Volume 46 Number 16

We want the airwaves

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MUSIC It was written in an email exchange more than two months before 90.3 FM, better known as KUSF, was abruptly taken off the air. “We expect there will be a vocal minority that will be unhappy with the sale.” That cold-corporate speak delivered plainly from one of the involved entities was an ominous and understated prediction.

One year has passed since Jan. 18, 2011, when the station eventually was silenced in a shrouded and complex deal involving conglomerates, brokers, and non-disclosure agreements. However, the University of San Francisco’s attempt to sell the station’s broadcast license to Public Radio Capital and the University of Southern California’s Classical Public Radio Network (CPRN) for $3.75 million is not a done deal.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has yet to approve the sale that has thus far been thwarted by a collective of volunteers who secured legal counsel in order to preserve over 33 years of independent, community radio and to resume broadcasting at the 90.3 frequency.

According to attorney Peter Franck, co-counsel for Friends of KUSF, a hearing would be the next step in the flurry of legal action if all goes well in the effort to save the station. He’s optimistic that the chances are greater with every day that passes that the sale will be denied and is confident the FCC is taking the situation seriously.

“I think it’s a very important case and the trend of college stations disappearing isn’t good. It’s about keeping the airwaves public,” he said.

CPRN initially said the move to acquire the frequency was out of a genuine desire to preserve classical music. But according to the group Save KUSF, Entercom — one of the top five largest radio broadcasting companies in the U.S., is a for-profit entity that was instrumental in orchestrating the deal. Classical and formerly commercial programming, previously heard on KDFC 102.1, took over 90.3 while the ubiquitous sounds of classic rock (KFOX) began emanating from 102.1 and Entercom’s studios.

Dorothy Kidd, a media studies professor at USF, who has adamantly opposed the sale because the university kept faculty and students in the dark, speculated that Entercom is footing the bill to keep KDFC afloat, presumably losing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The much larger issue of media consolidation of course goes beyond KUSF. Tracy Rosenberg from Oakland-based Media Alliance noted that colleges and universities are selling their non-commercial educational licenses for millions of dollars.

WRVU (Vanderbilt University, Nashville) and KTRU (Rice University, Houston) are going through similar struggles with corporate radio lusting after their licenses. But on a positive note, Rosenberg said smaller, independent stations are banding together and that a coalition has emerged from this issue. “San Francisco is not the same city or as culturally vital without KUSF,” she said.

The absence of the station immediately sparked the ire of the community who felt deceived by USF. The man in the middle of it all who claimed responsibility for the decision and took some heat for it was USF President Father Stephen A. Privett. A day after the deal was made public; he held an uncomfortable public meeting on campus. There he repeated that KUSF would continue in an “online only” format. In addition, a promise was made that a “teaching lab” would be put in place for students. Though he couldn’t guarantee the full $3.75 million in would-be revenue was going to the department.

After talking to faculty, students, and alumni it became clear that no such media lab for students was in place. “The online station is not up and running and most likely will not be until the legal battle is over,” said Chad Heimann, a graduate from the Media Studies Department who was also a KUSF volunteer. He added that he thinks USF doesn’t want to invest in the online station until they know that the station will be sold.

“As far as I know, students are not getting an equivalent educational experience. The new digital studio has not been set up,” Professor Kidd concurred. She called any lab offers “rhetoric” on the school’s part, and that the money has been held up, while USF spends on legal fees. According to Friends of KUSF lawyers, CPRN and USF are using FCC lawyers in Washington for their joint response to legal action.

With costly litigation involved in the pending decision, there are claims that CPRN and USF didn’t comply with FCC law and that KUSF’s studios were dismantled prematurely in May. Additionally, questions have been raised about the operating agreement between the potential buyer and seller and the legality of their fundraising practices.

When the FCC asked for copies of emails from the University’s President regarding the sale, they were told Father Privett deletes his emails. “The IT department keeps backup copies. Their claim that they’re gone is ridiculous,” Franck said.

Father Privett could not be reached for comment as he was in Africa on business, but according to USF’s media relations department, they, along with CPRN, maintain commitment to the transaction and await FCC action, hoping the matter is resolved in the near future.

The legalese may leave you asking, where have all the DJs gone? “One of the issues moving forward is going beyond a grass-roots effort,” said Friends of KUSF treasurer Damin Esper. They did reach the milestone of fundraising $50,000 by November, mostly by holding benefits, like their upcoming DJ night at Bender’s.

Last spring KUSF- in- Exile emerged as a web stream coming out of the Bayview District’s Light Rail Studios with assistance from WFMU. With roughly 80 volunteers, and a music library being re-built from scratch, they remain committed to the cause, protesting in front of Entercom and playing local music, cultural and independent programming in a nonprofit, commercial-free format, all in the name of community.

Andre Torrez is a longtime volunteer and DJ with KUSF and now KUSF-in-Exile.

 

SAVE KUSF BENEFIT

Fri/20, 9 p.m., $5–$10 donation

Bender’s Bar and Grill

806 S. Van Ness, SF

(415) 824-1800

www.savekusf.org

Abstract truth

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VISUAL ART A museum-quality show in terms of ambition and achievement, “Surrealism: New Worlds” fleshes out a forgotten, if not effaced, chapter in American art history, even as it incidentally tells the story of the gallery showing it.

For the éminence grise of the Weinstein Gallery was Gordon Onslow Ford (1912-2003), who, in addition to his role in the evolution of abstract art, was also one of the great collectors of modernism. Along with his friends Roberto Matta and Esteban Frances, the British-born Onslow Ford joined André Breton’s Surrealist Movement in Paris in 1938, and would subsequently pursue an increasingly visionary, Zen-influenced abstraction in New York City, Mexico, and finally Northern California, where he lived from 1947 until his death. Onslow Ford’s influence helped transform Weinstein — his exclusive dealer — into a serious gallery for historically-connected surrealist art; through him, the gallery would forge links with other, then-living surrealists like Enrico Donati (1909-2008), and even now, after his death, it continues to gather his fellow travelers, as when it began representing the estate of Gerome Kamrowski in 2005, or the estate of Jimmy Ernst (Max’s son) in 2010.

As befits its plural title, “New Worlds” doesn’t present anything like a unified aesthetic, because surrealism alone among the modernisms isn’t an aesthetic but rather a critical assault on the conventions of reality. Thus abstraction mingles freely with figurative art, assemblages with bronzes, an automatic work like Oscar Domínguez’s Three Figures (1947) with a meticulous imitation readymade like Marcel Duchamp’s Eau & Gaz à tous étages (1958). Drawn from a roughly 30-year time span, the 1930s to the ’60s, the show lists some 22 artists — an unlisted Dorothea Tanning (still alive at 101, though more active these days as a writer than a painter) brings that number up to 23 — all of whom were connected to some degree to Breton’s group. The theme, broadly speaking, is the encounter between the European-formulated surrealism and the “new world” of America.

Being a gallery, Weinstein naturally leans most heavily on painters it represents; Onslow Ford, Donati, Kamrowski, and Leonor Fini are the pillars of this show, along with substantial contributions from Matta and Jimmy Ernst. What is remarkable, therefore, is how deftly the gallery has filled out the show with works from big-name artists from the surrealist pantheon. A pair of Max Ernsts — Convolvulus! Convolvulus! (1941) and Head of a Man (1947) — gives as good an impression of his mercurial range as possible from merely two paintings, the former an Henri Rousseau-like jungle of hidden creatures emerging from weird plumes of color, the latter an austere though colorful Neo-Cubist mask. A single André Masson must suffice for that artist’s equally varied output, but the massive Le Centaure Porte-Clé (1947) (or “centaur key-ring”) is a real stunner whose mutating image suggests something of his graphic work. Large canvases by seldom seen surrealists like Domínguez and Kurt Seligmann lend the show considerable depth.

The most crucial of the surrealist old masters represented here, however, is Yves Tanguy, who stakes out his own wall with three oils and one of his delicately rendered gouaches. All are what you would call prime works of the artist, with significant pedigrees: one belonged to the early surrealist poet Paul Éluard, another to Hans Bellmer, and even the gouache has appeared in books and museums. But to identify Tanguy as more “crucial” here than, say, Masson or Max Ernst isn’t to remark on the greater significance and number of the works in question; rather, the influence of Tanguy on painters like Onslow Ford, Donati, Matta, Kamrowski, and William Baziotes feels more pronounced, and brings us to the heart of the show. For while, again, “New Worlds” showcases the surrealism’s variety over a 30-year span, the main thrust of the show inevitably becomes the development of abstract surrealism, particularly as affected by the arrival of Breton, Tanguy, and other members of the surrealist group in NYC in the early ’40s, fleeing the Nazi occupation of Paris.

The encounter between the European surrealists and American artists like Kamrowski and Baziotes is the chapter of art history largely effaced through the application of the term “abstract expressionism” to NY artists of the late ’40s and the ’50s. The term was already in use, coined in 1919 in German and brought into English by the Museum of Modern Art’s first curator, Alfred Barr (see his 1936 book Cubism and Abstract Art), to describe Kandinsky. But the term was anachronistically applied by American art critics like Clement Greenberg as a way to avoid the label “abstract surrealism.” With its communist and anarchist associations, “surrealism” carried too much revolutionary baggage for the post-war political climate in the US. The move also helped elide the stubborn political reality that abstract art was first achieved in Germany by a Russian artist, as if to suggest that historical “expressionism” hadn’t really been “abstract” and only here in America had become so. Thus Greenberg, in his essay “‘American-Type’ Painting” (1955, 1958), elaborates an account of art as a series of laws, problems, and solutions in order to write: “The early Kandinsky may have had a glimpse of this solution, but if he did it was hardly more than a glimpse. Pollock had had more than that.”

Though no one believes in laws of painting anymore, the eclipse of abstract surrealism from American art history has proved curiously durable. But “New Worlds” illustrates the pivotal role of surrealism with a collaborative poured painting by Kamrowski, Baziotes, and Jackson Pollock, uncertainly dated “Winter 1940-1941.” Given that Onslow Ford began pouring paint in 1939, and gave a series of lectures on surrealism in NYC attended by at least two if not all three of the young American artists beginning in January 1941, it’s hard not to conclude that Pollock’s initial inspiration for his drip paintings was Onslow Ford’s account of surrealist automatism. This is the type of connection the label “abstract expressionism” obscures.

Yet this historical neglect has paved the way for Weinstein’s success, as the gallery has become an effective advocate for abstract surrealism.

“SURREALISM: NEW WORLDS”

Through Feb. 11

Weinstein Gallery

291 Geary, second flr., SF

(415) 362-8151

www.weinstein.com

 

In the realms of the unreal

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FILM/DANCE Watching Pina Bausch’s choreography on film should not have been as absorbing and deeply affecting of an experience as it was. Dance on film tends to disappoint — the camera flattens the body and distorts perspective, and you either see too many or not enough details. Avatar (2009) certainly didn’t convince me that 3D was the answer.

However, improved technology gave Wim Wenders (1999’s Buena Vista Social Club; 1987’s Wings of Desire) the additional tools he needed to accomplish what he and fellow German Bausch had talked about for 20 years: collaborating on a documentary about her work. Instead of making a film about the rebel dance maker, Wenders made it for Bausch, who died in June 2009, two days before the start of filming.

