Black hole free film school

Black Hole Free Film School

By eggplant

A new group is forming called the Black Hole Free Film School, and though it saw its first meeting in a warehouse in Oakland, similar groups are taking the cue and are having meetings in L.A. and NY. The first meeting went quickly from mass dreaming to making an inventory list of resources to be shared and organized. Frankly this level of serious engagement is in no small part influenced by the Occupy Movement that swept through the land this past fall. Many of the same faces could be found there.

The group seeks to have the resources available for people to make and exhibit their works on video and film. The school will facilitate workshops and classes to give people more confidence in making their first film. Also planned is a monthly screening of new works where film makers can get feedback from their peers. Other ideas such as an online and printed newsletter look to set into motion a flurry of activity. This kind of enthusiasm over the barriers of mass communication was last seen after the WTO in Seattle, with the advent of Indymedia.

Just two days into the New Year a low-key announcement to discuss the Free School brought out over 25 people. Twenty-Five! On a Monday night… Now try to get that many people to work on a community newspaper or to fix up a long neglected community space, and it will be no argument on how people are moved by moving images. And why shouldn’t they be? There is one level of sophisticated political analysis that encourages people to follow their pleasure, and to use that momentum to dis-empower oppression. We have eyes and ears and they need to be fed too–and it’s a part of human nature to want to sit down and be enveloped in the dark and engaged in a story.

The name Black Hole has been used this past year for an underground film series that exhibits rare treats in warehouses around the Bay Area. It was agreed at the first meeting to adapt the same name for the emerging Free School. The inspiration for the name partially comes from reclaiming the technologies that have been discarded from modern consumer culture, as new technologies flood the market. Devices like 8mm, Super 8, VHS, Betamax are all to a degree still functional as tools, and they hold value to the Black Hole Theatre ethic. In fact, they are often more accessible to scavengers and the like. The Black Hole Free School intends to be able to screen movies off these devices–as well as the latest digital capabilities.

The first meeting generated some ideas as to what classes the school should offer. The goal is to get people with knowledge of film as well as those that don’t. The classes were not heavily scrutinized and this list is still at the brainstorm stage:

* Basic celluloid film production

* Sound in film: how to make recordings

* Light + sound = the relation of frequencies and patterns

* Basic maintenance and repair of gear/mechanics, proper film storage, modifications/circuit bends

* Objective vs. subjective: tendencies toward dissocation and the nature of dissociation in film (potential collaboration w/Icarus Project)

* Reading group: film theory, scripts, etc.

* Phenomenology workshop

* Improv group w/interactive film

* Filmic response to current events

Feel free to think up some cool classes and then get to organizing how would you pull it all off. Like all grassroots projects it gains from your input and support. For far too long various maneuvers have been employed to limit audiences’ access to independent media. The continuous efforts of a DIY network and the Internet have opened up a lot of space. This has done much to hasten the collapse of major newspapers, the music industry, and large movie companies. But to overly rely on the Internet is sloppy. Legislation like Stop Internet Piracy Act (SOPA) would return us to a limited vision of the world. The flow of power will continue downward only as long as a committed people act. Since the Black Hole is in the forming stages the best way to plug in is to check the web site until a solid venue is established. Don’t resist the pull of the Black Hole.

Good Morning Class

The news item on the radio in early Spring was buried as always under a gauntlet of ulcers. The dreaded “No Child Left Behind” policy of the Bush Presidency would be struck down. Like so many of the Obama Administration’s deeds this was a mixed bag–usually the devil being in the details. No Child Left Behind is being discontinued in name only. It seems that this new policy will continue the work of destroying teacher’s unions and school boards nationally, school boards being the way citizens have access to the way schools are operated. But also part of the plan is for mass closure of schools that are deemed “underperforming.” The public schools then will be converted into charter schools. The emphasis of class time placed on students processing information and testing. The young people under pressure will someday resemble the hang-ups given to them. Like most people, I have turned away from the depressing details of today’s news stories, as I mostly turned away from the state of schools today. I particularly associate it with the dread of my own school years that I would wish to leave behind me.

As protests over education cuts heated up locally and I attended planning meetings to help in the resistance, I dreamed for a moment of making a one sheet flier to hand out. A veritable Berkeley Rant–one I used to see across public walls and telephone poles throughout my youth. In my one moment of fame I would hand out my collected thoughts to the crowd, some of those disgruntled UC Berkeley students likely one day to become part of the managerial class of our society and therefore more influential in policy making than little old me. My rant would be rather utopian–assuming that we can make it thru this psychic hump created from the unnatural gasses of the economic bubbles that seem to span decades. Admittedly, some of my ideas would be informed by the anarchic thought of 60’s counter culture; present day schools using the business model, or the assembly line production model of instruction are damaging to the budding person. The idea is added to in Peter Watkins’s movie La Commune. In it there is a scene where a woman decries the over stimulation that happens in schools. She urgently implores the audience in a tone that seems to run the movie’s 3 hour running time, “What we need to teach children is how to read, how to write, and how to count. All the rest of the things schools do to children are harmful.”


