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CULTURE FEATURES KALA MUSIC

Miss Massive Snowflake: “Like a Book” But not by the book.

miss massive snowflake
At KALA, June 9, Post Art Walk. 1017 Marine Drive in Astoria. w/Dramady. $3. 9pm. No Host Bar.

The music made by Portland’s Miss Massive Snowflake – who will be gracing the Kala stage on Saturday, June 9 – is a lot like the name of the band itself: a juxtaposition of elements that, on close inspection, make little or no logical sense, but it hardly matters because it somehow sounds right. The songs on MMS’ latest album, Like a Book (available from their label’s website, www.northpolerecords.org), bear a passing resemblance to pop songs. Put it on as background music and it might seem unthreatening, even innocuous. You will tap your feet, nod your head, and expect it to leave nothing more behind than an errant swatch of melody or two lingering pleasantly in the memory. But pay close attention and your head may freeze in mid-bob. What kind of pop song ends with a declaration like “Takes a lot of talent/To talk a buncha shit/And not get in trouble for it”? And follow that up a couple minutes later with a reference to Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro having sex? As you struggle to get that image out of your head, you start picking up other aspects buried in the mix – odd time-signatures, abrupt shifts in tempo, a blast of dissonant brass worthy of Radiohead’s “The National Anthem” – which subtly disfigure the shiny, happy face pop music exists to put forward. At which point you realize that, underneath its passing complexion, this stuff is downright weird.

All of which suits the man behind the band to an eccentrically-crossed T. “I’ve always been kind of a clean-cut-looking person,” says Shane de Leon, the singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist who serves as Miss Massive Snowflake’s auteur. “I don’t have any tattoos; I’ve always kept my hair pretty short. But I do have some pretty weird ideas, and I like the idea of flying in under the radar, being a freak without feeling like I have to advertise it.” No surprise, then, that de Leon’s music contains trace elements of some of pop’s greatest eccentrics, from the Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne to The Artist Formerly Known As Something Other Than Prince. Like them, de Leon distinguishes himself by an inability to stand in one place long enough to be identified; just when you think you’ve figured him out, he’s already morphing into something different.

You can trace that elusiveness as far back as 1997, when de Leon followed some friends from his home state of Montana to Portland, where he joined their band Rollerball as trumpeter, clarinetist and sometime vocalist. Founded as a straightforward power pop band, they were already in the process of escaping their three-chords-and-a-straitjacket origins when he joined. Within a year, they had become something else entirely: a relentlessly experimental combo whose music pushed out in all directions at once while mysteriously remaining centered. Yet it says something about de Leon that he could be an important component of a band of infinite possibilities and still be unsatisfied. By 2004, “I was really getting into songwriting, but realized that it was hard to play trumpet and sing at the same time. I had never really played guitar, but decided to start because it seemed like a good way to accompany myself.” Thus, Miss Massive Snowflake. Conceived as “a calm, acoustic side project,” its first three releases were a series of CD-Rs with handcrafted sleeves designed by his daughter and contributions from other members of his family (including his mother on backing vocals). Far more song-oriented than Rollerball, MMS represented a step towards accessibility – “I’ve been challenging people with experimental music for over ten years now, and I’m ready not to have the audience look at me so quizzically all the time” – and a conduit for another side of his musical personality. “I’ve always liked pop music – Michael Jackson, Madonna, even Miley Cyrus. So I’m trying to make something that’s catchy, but we’ll never be too poppy, because I like to mess around with weird time signatures and strange chord changes.”

True to form, even the conventional is unconventional in his hands. Once a solo project with an ever-changing cast of supporting characters, it is now a bona-fide band: its lineup has solidified into a unit featuring bassist Jeanne Kennedy Crosby and drummer Andy Brown. “I’m trying to write more for the band now – more of a rock sound, with distortion pedals and barre chords. I’d never played feedback before! I’ve only started to use distortion and feedback the last couple of years, and I’m in my forties now – I’m starting out at a place where most people would be when they’re eleven years old! I’m way behind the curve.”