Pina is an eloquent tribute to a tiny, soft-spoken, mousy-looking artist who turned the conventions of theatrical dance upside down. She was a great artist and true innovator whose thinking was crucially shaped by her work in the 1960s with Antony Tudor and the team of Donya Feuer and Paul Sanasardo.

Wenders’ great accomplishment in this beautifully paced and edited document is its ability to elucidate Bausch’s work in a way that words probably cannot. While it’s good to see dance’s physicality and its multi dimensionality on screen, it’s even better that the camera goes inside the dances to touch tiny details and essential qualities in the performers’ every gesture. No proscenium theater can offer that kind of intimacy.

Appropriately, intimacy (the eternal desire for it) and loneliness (an existential state of being) were the two contradictory forces that Bausch kept exploring over and over. There is something absurd about the way her dancers never tire of being curious, silly, cruel, childish, hysterical, loving, and angry. The nobility and desperation comes from not giving up.

By taking fragments of the dances into the environment — both natural and artificial — of Wuppertal, Germany, Wenders places them inside the emotional lives of ordinary people (subjects of all of Bausch’s work), where there is room for a man with rabbit ears to ride public transportation and couples make love at intersections.

In Bausch’s work, sets — deluges, walls that crumble, hippos, mountains, floors made from dirt, grass, and carnations — are the obstacles that challenge and dwarf the dancer. Wenders chose his outside “sets” brilliantly to similar effect. Many locations are huge: gyms, factories, convention halls, and quarries — and the performers are clearly strangers.

The 3D technology Wenders uses rarely jumps out at the viewer. Instead, his space has a sheen and glassy quality that is non-realistic; it seems to pervade the whole film even in its more conventionally-shot sequences. While it’s good to see dance’s physical multidimensionality, perhaps even more satisfying is Wenders’s juxtaposing of different senses of dimensionality into a coherent whole that I suspect Bausch would have approved of. It’s the artifice and not the realism that makes Pina the fine work it is.

Before her death, Bausch had chosen four choreographies as the film’s core material. They were excellent picks, though it’s curious that three of them are quite early while Vollmond is her last complete work, more in the genre of her later “travel-inspired” pieces. Perhaps she meant to tell us something. Café Mueller shows a young Bausch in a dreamy, nightmarish labyrinthine environment; The Rite of Spring starts her investigation of male-female struggles; and Kontakthof is a work about the eternal mating frenzy as danced by her own company, a group of seniors, and an ensemble of teenagers.

Not pre-planned, however, was Wenders’ brilliant decision to include “interviews” with the dancers. They silently look at the camera but their grief-stricken faces speak of loss, loneliness, and a sense of abandonment. They were thinking about Bausch’s death, but perhaps also about her work. *

PINA opens Fri/20 in San Francisco.

Higher and higher

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TRASH Rejected by audiences. Panned by critics. Beloved by a loyal cadre of alternative comedy fans.

Wet Hot American Summer may not have found success when it premiered in 2001, but the offbeat comedy has since become — like so many underrated flops — a cult classic.

“I’m always amazed that some critics didn’t just dislike it, they were outright hostile to it,” says David Wain, who directed the film and co-wrote it with Michael Showalter. “But those who keyed into it, whether the first time or second or third, seemed to really key into it. And for that I’m grateful.”

Those diehard Wet Hot devotees came out in droves when SF Sketchfest announced a live radio play version of the movie: tickets to the event quickly sold out. At the event, Wain will join Showalter and other cast members, including Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler, and Michael Ian Black.

Black remembers when he first realized Wet Hot had achieved cult status.

“About two or three years after the film came out, people started hosting midnight screenings at various theaters around the country,” he says. “It’s very gratifying, particularly because its popularity has remained pretty consistent over the last decade, and has found new fans among people who are unaware of our work — The State, Stella — beyond that movie.”

Those who missed the sketch comedy of The State and Stella were likely the same audience members baffled by Wet Hot, a film that is gleefully strange and — past the simple premise of “last day at summer camp” — difficult to explain.

Wet Hot does not fit into neat categorizations,” Black reflects. “It’s not a parody, it’s not a romantic comedy, it’s not a comedic homage. It has its own thing, its own sensibility.”

Part of that sensibility includes a talking can of mixed vegetables (voiced by H. Jon Benjamin), a cameo by falling Russian space station Skylab, and Black having steamy storage shed sex with future Sexiest Man Alive Bradley Cooper.

“It was kind of awkward because neither of us had ever been with another man before, but once we got into it, it was fine,” Black recalls. “I thought, ‘Oh, this is pretty much just like making out with a girl, only with a dick.'”

Because Wet Hot is the kind of movie fans watch and rewatch endlessly —something I can attest to from personal experience — those attending the live show probably have a pretty good idea of what to expect. Still, Wain promises a unique theatrical experience.

“We’ve gathered much of the original cast and many other awesome comedy folks, and we’ll have a live band and we’ll do an audio version of the movie,” he says. “Should be a blast!” 

SF SKETCHFEST

Jan. 19-Feb. 4, $10–$75 (Wet Hot event SOLD OUT as of 1/18, alas — but there’s plenty more Sketchfest fun to be had!)

Various venues, SF

www.sfsketchfest.com

BODY 2012

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Coming February 1

REINVIGORATE your New Year’s resolutions. . .

The SF Bay Guardian’s special BODY supplement will guide readers to a
healthier lifestyle by highlighting the Bay Area’s best workouts, gyms, fitness
classes, sports and outdoor activities, spas, beauty and wellness programs.

Plus a special section on Winter workout and spa specials!

To find out more about advertising in this full-color section and reaching tens of thousands of our readers, please click here (PDF).

 

Volume 46 Number 16 Flip-through Edition

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Staying on track

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steve@sfbg.com

After weeks of attacks from critics of the high-speed rail system now being built in California — a campaign that even came home to San Francisco City Hall last week, when Sup. Sean Elsbernd challenged Mayor Ed Lee on the issue and called for a hearing — Gov. Jerry Brown and other supporters have stepped up efforts to keep the train from being derailed.

With seed money from a $10 billion bond measure that California voters approved in 2008 and an initial federal grant of $3.3 billion to help build the Central Valley section of the track, the California High Speed Rail Authority is working on construction of a bullet train that would carry riders from San Francisco to downtown Los Angeles in about 2.5 hours, traveling at speeds of up to 220 mph. That project is slated to cost nearly $100 billion, and the next phase would extend service to Sacramento and San Diego.

But Republicans in Congress and the California Legislature began to balk at funding the project last year. Earlier this month, a report by the California High-Speed Peer Review Group recommended that the Legislature indefinitely delay issuing $2.7 billion in rail bonds, citing the uncertainty of future funding sources and problems with the project’s business plan.

“It does not take a rocket scientist to see the future of high-speed rail is in serious doubt,” Elsbernd said at the Jan. 10 Board of Supervisors meeting, where he used the monthly mayoral question time to ask Lee, “What is Plan B with Transbay Terminal if the high-speed rail money does indeed go away? What do we do?”

The Transbay Terminal is now being rebuilt downtown. The first phase includes a $400 million “train box” being built with high-speed rail funds, and the next phase will require billions of dollars more to build train tunnels into the station from the current Caltrain terminus at 4th and King streets.

“I’m committed to seeing the full implementation of high speed rail, which includes having a northern terminus at the Transbay center,” Lee replied, refusing to entertain the idea that the bullet trains won’t be coming into San Francisco, a stand he communicated to state officials in a recent letter. “I want to state my unwavering support for the notion of high-speed rail. It is the future of transportation in this state.”

Lee acknowledged that cost estimates for the project have gone up and there are uncertainties over future funding, but he said the state will need to make the investment either way. “California is growing and those people need to move up and down the state. The question is do we make transportation investments on bigger, wider highways and airport runways? I’d say no, that this perpetuates a car-dependent culture.”

Instead, Lee says the state must find a way to build high-speed rail, whatever the obstacles. But Elsbernd called for a hearing on the issue before the Board of Supervisors, telling the Guardian that he supports the project, “but high-speed rail is in trouble and we need to acknowledge that.”

Meanwhile Gov. Brown — who has rejected calls to delay issuing the rail bonds — was working behind-the-scenes to get the project back on track. Sources say he asked for CHSRA Executive Director Roelof van Ark and CHSRA Board Chair Tom Umberg to resign, which they did at the Jan. 12 meeting, with Brown appointee Dan Richard becoming the new chair.

Richard and fellow new Brown appointee Mike Rossi spearheaded the creation of a proposed new business plan for the project that was unveiled in November. While it addresses some of the criticisms of the project, it raises fresh concerns about whether the bullet trains will arrive in Transbay Terminal.

In fact, it calls for high-speed rail service to end in San Jose, where S.F.-bound riders would have to transfer to Caltrain, largely to placate citizens and politicians on the peninsula who have objected to trains rocketing through their communities and filed lawsuits challenging the project.

“That business plan is unrealistic and unreasonable,” said Quentin Kopp, the former state senator from San Francisco who authored of the original legislation to create high-speed rail and has helped shepherd the project. He said having to transfer twice from S.F. to L.A. would discourage riders and hurt the project.

Kopp isn’t a fan of the Transbay Terminal rebuild, which he derides as “a real estate project” because its funding plan relies on significant private residential and commercial development; he’s called for the trains to stop at the current Caltrain station for financial reasons. But Elsbernd — who also chairs the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Authority, which operates Caltrain — wants to ensure the Transbay project is completed and worth the investment.

“I’m terrified that we continue moving along and then we end up with that being just a big, beautiful bus terminal,” he told us.

Adam Alberti, a spokesperson for the TJPA, said California needs to have improved rail service to handle a growing population and the Transbay Terminal is being build to accommodate that, whether it be Amtrak, Caltrain, or high-speed rail trains coming into the station.

“We are steadfast in our belief that it makes sense to have high-speed rail in California,” he said. “When it does happen, we will have the infrastructure already in place to receive it.”

Furthermore, he expects that the CHSRA business plan, which is the subject of a public comment period that ends Jan. 17, will extend the service beyond San Jose. “They’ll lose significant ridership and revenues if they don’t bring it into San Francisco,” Alberti said.

Sen. Mark Leno, who chairs the Senate Budget Committee, also expressed confidence that current efforts to derail high-speed rail won’t be successful.

“What is the alternative if we don’t do this? California will grow by 10-20 million people in the next decade. There’s no way we could build enough freeways and airport expansions to handle that,” Leno told us. “I don’t think we have the option not to make this work.” Leno also said he was pleased to see top political leaders stepping up to defend the project: “I’m impressed by the governor’s steadfastness, as well as President Obama’s stand. Leadership from the top is important, particularly during difficult times like this.”

Fresh and fancy-free

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virginia@sfbg.com

APPETITE Despite all its high-end culinary buzz, San Francisco is loaded with amazing cheap eats (as my colleague L.E. Leone has been documenting for decades for the Guardian). Here are three new places I consider worth adding to your go-to list.

 

CHUBBY NOODLE

Chubby Noodle easily counts as a best cheap eats opening of 2011. In the back of comfortably retro Amante (www.amantesf.com) bar, order at a kitchen window, illuminated in neon by the word “Hungry?” Then slide into roomy booths to fill up on fresh, daily ceviche, Hawaiian tuna poke ($11), and heartwarming red miso ramen ($9 with pork and poached egg; $11 with shrimp). I expected good from owners of the excellent, neighboring Don Pisto’s — but it’s better than good.