My own two cents look more at what we are doing right. I agree with the theory of shaping the curriculum to the needs of the student, which almost necessitates a smaller class size. But more precisely, we need to change the quality of the little Americans who are being shaped. The counter culture loves to speculate that the system tends to breed a nation of conformists, as if the punks are striking up a chorus with Malvina Reynolds in a replay of “Little Boxes.” But I feel what is really being rendered in schools is a vicious attitude of competitiveness, with a companion effect of dependence to the system–which I will get to later.

The recent fight to stop UC Berkeley from cutting down native Oak trees to put up a dubious (and undoubtfuly ugly) sports training building signaled to me the preference the mother culture in America gives to competitive frames of life. The way that testing is used as a measure of achievement supports this. The better you do the better your school does. Team spirit. Or rather your social group needs to be better than your neighbors’. This practice helps to rationalize the invasion of other countries for such reasoning as “protecting our freedom”.

For me what is recyclable about American public schools is the mixture of peers spending time together experiencing events and problem solving together. There is a remarkable opportunity there with the mixing of little people across class lines, gender, ethnicity–people who haven’t fully formed attitudes and practices of bigotry. With this in mind I would structure class time to have a significant foundation in time to Share and Tell. Have this time to replace the practice of devouring information for the sake of regurgitation in the form of testing. Teach active listening and breed respect in people’s differences. Have students bring in aspects of their home life to engage their classmates–stories of their ancestors, a song that is sung in the house, a dish of food they subsist on. Then once a week, students from a nearby school would visit the school and tell of the customs they practice a few miles away. Then once a month kids from the school visits a far away region to share their customs.


This Friday’s quiz you have 10 minutes to complete the questions. Those of you who take longer will have to make it up during your lunch hour. Remember no talking or looking at your phone. Bathroom breaks will not be permitted.

A) If Mark Yudoff, whose salary is more than President Obama’s, is speeding in his car 12 miles over the legal limit from his office in Oakland to a lunch party in Sacramento but first he has to stop off at his other office to fire 13 janitors, 21 teachers, raise tuition in 7 schools–discontinue 14 classes, and help usher in a dozen new construction projects….when will he hit the wall?

Most people talk of the nightmares they have of school and you hear the standard of being naked amongst classmates. But isn’t this a hangover of the realities of the prudish 1950’s. What of the waking nightmares that are being practiced daily today? My own conversion to disliking school occurred in Jr. High school. I know several other people who really started to develop “problems” with their education at this time. Before Jr. High I used to enjoy the material and atmosphere of the classroom. A clear example of the institutional bummer was in my 7th grade math class. A crowded classroom trying to tackle a complex subject was not helped by the authoritarian teacher. Such emphasis placed on being seated by the ringing of the bell, having pencil in hand with book out mirrors the emphasis to performing high in tests and doing homework. The Filipina teacher who was always angry probably had a justified need to be so heavy handed–a large class of angsty kids being forced to contemplate an abstraction does not go so smoothly.

This was the Reagan 80’s, and even as an adolescent I could sense that the people in control were intentionally fouling the future up. But it was becoming evident that I was being weaned to take on heavy loads of “work” irregardless of its meaning for me, and to seek reward in abstract letter grades and numbers. Because of this time I went from being spiritually fed by learning to being attracted to dropouts. The heavy metal kids or comic book collectors seemed to use imagination and took a self-defined path that appealed to me more than the honor role robots or the sports heroes. My own nightmares of school would resemble the panic of trying to get my locker open before the second bell screams for all to be seated and ready to work.

I wish people would wake up sweating thinking that the children are being exposed to cancerous toxins from being located near freeways and areas with heavy traffic. That reading has become an aversion to most who go through school because they are forced fed antiquated authors with no relevance to their world today. That tiny growing bodies are being denied rest and then reprimanded for not being able to sit still, stay awake and be quiet. That the solutions for their squirming has been to put children on drugs and create rigid rules that help to exclude those who can’t conform. That the failure to put our resources into civil society is directly related to the emphasis placed in developing war, and war industries. I’m sweating now over the prospects of this kind of practice.


