and attack demonstrators, and generally act as the army of the rich.

I totally agree with Mistah F.A.B. that local communities should protect and govern themselves. When I lived in West Oakland, everyone I knew in the neighborhood hated the cops and wanted them abolished, and for very good reason. In order for people like us to change this attitude, the cops will have to be brought under control of our elected politicians and stop acting like the pigs that they are called. Otherwise, we can continue to live in a police state where cops and those abused and harmed by them continue to hate each other.

Jeff Hoffman, Berkeley

“Calendar listings and picks,” Summer Guide, May 25:

Does the Express hate classical music?

Friends visiting the Bay Area for the Memorial Day holiday wanted to find classical music events. They knew that the East Bay is full of good classical music — as of course is San Francisco — so they checked the Express calendar.

Oops! Not a very wise choice. They found a mere two events. One of those events wasn’t classical; instead, it was a show by a group “fusing elements of bluegrass, folk-rock, and jazz.” The other event, listed in the calendar in Oakland, wasn’t even on the venue’s schedule that week; instead, the same group had a concert at the Cowell Theater in San Francisco that was not listed in the Express.

Checking online resources, we found quite a few “real” classical concerts in the East Bay and San Francisco, including two opera performances in Berkeley. What’s going on here? Why doesn’t the Express calendar pay as much attention to classical music as it does to rock, pop, jazz, and other genres?

And why do so many calendar listings of classical events take place in clubs and coffee houses (and even retail stores), rather than in the large concert and recital halls, college/university venues, and churches where they most often occur in both the East Bay?

It appears that the Express really does neglect classical music. There’s never a featured “Picks” story about a classical event. The Express calendar frequently lists its few classical concerts incorrectly. Last fall, nearly every week saw an incorrect venue (and identification and date) listed for San Francisco Opera performances. Last week, the calendar had two completely different listings for the Oakland Symphony performance — one of them not even mentioning the orchestra itself. But at least the Oakland Symphony got a listing; other local orchestras typically aren’t as fortunate.

Even East Bay classical-music organizations and opera companies that take out space ads for their events don’t get listings in the calendar, feature articles, or picks. They simply go unmentioned for the week. If the Express hopes that more classical music producers and organizers will send their listings to the calendar, it’s no wonder they don’t. The paper seems pretty clueless (at best) and hostile (at worst) to this genre.

And the annual Summer Guide published in May? Nope, we don’t see any mention of the many classical music festivals taking place across the region each year, including quite a few that attract international performers and attention. In fact, The New York Times recently listed one of them among its top ten summer music festivals across the country. And another big festival is starting right here in Berkeley the first weekend in June. Did the Express calendar list even one of this world-class festival’s dozens of concerts and recitals this week? Not a chance.

I realize the Express has been without the services of a calendar editor for several issues. But these problems began long ago. A past calendar editor once told me on the phone that she often had to guess what category to put a music event in.

The Express used to have great coverage of classical music. What happened?

Surely it’s not very difficult to curate weekly classical events for calendar listings and picks. (You can even contact me to see how to do it easily through a single URL.) However, I think the Express simply wants to keep its image as a club and bar guide, at least when it comes to music. Its random, inconsistent, and (frequently) inaccurate listings for classical music demonstrate this pretty well.

Marc Herman, Oakland

“The High Five,” Feature Story, May 18:

Ditch the sports

I appreciate that the Express does not include much sports coverage. Please, please, please do not increase sports coverage, especially big stories such as the cover story on the Warriors. Every other media outlet provides more than enough sports coverage. Instead, please cover the issues that matter and continue to cover arts and entertainment extensively. Leave the sports to the other outlets.

M Freeman, Berkeley


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