Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Anatomy of a Concert Tour

When I start circulating propaganda about an upcoming tour, people often ask me how I organized it.  Here's an attempt at a real answer to that question, about the tour that's coming right up!

Next week I fly to Copenhagen to begin a five-week tour of various parts of northwestern Europe -- Denmark, England, Scotland, and Ireland.  At right about this stage of embarking on a tour, I often find myself frenetically thinking about how I might successfully encourage people to spread the word about gigs I may be doing in a town where they know people.

So, to get the bald tour promotion out of the way, details are up at davidrovics.com/tour, including spiffy graphics for most of the gigs that are nice to download and share on most any platform, and Facebook Event pages for most of them as well, if you do that sort of thing!  There are no marketing agencies working on promoting these gigs, if anybody's going to show up to most of them, it's probably going to be because they heard about it from you.

OK, on to the central theme here. 

When I start spreading around graphics like the one with the list of gigs on it, many people ask similar questions in the comments sections.  Most frequent among them are things like, "how did all of these gigs come together?" 

I often respond to such questions with an offer to send anyone interested a copy of a booklet I wrote that's partially about how to organize tours the way I learned to do it.  As to any specific answer to the questions, I tend to be evasive and say little.  

To the first follow-up question, "was this all booked by an agency?", the answer is always a simple "no."  But as to how it was actually done, the root of my evasiveness is just that even a fairly cursory explanation is a bit complex and time-consuming.

Then today, while pushing a stroller with my youngest child in it, in a bit of a mental haze due to the heat wave, it occurred to me that actually answering that question could be at least mildly interesting, if only to the dedicated music and social movement geeks out there (of which I am one).

So today I will venture to give a serious answer to the question, "how did you book this tour."  I'll go into as much detail as seems relevant to answer the question thoroughly, and if we get so deep into the weeds that my explanations get boring, my apologies.

The simple beginning to answering the question is I booked the tour by announcing on social media, to my email list, and in messages to various individuals that I'm planning to do this tour, and then I waited to see who responded with any interest in hosting an event of some kind.  Then I corresponded with these folks who responded, and over the course of a few months, voila.

But especially for people from the US, the question behind how I booked a tour like this really begins with how does an artist from the US ever start making all these contacts on the other side of the Atlantic in the first place.  

I'm pretty sure the answer to this question is going to vary a lot for different artists who do this sort of thing.  Or maybe not, I haven't done any surveys.  For me, it began at the end of the 1990's.

The last couple years of the 1990's involved a confluence of factors that seemed to come together at the same time, which sort of conspired to launch my career in Europe, such as it is.  I have no idea of the order of importance of these factors, but what happened then was I was in a relationship with an anti-nuclear organizer from Hamburg, the free MP3 was becoming a widespread phenomenon online, and the global justice movement was truly a global movement, so being already plugged into the movement in North America meant that I was already aware of parallel sorts of activities going on constantly all over Europe, and which networks and organizations were involved with making things happen.

So in terms of this upcoming tour, which is taking place in several of the main countries in Europe where I tour regularly, which are all countries in northern Europe where the English language is very dominant, it begins in Denmark, and then goes on to England, Scotland, and Ireland.  

I was ostensibly based out of Hamburg as a taciturn musician in his early thirties, circa 1999-2000.  I had more gigs around the US than I had time to do, even touring almost nonstop, between the leftwing college circuit gigs (a network now virtually nonexistent) and the global justice movement (also not happening these days).  But for personal reasons I wanted to spend time in Hamburg.  

This coincided with getting an email from a guy in Randers, Denmark, who was hosting a very illegal website called the Progressive Music Archive, and had discovered my music online.  Michael was also very involved with the Danish left, in particular a group called Red Youth, and he asked me if I wanted to do a tour of Red Youth chapters in Denmark.  Being a short drive from the Danish border at the time, of course I said yes.

My first gig at Ungdomshuset was a year or two after my first tour of Denmark, I think in 2002.  That's where the first gig on this upcoming tour is happening, on Wednesday evening.  For readers from the United States of Amnesia, I think it's particularly relevant to get into the weeds a little here about Ungdomshuset.  