Popular slogans one sees in the Left’s commentary of reality is, “Capitalism is the Crisis.” Well I contend this may only be slightly agreeable to commo
n people especially, say a single parent of a teenager. For them the crisis is around their child and mitigating the demands of reality they encounter.

As an adult, many people I know either became parents and/or teachers. Suddenly I had to identify with the people who I once thought of as implementing oppressive policies. To boot, I also started to associate groups of rowdy youth as disruptive and violent. If anything, they gave me reason to accept the long hours that kids are kept locked up in schools. But I know this isn’t the solution. I know quite a few parents who have home schooled their kids well aware of what’s in store for them in the public schools. Those parents also know that what’s missing from home schooling, which is the one thing I purpose salvaging–the schools as a space of socialization.

The other day, I hung with a mother and daughter who did home schooling and asked them if they thought they gained anything avoiding high school. They clued me in that their relationship had changed since her daughter was no longer being shipped off to what is essentially day care for most parents. Normal parent/child relationships contend with an institutional alienation robbing them of their best years together. The daughter also related how important life skills are not taught in schools. Like learning to build our own homes and fix them, or growing our own food. These ideas made me think we also need skills to problem solve and have tools to express our emotions throughout the various challenges of our lives. When she was telling me this I realized we are intentionally NOT taught these skills. Not because they are useless skills in the modern world–but not knowing them makes people helpless through their whole life. Therefore we will have to go through corporations and the state to mitigate our needs in society.

There are many things to be said on how people have adapted to accept an absurd reality. We know we are on the brink of a new reality–a new world unlike the one we’ve been living in. Whether it’s the world of Rightwing think tanks, leftist collectives, or what not will need your input. Just remember the Right has a way of inserting ideas in your head and then you think you had them. An idea I had when experiencing children in the subculture is that the structures and ideas I showed them was taken as matter of fact. I helped create the foundation for reality. Just as I grew up with pot growing in the backyard and thinking the White House was full of criminals, despite the rules of the outside world. I have learned that what we do and say around the youth will help to usher in those practices when they fully take the world. But in the mean time the thing kids gotta do is have a good time–if not with our help then without our interference. If we provide a reality structured on joy and peace then they will seek to create those aspects when they are the adults. We are losing these basic principles by people who advertise “Never Ending War”, then make sure that is what goes down in places like schools. To free us from this path has to be a collective effort.


What 20th century meeting of leftists occurred without an opening or closing song? Since I referred to Malvina Reynolds already let us sing one of her compositions as we go out. Not “Little Boxes”–how tacky and American(!) to only sing the most popular tune. Yet this is the land of tinsel and tin men. I’m sure there is some who would tolerate her song “The Money Crop”, if it were only sung by a dude in aggressive punk type pounding ripping agony. But for now we’ll part with the way she recorded it. The singing wizened and old, therefore delicate — as it conveys the brave words telling truth to power. In this case let us dedicate it to the bureaucrats who wish to persuade us in compromising what we have in things like the environment, or what we will someday will give to the world–that being our children, in order to feed the…


Well money has its own way,

And money has to grow,

It grows on human blood and bone

As any child would know.

It’s iron stuff and paper stuff

With no life of its own,

And so it gets its growing sap

From human blood and bone.

Many a child goes hungering

Because the wage is low,

And men die on the battlefield

To make the money grow.

And those that take the money crop

Are avid without end,

They plant it in the tenements

To make it grow again.

The little that they leave for us

It cannot be a seed,

We spend it on the shoddy clothes

And every daily need,

We spend it in a minute,

In an hour it is gone,

To find its way to grow again

On human blood and bone,

Blood and bone.

Words and Music by Malvina Reynolds.

Copyright 1966, Schroder Music Co.

You’re pretty powerful when you’re 16. Even if the world doesn’t recognize this.

Benson's Chuckle – who said no one rides for free?

The bus arrives just in time. Many people who have had a chance to see and spend an evening in the innocuous white whale of a vehicle have gone to bed a little richer. The bus which has no official name, is a former city bus that was converted into a rooving indy media center. It primarily showcases live music of the underground variety and it rarely disappoints. Maybe it’s a bore, or a catastrophe occurs, like the PA system blows up. In fact people will most likely have a memorable time if a minor dilemma arises. On its maiden voyage across the country, it had just made it out of Alameda county when its bio-diesel engine caught on fire. According to Zach Houson, who went on that particular trip and who does not drive or know nothing of auto mechanics, “I learned that anything you need to fix a car with you can probably make the parts out of gum and garbage and it will hold–even if it’s only temporary.” Stories like Zach’s abound with those who come in contact with this phenomenon.