Whatever you do, don’t miss organic, buttermilk-brined, Mary’s fried chicken ($9 for five-piece wings or strips, 2 piece drum and thigh meal $7). It’s traditional American fried chicken with a contemporary Asian attitude, dipped in habit-forming, creamy sambal dipping sauce. Tender chicken strips are an elevated, gourmet version of chicken tenders from childhood.

House kimchi is no slouch, working its gently heated wonders as a side ($4) or on a kimchi kobe beef hot dog ($6). Besides the fried chicken, my other favorite dish is spicy garlic noodles ($8). Chewy and homemade, they’re oozing with garlic, oyster sauce, and a little jalapeno kick. The Korean pork tacos ($9) aren’t carbon copies of the usual trendy dish. Instead of shredded pork, chunks of Niman Ranch rib chop give beefy heft, contrasted by Korean pickles, yogurt sauce, and arbol chile vinegar.

570 Green, SF. 415-361-8850, www.thechubbynoodle.com

 

ROOSTERTAIL

Roostertail is, yes, another rotisserie joint. A few visits after the recent opening, I’m impressed with the friendly staff who exude a warm welcome, even when merely grabbing take-out (Note the just-launched curbside pickup with prepaid phone orders). The space boasts silver counter tops and bright red stools, festive with beer and wine on draft.

When it comes to rotisserie, I’ll take dark meat, thanks ($5.75–<\d>$18.50, quarter to whole birds). The organic, juicy meat is delightful with the garlicky green house sauce. Husband-wife team, Gerard Darian and Tracy Green, get their mainstay right.

A pulled pork sandwich ($10.75) is a solid sandwich pick, on an Acme bun topped with fresh coleslaw unencumbered by mayo. Tiny chicken wings didn’t excite (I prefer Hot Sauce & Panko’s creative, meatier wings), nor did the cheesesteak sandwich. But there’s brisket, five different sandwiches, or hefty salad options, along with soulful sides ($4–<\d>$5.50) like brisket baked beans or brussels sprouts with bacon.

1963 Sutter, SF. (415) 776-6738, www.roostertailsf.com

 

GALETTE 88

There’s a Ti Couz-shaped hole where my Brittany crepe hunger resides.

Through the years, crepes didn’t get better than at the now-defunct Ti Couz in the Mission. At the end of an alley off Kearny, the new Galette 88 isn’t exactly a replacement. There’s not quite the same depth of buckwheat earthiness. The French galettes (a.k.a. buckwheat crepes; savory: $6–<\d>$10, sweet: $5–<\d>$6) are even thinner, still crisp, a little less flavorful, but nonetheless worthwhile. Gluten-free and healthy, they’re made with only three ingredients — water, sea salt, buckwheat flour made from buckwheat which is a plant, not a grain — loaded with fiber, vegetable protein, calcium, iron.

Order Four Barrel coffee, Mighty Leaf tea, or hard cider and choose a crepe. Bruce’s Choice ($10) is my first pick, layered with smoked salmon, caramelized onions, and capers, topped with avocado slices, greens, and a tart/sweet lemon chive creme fraiche. Light yet filling, the zesty lemon sauce makes it.

Bleu Velvet ($9) is a savory-sweet choice with blue cheese, browned apples, arugula, honey, and toasted almonds. Dessert crepes (lemon sugar, roasted apples with salted caramel, chocolate with candied orange peel, or Nutella), made with eggs, milk, wheat flour and sugar, lacked the subtle chewiness and flavor of Ti Couz’s wheat dessert crepes. But in their absence, Galette 88’s crepes contend for the best in town.

It’s already one of the more pleasant FiDi lunch options (with just-added dinner, Wed.-Fri.): casual, order-at-the-counter ease, the owner flitting about, ensuring water cups are filled and everyone is content. The space is minimalist with live birch trees towering in one corner and a decidedly Mission air that’s rare in FiDi.

88 Hardie Pl., (415) 989-2222, www.galettesf.com *

Subscribe to Virgina’s twice-monthly newsletter, The Perfect Spot, www.theperfectspotsf.com

 

Try your luck

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le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS Here’s how I’m different from most people, yo. When most people go to a restaurant and become gastrointestinally challenged on the walk home to the point of very nearly having to do something undignified in the bushes, they don’t go back to that restaurant.

Me, I not only go back, I order the exact same thing!

I don’t think it’s stupidity, per se. Maybe it’s patience. Extraordinary patience. Or curiosity. I needs to know, is all. In fact, maybe I needs to know more than I needs almost anything in life, including I guess dignity.

My motto is: Poison me once, shame on you. Poison me twice, shame on you again, mother fucker. And poison me three times . . . ack-ga goddamn it, stop poisoning me!

So . . . I don’t know, maybe it is stupidity.

You tell me:

The first time I ate at Ly Luck, I got a li’l unlucky with a bowl of duck wonton noodle soup. Is all. But maybe it wasn’t the soup, either. Maybe it was something I picked up off the floor and licked earlier that morning, at home. Or maybe a bug one of the childerns gave me, when I picked them up off the floor and licked them. Who knows?

Point is: usually, as you know, duck soup is medicine to me. This being flu season, I couldn’t just throw my leftovers away. I couldn’t. Even with just a common cold, you don’t always feel like going out, and there was, as I hope I have established, at least a chance that this soup wasn’t poisonous. I got what was left to go, fridged it, and a few days later I took a look.

Maybe it was a week. Anyway, it looked fine. Just fine, but not like a lot of soup. So, being very hungry, and not at all sick, I put my old leftovers back in the back of the fridge and made some eggs.

For the record, it smelled fine too.

But then I ate my eggs and went about my little life, trying to write, taking long baths, cooking up stuff for Hedgehog, playing my various sports, and just generally thinking about tomatoes, when all of a sudden one day, many weeks later around lunch time, I found myself on Fruitvale Avenue, returning a library book or something, and there was Ly Luck.

I didn’t think about it, I ducked in for the duck soup do-over.

Instead of duck wonton noodle soup, however, I accidentally ordered duck yee wonton soup. In Chinese, yee means that the wontons are fried, the broth is gelatinous glop, and the duck is just little tiny pieces of duck, and peas. And, you know, carrots and things ($5.50). But mostly gelatinous glop and fried wontons.

Yum!

I love gelatinous glop with fried wontons in it, turns out, but while it didn’t make me sick, luckily for Ly Luck (not to mention me) I couldn’t really call it medicine, either. I mean, fried things can be health food, in my book, but probably they don’t have curative powers. (This may require research.) Anyway, when I was done with the duck yee wonton soup, I ordered an order of duck wonton noodle soup to go.

This did I store in my fridge until dinner time, around about which I got hungry again.

Where was Hedgehog during all this? Welding class. New Orleans. Writer’s meetings. On an airplane. I think she was on an airplane exactly then, yes, about 30,000 feet over Albuquerque.

I think she heard me scream, over all those feet and the roars of all those engines, not to mention the episode of This American Life I was listening to when I dug distractedly into our refrigerator and pulled out the to-go container of soup in the little plastic white bag.

And opened it.

And saw the horror movie science project that I saw, all fuzzy and colorful and fingery, kind of clawing (or so I imagined) for my throat. I had grabbed the wrong one. Which settled it for me:

New favorite restaurant!

LY LUCK

Sun.-Thu. 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m.

3537 Fruitvale Ave., Oakl.

(510) 530-3232

MC/V

Beer & wine

 

Get Gorey

1

marke@sfbg.com

SUPER EGO Wax up your handlebar mustache, dust off your stripy topcoat, burnish your steampunk petticoats, and oil those wheezy accordions: The Edwardian Ball, that phenomenal annual gathering of exquisitely decked-out freaks, is back for its 12th installment of mannered mayhem. This time it aims to quell any kvetching about crowding by stretching itself over five official local events (and a satellite ball in Los Angeles next month). But the Fri/20 World’s Faire and the Sat/20 Ball itself will still be the main attraction for thousands of Friends of Ed.

Where did it come from, the distinctly San Franciscan style that the Edwardian Ball represents, the curious — and, in some pale lights, socially conservative — amalgamation of circus revivalism, steampunk mechanicals, Wild West gumption, burlesque peekaboo, 1990s anarcho-sincerity, and more than a hint of Burning Man fairy dust? The ball itself, launched in 2000 by Justin Katz of “premiere pagan lounge ensemble” Rosin Coven and Mike Gaines of the neo-cirque Vau de Vire Society, delectably conflates affection for Edwards Gorey, author, and Windsor, British king, producing a turn-of-the-last-century high-brow goth fantasia that’s impossible to resist. There’s more than a hint of Burtonesque Scissorhands-worship in there as well, bringing our Ed count to three. (Check out my revealing interview with founder Katz.)

Like absinthe, the ball’s drink of choice, I savor this native subculture most in small, strong doses — sometimes its sheer mass can overwhelm, and its style seems always in a state of coalescence rather than expansion. (An Edwardian Ball in 2112 would, and probably should, be much like the one this week, hover-bikes notwithstanding.) That’s why the ball’s a perfectly cromulent occasion to check in on the dark-eyed, ruby-red, velvety feast of one of our essential undergrounds. Promenade, anyone?

Fri/20: Edwardian World’s Faire Kinetic Steam Works, Cyclecide, Vau de Vire, games, and more

Sat/21: Edwardian Ball 2012 “The Iron Tonic” with Jill Tracy, The Fossettes, Miz Margo and more

Both at Regency Ballroom, 1300 Van Ness, SF. All ages, see www.edwardianball.com for prices, times, and more events.

BENEFITS FOR DJ TOPH ONE Beloved “wino” Toph One got struck while riding his bike by a hit-and-run driver on Sun/8 and was hospitalized with a broken pelvis and internal bleeding. The DJ, bike activist and annual AIDS Rider, and party promoter (of the incredibly long-running Red Wine Social and Pepper) is OK and in good spirits now. And the great Bay Area nightlife scene is banding together once again to help out a friend in need. There are going to be two big benefits — all proceeds going to Toph’s bills — that are also serving as major bay talent summits. One’s at Public Works (Fri/20, 9 p.m.-3 a.m., $10. 161 Erie, SF. www.publicsf.com) with J-Boogie, Jimmy Love, Matt Haze, Pleasure Maker, E Da Boss, Chris Orr, and many more. The other’s at SOM (Sun/22, 8 p.m., $10–$20 but no one turned away. 2925 16th St., SF. www.som-bar.com) with Billy Jam, Sake One, DJ Pause, Rolo 1-3, Rascue, Jah Warrior Shelter Hi-Fi, and tons more. Get well soon, buddy — and anyone with information on the crime please call the anonymous police tip line at (415) 575-4444 or send a tip by text message to TIP411.

 

LAURENT GARNIER

One day, I will write an entire book about French techno polymath Laurent Garnier’s seminal 1993 “Acid Eiffel,” a monumental track whose throbbing chords (not quite nabbed from Mr. Fingers), squiggling acid jabs, and cheeky whale-song bass figures pretty much audibly nailed where my rave-fatigue head was at back then. He hasn’t been here in a decade: this time he arrives as part of the trio LBS (Live Booth Sessions) with Garnier DJing and knob-twisting, Benjamin Rippert on keyboards and Scan X on “machines.” They’ll be tearing through a whole host of electronic styles at this installment of the whip-smart As You Like It roaming party (co-produced with Public Works), throwing some brilliant corners on Garnier’s signature ecstatic style. With M3, Rich Korach, Briski, and P-Play.