For those who are interested, I've written a fair bunch about the place over the years, there's lots of further reading available.  But basically Ungdomshuset means "the House of Youth."  Originally it was a five-story squatted building in the Norrebro neighborhood of Copenhagen.  First squatted during the big wave of the autonomous movement in northern Europe in 1982, until it was destroyed by the authorities in a very dramatic series of events that took place in early 2007.  What followed was over a year of regular protests and riots, until the authorities ultimately gave people a new building, as everyone was demanding, in what became an increasingly popular movement as it went on.  The new building is in a different part of town, but the whole vibe is very much in keeping with the old building, aside from some cultural changes along the way.

From my personal vantage point it seems particularly notable that over the years, although the old Ungdomshuset was destroyed, the new one didn't open until quite a while afterwards, and the overwhelming majority of the people running the place at any given time are under the age of thirty, many much younger than that, I have consistently, easily been able to stay in touch with Ungdomshuset organizers over the years.  Sometimes if I don't know who to contact at a given time, just by emailing their booking @ Ungdomshuset email address.

I don't know, but I imagine some people who are reading this are wondering why I even find this to be notable, while others are probably as impressed as I am, because this degree of consistency over the course of two decades seems almost inconceivable.

The next gig is in Aarhus, the second-biggest city in Denmark, on the west end of the country, the beautiful peninsula of Jutland.  The first gig I ever did in Denmark was at a little communist book store in the center of Aarhus.  Many other gigs in Aarhus in recent years have happened by the train tracks, but this time it's on the docks with the sailboats, a gig organized by a couple of radical sailors I met at a gig in Aarhus a long time ago. 

After that we go back to Copenhagen, where organizers with Friends of the Earth (called "NOAH" in Danish) are putting an event on at Folkets Hus, in Norrebro.  There are many places called "folkets hus" in Scandinavia.  It means "house of the people."  Sometimes a Folkets Hus can be a very conventional, modern building owned by a municipality with lots of different spaces for the public to use for putting on events of whatever sort.  Other times it's a Folkets Hus like the one in Norrebro, which has a distinctly alternative vibe, but it serves the same kind of purpose, as a big community space for organizations or networks wanting a space to use.  I was first in touch with NOAH organizers in Copenhagen years ago, and since they had me sing at their offices back then, there have been other occasions.

Perhaps it's worth noting at this point, for those among us who may live in places where this concept seems unusual, that lots of groups involved with different sorts of organizing, whether or not they're involved with running a venue, often put on events involving music and other forms of culture, because they understand that this is a good tool in the toolbox for building a network or a social movement, and keeping up the morale of those involved.

The next event, next weekend, is an acoustic music festival in the city of Roskilde, on the same island that Copenhagen is on.  Someone in Roskilde I met many years ago when he was a student organizer suggested me to the festival organizers, and then they wrote me.  This was several months ago, and it's also the original reason that what was originally going to be a four-week tour of England, Scotland, and Ireland, became a five-week tour beginning with Denmark.  The other gigs in Denmark came together after I mentioned to folks that I was going to be playing at the festival in Roskilde.

And on Monday, May 29th, one last gig in Denmark, again in Copenhagen, on the sidewalk in front of the very centrally-located anarchist book store on Halmtorvet that sits conveniently right next to Copenhagen's bar for fans of the leftwing Hamburg soccer team, St Pauli.  These fine upstanding anarchists are also folks I've known for many years now, and decided to put on this event involving me and another performer because a request for money for putting on just such events had just been approved.  I'm not sure from which government entity or nonprofit organization, but overall funding for the arts in Europe is 100 times what it is in the US, and this fact lets itself be known in many different ways. 

June 1st, and the first gig in England on the tour, organized by the good people of the Islington Folk Club.  It was one of the last great folk clubs in London that had a regular venue to use which could pack in a good crowd, but they lost the use of that venue, and I haven't seen the one they're using this time yet.  The last one they were using was tiny, but this is another one.  The struggle of the Islington Folk Club to keep going is a real illustration of the ongoing housing crisis in London.

June 2nd, the Engels in Eastbourne conference down on the coast, a rare instance these days of an academic conference with a musical component.  This sort of thing used to be very common, especially back in the days of college organizations having funding all over the US to do with what they wanted, which ended around twenty years ago.  Now I've lost track of how I originally met the college professor who is the reason I'm playing at this conference, but it was a while ago now.

