Reclaim the Commons 35 Years Later

Dateline Berkeley

With the war and invasion of Iraq there is a chance for people to get out in the streets and air their grievances of living in the world today. But all too often the large protests(any sponsored by ANSWER for example) do not allow for the participants to do much there or when they go home. This was the impetus to change the yearly People’s Park festival. It being the 35th anniversary it is evident the park has weathered the quick and nowhere changes of America. What has definitely changed is how completely Americans and the people worldwide indoctrinated into industrial/capitalist culture are being shut apart from one another. The seen & unseen controls that define how popular culture gathers and exchanges information are taken as a given, though living this way has created irreversible by-products. No one wants me to go into the pros and cons of cellphones, factory farming, landlords, global trade, cars, tv shows (reality or what not) and other so called advancements in our landscape and lives. Alternative culture that the creation of the park once boldly took a stand for seems to exist simultaneously next to an insane capitalist one. The crown achievement of modern life is the absurd amount of time invested in hustling money. This is a factor in how less and less people are spending downtime in public even though there are more of us alive than ever. The chance encounters that once defined the commons have changed with what we are told is popular culture. And nowhere is safe be it Bangkok, Berkeley, or what have you. The Bay Area underground once documented in comics and rock bands, in university journals or fanzines, are not what play out in the streets in 2004. The fact that we haven’t seen much printed or said from the street perspective is another factor in how the park feels these days.

The anniversary went well but i would like to say something of the planning process that helped make it happen. There was the run of the mill boring meeting details that went on once a week speckled with some controversy. What wasn’t clear was getting the core group to run with the idea of stopping the entertainment and the speakers on stage to get people to intermingle and host a modest dozen workshops. Our motivating concern was to stop the spectacle of the stage and unidirectional communication. Some of us felt it wouldn’t go off well. Admittingy how many people will go off on a plant walk? or to a talk on prostitutes rights? to a poetry circle? and how many fucking times do we only hear of radical liberations of the 60’s? The skeptics thought at best we were experimenting with the program.

The day itself was laconic at first with a hint of feeling bleak. By one thirty a modest sized crowd was witness to what Berkeley can expect from a publicized day at the park. That is some token Native Americans drumming on stage with a ceremonial procession of the audience holding hands spiraling alongside the naked activists(they were the controversy during the planing meetings). Then followed by the name says it all band…Funky Nixons.Thankfully people were not scarred away. When the sound was turned off for the workshops there was a large crowd. Some people watched skaters. Some went a block away to the free speech mike. Albany’s punk rock band SCA played after crusty punk kids tiraded how yuppies and shoppers are ruining Berkeley and the world. And of course the workshops got a few people to talk and create connections. From what I could tell it went well, it was quite a scene to walk through the park and see every 10 feet something different going on.

During our planning process I noticed what I consider a victory. At the meetings preceding the festival people would hang around after the official business was discussed. We would talk of the issues going on, the suffering that hits home, current events and entertainment and just gossip. It is the way humans and culture has spent its time under the sun. And when the sound got shut off after Fleshies played, people hung out in the park. Normally they would leave, instead countless people lingered , all of them doing their own thing. I also think its worth saying is that i’m impressed by the example how a little effort by a group of people goes along way in making something like this happen. And i view it as a liberation not acknowledging the boundaries that say the ground is owned by a place called america.

Post Script

A couple weeks after the celebration somebody’s version of user friendly meant setting the freebox on fire. This is viewed as a slap in the face by a broad range of people and so far has been treated as such. With calm dignity a group of folks have set to rebuild it.