7 – Save the Long Haul – Dodging the wrecking ball

By Jesse D. Palmer

When I first heard about the plan to tear down the Long Haul building where Slingshot has had its offices for more than 30 years, it felt like a gut punch. My initial reaction was Fuck that — we’ll contact everyone we can think of — Save The Long Haul!  I’ve staffed a shift every Sunday since 1993…gulp. Long Haul houses something unique — a space not devoted to commerce, operated collectively by volunteers that welcomes all types of freaks. It is the perfect place to make Slingshot.

The precious thing isn’t the old building — it’s the community and the continuity with radical struggles that have taken place here over the last 44 years. Long Haul has (roughly) a 99 year lease with cheap rent and can’t afford market-rate rent in the ultra-expensive Bay Area rat race. All the shelves, lofts, paint, stairs we made ourselves. When a collective does stuff for itself — not because it’s a paid job but because people want to do it — there’s emotion that gets infused into otherwise ordinary physical objects. If you’ve never been to Long Haul, there’s 10 skylights so it’s cheerful during the day and you can hear rain fall. Everything is made of wood and painted crazy colors. There’s murals, radical posters and countless shelves stuffed with ancient zines, books and phonograph records. 

The place has a funky grassroots feeling to it that is missing from new sterile buildings. Which is not to say that me and other collective members aren’t often frustrated at how messy Long Haul is or how dysfunctional the social dynamics can be. When no one is in charge, a place can suffer all the worst problems of a punk house where no one does their dishes. Being open to the public no matter how ragged is hard. Long Haul is known for its regulars with poor social skills / boundaries that make people uncomfortable and push them away. And yet at the moment, Long Haul is experiencing a post-pandemic renaissance of fresh new energy and events.

The landlord just sees Long Haul as underperforming real estate that can be replaced with something better because capitalism reduces land, people and nature to objects — profit and loss numbers. The landlord can do whatever they want even though they have no human connection to this place, whereas those of us who use the space and love it — who have history here and a connection to it — have no part in decisions. In that way it’s a microcosm — capitalism always gives power to owners over users or those who do the work.

But I don’t just want to express my certainty about wanting to save the Long Haul at all costs. It turns out that as I’ve sat with the threat of demolition, my thoughts and feelings have turned contradictory and complex — which is more interesting. I think we should distrust certainty and simplicity — that is the realm of computers and authoritarians. Nature, voluntary communities and our hearts aren’t defined by sharp edges but rather lots of messy gray areas. 

After my initial shock, I had doubts about pouring all my energy into a fight to save Long Haul. In nature and in our lives, things change — people and projects die — change is a natural part of life. Each closing door inevitably opens other doors. Clinging onto things has its own risks. I don’t want to end up bitter or spend a bunch of my life force being against stuff. I want to focus on joy and living. I want to spend my energy making and building stuff. Being in favor of things. 

While I’m in mourning at the idea that Long Haul might end up rubble, I’m also curious what opportunities might be out there for me personally, for the projects like Slingshot that call Long Haul home, and for the thriving community that exists at Long Haul. 

Thinking about all the people I could call and try to rally against our landlord, I keep wondering if it wouldn’t be better to spend that time marching with those people against oil companies, banks and repressive political and cultural forces. 

Which raises a funny question — I’m pretty sure it would be much easier to get people to protest to save Long Haul vs. organizing those same people against climate change or capitalism. Why? As humans we have an easier time fighting something our brains can grasp rather than overwhelming, faceless, global crisis. 

I’m hesitant to add to this problem by injecting another campaign into the world. The proliferation of single-issue, micro-focused protests takes up a lot of time and gets a lot of us off the hook of doing harder forms of organizing that feel scary and overwhelming. These local campaigns can be a form of procrastination — like cleaning the living room when you’re supposed to be writing a term paper. 

If we’re to survive as a species, we need to stare straight into the overwhelming problems we face and stay focused so we can come together to build broad-based movements that take on systems, not just the symptoms. Our best response to the death culture is to make communities full of art and pleasure independent from the economy. 

We build community and sharpen our organizing with local campaigns, but we need to get better about picking what’s really crucial. The main reason I care about saving Long Haul is because I’m personally involved — which is the force motivating every NIMBY fight against change whether it is against a clean injection site, windmills or a new apartment building. Change is always painful to those personally affected — and yet change is essential in so many areas, particularly the big changes necessary to make life more sustainable by reducing emissions. Replacing a single-story building like Long Haul with an 8 story low-income apartment building close to BART, stores and jobs helps the housing crisis and reduces driving. If it wasn’t the Long Haul being knocked down, I would be for it. 

I’ve been volunteering at Long haul for 30 years — when I tell people, they look at me like I have two heads. It is a pleasure and a privilege doing my 3 hour shift every Sunday — hearing what’s going on in various corners of the counterculture and constantly meeting new people. The collective meets once a month and a lot of times, we face the same unsolvable problems repeated over and over. But nevertheless, there’s jokes and people I like seeing at those meetings. In normal life I’m sometimes the weirdest person in a room, but not at Long Haul — we’re all misfits here. 

I’ve often wondered would I just keep volunteering at Long Haul until I got too old? Sometime I’ve thought “if there was an earthquake and the building collapsed I would be sad but I would also consider it a gift” — getting me out of a situation I can’t end on my own. The landlord taking Long Haul down isn’t poetic — it’s an arrogant exercise of power — but the resulting freedom and change might be the same. 

As of Slingshot’s publication date, the Long Haul collective is having a lot of meetings to figure out what to do. A lot of us want to fight hard — don’t take my complex feelings as a eulogy or a sign that Long Haul is giving in. Save the Long Haul! The landlord wanted to tear the building down 15 years ago and we helped save the building back then — don’t count us out. We need help.

And as we fight to stay here, we’re simultaneously always trying to improve. Right now we’re only open 3 hours a day in the evening — it would be great to have more exciting projects using the space when we’re not open as well as more well attended eventing events. The Long Haul sometimes is diverse and welcoming but other times it is dominated by entitled dudes — there’s a lot that can be done to make the Long Haul worth saving. Let’s not just write articles mired in nostalgia or shit talking the landlord for being a landlord — let’s keep our eyes on the prize of a world without landlords. That’s why we need the Long Haul and a thousand places like it. 

If you’ve spent time at Long Haul since 1979, contact us now for updates: longhaulinfoshop @protonmail.com. The Infoshop opened in 1993 so we’re making a 30th anniversary zine. Send articles by Bastille Day – July 14. We want to reconnect with old friends and celebrate the good times.