Next stop, Glastonwick.  Intentionally named to confuse people and make them think of the gigantic Glastonbury festival which also takes place in southern England, but quite a ways to the west of Southwick, the town where Attila the Stockbroker, aka John Baine, lives with his wife Robina.  Glastonwick is attended in the low hundreds, rather than the hundreds of thousands, and is thus a wonderfully human-scale little family camping-on-the-farm kind of scene, but with lots of punk rock, folk punk, and real ale. 

Attila was largely my introduction to England, Scotland, and Wales.  We did over a dozen tours together in those and various other lands, even in the US, back in the days when there were college gigs, but most of our tours were on that island shared by England, Scotland, and Wales.  John and I became acquainted because a guy named Pete Crook, who was a fan of both of us, sent each of us the other's CD.  John listened to the CD he was sent, and promptly sent me an email and asked me if I wanted to do a tour with him.

All of the best tour organizers I've personally known thus far have been musicians, and John is chief among them.  He also organizes a great festival, with an exceptional roster of acts who people who listen to me on Spotify would tend to like.  

The festival is always a particular treat for me because along with various locals, it tends to bring together people from all over Britain who are big fans of Attila, many of whom I would have first met at a gig somewhere over twenty years ago.

Another of those great musician-organizers that I knew well was Anne Feeney of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  My old friend and touring partner very unfortunately died after contracting Covid-19 just before the vaccines became available.  Hardcore Anne Feeney fans will be aware that she left behind a Swedish husband, a brilliant artist named Julie.  She also left her guitar at Julie's place.  Last time I was in Sweden, I brought the guitar to Copenhagen.  On this tour, I'll do all the gigs with Anne's guitar, and in the process, transport it back to the US, where it can be united with Anne's daughter, Amy, who is, perhaps not entirely accidentally, a singer/songwriter like her mother was. 

June 6th, Birmingham, and an event just being thrown together in recent days, by folks involved with a network called Palestine Action, which has been laying siege to the arms factories that supply the Israeli war machine all over England and Scotland for almost three years now, to great effect.  Two of Elbit Systems' eight factories have permanently closed, due to being thoroughly smashed up by sledgehammer-wielding trespassers, who the crown's courts keep on refusing to convict, interestingly enough.  One of the folks involved with these fine activities is organizing this fundraiser.  I've been in touch with a lot of Palestine Action folks since a couple of them came to one of my little shows last summer, and I wrote a song about their brilliant sledgehammer-based campaign.

June 8th, back in London, at the venerable London Action Resource Center, a space I've played in many times, and one that has lasted through decades of gentrification in the area, somehow or other.  The organizer is a photojournalist I first met around 2002, who was in crutches at the time I met him in a squatted wine bar, from a protest-related injury.  Guy Smallman has not only taken a hell of a lot of great photos in London, Afghanistan, and many other places, but he's organized a lot of memorable gigs over the past two decades as well.  This one will also feature Robb Johnson, one of the best songwriters on the planet. 

Next stop, up north in Wakefield.  The Red Shed used to fit in in the neighborhood where it's located, but now it looks like a weird little house surrounded by a massive mall, reminiscent of a scene out of the Pixar movie, Up.  I first played in the Red Shed many years ago, introduced to the place by Attila.  One gig there was especially memorable, because Attila and I had come in separate cars, and when he showed up, he was completely covered in mud from head to toe, having otherwise survived unscathed when a small tornado ripped up the main stage at the Bearded Theory festival, where he had been playing not long before.

Middlesbrough also up in the north of England, a show in a theater that is used by folks in the community there, who have hosted me, as well as Attila and other performers we both know, many times.  Whether we met through Attila's circles, or perhaps because of Andy Kershaw's radio show, I don't know.  For a short time I was played regularly on BBC Radio 3, and a significant chunk of any following I have in range of BBC Radio 3 is due to that.

Tours rarely make a whole lot of geographical sense, just going from south to north or whatever, they tend to involve a lot of zigzagging, despite the best of original intentions.  But the next section does make sense, if you look at a map.  We go to Edinburgh, then take a ferry to Ireland to do a bunch of gigs there, then we take a ferry back to Scotland, and play in Glasgow, before heading south from there.

Both the gigs in Scotland are organized by folks who I've only been in touch with in recent times, who are connected with syndicalist circles. 