Not that Shane de Leon intends to stop moving, literally or figuratively. He continues to run his label, North Pole Records (one of whose bands, Dramady, will open for MMS on the 9th). As we spoke, he had just completed a 29-date tour of Europe (his fourth); plans are afoot to return there in the fall after playing dates throughout the US. And, of course, he intends to keep coming back to Astoria, as he has done twice a year since his Rollerball days. “I’m from a small town in Montana, and Astoria has that same kind of feeling. Especially the people. I think some of the weirdest people in the world, the people with the most creative thoughts, are in towns like this and not the big cities, and Astoria definitely has that. There’s just this great vibe here that I can’t quite define. It’s a pretty magical little city.”

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FEATURES

WTF is Going On? WTF is Going On!


Shane and Amy Bugbee’s Deep Art Blast. Celebrating creative revolution from past and present eras.

So you’ve seen the artfully-rendered flyers, the cryptic YouTube videos, the postings on Facebook, and the copies of the free Extreme Times broadsheet that have been floating all over town these past few weeks. You’ve heard whispers, rumors, conjecture. You may even have picked up some funny rumbles on your internal seismograph. All of which leads you to one simple, pertinent question…

WTF is the WTF Fest?

WTF FEST • FRIDAY APRIL 27
6-9pm Astoria PAC 16th & Franklin
9pm to Midnight (18 and Over please)
@KALA • 1017 Marine Drive
$10 (sliding scale) admission at both events.

Pose that question to event organizers Shane and Amy Bugbee, who are bringing this self-described “chaotic, artistic, multi-media, multi-generational, multi-musical-genre event” to four Northwest cities, including their adopted hometown of Astoria, and even they have a hard time defining it. “It seems like it was all planned, and actually it wasn’t,” Shane says. “Me and Amy act out in these weird ways; we don’t even realize we’re acting out sometimes, but we do and things like this start falling into place. Must be because it’s an election year.”

As it happens, WTF Fest grew out of a project in the works since our last election year. In 2008, Shane and Amy threw their dog and turtle in the back seat of their Chevy Blazer and embarked on a year-long road trip across the United States, armed with only $180 in their pockets. Oh, and a laptop, a video camera and a digital recorder. The laptop to test how far they could go with social media and their own resourcefulness as their major means of support; the camera and recorder to document it all – the travels themselves and the encounters they had along the way. The result: a forthcoming book and a full-length documentary, both entitled A Year at the Wheel, excerpts of which will be screened at WTF Fest.

It was at a panel to discuss the Wheel project at the 2010 South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas that WTF began to take shape. The Bugbees had already gotten a taste of the “anti-SXSW” shows and events designed to counter the “corporate” nature of the official event two years before; now, sitting in the thick of it, they conceived some SXSW counterprogramming of their own. An event that, like many others, combined art, music, poetry and performance, but with a uniquely radical feel. And I do mean “radical,” as WTF’s core performer came straight from the source: one of the many people they befriended on their cross-country jaunt just happened to be one of the few bright lights of the sixties counterculture whose filament hadn’t dimmed or burned out entirely. “John Sinclair was in our movie,” Shane says. “He was right there in New Orleans and I knew he’d work with us. So I came up with this great idea for something that’d be real easy and real cheap, which, of course, turned out not to be so cheap or so easy. So we realized the only way this was going to make any money would be to do it in the Pacific Northwest, closer to home, so we added five extra dates” – shows in Eugene (4/22), Portland (4/23), and Seattle (4/28 & 29) in addition to the two here in Astoria – “on top of that.” Plans for the Austin event eventually fell through, but thanks to Shane & Amy’s talent for artist management and promotion, not to mention a social networking structure even more supportive of ambitious grassroots projects than it was four years ago (a good chunk of the funding has come via Kickstarter), it keeps morphing and growing. No two events will be the same; the core group of artists and performers will be augmented in each town by everything from skate-punk bands and “circus revolutionaries” (really) to comedians and people who only think they’re comedians (full disclosure – that last category consists solely of the author of this piece).

sinclair then
John Sinclair - Then...