Thu/19, 9 p.m.-3 a.m., $15–$25. Public Works, 161 Erie, SF. www.publicsf.com

 

THE QUEEN IS DEAD

Honey, is she ever! There has actually been quite an uptick in Smiths tribute nights (maybe making up for Morrissey’s string of Bay Area concert cancellations?). And this monthly one, celebrating a year on Saturday, is the Frankly Mr. Shanklyest of them, with a wide range of melancholy jangle-pop tunes and DJ Mario Muse on decks. Unhappy birthday!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8oYsQ1Ra1hI

Sat/21, 9 p.m., $5. Milk, 1840 Haight, SF. www.milksf.com

 

OCTAVE ONE

The classic Detroit techno Burden Brothers whose seminal “I Believe” and “Black Water” will always get me on the dance floor hollering and waving my arms around like the homosexual muppet I am have been touring successfully. Catch them on the swell Club Six sound system.

Fri/20, 9 p.m.-4 a.m., $15. www.clubsix1.com

 

SOUKI

Kooky-rad monthly queer and friends party Dial Up dials up a special Friday night with Berlin ‘s Souki, whose deep-but-friendly techno prowess is making recent waves. She’ll be performing a live PA, sure to get funky.

Fri/20, 9 p.m.-3:30 a.m., free before 10 p.m., $6 after. Public Works, 161 Erie, SF. www.publicsf.com

 

DUBSTEP PRODUCER BATTLE FINALE

Some great beats have come out of the rounds leading up to this grand wobble finale — nice to see so much local talent holding forth (and stretching the often narrow dubstep definition.) Come jiggle and support finalists Fivel, Taso, and Kontrol Freqs at the new Fuel Lounge (formerly Etiquette).

Fri/20, 9 p.m., $5 before 10 p.m., $10 after. Fuel, 1108 Market, SF. www.fuelsf.com 

 

Female trouble

0

arts@sfbg.com

FILM Rooney Mara’s chalk-complected cyberpunk Lisbeth Salander is one of the more fearsome and curious creatures to stalk across movie screens in recent memory, her freak genius and impassive veneer concealing deep reservoirs of pain and rage — and also desire. Cold and distant to the extreme, Salander makes for an odd duck of a femme fatale to disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist’s accidental gumshoe.

And yet, as many a reviewer has commented of David Fincher’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011), the camera spends plenty of time surveying Mara’s naked body as she takes down Sweden’s patriarchal-industrial complex one misogynist at a time. Salander might be more leather than lace, but like many femme fatales before her she flickers (albeit far more unsteadily than her forbearers) between being an object to be desired and a force to be reckoned with.

If it is perhaps something of a stretch to claim that the dame-heavy titles at this year’s Noir City offer a tour of the more distant branches of Salander’s genealogy, at the very least, the gallery of black widows and Jezebels-in-disguise Eddie Muller has assembled for the festival’s tenth go-round offer a pointed lesson in how hard it has been for Hollywood, tattoos and mad hacking skills aside, to shake its old regimes of visual pleasure.

Something of Salander’s icy remove is detectable in mid-1960s Angie Dickinson, who will be feted and interviewed in person at a double bill of two of her best: The Killers (1964) and Point Blank (1967). Whereas Ava Gardner simmered her way through Robert Siodmak’s 1948 adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s short story, the temperature of Dickinson’s Killers mob girl is harder to take in Don Siegel’s remarkably brutal remake: a Monroe in harsher lines with nothing of the little girl lost about her. So too in Point Blank —which re-teams Dickinson with her Killers costar Lee Marvin — does she put up a good fight, even as she brandishes her sexuality like a semi-automatic.

You can add Bedelia — writer Vera Caspary’s lesser-known 1945 follow-up to her convoluted 1943 novel Laura — to the canonical list of first-name-basis sirens (also in Noir City X: 1946’s Gilda and the 1944 film version of Laura). Bedelia‘s titular heroine was touted on an early cover of the 1945 book that inspired the 1946 film (for which Caspary also wrote the screenplay) as “the wickedest woman who ever loved,” a title more than lived up to by Margaret Lockwood’s performance as the small-town temptress.

That description also fits one of noir’s finest leading ladies, Gloria Grahame, who — as always when cast as the bad girl — makes damaged goods look damn fine. In Naked Alibi (1954), she plays a border town torch singer caught in an abusive relationship with a fugitive on the run. Beverly Michaels, on the other hand, is simply damaged (but no less a joy to watch) as the bullet bra-brandishing beauty trying to off her husband for money in Hugo Haas’ sleazoid rarity Pickup (1951).

In keeping with the Pacific Film Archive’s unofficial late-January tradition of running complimentary programming during Noir City, a retrospective of the films of French suspense auteur Henri-Georges Clouzot offers a more nuanced gloss on noir’s troubled women. Simone Signoret and Clouzot’s own wife, Véra, deliver a master class in how to simultaneously do and be undone by a dirty deed in Diabolique (1955). Perhaps more apropos to the dragon-tattooed girl is Clouzot’s final feature Woman in Chains (1968), which, much like Michael Powell’s tour de force Peeping Tom (1960), lays bare the operations of cinema’s gendered voyeurism by having the kinky Josée (Elisabeth Wiener) turning the gaze back on both her artist boyfriend and the amateur pornographer who covets her — a reversal that Clouzot formally mirrors in the film’s electric finale. Though she might not show it, I think Lisbeth Salander would be pleased.

NOIR CITY X

Jan. 20-29, $10-$15

Castro Theatre

429 Castro, SF

www.noircity.com

“HENRI-GEORGES CLOUZOT: THE CINEMA OF DISENCHANTMENT”

Through Feb. 4, $5.50-$9.50

Pacific Film Archive

2575 Bancroft, Berk.

bampfa.berkeley.edu

Conflict revolution

0

arts@sfbg.com

FILM Like the Olympics, albeit on a less rigid schedule, the perceived hotspot for evolving cinematic art tends to migrate every few years. Recently we’ve seen the likes of Romania and South Korea thrust into that rarefied limelight, just as decades earlier it had been Italy, France, Japan, or Sweden. Their moment usually occurs when a new generation of filmmakers with shared stylistic and/or political concerns impact as a collective force, reinvigorating the national cinema while making a splash on the international festival and art house circuits.

Iran has had a particularly long vogue, one that officially commenced with Abbas Kiarostami’s Where is the Friend’s Home? in 1987 and has only ebbed slightly in the quarter-century since. Contextualized by knowledge of the difficulties their makers have experienced enduring censorship and even imprisonment under the Islamic Republic’s strictures on free expression, it’s hard not to admire the rigor and range of their work — even if by the same token, expressing ambivalence toward it becomes a political and intellectual faux pas seldom allowed in polite circles. Partly to circumvent the censors, Iranian directors (excluding those making seldom-exported lighter entertainments intended solely for domestic audiences) have leaned heavily toward neo-realist poverty dramas, obtuse minimalist poetics, and stories about those typically least-objectionable protagonists, children. Only a philistine would say that many of these movies might reasonably strike a viewer as aridly uninvolving, tedious, or too precious. But there, I just said it.

Therefore it’s especially rewarding — even more so when fellow award magnets like 2011’s The Tree of Life and Melancholia are so aesthetically elaborate yet amorphous in narrative shape — to have an Iranian film like A Separation, which is both clear and complex in ways most directly connected to audience engagement. The country’s first movie to win Berlin’s Golden Bear (as well as all its acting awards), this domestic drama reflecting a larger socio-political backdrop is subtly well-crafted on all levels, but most of all demonstrates the unbeatable virtue of having an intricately balanced, reality-grounded screenplay — director Asghar Farhadi’s own — as bedrock.

A sort of confrontational impartiality is introduced immediately, as our protagonists Nader (Peyman Moadi) and Simin (Leila Hatami) face the camera — or rather the court magistrate — to plead their separate cases in her filing for divorce, which he opposes. We gradually learn that their 14-year wedlock isn’t really irreparable, the feelings between them not entirely hostile. The roadblock is that Simin has finally gotten permission to move abroad, a chance she thinks she must seize for the sake of their daughter, Termeh (Sarina Farhadi). But Nader doesn’t want to leave the country — for one thing, his senile father (Ali-Asghar Shahbazi) can hardly be uprooted — and is not about to let his only child go without him.

Unconvinced of the necessity of Simin’s argument, the judge refuses to grant a divorce, after which she moves into her mother’s house. While seeing both parents (and being the only party aware that both of them are basically waiting for the other to “come to their senses” and reconcile), Termeh stays at home with dad, who is quickly overwhelmed by having to care for grandpa. To pick up the slack he hires Razieh (Sareh Bayat), who desperately needs the income as her husband Hodjat (Shahab Hosseini) is unemployed. Yet she’s afraid to tell the latter about this job, and fears that it might violate their strict religious observances prove well-founded when what was billed as a simple housekeeping job instead proves much more suited to a nurse inured toward patient nudity and bodily fluids. Worse, her apparent abandonment of duty provokes an argument with Nader that drags all concerned into another, potentially much more serious court battle.

Farhadi worked in theater before moving into films a decade ago. His close attention to character and performance (developed over several weeks’ pre production rehearsal) has the acuity sported by contemporary playwrights like Kenneth Lonergan and Theresa Rebeck, fitted to a distinctly cinematic urgency of pace and image. None of the protagonists would likely consider themselves highly political. Yet the class differences and overlapping pressures experienced by both the white- and blue-collar couples here reveal a great deal about how a fissuring system is failing ordinary citizens, whether governmentally, economically, or ideologically.

There are moments that risk pushing plot mechanizations too far, and the use of both families’ children (esp. the director’s daughter, who looks of voting age while playing an 11-year-old) as silent, accusatory watchers of adult folly borders on cliché. But A Separation pulls off something very intricate with deceptive simplicity, offering a sort of integrated Rashomon (1950) in which every participant’s viewpoint as the wronged party is right — yet in conflict with every other. The escalating tensions that result pull you toward a resolution that might bang or whimper, but even there Farhadi springs the kind of high-wire trick that might seem pretentious or a cop-out in any film less exacting in its juggling act. 

 

A SEPARATION opens Fri/20 in San Francisco.

Way out East

0

THEATER The shows have been as varied and changeable as the weather this January in New York City, where the annual conference of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP) acts as catalyst for, by now, no less than four new-work festivals in the realms of theater, dance, and contemporary performance.

Near the beginning of the month, it got cold enough at night to make your nose hairs chime like little Christmas tree bells. “Every time you sneeze,” a friend explained to me, “a whole shitload of angels get their wings.”

This cheerful seasonal exchange took place in the Lower East Side during a frigid tromp to American Realness, a three-year-old festival offering a vital focus on contemporary dance and performance. Spread across three stages at the Abrons Art Center, American Realness is the brainchild of Ben Pryor, the festival’s 29-year-old curator and producing director, and once again features an eye-catching list of leading and emerging artists.

Indeed, 2012’s 11-day program (Jan. 5-15) is really pulling out the stops. Performances I’ve seen thus far have run a wide gamut, in every way, but have consistently attracted capacity houses to American Realness’s intriguing blend of the known, infamous, and brand new.