The bus has been having events for the last three years and has made its way across the country twice. An aborted trip into Mexico does not rule it out as a future possibility. And what of Alaska? China? Prague? The imp-like maintenence man John Benson, who is the bus’ primary keyholder, would probably egg on the most impossible ideas as a calendar item for next month. Fans of the bus often will only hear of an event hours before it’s happening. And many people get drawn to it as they haplessly pass it by chance.

But ambuiguity is probably a boon in this hyper–tense–where’s your permit–open air prison called America. Like guerrilla fighters, the networks of underground artists, striving to express themselves, do not bother to open their dream club, café or bar, knowing that the restrictions and fees will stifle their fun. House shows and temporary storefronts are just as much a part of a touring schedule as a teen center or any place listed in an alternative weekly. Many bands also go to play in empty fields, toxic waste sites, or in abandoned structures–places hard to get to, but once there the tension of the Man’s gaze is gone. The bus operates on this ethos–and may I add, eliminates all those pesky service charges levied that are the result of being so entangled in capitalism.

The story of the bus origin is a parable on how to face adversity. When John Benson’s communal house, known to host shows, decided to take a break just as the touring band season began to spike, he looked into other avenues. While scouring the world’s bizarre market, a notice of a half-built bus lead to a transaction. The bus was a remnant of city public transportation and was then purchased by the Oakland Police Dept to convert into a mobile cop base. Windows were fortified with metal sheets and an odd-looking tower added, but the funds needed to put it on the street dried up. The first road trips and shows were being planned before the stage was built, lights installed, and veggie oil engine tinkered.

I’m sure the OPD doesn’t fancy the end result of their endeavors. Ah the fossils and failed dreams of the police state only creates the playground to romp in. It’s almost too good, like this reality is one of those boring political tracts written by some splinter group like the Situationists International or CrimethInc. But most of those at a show are not engaging in a conscious act of anti-authoritarianism. Much like those Obama parades on election night, people are pleased to take the street and that’s the end in itself. I am often reminded that the constant visits from traveling musicians is a form of barter that predates the exchange of culture for money. And what these tribes of far away artists share is their ideas–however strange. And when the hometown gets a little too small, the arrival of the bus with new faces and ideas for an hour, will change the dead night into a spark of light.

The bus has been in traction back East from the second U.S. tour. A replacement bus has carried the torch for us all the past couple months. Just as we lost hope in seeing that strange funky blob amble on down the road. Proof that the idea and action of taking public space is more important than any one vehicle.

Motherfucker Walks Through Walls – Berkeley Radical helps us through the Labyrinth with his book

Osha Neuman: radical street fighter, outlaw artist, and lawyer for the homeless and activists, is now an author. He has known resistance since he was a child growing up in a home of Jewish intellectuals who fought against fascism and irrationality. He cut his teeth as a young adult in the new left with an anarchist-like action group The MotherFuckers. They were so underground their name couldn’t be printed in most papers. He never abandoned the movement over the subsequent years. Though he maintains a low profile around town his presence is felt — by helping keep Berkeley seem “Bezerkely” to the Straights.

The most public part of Osha is the mural he painted at the center of Telegraph Ave. It depicts real revolution as it was being played out globally and locally. One may see his sculpture at the Albany Landfill or his massive mural across the face of La Pena Cultural Center. Inside the Long Haul is an impressive four panel painting depicting the post-industrial forces of death in opposition with the forces of life.

With the release of his new book UP AGAINST THE WALL MOTHERFUCKER: With Notes For Next Time, we had several chances to see him read and speak around town. He even came to the offices of Slingshot and spoke on a rather warm January day.

In his presentations Osha will often cite that, “I never wanted to write a nostalgic memoir. Capitalism is in a crisis, but it’s not a terminal crisis. It’s not quite clear what the Alternative is.”

When I share with Osha that I felt the Clinton era was depressing, how no one seemed to care how bad capitalism was then, he agreed.

“Clinton for me is part of that whole counter-revolutionary period of the past forty years. It was awful. Made more distasteful by the way he represented some counter-culture progressive kind of lifestyle — like he’s one of us. Yet somehow he pushed through the most nauseous [policies] — he aggressively consolidated the multi-national corporations. Destroying the safety net. He’s done major damage. Plus the war, the blockade [of Iraq].”

During our talk, he examined a book on Franz Fannon, left out at the Longhaul. Fannon was championed by people worldwide, and inspired those willing to go from protest to resistance. With the countless stories sparked by Fannon, Osha doesn’t even need questions to get him started up.

“When you read this now you realize how all that revolutionary momentum was defeated. [You see] how all those movements were crushed or compromised. Look at Algeria, the forces of liberation was defeated, They were not as strong as we thought they were.”