In Ireland, a very rare instance of one individual promoter discovering my music online and deciding he wanted to organize six gigs -- three concerts for children and three for grownups -- in multiple towns between and including Dublin and Belfast.  

For whatever combination of reasons, probably very much including my relatively tiny following in the world, and the various kinds of trouble associating with a fringe leftist like me can involve, it's unusual for anyone who promotes events on a semi-professional basis to want to bother with an artist like me.  So hopefully folks turn out to these gigs and Simon wants to do it again! 

After the ferry back to Scotland and a show at the Red and Black Reading Room in Glasgow, a long drive southward, where the last gig on the tour will be on the Left Field stage of the aforementioned Glastonbury Festival.

There are actually a lot of ways a lot of performers end up getting booked at the Glastonbury festival.  When you mention you're playing at Glastonbury, people often react with surprise, or they're impressed.  Over a hundred thousand people attend that festival, after all.  But what a lot of people might not have noticed, or never knew in the first place if they haven't been to it, is there are a lot of small stages in addition to the gigantic ones.  There are a lot of stages you can get a gig on that are basically just a way to get into the festival for free.  I played a couple times at the Psychedelic Trance stage.  One of the gigs started at 2 am.  It paid a hundred pounds.  

Playing a few songs at the somewhat larger Left Field stage is kind of a similar gig, but with a bigger crowd that's less likely to be tripping on MDMA during the show.

Billy Bragg hosts the stage, and he's involved with hiring all the acts, I think.  That's true of me, in any case.  I saw Billy last summer at the much smaller Tolpuddle Martyrs' Festival, where he was headlining, and he invited me to sing a few songs on the Left Field stage this summer.  I first met Billy when he borrowed my guitar to sing a couple songs in the midst of a police riot in Miami, Florida in 2003, a memorable occasion. 

It was Billy's invitation last July to play at the Left Field stage this June that got me started on booking this tour, which I started booking in earnest last January, when I knew I'd be playing at Glastonbury.  Everything else came together between then and last week, and some things may still be added, very last-minute.  Most tours I do start with either an "anchor" gig like that, or they're booked to lead up to a protest I'm playing at that I want to recruit people to go to beforehand.

Other gigs that are outside of the time frame of these five weeks I've been turning down, in Denmark and England.  I mention this just to illustrate what it's like putting out the word that I'm coming to a country in northern Europe, as opposed to making the same sort of effort these days to tour in some part of the US other than California.  Like I'm hoping to go to the midwest in October, but so far I've only got one confirmed gig in Detroit, nothing else...

I suppose I never spelled it out, but for those interested in the weeds here, sometimes the folks who ask how I organize these tours also wonder where I stay.  The answer about 90% of the time is with friends who have guest rooms available.  As to how I get around, on this tour and most others these days, I fly across the water, and then rent a car.

Anyway, that either gives you the basic idea of how this tour came together, or you're asleep by now, in which case hopefully my shows are more engaging than this blog post was.  Hope to see you on the road and in the streets!

Friday, May 12, 2023

Priced Out Fight Back

Here in Portland, Oregon there's a referendum on the ballot to fund legal representation for all tenants facing eviction.  How much more than this might it take to truly address the housing crisis we face?

On the May 16th ballot here in Oregon there is a Multnomah County referendum that, if it passes, will fund guaranteed legal representation for anyone in the county facing eviction.  The idea is clearly way too radical for the local political elite, and according to OPB it is being opposed by our local "progressive" Congressman and by the entire Portland city council, now that the bothersome radicals on the council have been eliminated. 

The opposition to the referendum is being funded by the real estate industry, of course.  The "progressive" mouthpieces of the real estate industry on our city council and representing us in Congress say they oppose the bill not because it would help protect tenants facing eviction, which they claim they support, but because it funds the legal representation of tenants by levying a .75% tax on capital gains.  Although they admit this tax would overwhelmingly affect the wealthy, they claim it could affect some other people as well.  They are fairly blatantly bullshitting in order to discourage us from voting for a law that would clearly positively impact tenants and make it slightly harder for the landlords to make quite as much profit off of the need for the working class to live somewhere.