In addition to full-blown productions, the festival has added a new free series this year, “Show and Tell,” offering an opportunity to hear artists discuss their work or to glimpse work-in-progress. One recent afternoon was given over to a three-way discussion among songwriter and performance-maker Holcombe Waller, Cynthia Hopkins (at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts recently with The Success of Failure (Or, the Failure of Success)), and Miguel Gutierrez (last seen locally in July at the Garage with his solo, Heavens What Have I Done) about contemporary song-based performance. The Bay Area’s Keith Hennessy was on hand a couple of days earlier to discuss his collaborative project, Turbulence: A Dance About the Economy, which just had a two-night showing in December at CounterPulse. (Hennessy also premiered Almost, a “spontaneous performance action,” during the last week of the festival.)

American Realness opened with an evening lineup that included other San Francisco favorites, namely Laura Arrington Dance and New York–based Big Art Group. Arrington offered the New York premiere of Hot Wings (a piece born of her 2010 CounterPulse residency) to a sold-out house in the Abrons Art Center’s 100-seat Experimental Theater; while Caden Manson/Big Art Group debuted Broke House, a purposefully chaotic, multimedia camp meltdown loosely based on Chekhov’s Three Sisters, which sprawled across the proscenium stage in the 300-seat Playhouse Theater. The 99-seat Underground Theater, meanwhile, a cozy, brutalist semi-circle carved into the concrete basement, saw a U.S. premiere from Eleanor Bauer and Heather Lang (The Heather Lang Show by Eleanor Bauer and Vice Versa).

Those three initial shows together sounded an eclectic key that has been sustained throughout. The cold weather not so much. A few days later it was unseasonably warm. People tried to act concerned about it. Surely this was another sign of impending climactic collapse. But it was just too nice to care very hard about why it might be wrong.

The relaxed mood encouraged by the sudden warming trend was further augmented by an intimate little walking tour called Elastic City. Artists Todd Shalom and Niegel Smith conduct small groups of people around the grounds of the Abrons Art Center, training everyone’s attention, with a gentle and inviting playfulness, on the smallest and most quotidian details imaginable — with low-key but delighting results. A passage down one maintenance hallway, for instance, was an invitation to notice any little detail that caught the eye and stimulated the imagination and to share it with anyone around you, turning the seemingly bare walls into a topography that might have given a 16th-century explorer the chills, or … a woody. At one point, our guides led us outside barefoot onto the wide concrete steps in front of the building, for what was no doubt originally conceived of as a brief but striking encounter with the winter elements. Everyone stood there comfortably, however, thankful for the temperate bath of fresh air. “Yeah, it’s not very cold,” agreed Shalom. “Actually, it’s not cold at all.”

A couple more memorable moments as of this writing: Daniel Linehan spinning in a circle for a very long time, declaiming, “This is not about anything” — and variations on that theme. The young choreographer-performer (who’s worked with Big Art as well as Miguel Gutierrez, among others) delivered these poetically schematic lines at intricate length, in a voice precisely doubled by an offstage “doppelganger” piped through a nearby speaker, demonstrating a fairly wowing memory and focus, while alternating both the speed and shape of his whirling form to create a kinetic sculpture of transfixing beauty.

The stunning solo Not About Everything faltered only momentarily for me, when Linehan, pulling out and “reading” a self-conscious letter about his own art and practice from his pocket, shifted from mathematical-geometric abstraction to the all-too-specific. It was an almost rude awakening from a kind of syntactic ecstasy — the motive, unmooring meaninglessness of the mantra — back into the semantics of worldly and solipsistic concerns. It was saved ultimately by a combination of Linehan’s acuity and alacrity as a thinker and performer, however, and it was as fine, moving, and memorable a solo as any seen thus far.

Ann Liv Young presented a desultory piece called Sleeping Beauty Part I that held few surprises for anyone remotely familiar with her work. But the audience was caught off guard at one point at least, as Sleeping Beauty, having completed a Showgirls-style dance of seduction, pleads for understanding from her Prince Charming (a blowup doll sitting in the first row of the packed Experimental Theater). At that moment a soap machine above the stage suddenly erupted with a noisy rush of air and fluff, casting a snow-like arc of fine goo down onto the heads of maybe a third of the house, producing amusement and irritation in more or less equal measure. Only one patron actually got up and left. The rest sat stoically, trying to stifle coughs and sneezes for the next 20 minutes as the finer, mistier particles of whatever is in that stuff began lining breathing passages.

The remainder of the show was given over to an invitation to have your Polaroid portrait taken with the Sleeping Beauty (two bucks a pop). There were enough takers to drag this process out about half an hour. Then the performers left the stage. More ALY concessions were on sale as you exited.

www.tbspmgmt.com/AMERICAN_REALNESS_.html

Chem Dawg to the rescue

17

caitlin@sfbg.com

HERBWISE The Kings of Destruction, more popularly known as KOD, were an hour and a half late for our interview. Being that the hip-hop-graff-clothing-medical-marijuana-advocacy collective is from the East Bay and we had arranged to meet at the Guardian Potrero Hill office, I figured I’d better look for them.

I didn’t have to go far: all five of the group’s members who had stopped by were sitting amid SF political activists in the Guardian conference room, mistakenly ensconced in a discussion of the new supervisoral district lines. They’d introduced themselves along with everyone else, but then faltered when the meeting’s facilitator asked to what he owed the pleasure of having Oakland residents at the table.

All good. Soon enough I have Dogz One, Lil’ Zane, Josh, Tase 1, and Don Juan assembled on the roof standing around a picnic table and talking about marijuana. They’ve brought some of their products for show ‘n’ tell; t-shirts emblazoned with characters culled from local marijuana strains. They’ve brought Grape Ape, a gorilla pulling on a joint with a purple berry-emblazoned baseball hat. Another shirt features Chem Dawg, a husky that figures in an upcoming KOD comic book in which the character (Dogz One is his alter-ego) will fight the government’s attempts to keep marijuana from the people. Pending designs include Girl Scouts Cookies, which will feature a woman wearing a midriff-bearing scout uniform in honor of the SF-specific strain rumored to smell of pastries (those buds available locally at the Green Door dispensary).

Kings of Destruction started out as a graffiti crew, and though members still throw up pieces on walls occasionally (“go down around the train tracks, you’ll see some things,” counsels Don Juan) now its focus is on — state — legal activities: music, clothing, and the catalyst for this interview, advocating for medical marijuana. Though I’m unable to hear samples of the tracks before press time, the group tells me members have been in the studio laying down tracks about their medicine, and they hope to join this spring’s Prohibition Tour (www.prohibitiontour.com), a California college event series that plans to raise awareness among students this spring with lectures and musical performances.

“Oakland has been on the forefront of the medical marijuana movement, so we’re trying to keep everything alive so that everyone can keep their medicine,” says Don Juan. Many in the group are patients and growers themselves who naturally find themselves in the activist role around friends and family who don’t use weed.

KOD sees marijuana as a healthy alternative to pharmaceuticals — many of which have adversely affected friends’ lives in their East Bay community. A prime example is bo, as the promethazine-codeine cough syrup that figures prominently in Bay Area hip-hop these days is popularly called. Compared to the dangers of that kind of drug, KOD members say, the federal government’s resistance to legalizing marijuana seems foolish. Not that there aren’t side effects of marijuana: “You might get a little hungry, might go to sleep,” says Don Juan. “You might just lay back instead of getting mad when somebody cusses you out,” adds Tase 1.

In closing, I ask KOD to tell me a story about the group and marijuana. They give each other looks and chuckle. Finally Tase 1 steps up to the plate. “One time, we were going to do something bad. And then we smoked some weed.” 

Find KOD clothing at www.kronicoverdose.com

 

Wall played

0

Also in this issue, Guardian writer Matt Sussman on who got the hype — and who earned it — in the galleries at Art Basel Miami 2011

VISUAL ART The popular face of Miami is made of aqua blue views and chrome rims, but the parts of Wynwood that haven’t been covered by murals yet look more like asphalt and the muted tones of low-cost rentals. Since the 1950s it’s been largely a Puerto Rican neighborhood. It’s also where many African Americans moved when they got priced out of the Overtown neighborhood to the south, where they were originally relegated by Jim Crow laws.

But, in a high-low art tornado last month, Wynwood is also where I learn that the popular legend labeling the Mission District the neighborhood with the most densely-packed street art in the world is total bunk.

Wynwood’s main drag Second Avenue is Clarion Alley on acid. Having come straight from Miami International Airport, my rental car barely inches down the strip, so omnipresent are the weaving, goggling packs of urban art voyeurs in oversized silk shirt-dresses and vertiginous wedge heels or where’d-you-get-’em sneakers. The only sign of the neighborhood’s year-round residents are the sporadic flaggers in self-bought orange vests waving cars into parking spots.

Angry sharks, Persian cat-women, color-washed streetcars, and owls sitting shotgun in convertibles — sometimes layered on top of each other — grace walls here. Designs pour off walls and onto the sidewalk. Here, the fairytale nymphs and walking houses of Os Gemeos on a fancy restaurant; there, a massive black-and-white photo wheatpaste by JR of bulging, watching eyes that echo the look of passers-by. I nearly break my neck on Mexico City artists Sego and Saner’s horned beetle-men, who clutch amulets and wear fanged leopard masks on the backs of their heads. Absolut Vodka has occupied a parking lot with a temporary open-air club, dotting it with human-sized aerosol cans and fencing it off with chainlink. It’s enough to make any street art fan lose their shit, or at least the rental car.

I’ve parachuted into the middle of Miami’s yearly art inferno, a.k.a. the week that the Art Basel art fair comes to town. Since 2002, this Swedish import has filled Miami Beach Convention Center with astronomically-priced works from over 260 international galleries. Umpteen ancillary art and design fairs populate deco hotel-land and its surrounds during this time — the city becomes one largely, loudly turned-out gallery opening.

Wynwood, with its surplus of 80-foot blank walls, hosts many an art collection — but it’s most visible contribution to the scene is its dense network of murals. Of these, the undisputed center is a compound of buildings grouped around a courtyard of marquee works dubbed Wynwood Walls. The properties were purchased by (in)famous neighborhood rejuvenator Tony Goldman in 2004. Many hold Goldman responsible for the gentrification of Soho, South Beach, and city center Philadelphia.

Wynwood Walls is his carefully orchestrated attempt to use the allure of street art to change the area’s economic fortune. Shortly before Art Basel 2011, Goldman produced a series of YouTube shorts dubbed “Here Comes the Neighborhood,” in which longtime graffiti photographer Martha Cooper cheerfully opines “Now we’ve got something [street art] that people are calling the biggest art movement in history of the world. And it just might be.”

The night of my arrival, the amount of in-progress murals at which the crawling traffic gives one an opportunity to gawk is striking. At least a dozen artists labor within a four-block radius, greeting fans, drinking beers and staring up at their half-finished creations contemplatively.

Such was the mood in which I find Buenos Aires street artist Ever, who along with an assistant is completing a massive wall featuring two disembodied heads emitting his signature riotously colorful cognitive mapping hives, which in the past he’s painted emerging from the brains of Mao Tse-Tung and his own younger brother. Ever was flown up by a community-based Atlanta street art festival, Living Walls, to paint a Second Avenue parking lot wall as part of the festival’s first project outside of Georgia.

It’s not his first international street art festival, but Ever is among the artists under-impressed with the Basel-time scene in Wynwood.

“It’s like the alcohol. I hate the shit — but one drink more!” We talk when the dust of Basel has long settled; Ever, fellow street and gallery artist Apex, and I perched around Apex’s studio in a Market and Sixth Street garment factory building.