When Osha speaks to a crowd of baby-boomers, he speaks of their own defeat in a poetic yet pragmatic way. “We were surfers of the wave that we were creating, and unbeknownst to us, we landed in the present. We became hyphenated radicals; Radical-doctors, radical-lawyers, radical-teachers, not revolutionaries.”

“The 60’s may not have fundamentally changed the power balance, but a profound cultural change did happen. Though that change could be turned into commodity capitalism and used to sell commodities, that is clear. You can go to a supermarket and hear 60’s rock n’ roll as muzak. They can do that and there’s still a sublimation. The 1950’s are over and done with. There’s much more diversity today in terms of race and gender, yet the system has been able to absorb that. The issue then is how do you link again to a vision of a radically different world, a vision that confronts the worst aspects of capitalism.”

But Osha is not one to get caught in negative thinking, nor does he dwell in false hope.

“It’s really an extraordinary time. To me there’s been a forty-year counter-revolution bookended by the sixties, and whatever is coming now which seems [to be] different. How different we don’t know. I think Obama was brought in to save capitalism basically. The previous administration was not good for business. They are hoping that Obama will put the ship on course. Now the question is; to what extent will capitalism keep it’s basic structure … There needs to be some resistance. There will come on the agenda a more radical transformation of genuine social control of capital. And a diminishing of free market sector where government takes over and provides basic rights or needs. I don’t think it’s going to happen unless it comes from a strong movement from below, from the streets, from poor people. I don’t think it’s going to be easy. I think right now there’s a fan club for Obama.”

Yet Osha is not entirely dismissive of the Obama fever getting people out and together.

“I think there’s a lot there that’s genuinely compelling. He’s a person that has compassion. I think Dreams of My Father is a quite amazing book from anybody much less from someone with the power that he has. The question is can the person with that consciousness remain that way while dealing with a foreign policy, or whatever they have to confront. He has a job to do and it’s not a pretty job.”

Osha wrote an op-ed piece in our local paper the Berkeley Daily Planet about the occupation of Gaza and slaughter of over thirteen-hundred people in the days leading up to the inauguration of Obama. In it he rallies against Obama’s silence on the matter: “What’s happening in Palestine, in Gaza to me is unacceptable.”

You’ve been to Palestine — what part? “I’ve been three times. Both West Bank and Gaza with the Middle East Children’s Alliance. I couldn’t believe what I saw. It was like living with a pressure that pushed all the air out of your lungs so you couldn’t breathe. Living under that occupation there’s no escape even for a moment. It was amazing that people could live that way for an hour, much less all the time.”

Did you see a noticeable difference with your subsequent visits there? “Well of course, there was in the sense that the first Intifada was a popular uprising in which all sectors participated. With children throwing stones at tanks. After then it became more professional.”

In the book you mention a protest you went to in London as a youth that protested a massacre that happened in SharpVille South Africa. Was this your first protest? “Yeah, another long ,drawn out struggle. It was one of my firsts. It was my first arrest. We have not produced that kind of movement and those kinds of leaders. It was inspiring because that ability to continue that resistance and keep your society together in the face of that. In the U.S. a few casualties can destroy a movement, but they had suffered innumerable casualties.

“One of the issues in the left in the U.S. is continuity. You don’t have depth without continuity and that keeps getting interrupted over and over again. There was a break with continuity with the old left and the new left. And also there’s been no organizations that’ve been built. There’s been a counter-culture that continued. There hasn’t been a development of institutions.”

And why is having institutions important? “What structure they have is an open question. Somehow we haven’t been able to create those and sustain them. Just have to keep working them to the next stages. It isn’t that tradition gets echoed back. I think we know a lot. What’s good about the 60’s was that the liberation movement was global. Despite the fact there wasn’t an internet, there would be sparks that started in NY, Chicago, Paris, Czech, Japan — there were influences that went back and forth. It wasn’t coordinated. You couldn’t do this intentionally. There was a contagion. Now it’s almost the opposite. The problem isn’t so much information, there’s an astounding amount of information. The problem is how to break out of bubbles and reach people. It’s very hard to get outside of those bubbles organizationally. Much easier to stay inside your little world and not go out, than to confront and encounter people.”

Osha is even starting to imagine how we can create a new movement that would snowball in the best possible ways

“Where I work we do sort of a legal self-help. We get people who give a human face to the economic crisis. We get every kind of person facing eviction, being sued for their credit card debt. They’re facing all kinds of desperation. I would love to see someone, say who is disabled and the bank wants to foreclose and kick them out of their house, go to their house, move her belongings back in, prevent the sheriff from taking her out, prevent the house from being sold. That would be a very exciting intervention at this point.”

