Our dear old friend Pat Wright passed away in November, 2020 — his final months spending time with his people, even having a zoom birthday party where his circle of friends could express our appreciation and love for him while he was still alive. What a blessing. We are lucky that Pat, who grew up in New York, came out West in his crazy big truck/wagon around 1965 and settled here in the Bay.
When I got into the Local #510 Sign and Display Union, setting up trade shows in San Francisco, Pat was the President, facilitating the sometimes unruly meetings, letting the discussions roll in the spirit of democracy. Always having an archivist’s eye for history, he had a scrapbook of old articles, including the murder of painter’s Unionist Dow Wilson in San Francisco, killed for his powerful organizing. Back then, our newsletter was called “The Wingnut”, meaningful on many levels since some tradeshow displays we install are held together with wingnuts. Pat got the punks in the Union, many of whom are running it today with the same ethics. Seeing me struggle with being a single mom while working long hours, Pat would say “You need a wife at home”. Coming from him it wasn’t sexist at all. He had a way of seeing you, supporting you, with deep solidarity and a sense of equality.
Pat was a fixture at the 924 Gilman Street all-ages punk venue in Berkeley, helping hold things down in the nuts and bolts sort of way. Who’s sweeping and mopping the floor at the end of the night after the show? What needs repair? What is the work that needs to be done to hold the project together, people wise and the physical space? Always an eye towards what holds a project together. The real shitwork and a sense of fair sharing of the work, not the glamorous stuff. And the love and appreciation for the people. He was the tall lanky punk elder with his flight jacket and beanie cap, always there looking out for the community he loved, a sort of glue in the scene and a mentor to the youth, exemplified in a song called “Wright Kids” written by Robert in the band Shit Coffins: “…all you’ve done is open doors for us all…take a deep breath and see the lives you have changed.” His role in Gilman and everything in general seems to have been about having meaning and connection.
Before Gilman, Pat volunteered with KALX, Berkeley’s student and community radio station. When he showed up to help out in 1982, he choose Facilities. Pat’s DJ name was Insect Chickenboy, and he was a community bridge between different eras: bohemian, hippies and hardcore punk. KALX Last Will wrote, “If there had been no Pat Wright I would not have survived feeling out of place in my first crucial days as a KALX Berkeley underground volunteer fresh from East Oakland… [H]e went out of his way every time he saw me to take aggressively generous action to see to it that I belonged with the misfits… Pat being resolutely clique free, I would not have learned that healthy rebellion lives in the grooves of every genre of the human condition.”
Pat had a way of being present with love and solidarity. While making his rounds in his big van he would swing through the Long Haul/Infoshop saying “What needs fixing?” with a hand on his tool pouch on his black jeans, with more tools and supplies available in the intricate custom shelves of his van. He’d come over saying “time for a dump run” and make a date with you to do an Urban Ore run. That was another special place on Pat’s rounds: a church of life’s debris where decluttering your life can be a sacred act of getting stuff to move on to the next person’s hands. He would give you a CD of music with your name on a ziploc bag. Pat’s presence made everyone feel welcome and a part of something, which is what all us humans need most.