Sinclair is not only WTF Fest’s biggest “name,” but also the skeleton key to its philosophy – he may be forever associated with radial causes and political insurgency, but it’s his artistic affiliations that will ensure his legacy. (Read a White Panther Party manifesto, then crank up the MC5’s Kick Out the Jams, and tell me which one retains its power and immediacy four decades on.) The younger artists drawn into WTF Fest’s orbit – the likes of Ugly Shyla (creator of dark, creepy dolls and “shock performance” artist), Ruby LaRocca (horror/erotica actress-turned-auteur), and Rick Shapiro (raw, caustic stand-up who, unfortunately, will only appear at the Portland and Eugene events) – channel the temper of the times into their art in much the same way, albeit in a more intense, amped-up manner appropriate to these days of rampant rage. “I saw it when we were going across the country,” Amy says. “People realizing that maybe America’s not such a welcoming place for certain of us – they’re angry, but they’re active, they’re looking for a way to use that anger. Some people take that and join a mass movement, like Occupy or the Tea Party, and some prefer to express it in more personal, individual ways. And things get so polarizing and ridiculous, especially in an election year, that the only people I want to pay attention to are the artists.”

“This is how we as creatives campaign, in a way – around what, I don’t know,” adds Shane. “But WTF Fest and things like that are how we deal with these times. It’s our way of being active and political without being ‘politically active.’”

APPEARING AT THE ASTORIA WTF FEST:

sinclair now
John Sinclair - Now.

JOHN SINCLAIR
Founder of the White Panthers, manager of proto-punk monsters the MC5, psychedelic cause célèbre, blues/jazz scholar, poet, author, broadcaster, activist, and perhaps the only person to have a John Lennon song named after them without having to marry him first – John Sinclair was and remains one of the pillars of the American counterculture. His 1969 arrest and conviction for passing two joints to an undercover police officer turned him into the hippie movement’s Number One Martyr, culminating in the 1971 “Rally for John Sinclair,” a truly impressive gathering of performers (including Allen Ginsberg, Stevie Wonder, Archie Shepp, Bob Seger and, oh yeah, John & Yoko) that helped result in the Supreme Court’s overturning his conviction and the rewriting of Michigan’s marijuana laws – a shining example of the power of art to effect social change that lives on in events like the WTF Fest. Unlike some of his peers, too many of whom softened up, sold out, burned out or faded away, Sinclair continues to keep the faith. His radio show can be heard at www.radiofreeamsterdam.com, he had a regular column for High Times magazine, and he sells John Sinclair Seeds through his website. You figure out what grows from them. (www.johnsinclair.us)

dave archer
DAVE ARCHER

DAVE ARCHER
Dave Archer’s outer space paintings have adorned the sets of Star Trek – The Next Generation as well as several of the Star Trek films; graced the covers of books by SF legends Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, and Jack Vance, among others; and been shown at the Hayden Planetarium in New York as well as the world headquarters of AT&T. But that’s not the impressive part. The impressive part is that his paintings are rendered on glass using a million-volt Tesla coil as his brush! Another fellow traveler on the underground railroad of the counterculture, his roots extend all the way back to the San Francisco Beat scene of the early 60s, and his appearance at WTF Fest is sure to be – you will excuse the term – electric. (www.davearcher.com)

dave densmore
DAVE DENSMORE

DAVE DENSMORE
Densmore probably needs no introduction to most Astorians, as his appearances as part of the annual Fisher Poets Gathering here in town are already legendary. Described by WTF Fest organizers as “an authentic Alaskan tough guy,” Densmore has literally made the harrowing and dangerous world of the ocean his life – he was even the skipper of a commercial fishing boat at the age of thirteen! His words, presence and presentation are, like his livelihood, tough, harrowing, and beautifully real, and sure to inspire anyone who experiences it. (www.davedensmorefishermanpoet.com)