A lot of Osha’s book poses many-tiered reflections on the nature of rational thought.

It is what the subtitle of the book gets at: “Notes for Next Time.” The rest of the book is tied to the question of rational thought, how during his upbringing he took it for granted that he would grow up to be an intellectual. Being raised by professors he thought he would surely become one. Then for a short time he studied art, but quickly found it only heightened the isolation he felt as an intellectual.

The book spends much time observing this tension and how it was ample fuel in his days with the MotherFuckers influencing the practice of confrontational politics. Their influence was seen in higher profile groups like the Yippies and Weather Underground. But the Motherfuckers were the first to take their message into the comfort zone of unchecked power. When a peace protest came to the Pentagon, they were the only ones to break their way into the Hall of War. They squared off with hip rock promoter Bill Graham and cornered him into doing free community events at the Fillmore East. And when their neighborhood suffered under a garbage strike they took their trash to the posh Lincoln Center, exchanging garbage for garbage culture.

The book spends about equal time with his formative years and the years around the MotherFuckers days of 1967-1969. Then it goes for a short time into the experimental communities of New Mexico and California’s Black Bear Ranch. He then found himself settling in Berkeley where he took up practicing law and looked again to making art. “I found a way to do art that didn’t isolate me in the studio and that was to do murals. And the Albany Landfill is a fairly incredible story in itself.”

After the book was printed did you realize that you left anything out that you would’ve liked to have put in? “Initially when I wrote the book there’s a whole section about art that was just too long. It’s where I’m thinking about art, its role in the world and what art does, why there’s obstacles in making art these days. Now I think that’s a separate book. That had to go. There was lots of other stuff in there. In the course of finding a publisher it got paired down.”

On speaking of his most high profile piece of work, the People’s History of Telegraph Ave, Mural, “1976 was the bicentennial of the American Revolution. I thought ‘where was any public memorial or monument to the revolutionary period in Berkeley’ — there wasn’t any. So we approached the Villa Hermosa Restaurant. We didn’t ask anybody for money, we didn’t ask anybody for approval. We didn’t go through any design reviews. We put a can in the street and just painted it. Then we started an arts organization called Common Arts.”

Another mural Osha worked on is a few blocks down on Telegraph on a building at WiIlard Jr. High. It was partially painted over a few years ago and that story may indicate the story of Berkeley. A few die-hard radicals push to make a mark in this world. A few other people are annoyed by this and work to erase the gesture. Then there is the rest of people new to town who are confused by the outcome.

You painted Willard Jr. with them? “With Willard the way I got in there was because the junior high was closed. They tore down the old building and they were in the process of putting a new school there. The arts magnet school was temporarily there so nobody had control of the site. So basically I got to do whatever the hell I wanted. Generally since then it has been pretty difficult — because partly you have to get a community that’s going to support you, and you have to get an institution that’s willing to be identified with the content that you put there. Usually looking at the public art in Berkeley, by the time you go through the design review part, pretty much what you end up with is crap.”

And it’s true most of the art in Berkeley today is crap.

So you were working on the People’s Park Mural around the same time the park itself was going through a rebirth. After the years it was fenced in 1969-72, around that time the garden people really started to open it up as a free space again. Were you aware of them? “I was. That was a period — it always was a battle. The University has never been happy — they never accepted not having control of it. The battle the last upteen years has been over homeless people. It’s still going on. An endless fight.”

Many people new to town and ready to live in a radical new way ask me about the paradox of progressive Berkeley not having a simple food co-op. But we used to have one until the mid 80’s. Just as the once-thriving co-op was a representation of Berkeley as a hub of revolution in the USA, the plastic alternative of today’s Berkeley signifies Osha’s theory of counter-revolution. When I ask about its demise he cites the usual response about the co-op’s poor choice in over-expansion. But adds, “They had lousy vegetables, I don’t know. I think they were stuck in a bad contract.”

Seeing Osha speak, he will reveal as much of himself as he does when you read the book, except in concentrated form. He is at once vulnerable, frank, intelligent, yet he’s still a Motherfucker as he deconstructs it and reveals the wrong headed thinking behind their actions — the pompous quick impulse for violence, the male posturing. The movers and shakers of the 60’s often only lead to revolutionary egomaniacs — not revolution. Yet he doesn’t entirely denounce their struggle, and more importantly he shares with us that it’s still essential to act.