Apex, who has been to Miami during Basel week four times, and twice to paint the crystallized, color-saturated “super burner” murals he is known for, explains that for him, the problem is exploitation. Street artists typically paint walls for a pittance or for free, in a neighborhood where businesses are making boatloads of money off spectators that come to marvel.

“You have, like, Tony Goldman, he gives a certain amount of money, property owners make money, but artists, a few make money,” Apex explains. “The rest, no. Artists get caught in the excitement of it. But who is getting paid off of it?”

“Who wins,” Ever adds.

“If someone is making money off of it, you should know who that is,” concludes Apex.

But the two artists agree that Art Basel week is an excellent education in the workings of the high art world for aspiring professionals, and that the camaraderie that flourishes between street artists can be important, inspirational.

And of course, the parties. Basel is known for them — 2011 featured everything from the $200-a-ticket “Fuck Me I’m Famous” David Guetta show to surprise kudos for the partykids from Pharrell onstage at Yelawolf’s Saturday night gig at a castle-shaped outdoor club in Wynwood. On my first night in town, the whole Living Walls gang — organizers, artists, errant alternative journalist from San Francisco — pile into cars and hit the Design District to check out the opening of the group show of Primary Flight, a local collective that got its start commissioning murals wall-by-wall in Wynwood.

“We started noticing we weren’t the breadwinners of the galleries,” Primary Flight founder Books Bischof tells me in a phone interview. “It was like fuck you, we’re going to take to the streets. We’re all curators in a sense, so we might as well get up and be seen.” Bischof logged time connecting with local graffiti crews and Wynwood’s homeless population to make sure he had community support for bringing the art crowd into the neighborhood during Basel week. He somewhat resents Goldman’s “just buy it” approach. “When we learned about [his Wynwood building purchases] we were like, well that’s kind of fucked.” (Though officially the two camps exist amicably, Goldman told me he upon arriving in the neighborhood he found Primary Flight’s piecemeal approach to its murals “helter-skelter.”)

But along with Wynwood’s art scene, Primary Flight has grown. In addition to its mural program — through which Apex painted his 2011 Miami wall — attendees at the collective’s gallery space could take in traditional paintings and sculptures, but also Mira Kum’s “I Pig, Therefore I Am” installation featuring the artist in the nude, living with two pigs in a small enclosure for 104 hours. “We represent artists with a street art, fuck you swagger,” comments Bischof.

Things are much more established now in Wynwood, which by most counts serves as Miami’s arts district year-round. There are expensive coffeeshops and bars, fine restaurants, precious florists, and blocks of galleries selling accessible art. (During Art Basel week, one of these is given over to an artist who specializes in kawaii food art printed onto affordable decals and posters. An entire wall is covered in swirly-topped ice cream cones in a hundred color options.)

Though professional street art certainly existed prior to his engagement, this upscaling can largely be attributed to Goldman’s speculative interest. Goldman’s PR agency sends me press materials dubbing Wynwood “the next great discovery in the Goldman Properties portfolio.” His company’s general methodology is to buy up historic buildings in socioeconomically depressed neighborhoods and fill them with upscale businesses that attract more pedestrian traffic.

There is little doubt that Goldman envisions the future of Wynwood as a place where housing units rent for far more than many of its current residents can afford. His team has spent considerable time and effort working with Miami’s city council on creating live-work zoning in Wynwood (not unsimilar to the type of zoning that loaded San Francisco’s SoMa with high cost condos). After the Basel hangover has dissipated, I get a chance to talk with him.

“When I went to Wynwood and I had boxy warehouse buildings, it was a much different challenge for me,” says Goldman during our decorous phone interview. “Now I could be free. Some people would look at ugly buildings and empty parking lots and loading zones — what I saw was an international outdoor street art museum. Huge canvas opportunities.” He bought six of those buildings in the center of the neighborhood, two of which now house spendy restaurants run by his son and daughter.

Goldman is not completely without street art cred. Since 1984, he has owned a massive wall on Manhattan’s Bowery and Houston Streets that has hosted murals from Keith Haring, Barry McGee, and Shepard Fairey. “[Street art] is freer in a lot of ways than walking in a museum, which a lot of street artists consider graveyards,” he says. “Not that I agree with them, not that I disagree with them either. I think Wynwood Walls is one place that has validated the art form as an important contribution to contemporary art.”

But Wynwood Walls also serves as the main attraction to an area in which Goldman Properties has monetarily invested. “It [is] a center place that the arts district really didn’t have, a town square, a centerpiece that was defined architecturally,” reflects Goldman. “It served its purpose.”

But perhaps this use of street art as tool of gentrification is not so incongruous. After all, most if not all professional street artists are able to create murals only by selling gallery-ready pieces. Ever tells of painting a mural for Coca-Cola with studiomate Jaz, only to use his paycheck to create three more public walls. “The reality of art is you always need a rich person,” he says.

Which is, more or less, to say that even in Wynwood, professional street art is not entirely soulless. Take for example one of Ever’s favorite Wynwood pieces, done by Spanish artist Escif. The wall was so popular, in fact, it merited a cameo in a “Here Comes the Neighborhood” episode. And not for its bright colors or revolutionary design; it’s just black capital letters on a flat white background.

But it does have a pretty direct message for good-intentioned folks in Wynwood. It says: “Remember, u’re not doing it for the money.”

What recession?

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Also in this issue: Guardian culture editor Caitlin Donohue on Art Basel Miami 2011’s street art scene

VISUAL ART Now in its 10th year, Art Basel Miami Beach (ABMB)— the art world’s annual “spring beak” during which power brokers, status-seekers, and a curious public descend on Miami Beach over the first weekend in December — makes for an easy target, engorging South Beach’s already cartoonish version of “living large” by bringing its own cold strains of entitlement, status, and exclusivity.

Perhaps this is what advertising mogul and mega-collector Charles Saatchi decried (somewhat sanctimoniously) as “the hideousness of the art world” in an op-ed piece for the UK Guardian, conveniently published during the fair’s run. Those who liked to show off certainly did: luxury SUVs continually clogged the viaducts across Biscayne Bay; I counted more blue-chip handbags and heels than in the September issue of Vogue; and there was always buzz of a party or dinner you weren’t on the list for. (Party-crashing is ABMB’s unofficial blood sport).

“I just stopped Tweeting,” remarked a social media manager for a San Francisco museum, as we shared a bleary-eyed ride to the airport on Monday night. “I mean, how many jokes can you make about the money?”

My van-mate’s fatigue was understandable. The fair itself is exhausting, having grown to include some 260 international exhibitors that transform the Miami Beach Convention Center into a warren of aisles and booths, as well as programs of outdoor sculpture, video, and a series of panel discussions and Q&As. And this isn’t even including the aforementioned endless circuit of afterhours soirées.

But his bafflement also pointed towards the way business is done at Art Basel, bringing to mind Marx’s characterization of capital as a kind of magic act. Most of the transactions happened offstage, with a majority of pieces selling before the fair had even opened. As a curator friend jokingly asked, echoing sentiments she has been hearing all weekend from gallery associates: “Where’s the recession?”

There certainly wasn’t much in the way of finger-pointing on the convention center floor. Threats of an Occupy-style protest remained just that. Danish collective Superflex’s giant flags emblazoned with logos of bankrupt banks (at Peter Blum Gallery) attempted to reveal the elephant in the room. They might have been overpowered, however, by the flash of Barbara Kruger’s riotous wall texts at Mary Boone, which proclaimed “Money makes money” and “Plenty should be enough.” The ripest visual metaphor for wasteful abundance was certainly Paulo Nazareth’s “Banana Market/Art Market,” a green Volkswagen van filled with real bananas that spilled out onto the convention floor.

Even though the writing was on the wall, visitors seemed more keen on getting their pictures taken with some of the single-artist installations that were part of the”Ark Kabinett” program. Ai Weiwei’s barren tree made from pieces of dead tree trunks collected in Southern China had almost as long of a queue as Elmgreen and Dragset’s marble sculpture of a neoclassical male nude hooked up to an IV, the centerpiece of Amigos, the un-ambiguously gay duo’s deconstructed bathhouse that took over Galeria Helga de Alvear’s booths.

There were a few welcome surprises: new LA-based artist Melodie Mousset’s mixed-media piece “On Stoning and Unstoning” (at Vielmetter) offered a politically astute and formally bold tonic to the generally conservative, painting-heavy selection, as did older sexually and politically frank pieces by second-wave feminist artists such as Martha Rosler and Joan Semmel.

However, the most exciting art could be found outside the convention center, mainly in the rapidly-gentrifying Wynwood neighborhood which now boasts more than 40 galleries (nearly quadruple the number from eight years ago). Many of Miami’s biggest collectors have followed suit, setting up warehouses in the adjacent Design District where their collections are on view to the public.

“Frames and Documents,” the Ella Fontanalas-Cisneros Collection’s sensitively curated selection of Conceptualist art from the 1960s to the late ’80s— which juxtaposed the work of Central and South American artists with that of their American and European contemporaries — was brimful with lush aesthetic rewards delivered with the barest of means.

I renewed too many loves that afternoon (and found some new ones, as well) to list in full, but another institutional stand-out was the Miami Art Museum’s “American People, Black Light,” a retrospective of Faith Ringgold’s early paintings from the ’60s that capture with unflinching clarity the anguish, ambivalence and rage of the Civil Rights era. Given Ringgold’s profile, it’s shocking that they’ve never been the subject of their own exhibition until now.

Much has been made of the “trickle down” effect ABMB has had on the cultural revitalization of Miami. (Wynwood is the most frequently cited example). The most hopeful and lasting sign I saw of any such change was a few blocks down from the Cisneros collection, at the small gallery Wet Heat Project. For the group show “A Piece of Me” pairs of art students from local high schools had been matched with four mid-career alumni from Miami’s New World School of the Arts. Each student team then conceived, developed, and produced a video installation in response to a piece by their alumni mentor, with both the final video pieces and those works that inspired them on display in the gallery.

What could’ve been a gimmicky set-up resulted in some truly inventive, thoughtful, and original work on the part of the students. Moreover, “A Piece of Me” offers one portable model for bridging the community at large and the art community. As Max Gonzalez, one of the participating students who was on hand, said of his installation, “It was go big or go home for us.”

Next to that vote of confidence, the Miami Beach Convention Center floor — littered with big names and bigger baubles destined for law firm lobbies and penthouse living rooms — seemed that many more miles away.

Matt Sussman writes the Guardian’s biweekly Hairy Eyeball column.

Exporting our brains

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By Gary Brechin

The chancellor was absent as University of California police, kitted out in battle gear, vigorously beat and arrested students and professors at on the Berkeley campus. Called to account by the academic senate two weeks later, Robert Birgeneau explained that he had been on a trip through Asia at the time. The trip, he said, concluded with a “phenomenally successful,” though unspecified, mission to Shanghai, so he did not hear how badly things went at home until the following day.

What Chancellor Birgeneau and the dean of Berkeley’s College of Engineering did on the trip was sign an agreement to open a 50,000-square-foot building in Shanghai’s Zhangjiang High-Tech Park two days after clubs fell on Cal students agitated by what they perceive as the progressive privatization and commercialization of their university. According to The New York Times, the new branch will give U.C. an Asian beachhead by opening “a large research and teaching facility as part of a broader plan to bolster its presence in China.” Other premier American universities such as Duke, NYU, and Stanford are, for a price, establishing similar “partnerships” that China “hope[s] will form the base of a modern high-tech economy.”