These same politicians have not offered any other substantive plan for doing anything about the fact that the eviction rate in Portland has doubled since the days just prior to the pandemic, aside from opening up camps for the unhoused, and agreeing with the new governor's toothless declaration that we are experiencing a housing emergency in the state of Oregon.  The "progressive" leadership of Portland and the state of Oregon are once again demonstrating, in effect, that although they like to talk about the housing crisis and they have sympathy for those affected, there's nothing much to be done about the general, ongoing trend towards more expensive houses, higher rents, and a growing population of people living and dying on the streets.  It is, after, a national trend, in this and many other countries.

If Representative Blumenauer and the Portland City Council can't find it in their hearts to support the rights of the renting half of the population to have legal representation when facing eviction, it doesn't take much of an imagination to guess at what they might think of legislation that could actually turn the tide in the course of the housing crisis.  Under the Basic Housing Law that Portugal passed in 2019, for example, in many cases if a landlord wants to evict a tenant who can't come up with the rent, this is an issue to be worked out between the landlord and the governing authorities, while the tenant stays put.

Here in the US, however, we have the relatively crude tool of the popular referendum, but we don't have any political equivalent of any of the main political parties in Portugal that got the Basic Housing Law passed -- namely, the Left Bloc, the Socialist Party, the Communist Party, and the Social Democrats, who worked together to pass the law, opposed by the conservatives.  Here in the US, on the other hand, we have a political establishment that has systematically gotten rid of rent control laws in most states of the country over the course of the past several decades of neoliberal retrenchment.

If we can't referendum our way out of this crisis, and the corrupt, bipartisan political establishment won't do anything more than shed crocodile tears while opposing real reforms, what is to be done?

One option is to keep on losing the class war being waged against us by the banks and other entities buying up most of the housing across the country and selling it back to us at an outrageous profit, or just renting it out themselves and becoming gigantic landlord entities, rather than brokers for the landlords.  This is the current way we're going, with a mortgage for a small family home or the rent for a three-bedroom apartment in Portland being roughly equal to 100% of the average American's annual earnings.  Which is why my family of five, and so many other families my children go to school with, are growing up crammed together into a two-bedroom apartment.  So many of us have already essentially been priced out of the city, but we're still here, just hanging on, like ghosts of a community that used to exist.

Another option, at least for some, could be to move to a place where the housing market is affordable, or where it is effectively regulated.  But if you don't have citizenship in another country, that's a very challenging option.

The other possibility is to fight back.  Without being able to predict the future, I can't say what such a fight back might look like, but going on precedent, I can imagine.  The movements for tenants rights that have won major victories in the past have employed different forms of civil disobedience.  Physically standing against evictions.  Carrying belongings back inside.  Having our own locksmith to replace the lock.  This is the story of rent control in Chicago, New York City, and Glasgow, to mention a few.  Of course, battles once won can later be lost, and the only one of these cities that is affordable for an average person to live in these days is Glasgow.

For a movement like that to take off, judging from history, certain conditions are required.  The existence of a deepening crisis is one, and the widespread understanding that this crisis does indeed exist and is a big problem for society.  Everywhere I go, everyone I talk to talks about the same things -- the impossibly high cost of housing being number one.  They talk about how untenable this is, and they wonder what will ever cause this impossible trend, this death spiral, to change.

But as social movement scholars will tend to agree, the elusive element in addition to the crisis needed for a movement to develop that seeks to address the crisis at hand is a widespread sense of optimism that by working together, we can change things.  For that kind of vision to take hold, a spark is needed.  You can't start a fire without one, as the Boss says.  

What that spark will look like, I don't know.  That the ground it will burn on is very dry, of that there is no question.  On my more hopeful days, I think a new poor people's movement, a new movement for tenants' rights, a movement to abolish evictions, just needs its Rosa Parks to get jumpstarted.  One for each city, hopefully.  

It's easy to imagine the discussions behind the scenes among the leaders of the civil rights movement in Alabama in 1955.  The continuation of institutional racism and segregation seemed just as inevitable then as the ongoing rise in the cost of housing does today.  But people organized to stand against these massive institutions nonetheless, and they talked a lot about what should be the one symbolic act that they should rally a movement around, and who should be the one to commit it.