ugly shyla
UGLY SHYLA

UGLY SHYLA
“Fear, Loathing, Lipstick and Art” goes the credo of this Cajun dollmaker, performance artist, alternative model and bona fide Voodoo priestess. You can call her work dark, disturbing and in-your-face, but don’t look for an agenda underneath it all. “Unlike some artists, I really have no clue why I do what I do or what it’s even about in a way,” she says. “I’m on the journey just like the people that see my stuff are. I’m like a medium or channeler, I’m just the vehicle. Sometimes I feel the need to make things addressing certain subjects – it’s like what Southern Baptists refer to as a ‘burden’.” I won’t give away what she has planned for WTF Fest (mostly because it’ll be different every time), but suffice to say it will make an impression. As the carnies used to say, “a minute to see, a lifetime to forget.” (www.uglyart.net)

ruby_monica
RUBY LAROCCA & MONICA PULLER

RUBY LAROCCA & MONICA PULLER
LaRocca and Puller’s recently-formed production company is known as Snatch Devil Devil Snatch, which may give you some indication of where their interests lie. As might the titles of some of the 60+ films on LaRocca’s ever-expanding resume, including The Devil’s Bloody Playthings, Orgasm Torture in Satan’s Rape Clinic, and Night of the Groping Dead. And if that doesn’t get the point across, note that LaRocca is also a contributor to the newly-published Have a Heart for Horror Cookbook. Devoted to exploring the dark, fertile ground where horror, eroticism and femininity meet, LaRocca and Puller will be at all WTF Fest performances, filming, performing, and who knows what else. (www.rubylarocca.com)

esmerelda_strange
ESMERELDA STRANGE

ESMERELDA STRANGE
San Francisco-based singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Strange draws from the vaudevillian tradition of the one-man band – she plays accordion, drums and sings all at the same time – but it would be kind of a stretch to call what she does “traditional.” Her music has been described as “acoustic electro-clash goes to the punk rock circus in Mexico,” and her lyrics, sung in both English and Spanish, are as salty, saucy and brassy as the artist herself. She has toured with Cyclecide, the world’s only punk rock bicycle carnival with pedal-powered midway rides and wrote and performed the music for the Lifesize Mousetrap, a 25-ton Rube Goldberg-esque assemblage of kinetic sculptures handcrafted to resemble a very large version of the classic children’s game, both of which seem manifestly appropriate and very WTF. (www.esmereldastrange.com)

LONNIE D. WAGES
Another hard-bitten survivor-made-good, Wages has seen the world, done time, beat cancer, and even did a stint as roadie for Willie Nelson. A devoted advocate of marijuana legalization as well as a skilled singer/songwriter, Lonnie comes to WTF Fest to perform several of his original compositions, some of which have been recorded by a number of country legends.

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FEATURES

Eva Vecsernyes to America: “You Make Me Feel Like A Naturalized Woman”

Eva VecsernyesFreedom.  It’s a word you’ll hear a lot of this year, bandied about so often it’ll be surprising if no political entrepreneur goes out and gets it trademarked before the election cycle ends.  To many of us, freedom is a given, a fact of life, even a slogan.  But to Eva Vecsernyes – native of Hungary, single mother of two, eleven-year resident of Astoria, and, as of last month, fully-naturalized citizen – freedom is the operating principle of her life, the thing that informs everything she does.

“I am a very bullheaded person!” Eva smilingly exclaims.  “I don’t like being told what to do too much!”  Which is not, as you might imagine, the most comfortable attitude for a child growing up in Communist Hungary.  “There, I was told how to live my life.  I like to live my life on my own terms – I understand there are rules to be followed but this is my life, I only have one.  I don’t need my government telling me how I should live, where I should work, what I should read, what I should watch on television.  I am entitled to choose my own life, as a human being.”