As U.S. funding dries up, college administrators hope that such collaborations will “support fundraising efforts that target wealthy Chinese alumni” — not to mention attracting their children, who are more able to pay ever-rising tuition than American students.

California’s business elite until recently oversaw the establishment and growth of a prestigious 12-campus system that was meant to do for the Golden State what the university now will do for China.

The promise of a virtually free and high quality education for Californians worked well to that end until 1978 when voters overwhelmingly passed Proposition 13 to cut their taxes.

Starved of funding, California’s public schools plummeted from the best to near worst — but many believed that the University of California’s crucial role in the state’s and the nation’s economy would immunize it from the rot consuming the rest of the Golden State’s educational apparatus. But as California piled up multi-billion dollar deficits, U.C inevitably joined the rest of the public sector on the dream factory’s cutting room floor.

As with any organism fighting for its life, available money has moved like blood from regions the university administration considers expendable to those regarded as vital profit centers — like business, biotechnology, sports, and online learning initiatives — as well as lavish executive pay packages.

Last year, for example, the university’s flagship campus at Berkeley quietly divested itself of its outstanding Water Resource Center Archives to save the cost of four clerical positions and thus free space for the expanding College of Engineering. At UC San Diego, three specialty libraries closed altogether while a fourth — the largest oceanographic library in the world — will close in 2012.

Advanced communications and information technology will be among the first areas of research undertaken by the College of Engineering’s new partnership with Chinese industries seeking to overtake California’s fabled Silicon Valley.

For centuries, city states and nations jealously guarded their home industries to the point of sending assassins to dispatch those trading secrets with rivals. Decades of neoliberalism have encouraged today’s elites to do the opposite. Availing themselves of the deregulation and lowered trade barriers for which they paid and the communications technology they developed, they exported their industries and jobs to wherever labor costs are lowest and environmental constraints absent. Derelict factories, ruined towns, failing infrastructure, and prisons now pock those countries still imagining themselves members of the First World.

The screams of students belabored for asking where their university is going and for whom raises the question whether intelligence will be our last export, or whether it was among our first.

Gray Brechin is a three-time U.C. Berkeley alumnus and visiting scholar in the UBC Department of Geography. He is the author of Imperial San Francisco: Urban Power, Earthly Ruin. A version of this piece ran first in the Anderson Valley Advertiser.

Editor’s notes

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tredmond@sfbg.com

When I was working on my college paper, the vice-president for academic affairs, a rather serious man named William Brennan, delivered a lecture on some obscure topic to a group of, I think, economic majors, and somehow, a Wesleyan Argus reporter was there to cover it. The young journalist gave a fair rendition of the event, and the headline an editor wrote was about the most accurate thing I’ve ever seen in a newspaper. It read:

“Brennan bores small crowd.”

The New York Times, which never runs headlines like that, is having an internal debate over — seriously — whether its reporters should be free to tell the truth.

That’s right: The Public Editor, Arthur S. Brisbane, asked in his Jan. 12 column whether “reporters should challenge ‘facts’ that are asserted by newsmakers they write about.”

In other words, if the president tells an obvious, outright lie, should the Times point that out — or just repeat his inaccurate statement as fact, since in fact the president said it?

Should newspaper reporters be reporters, or stenographers?

It’s so silly, but it reminds me of what’s always annoyed me about the skilled, highly trained and often brilliant staff people at the Times: They’re not allowed to tell the truth.

After just about every press conference on the War in Iraq, for example, I would have written:

“President Bush lied to the public again today, noting — in direct contrast to the evidence on the ground — that the war is going well and that the invasion had nothing to do with oil.”

I know the Times would never go that far, but Brisbane actually had to ask:

“On the campaign trail, Mitt Romney often says President Obama has made speeches ‘apologizing for America,’ a phrase to which Paul Krugman objected in a Dec. 23 column, arguing that politics has advanced to the ‘post-truth’ stage.

“As an Op-Ed columnist, Mr. Krugman clearly has the freedom to call out what he thinks is a lie. My question for readers is: should news reporters do the same?”

Huh? Should reporters be able to report that the likely Republican candidate for president is making stuff up that he knows or ought to know has no basis in factual reality? Is that something the voters need to know?

And the big papers wonder why they’re losing readers.

Occupy Nation

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news@sfbg.com

The Occupy movement that spread across the country last fall has already changed the national discussion: It’s brought attention to the serious, systemic problem of gross inequities of wealth and power and the mass hardships that have resulted from that imbalance.

Occupy put a new paradigm in the political debate — the 1 percent is exploiting the 99 percent — and it’s tapping the energy and imagination of a new generation of activists.

When Adbusters magazine first proposed the idea of occupying Wall Street last summer, kicking off on Sept. 17, it called for a focus on how money was corrupting the political system. “Democracy not Corporatocracy,” the magazine declared — but that focus quickly broadened to encompass related issues ranging from foreclosures and the housing crisis to self-dealing financiers and industrialists who take ever more profits but provide fewer jobs to the ways that poor and disenfranchised people suffer disproportionately in this economic system.

It was a primal scream, sounded most strongly by young people who decided it was time to fight for their future. The participants have used the prompt to create a movement that drew from all walks of life: recent college graduates and the homeless, labor leaders and anarchists, communities of colors and old hippies, returning soldiers and business people. They’re voicing a wide variety of concerns and issues, but they share a common interest in empowering the average person, challenging the status quo, and demanding economic justice.

We chronicled and actively supported the Occupy movement from its early days through its repeated expulsions from public plazas by police, particularly in San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley. We supported the right of the protesters to remain — even as we understood they couldn’t and shouldn’t simply stay forever. Occupy needed to evolve if it was to hold the public’s interest. The movement would ultimately morph into something else.

That time has come. This spring, Occupy is poised to return as a mass movement — and there’s no shortage of energy or ideas about what comes next. Countless activists have proposed occupying foreclosed homes, shutting down ports and blocking business in bank lobbies. Those all have merit. But if the movement is going to challenge the hegemony of the 1 percent, it will involve moving onto a larger stage and coming together around bold ideas — like a national convention in Washington, D.C. to write new rules for the nation’s political and economic systems.

Imagine thousands of Occupy activists spending the spring drafting Constitutional amendments — for example, to end corporate personhood and repeal the Citizens United decision that gave corporations unlimited ability to influence elections — and a broader platform for deep and lasting change in the United States.

Imagine a broad-based discussion — in meetings and on the web — to develop a platform for economic justice, a set of ideas that could range from self-sustaining community economics to profound changes in the way America is governed.

Imagine thousands of activists crossing the country in caravans, occupying public space in cities along the way, and winding up with a convention in Washington, D.C.

Imagine organizing a week of activities — not just political meetings but parties and cultural events — to make Occupy the center of the nation’s attention and an inspiring example for an international audience.

Imagine ending with a massive mobilization that brings hundreds of thousands of people to the nation’s capitol — and into the movement.

Occupy activists are already having discussions about some of these concepts (see sidebar). Thousands of activists are already converging on D.C. right now for the Occupy Congress, one of many projects that the movement can build on.

 

DEFINING MOMENTS

Mass social movements of the 20th Century often had defining moments — the S.F. General Strike of 1934; the Bonus Army’s occupation of Washington D.C.; the Freedom Rides, bus boycotts and Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington; Earth Day 1970; the Vietnam War teach-ins and moratoriums. None of those movements were politically monolithic; all of them had internal conflicts over tactics and strategies.

But they came together in ways that made a political statement, created long-term organizing efforts, and led to significant reforms. Occupy can do the same — and more. At a time of historic inequities in wealth and power, when the rich and the right wing are stealing the future of generations of Americans, the potential for real change is enormous.

If something’s going to happen this spring and summer, the planning should get under way now.

A convention could begin in late June, in Washington D.C. — with the goal of ratifying on the Fourth of July a platform document that presents the movement’s positions, principles, and demands. Occupy groups from around the country would endorse the idea in their General Assemblies, according to procedures that they have already established and refined through the fall, and make it their own.

This winter and spring, activists would develop and hone the various proposals that would be considered at the convention and the procedures for adopting them. They could develop regional working groups or use online tools to broadly crowd-source solutions, like the people of Iceland did last year when they wrote a new constitution for that country. They would build support for ideas to meet the convention’s high-bar for its platform, probably the 90 percent threshold that many Occupy groups have adopted for taking action.

Whatever form that document takes, the exercise would unite the movement around a specific, achievable goal and give it something that it has lacked so far: an agenda and set of demands on the existing system — and a set of alternative approaches to politics.

While it might contain a multitude of issues and solutions to the complicated problems we face, it would represent the simple premise our nation was founded on: the people’s right to create a government of their choosing.

There’s already an Occupy group planning a convention in Philadelphia that weekend, and there’s a lot of symbolic value to the day. After all, on another July 4th long ago, a group of people met in Philly to draft a document called the Declaration of Independence that said, among other things, that “governments … deriv[e] their just powers from the consent of the governed … [and] whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

 

ON THE ROAD

If the date is right and the organizing effort is effective, there’s no reason that Occupy couldn’t get close to a million people into the nation’s capital for an economic justice march and rally.

That, combined with teach-ins, events and days of action across the country, could kick off a new stage of a movement that has the greatest potential in a generation or more to change the direction of American politics.

Creating a platform for constitutional and political reform is perhaps even more important than the final product. In other words, the journey is even more important than the destination — and when we say journey, we mean that literally.

Occupy groups from around the country could travel together in zig-zagging paths to the Capitol, stopping and rallying in — indeed, Occupying! — every major city in the country along the way.

It could begin a week or more before the conference, along the coasts and the northern and southern borders: San Francisco and Savannah, Los Angeles and New York City, Seattle and Miami, Chicago and El Paso, Billings and New Orleans — Portland, Oregon and Portland, Maine.

At each stop, participants would gather in that city’s central plaza or another significant area with their tents and supplies, stage a rally and general assembly, and peacefully occupy for a night. Then they would break camp in the morning, travel to the next city, and do it all over again.

Along the way, the movement would attract international media attention and new participants. The caravans could also begin the work of writing the convention platform, dividing the many tasks up into regional working groups that could work on solutions and new structures in the encampments or on the road.

At each stop, the caravan would assert the right to assemble for the night at the place of its choosing, without seeking permits or submitting to any higher authorities. And at the end of that journey, the various caravans could converge on the National Mall in Washington D.C., set up a massive tent city with infrastructure needed to maintain it for a week or so, and assert the right to stay there until the job was done.

The final document would probably need to be hammered out in a convention hall with delegates from each of the participating cities, and those delegates could confer with their constituencies according to whatever procedures they prescribe. This and many of the details — from how to respond to police crackdowns to consulting of experts to the specific scope and procedures of this democratic exercise — would need to be developed over the spring.

But the Occupy movement has already started this conversation and developed the mechanisms for self-governance. It may be messy and contentious and probably even seem doomed at times, but that’s always the case with grassroots organizations that lack top-down structures.