Most people aren't like Rosa, though.  When faced with horrendous oppression, if people have the option of going somewhere else, that's what they tend to do.  Thus, the Great Migration from south to north in the early twentieth century, and the immigration from so many other places as well.  Thus, people tend to quit bad jobs and find new ones, rather than organizing a union.  Or keep their noses to the ground, and hope they win the lottery, or maybe inherit a house from an elderly relative eventually, before they're forced to live in their cars.  What it takes for someone to get to the point where they're ready to stick their necks out is endlessly impressive.

But in addition to the tinder-dry ground, despite the moribund, landlord-friendly state of politics, we do have a progressive District Attorney in this city, along with a population that broadly understands the scale of the housing emergency.  There's probably never been a better time to get arrested for civil disobedience.  If we do find that Rosa Parks of tenant rights ready to risk arrest by staying in a home she can't afford to continue to pay for as the rents rise, we can be reasonably sure that she will have a lot of friends ready to get arrested with her.

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Communication or Excommunication: a Question for Our Times

An open letter to my Fellow Workers.

I've spent the past week on the east coast, doing gigs in Tennessee, Virginia, and DC, hanging out with old friends, and meeting lots of new people along the way.  It's been a fun and fascinating week on the road, and it's prompted a couple of reflections. 

Before the collapse of the college gig circuit at the beginning of the millennium, I traveled to around half the states in the US every year.  I've played at least a couple gigs in every state over the years, except for Mississippi and North Dakota.  

I was doing this long before the existence of social media.  In the old days, some people would occasionally express surprise that I did so many gigs in the South.  People from the northern parts of the US, folks from the northeast in particular, and also on the west coast, often make inaccurate assumptions about what's going on in the southern states -- by which we all mean the former Confederate states, or any of the states we call "red" states these days.

Prior to this little tour, my posts about having gigs coming up in Tennessee prompted comments on social media expressing surprise and support that I was doing a gig there.  It also prompted someone to comment, cryptically, "boycott Tennessee."  Someone from a "blue" state, no doubt, who is tragically confused about the distinction between holding big corporate events in Nashville vs. doing a house concert for a handful of activist types.  Or perhaps this person thinks just avoiding Tennessee altogether is the best way to convince the authorities there to un-ban abortion.

People tend to assume, based on media reporting and other things, that places like Portland, Oregon have a lot more going on than cities like Knoxville, Tennessee.  By my own observation, this is propaganda served up by media outlets that can't tell the difference between a vegan pizza and a picket line.

Portland definitely has more vegan pizzas and naked bike rides than Knoxville does.  But otherwise, the numbers of people who are likely to show up to prevent a drag show from being shut down by confused people who spend way too much of their time watching Fox News, as well as the numbers of Fox-impaired people who are likely to show up to try to shut down the drag show, are all very similar and familiar.  Whether you're in Portland or Knoxville, it'll be the same bunch of rightwingers, in their low dozens, and the same bunch of progressives, in slightly larger numbers, having an armed standoff in front of the bar.  If the media covers what's happening in advance, then far greater numbers will turn out to defend the drag show, totally eclipsing the numbers of rightwingers.

Similarly, whether you're in Portland or Knoxville you'll meet the same punk rock teenage baristas who are trying to organize a union at the local Starbucks.  You'll see the same couple dozen folks picketing outside the local branch, along with the same few supporters who came by.

My experiences in the South in the past week as well as every other time I've been there is that the whole red-blue divide is a bunch of nonsense, unless you're talking about lifestylism and gentrification, where big differences may be found.  But if we're talking about organizing a union at a cafe or defending a drag show from those intent on shutting it down, there's no significant distinction to be made.

And whether in Portland or in Knoxville, you can easily find both people motivated by the desire to express moral outrage and condemn those with which we disagree on various things, and those motivated by the desire to find common ground and build a community that might be capable of, say, winning a strike.

Finding what we might identify as inclusive-oriented organizers vs. exclusive-oriented folks is not difficult.  The difference between folks trying to win a battle against a corporation and those protesting something who are mainly there to make a statement, show which side they're on, and do some classic virtue-signaling, is a stark one.  We could call it the difference between organizing, and dis-organizing.  Calling in vs. calling out.