When speaking to an audience at the Neibyl Proctor library, Osha swims in a water he knows well. Much of the audience expect to hear theory and he can talk the talk. A young anarchist (pushing 40!) among the grey haired Marxists grew impatient. During much of the Q & A time, the old-timers gave long speeches using words that teem in old Marxist books. Osha often just smiled when they would raise their hand and talk for five minutes, usually without asking a question. At one point he called the intricate brain puzzles being raised another version of the Labyrinth — his book’s main metaphor for the system. But the young Anarchist in attendance raged. He raised the issue of today’s generation gap. The people in the room splitting hairs over theory do not interest people his age. What is worse, they interest those who are younger than he is even less. What was happening this day in the library soon may be a thing of the past. Osha agreed, “We’re just a room full of old men, we’re not out there in the street.” (Actually there were several women in attendance) “I’m not interested in the theory of doctrinaire anarchism, but in the power of the deed, in direct action.”

This Motherfucker used to go up against the wall in a naked gesture of exposing the oppressive nature in our reality. Now with vision and wisdom, Osha suggests other options. Perhaps we will decide to walk through the walls that have loomed for so long — that are seemingly untoppable.

All-ages volunteer-run club turns twenty


By eggplant

As the night’s most anticipated draw was taking the stage, I went from hanging in a nearby creek clandestinely drinking with the club’s star staffer and a stranger who was holding the devil’s weed (Berkeley’s “lowest priority bust”), to hiding from the flashlights of a pig hungry to fill the city’s coffers with another citation fee. The club was in the heat of celebrating twenty years of being in one place. Its long survival had been predicated on keeping alcohol off its premises — so much so that one of its spawns, the band Isocracy, rattled on their debut vinyl, “Go Four Blocks Away,” mimicking the procedure staff ran on defiant punks (and advice we were currently following). The punks had let that procedure color their perception of the club; they ignored and scorned the place not only for its remote location, limited engagements, and narrow minded bookings, but for this absurd complicity to the man.

I first went to Gilman St. in March of 1987, three months after its opening and not long after I had transitioned to punk from metal and rap. Over the years I would find this to be a common hopping of subcultures among America’s wanton youth. While I was ducking the Police flashlights, my 15-year old nephew (who previously had shown little interest in music) was in the club enjoying the show, or rather the dance space the punks call the Pit.

It’s not common that volunteer-run alternative spaces can be functional, much less functionally operate for twenty years. What definitely wasn’t common was Gilman’s first year and what preceded it. Individuals scouted the industrial area of West Berkeley for a space that would become a new venue. The owner of one building seemed laid back and nonplussed as to what was being visualized. In fact, he’s been OK with it ever since — part of the club’s secret of survival. Considering the fact that folks identifying under the punk banner can often barely maintain and operate a house, getting a club started seemed an endless and futile process. The building sat empty half a year before having its first show. Building the bathrooms and the stage and making repairs necessary to put the building up to code — often by people without any prior building experience — took plenty of time.

Unfortunately, working with the city wasn’t so easy. Often notorious for being bureaucratic, Berkeley government made the Gilman people get prepared. So they offered the city a whole slew of self imposed rules to ensure that this space would stand out from other nightclubs, such as being a members-only space, having a no-advertising policy, and booking shows only on Friday and Saturday. These agreements would prove to be short-lived — yet what was essential was that the club would not allow violence, graffiti, or use of illicit substances/alcohol.

The early punk culture was hostile to its bigger brothers and sisters in the hippie movement. This played itself out in the mid 80’s when the music got as fast and hard as it could. The mainstream first viewed punks as nihilist, negative, criminal and self-destructive — then simply ignored them. By the time Gilman came onto the scene a shift was happening. For the outsider culture drawn to the music scene there was less thrill in being easily defined. But there was its shadow, namely that the American terrain was being transformed by the creation of a population mainly passive and consumer driven.

The club today exists as a sort of paradox: living off the prestige of being a cultural icon, yet having trouble making rent. The neighborhood around the club has increasingly been invaded by strip mall America. But that neglects another problem, that is, getting the people who enter the building to participate. Often the shows seem catered to drawing audiences from the suburbs — which means no one to work the door that night. Indeed an enormous plus of the space is the potential of when worlds collide. There’s the chance that consumer mainstream types will mix it up with people who exist in the counter culture.

Currently there is a steady flow of core members leaving the club. In my theory this is due in no small part to too much responsibility on the shoulders of too few people, and that’s all they do without variation. Once people burn out they’re off to greener pastures. I often notice that the longer a shitworker works the club the more they seem to hate the music. This may be because the club has stopped seeking innovative acts and because they give carte blanche to that which conforms to conventional definitions of “PUNK”. What best illustrates this is the many nights of sounds imitating the work of the early to late 1980’s.