Proposals will range from the eminently reasonable (asking Congress to end corporate personhood) to the seemingly crazy (rewriting the entire U.S. Constitution). But an Occupy platform will have value no matter what it says. We’re not fond of quoting Milton Friedman, the late right-wing economist, but he had a remarkable statement about the value of bold ideas:

“It is worth discussing radical changes, not in the expectation that they will be adopted promptly, but for two other reasons. One is to construct an ideal goal, so that incremental changes can be judged by whether they move the institutional structure toward or away from that ideal. The other reason is very different. It is so that if a crisis requiring or facilitating radical change does arrive, alternatives will be available that have been carefully developed and fully explored.”

After the delegates in the convention hall have approved the document, they could present it to the larger encampment — and use it as the basis for a massive rally on the final day. Then the occupiers can go back home — where the real work will begin.

Because Occupy will wind up spawning dozens, hundreds of local and national organizations — small and large, working on urban issues and state issues and national and international issues.

 

WASHINGTON’S BEEN OCCUPIED BEFORE

The history of social movements in this country offers some important lessons for Occupy.

The notion of direct action — of in-your-face demonstrations designed to force injustice onto the national stage, sometimes involving occupying public space — has long been a part of protest politics in this country. In fact, in the depth of the Great Depression, more than 40,000 former soldiers occupied a marsh on the edge of Washington D.C., created a self-sustaining campground, and demanded that bonus money promised at the end of World War I be paid out immediately.

The so-called Bonus Army attracted tremendous national attention before General Douglas Macarthur, assisted by Major George Patton and Major Dwight Eisenhower, used active-duty troops to roust the occupiers.

The Freedom Rides of the early 1960s showed the spirit of independence and democratic direct action. Raymond Arsenault, a professor at the University of South Florida, brilliantly outlines the story of the early civil rights actions in a 2007 Oxford University Press book (Freedom Rides: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice) that became a national phenomenon when Oprah Winfrey devoted a show and a substantial online exhibition to it.

Arsenault notes that the rides were not popular with what was then the mainstream of the civil rights movement — no less a leader than Thurgood Marshall thought the idea of a mixed group of black and white people riding buses together through the deep south was dangerous and could lead to a political backlash. The riders were denounced as “agitators” and initially were isolated.

The first freedom ride, in May, 1961, left Washington D.C. but never reached its destination of New Orleans; the bus was surrounded by angry mobs in Birmingham, Alabama, and the drivers refused to continue.

But soon other rides rose up spontaneously, and in the end there were more than 60, with 430 riders. Writes Arsenault:

“Deliberately provoking a crisis of authority, the Riders challenged Federal officials to enforce the law and uphold the constitutional right to travel without being subjected to degrading and humiliating racial restrictions … None of the obstacles placed in their path—not widespread censure, not political and financial pressure, not arrest and imprisonment, not even the threat of death—seemed to weaken their commitment to nonviolent struggle. On the contrary, the hardships and suffering imposed upon them appeared to stiffen their resolve.”

The Occupy movement has already shown similar resolve — and the police batons, tear gas, pepper spray, and rubber bullets have only given the movement more energy and determination.

David S. Meyer, a professor at U.C. Irvine and an expert on the history of political movements, notes that the civil rights movement went in different directions after the freedom rides and the March on Washington. Some wanted to continue direct action; some wanted to continue the fight in the court system and push Congress to adopt civil rights laws; some thought the best tactic was to work to elect African Americans to local, state and federal office.

Actually, all of those things were necessary — and Occupy will need to work on a multitude of levels, too, and with a diversity of tactics.

Single-day events have had an impact, too. Earth Day, 1970, was probably the largest single demonstration of the era — in part because it was so decentralized. A national organization designed events in some cities — but hundreds of other environmentalists took the opportunity to do their own actions, some involving disrupting the operations of polluters. The outcome wasn’t a national platform but the birth of dozens of new organizations, some of which are still around today.

There’s an unavoidable dilemma here for this wonderfully anarchic movement: The larger it gets, the more it develops the ability to demand and win reforms, the more it will need structure and organization. And the more that happens, the further Occupy will move from its original leaderless experiment in true grassroots democracy.

But these are the problems a movement wants to have — dealing with growth and expanding influence is a lot more pleasant than realizing (as a lot of traditional progressive political groups have) that you aren’t getting anywhere.

All of the discussions around the next step for Occupy are taking place in the context of a presidential election that will also likely change the makeup of Congress. That’s an opportunity — and a challenge. As Meyer notes, “social movements often dissipate in election years, when money and energy goes into electoral campaigns.” At the same time, Occupy has already influenced the national debate — and that can continue through the election season, even if (as is likely) neither of the major party candidates is talking seriously about economic justice.

That’s why a formal platform could be so useful — candidates from President Obama to members or Congress can be presented with the proposals, and judged on their response.

Some of the Occupy groups are talking about creating a third political party — a daunting task, but certainly worth discussion.

But the important thing is to let this genie out of the bottle, to move Occupy into the next level of politics, to use a convention, rally, and national event to reassert the power of the people to control our political and economic institutions — and to change or abolish them as we see fit.

OCCUPY AMERICA IS ALREADY UNDERWAY

All across the country, Occupy organizers are developing and implementing creative ways to connect and come together, many of which we drew from for our proposal. We hope all of these people will build on each other’s ideas, work together, and harness their power.

From invading the halls of Congress to “occutripping” road trips to ballot initiatives, here is a list of groups already working on ways to Occupy America:

 

OCCUPY CONGRESS

Occupy Congress is an effort to bring people from around the country — and, in many cases, from around the world — to Washington DC on Jan. 17. The idea is to “bring the message of Occupy to the doorstep of the capital.” The day’s planned events include a “multi-occupation general assembly,” as well as teach-ins, idea sharing, open mics, and a protest in front of the Capitol building.

A huge network of transportation sharing was formed around Occupy Congress, with a busy Ridebuzz ridesharing online bulletin board, and several Occupy camps organizing buses all around the country, as well as in Montreal and Quebec.

There are still two Occupy tent cities in DC, the Occupy DC encampment at McPherson Square and an occupation called Freedom Plaza, just blocks from the White House. Both will be accepting hundreds of new occupiers for the event, although a poster on the Occupy Congress website warns that “the McPherson Square Park Service will be enforcing a 500 person limit.”

www.occupyyourcongress.info

 

OCCUPY BUS

The Occupy Bus service was set up for Occupy Congress, but organizers say if the idea works out, it can grow and repeat for other national Occupy calls to action. They have set up buses leaving from 60 cities in 28 U.S. states as well as Canada’s Quebec province. The buses are free to those who can’t afford to pay, and for those who pay, all profits will be donated to Occupy DC camps.

If all goes to plan, buses will be packed with passengers, their gear, and bigger donations for the event, as the “undercarriages of a bus are voluminous.” What gear do they expect each occupier to bring? “One large bag, one small bag, and a tent.”

congress.occupybus.com

 

DENVER OCCUTRIP

Many occupations have put together car and busloads of people to road trip to other occupations, hoping to learn, teach, network, and connect the movement across geographic barriers. One example is the Denver Occutrip, in which a handful of protesters toured West Coast occupations. The tenacious Occupy Denver recently made headlines when, rather than allow police to easily dismantle their encampment, a couple of occupiers set the camp on fire. It sent delegates to Occupations in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Long Beach, Oakland, San Francisco, Berkeley, and Sacramento.

Sean Valdez, one of the participants, said the trip was important to “get the full story. What I’d been told by the media was that Occupy Oakland was pretty much dead, but we got there and saw there are still tons of dedicated, organized people working on it. It was important to see it with our own eyes, and gave a lot of hope for Occupy.”

Like lots of road-tripping Occupiers, they made it to Oakland for the Dec. 12 West Coast Port Shutdown action there. In fact, “occutrippers” from all around the country have flocked to Bay Area occupations in general, and especially the uniquely radical Occupy Oakland.

www.occupydenver.org/denver-occutrip-road-trip/

 

OCCUPY THE CONSTITUTION

An Occupy Wall Street offshoot — Constitution Working Group, Occupy the Constitution — argues that many of the Occupy movements concerns stem from violations of the constitution. They hope to address this with several petitions on issues such as corporate bailouts, war powers, public education, and the Federal Reserve bank. The group hopes to get signatures from 3-5 percent of the United States population before the list of petitions is “formally served to the appropriate elected officials.”

www.givemeliberty.org/occupy

 

THE 99% DECLARATION

This is a super-patriotic take on the Occupy movement, described on its website as an “effort run solely by the energy of volunteers who care about our great country and want to bring it back to its GLORY.” The group’s detailed plan includes holding nationwide elections on the weekend of March 30 to choose two delegates from “each of the 435 congressional districts plus Washington, D.C. and the U.S. Territories.”

These delegates would write up lists of grievances with the help of their Occupy constituents, then convene on July 4, 2012 in Philadelphia for a National General Assembly. They plan to present a unified list of grievances to Congress, the President, and the Supreme Court. If the grievances are not addressed, they would “reconvene to organize a new grassroots campaign for political candidates who publicly pledge to redress the grievances. These candidates will seek election for all open Congressional seats in the mid-term election of 2014 and in the elections of 2016 and 2018.”

www.the-99-declaration.org/

 

MOVE TO AMEND/OCCUPY THE COURTS

Move to Amend is a coalition focusing on one of the Occupy movement’s main concerns: corporate personhood. The group hopes to overturn the Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission ruling and “amend our Constitution to firmly establish that money is not speech, and that human beings, not corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional rights.”

The group has drafted a petition, signed so far by more than 150,000 people, and established chapters across the country. Its next big step is a national day of action called Occupy the Courts on Jan. 20. On the anniversary of the Citizens United ruling, the group plans to “Occupy the US Supreme Court” and hold solidarity occupations in federal courts around the country.

www.movetoamend.org/

 

THE OCCUPY CARAVAN

The Occupy Caravan idea originated at Occupy Wall Street, but the group has been coordinating with occupations across the country. If all goes according to plan, a caravan of RVs, cars, and buses will leave Los Angeles in April and take a trip through the South to 16 different Occupations before ending up in Washington DC.

Buddy, one of the organizers, tells us that the group already has “a commitment right now of 10 to 11 RVs, scores of vehicles, and a bio-diesel green machine bus. This caravan will visit cities, encircle city halls, and visit the local Occupy groups to assert their presence, and move on to the next, not stopping for long in each destination.”

This caravan is all about the journey, calling itself a “civil rights vacation with friends and family” and planning to gather “more RVs, more cars, more supporters…and more LOVE” along the way.

occupycaravan.webs.com

OCCUPY WALL STREET WEST

The Occupy movement in San Francisco has been relatively quiet for the past few weeks, but it’s planning to reemerge with a bang on Jan. 20, with an all-day, multi-event rally and march that aims to shut down the Financial District.

The protest is an effort to bring attention to banks’ complicity in the housing crisis plaguing the United States, and how that process manifests itself here in San Francisco.

At least 20 events are planned, centered in the Financial District. The plans range from teach-ins at banks to “occupy the Civic Center playground” for kids to a planned building takeover where hundreds are expected to risk arrest. A list of planned events can be found at www.occupywallstwest.org/wordpress/?page_id=74.

The day is presented by the Occupy SF Housing Coalition, which includes 10 housing rights and homeless advocacy groups. Dozens of other organizations will be involved in demonstrations throughout the day. “We’re asking the banks to start doing the right thing,” said Gene Doherty, a media spokesperson for the Occupy SF Housing Coalition. “No more foreclosures and evictions for profits. On the 20th, we will bring this message to the headquarters of those banks.”