What so many of us have witnessed in a seriously amplified form over the past several years of the pandemic is the dramatic growth of a social media-oriented culture of exclusion and condemnation.  In this modern, purity-oriented outlook, any potential supporters of your cause must be vetted for imperfections, and rejected if there are blemishes, thrown in the bin.  One of the students I was talking to at George Mason the other day was -- I think very accurately -- expressing the view that the siloed nature of social media, and the ability to simply "block" someone with a click of the mouse, has a lot to do with the rise of this kind of puritanically-oriented dis-organization.

What so many of us witnessed on the streets of Portland and other cities, and especially on social media platforms, over the course of the movement that has been on the streets in particular since Trump was elected, but especially during 2020, was a systematic effort by some people to immediately come down hard with criticism of any new participants in the movement who in some way were perceived to have a transgressive perspective on one thing or other.  So, for example, when a mostly white group of suburban folks who self-identified as "moms" came to the streets of Portland to stand with the protesting youth against the police, they were publicly condemned by certain elements as being racist, the proof being that since they identify as the "mom block," and most of them are white suburbanites, this must mean that they don't think urban Black women qualify as moms.

Rather than enthusiastically welcoming the support of these women who came to stand against police brutality and with the youth on the streets, the feedback from certain corners of this purity-oriented movement was to basically tell them to go away.  The same pattern was repeated with various other groups that tried to be part of this exclusive, short-lived movement on the streets.

The liberal media tells us day in and day out that we must police our inner racists, learn about our internal biases, overcome them, and become better people in the process.  Somehow, by doing so, society will improve.

This basic orientation has been embraced completely by the 2020 movement on the streets, by lots of people who consider themselves to be very different from the average suburban NPR-listening liberal.  But are they?  Fundamentally, no, as demonstrated by the fate of the mom block and so many other initiatives shot down by this puritanical left orientation, if "left" applies at all.

I have long been oriented towards the labor movement, and specifically, the Industrial Workers of the World.  When I look at history, and what movements had the best tactics and most intelligent orientation towards effecting social, political, and economic changes, it's not hard to see that the IWW has been a real high point in good organizing.  I have been as supportive as possible of the rise of the Wobblies (IWW) in recent decades.  It's a tiny union now, nothing like what it was a century ago, but the ideas are still there, and it's a great basis on which to build a new movement aiming for the same things -- a society run by the working class, for the working class.

The IWW, in its heyday in the early 1900's, was so great, so big, and so impactful for specific reasons.  The union extensively used music, art, and other forms of cultural expression to carry out popular education, and to keep the troops inspired towards action.  They were also the first major union to actively recruit women, immigrants, and people of color, in which women immigrants, and people of color were to be found at all levels of the organization.  

Within the ranks of the IWW at all levels there were heated debates about the way forward.  Especially after the 1917 Russian Revolution, the union was fairly evenly split between those who continued to believe in a syndicalist approach to organizing society and those who thought that violently overthrowing the capitalist state suddenly seemed like a very good idea.  The union continued to exist as One Big Union, however, despite these very significant differences in strategic thinking.  Whether everyone agreed on syndicalist organizing vs. revolution, there was a general consensus that until the revolution actually happened, more unionized workplaces and cooperatives was something everyone could get behind.

During this period, there was then as now a large "nativist" movement in the US, of mainly white Americans who opposed immigration.  There were also lots of people who supported the US entering World War 1, considering themselves to be good patriotic citizens.  These elements of society came together in a big way, under the very active leadership of the FBI, to burn down IWW union halls and arrest tens of thousands of IWW members in November, 1919.  

When confronted by this kind of state terror, many Wobblies fought back.  There were gun battles, and a lot of people died, especially IWW members.

But while violence was a regular aspect to life in the labor movement during that period of US history, the IWW was primarily working towards the goal of organizing the entire working class into One Big Union.  This meant engaging with workers who had been brainwashed by nationalism or xenophobia, and trying to bring them on side, through various forms of political education and cultural presentations that were directly aimed at recruiting people like that.

While the IWW was an actively anti-racist union, and constantly engaged in anti-racist education within the ranks and beyond, if workers were involved with a labor struggle or otherwise wanted to join the union, they were welcomed with open arms.  In fact, most people at the time who considered themselves to be Wobblies never officially joined the union or paid dues at all.  It was a movement, a political orientation, an orientation towards effective organizing whose popularity far exceeded its actual size.  Unless you were an employer -- if you were a worker without employees -- that was the basic qualification for membership.  If you happened to be a racist or a xenophobe, you'd be educated out of these views after you joined, but you would not be excluded from the union until you passed some kind of purity test.  This purity test method was not how the IWW ever operated -- not at all.