Some old members stick around, but usually remain on the periphery. Observe one of the original staffers Brian Edge, at the anniversary as he wails, “The article said our security would bounce trouble makers out with our bellies,” referring to an excerpt of the former Gilman band Green Day’s biography in the S.F.. Chronicle. It was a gross exaggeration. “The only people they talk to about the history of the club is people in bands. Jesse (who stands on the corpse of Operation Ivy) said we were just a bunch of socialists.” This illustrates an old tension between the shitworker and the bands. One idea from back in the day was getting the bands to work the shows they play, or one of those pesky friends eager to get on the guest list.

Another paradox is the age restriction: There isn’t any . But local people over 21 often stop going to the club, favoring secure drinking holes. They bemoan feeling so old around the youngsters. On the night of the big anniversary show a young woman who was a teenager in 96/97 told this same thing to me. But I must have experienced a different side of the show — mostly I saw people in their early 40’s there to partake in the reunion band (a common trend these days, replacing innovation).

People tell me they felt bad about missing the anniversary but in some ways I feel it was just another show. Of course it was much more than that. Mainly it was the spectacle of all the faces that came out and crowded together, the proverbial 1,000 punks in the street. What interested me was the anniversary events that were not shows and which ended up being sparsely attended, yet quite fulfilling. One night there was a punk panel about the club’s history and operation. It was a little less interesting than this article. I’m into public discourse and lectures, but I don’t disagree with the people I knew who walked out on it saying it was boring. Some of them work the club on occasion and care about punk, but either they can’t sit still or the panel didn’t work.

One local stormed out, “You’re all a bunch of Nazis”, later saying she had lots to add during the panel’s discussion but that Gilman has a bad reputation with the homeless kids known as Crusties. “I had comments on just about everything they said but they never want to hear it from us.” I agree — the panel didn’t make an effort to get input from strangers. I was more impressed that they had us sitting in a circle instead of us gawking at them on the stage. But this begs the question: does the club value those who can pay over those who can’t? A lot of the (mostly former) Gilman staff on the panel have moved on to careers and spend little time thinking about living outside the system.

Other non-show anniversary events were a play on X-mas Eve and an open house on New Year’s Eve with various tiny events going on; there was a record swap, film screenings, basketball, coffee and snacks. There I saw a rare potential. At one point it seemed that in every corner there was some activity; video shooting, goofy karoke, a mob playing basketball. There wasn’t one point of focus like you get with the stage, and people could plug in where they saw fit. My nephew was there again, grabbing for the ball amidst the confusion — not playing on any team.

Though I still like the mu
sic at Gilman, I desire more out of a space that is meant to be an alternative. And I’m curious what my nephew’s generation will create out of the space that can hold sounds, styles, thought, friendship and dance. The first time in the pit is essential in rattling the foundation of reality that is keeping everybody in their place. But it should be a part of the series of experiences that set us outside our roles of bread earners. Concert-going is fine but it should not be disconnected from other aspects of our radical milieu. That is, it should lead to the first protest, the first meeting. It is in such experiences that we find the root of community — by putting yourself in the hands of the people around you.

Local Projects: Berkeley Liberation Radio

Berkeley’s premiere Pirate radio station, broadcasting on its 104.1 FM band since the early 90’s, is staggering back to it’s feet. Berkeley Liberation Radio, the present incarnation, has been squatting the air waves since 1999. When BLR started, Free Radio Berkeley — which had broadcast on 104.1 earlier in the 90s — was embroiled in an ugly legal battle and hence defunct. Activists retook the band when the court case was at a deadlock.

Shortly before the 6 year anniversary of Berkeley Liberation Radio, the studio’s landlord, a scummy music promoter, gave a 30 day notice which was followed by a notice from the FCC. The FCC said the 100 watt station interfered with airport control radio from over 8 miles away. Some suspect the FCC had pressured the landlord for eviction and convinced the judge signing the order that it was an emergency since that is a tactic the FCC often uses when otherwise ignored.

For two months, broadcasting continued at sporadic locations on Sundays until a temporary home was found at the Hellarity House in North Oakland. A considerable amount of shows were lost with the move as well as the station’s music library.

The Bay Area is home to a dozen micro stations, many of whom focus on web broadcasting. Stations in Santa Cruz, San Francisco and Santa Rosa are all on-line after confrontations with the FCC. Three years ago Berkeley Liberation Radio was raided with a strong police presence. Guns were put in the DJ’s face, the equipment stolen and a sad silence for at least a week was all there was to tune into. The station was built back up moving from marginal equipment to quality shit. Despite concerns of a subsequent raid The station didn’t move onto the web nor did it move out of its studio. The issue of making monthly rent was just being resolved with a schedule of due paying dj’s when the 2005 eviction came down.

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.