And choose she did.  Just after eighth-grade graduation, fourteen-year-old Eva hopped a plane to Alaska and immediately found emancipation – not to mention extreme culture shock.  “Culture shock?  You’d better believe it!  I come from a country that was technologically – not necessarily behind but kept back.  I mean, they’re just finally getting color television!  Come on!  So you come from that to a place that has washers and dryers … you’re going, ‘what’s a dryer?  What’s a microwave?  What’s an automatic door?’  I didn’t know what to make of it all!”

If major appliances take some getting used to, imagine being confronted with a whole world of cultural referents undreamt of in a Hungarian teen’s philosophy.  “The movie Alien was not allowed in Hungary, for example – the government considered it ‘too violent’ so it was banned.  I remember my aunt protesting to have it shown and getting into a lot of trouble for it.  Certain movies were kept out of the country, there were certain books you could not read, and all pornography was completely illegal… so when I came here and saw how freely available it was, I was in complete shock!  To suddenly have all that in my face as a fourteen-year-old girl – to go from it being illegal to being everywhere…”

Cultural liberties are one thing, but Eva soon discovered that oppression is not just a product forged behind the Iron Curtain.  “My ex-husband is a native Alaskan.  I remember going to a potluck in his village, and the first thing they said when we got there is ‘no white women allowed’ and I had to leave.  Have I come across people who tell me ‘go back to your own country?’  Sure, but that’s just the bigots.  Who cares?  But to come across such a united front like that – that was very shocking.  It’s such a drastic life in Alaska in many ways.”  Freedom called again; she divorced and, with children Victoria (now nineteen) and Jonathan (seventeen) in tow, “bummed around” the lower 48 for a while.  “I was in Arizona for a little bit, then Texas, and eleven years ago, I came here for two days and haven’t left yet!

“Astoria got to me,” she says.  “There’s a lot of neo-classical architecture here, everything’s a little bit older, and there’s a real sense of history, which is one of the things I miss about Hungary.  And the weather is almost the same!  People are very open-minded around here; I’ve been made to feel very welcome, the local families treat my children like one of their own.  We were assimilated into the community very quickly.  I do get some people telling me ‘learn to speak English,’ because my accent gets heavy when I get a little upset… well, live with it!  It’s beautiful here – I really don’t want to leave!”

And now, she’ll never have to – just three weeks before we spoke, Eva made it official: she is now a full-blown citizen of the USA.  “Anybody who’s afraid of it, don’t be!  It’s the easiest test I ever took!  They give you a study guide for a hundred questions, and they say they’ll ask you up to ten.  I got asked four – who is the President, who is the Speaker of the House, if I’m willing to bear arms for the United States, and… there was one more question that honestly I’ve already forgotten!  Then they asked me to read one sentence, write one sentence and that was it.  It was really simple – I went into study mode like a crazy woman for two months for nothing!”  And what’s different now that she’s officially American?  “I can bitch in public now!”

But if you think that means she’s settled, think again.  “My son’s going off to college in the fall so after that, I’m a free bird!  I would like to go back to school and get my Master’s in literature, but at the same time I just want to pack up and go somewhere – I’ve never seen Africa, never seen Asia.  Nothing’s really holding me back, so why not?  I’ve been a daughter, I’ve been a wife, I’ve been a mother, it’s time to be me.  But Astoria feels like home, it does.  I can’t say I won’t flutter, but I’ll always fly back.”

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FEATURES

HEALTHY KIDS: No Cost, Low Cost Insurance for Kids

Judy Mahoney
Judy Mahoney, Healthy Kids enrollment worker

ACCORDING TO A STATEWIDE SURVEY carried out by the Oregon Health Authority, an estimated 560,000 Oregonians, or approximately 14.6% of the state’s population, went without health insurance in 2011. Of that number, approximately 52,000 are under the age of 19. Sobering figures, and yet there’s a bright side: that is down by half from only two years ago. For that, we can thank the efforts of Healthy Kids, an initiative launched by the OHA in 2009 with the goal of providing affordable, quality health insurance to all Oregon children. Since its conception, more than 90,000 young Oregonians now have access to comprehensive no-cost and low-cost health coverage and the peace of mind that goes with it, thanks in no small part to the tireless efforts of outreach and enrollment workers throughout the state.