So what happened recently in Fairfax was discouraging, and I want to highlight the incident, in the hope of provoking some thought.  

The local IWW branch was planning to table at my show in town, but they changed their plans on the day of the event, and none of the members of the branch came to the gig.

In past tours, IWW branches frequently table at my shows.  I don't attract big audiences, so I'm always tickled when an IWW branch bothers to show up.  But my shows are good opportunities for branch organizers to do some organizing, and recruit one or two new members, from the crowd of leftwingers who constitute most of my audiences at most of my gigs.

Why they were planning to come is obvious -- to communicate with a bunch of leftwing George Mason students who were there and gain some new members, to expose their membership to songs about current struggles and historical ones involving our union, to help build community through music, and through getting together in a physical space.

So why did they decide not to attend?  From what I understand, it's because they got word that there are some folks among the exclusively-oriented, purity-oriented left who believe in blocking and excommunicating as a form of organizing, that I had impurities they should be concerned about.  Namely, I have interviewed a couple of people who might be considered rightwingers on my YouTube channel, and I have appeared on the YouTube channels of other people who might be considered rightwingers.  As a result of these activities, the strange people spending their lives trying to destroy my career successfully managed to edit my Wikipedia entry to reflect that I have been accused of antisemitism and being friendly to fascists.  Accused by them, Wikipedia entry edited by them, but there it is, anyway, for all to read and wonder about.

There are different ways one could approach something like this, when they discover on the day of an event they are planning to attend that the performer whose concert they're planning to attend has been accused of things they may not like.

One option would be to figure that if this guy has written hundreds of songs about labor organizing, for the environmental movement, against fascism, etc., and has been an IWW member for decades (along with the George Mason professor who organized the gig), maybe best to give him the benefit of the doubt and figure there might be something nefarious in these accusations.

Of course, if there were time to look into these accusations, and if someone took the time to do so, they would find that they are based entirely on an orientation that says if you talk to someone objectionable, you are therefore objectionable.  The accusations -- though they involve tens of thousands of words of text written by puritanical believers in excommunication and cancellation campaigning and would take a long time to slog through -- when explored, can easily be seen to be nonsense.  The rantings of the virtue-signalers of the anarcho-puritan left, an overwhelmingly online phenomenon.

Without enough time to fully explore these accusations, if you don't decide to give the performer in question the benefit of the doubt and find out first-hand whether any of this puritanical shun-and-condemn stuff is actually relevant, then what you do is err on the side of safety -- safety from being attacked by the same people for the same sorts of supposed transgressions, safety from being a victim of a cancellation campaign -- and skip the event.

But this notion of believing online propaganda mostly put out by anonymous actors who claim to be anarchists over real people in the physical world, and this idea that it's better to avoid interacting with someone you might have disagreements with, rather than finding common ground and recruiting audience members into your union, has nothing to do with the IWW tradition, and everything to do with the modern tradition of the virtue-signaling, online left.

The history of the IWW and of the labor movement here in the US and around the world makes it abundantly clear that only when there is a vast expanse of common ground and a highly inclusive orientation towards organizing the working class can progress happen.  The history of the virtue-signaling left also makes it abundantly clear that the orientation that supports exclusion and purity of thought is doomed to result in a movement that is divided and conquered (but beyond reproach, with regards to moral purity).  

If the IWW has a future that might look anything remotely like its past, we need to cut out the exclusive purity test orientation, and embrace the notion that the entire working class needs to be organized.

And while we're on the subject:  why do we need to organize the entire working class?  What are we trying to achieve in this effort?  Nothing short of eliminating all those forms of prejudice that keep us apart.  History demonstrates abundantly that we won't eliminate prejudice or bias just by talking about it.  We have to change the material conditions under which the most marginalized of all marginalized groups -- the working class, broadly speaking -- exists.  History once again abundantly demonstrates that eliminating poverty and empowering workers is by far the fastest way to overcome prejudice and division, rather than by excluding the less advanced among us until they educate themselves first.  This exclusive orientation has repeatedly proven itself to be a disaster, from an organizing standpoint.  Let's stop doing that.

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