In Clatsop County, that would be Judi Mahoney, a former Portland schoolteacher and longtime advocate for both children’s welfare and the improvement of Oregon’s healthcare system, who has served as an independent contractor for the Healthy Kids program since August, 2011.

“My husband works for the (Clatsop County Public) Health Department, and the Director, Margo Lalich, was looking for someone to fill this position. We had just moved here last year so I was looking for employment, and she knew that I spoke Spanish – I’m a former Spanish teacher – and she thought it’d be a good fit, since a good deal of the folks we work with are through the schools. Sometimes when you’re getting into the schools and trying to figure out how to promote something, it’s good to know the culture and the climate.”

Mahoney’s goal is to garner 120 new enrollments throughout the county by the end of her first year, a “quest” she takes seriously; while she works out of the Health and Human Services offices here in Astoria, she has no office of her own, which enables her to take Healthy Kids to the families who could use it rather than wait for them to come to it.

“I do house calls,” she says. “Folks call me up, I get a lot of referrals from schools as well, and typically I go to their homes, since that’s where people keep their pay stubs and other information I might need, and help sign them up. I also work a lot with Spanish-speaking families; all the handouts and brochures I have are available in Spanish, which is helpful.”

When she’s not helping families through the application process, she’s out drumming up awareness of the program; despite the enormous strides Healthy Kids has made in two short years, a lot of Oregonians don’t understand what it is, or worse, even know it exists.

“There’s been a little bit of marketing confusion. A lot of people have heard of the Oregon Health Plan, but when they hear about Healthy Kids, they may not be aware that it’s health insurance or even know what it’s about. So we’re working to get the word out.”

Allow me to do my part, then: Every Oregon child without health coverage is eligible for Healthy Kids, provided he or she is 18 years old or younger, live in Oregon and a legal U.S. resident. All eligible children must be uninsured for two months to qualify, though exceptions can be made under certain circumstances. There are no waiting lists and no child will be turned away because of pre-existing conditions. Children are covered for one full year after enrollment and coverage can be extended for as long as they are eligible. Depending on income, families will be eligible for No-Cost, Low-Cost, or Full-Cost payment options. (For more detailed guidelines, see contact information below.)

By any measure, Healthy Kids has been a rousing success so far. More Oregonian children have access to affordable medical care than ever before, and the program has helped the state win a $22.5 million performance bonus for surpassing its enrollment targets and adopting streamlined and improved application procedures. But, as long as there remains one child without health insurance, the work continues and challenges loom.

“I’m really the only one who’s officially working on this in the county,” Mahoney says, though several businesses in the community, including Darlene Warren Insurance in Warrenton and Knutsen Financial Services in Astoria, have offered up their services as “assister locations” to help families through the application process. In addition, members of various county agencies, advocacy organizations and business groups have joined to form the Clatsop County Healthy Kids Coalition, who will meet every six to eight weeks to discuss and devise new outreach opportunities. “I’d really like to see more people promoting this from all walks of life within the county. For example, members of the faith-based community could spread the word through sermons and newsletters; someone can sponsor a Healthy Kids soccer tournament; or even just simple word-of-mouth. Even if you have nothing to do with children, we’re a very well-connected community. Everybody knows people. And the more people we have to help promote what we’re doing, the more we can make some amazing things happen. I’m very optimistic.”

For more information, to apply for benefits or if you are interested in partnering with Healthy Kids, go to their website at www.oregonhealthykids.gov or call 1-877-314-5678. Check out their Facebook page – www.facebook.com/OregonHealthyKids – or follow them on Twitter – @OregonHealthyKids. Judi Mahoney can be contacted directly at judimahoney@yahoo.com or by phone at 503-358-2333.

Every Oregon child without health coverage is eligible for Healthy Kids, provided he or she is 18 years old or younger, live in Oregon and a legal U.S. resident.

Categories
NEWS

OCCUPATIONAL HAZARDS – Occupy Astoria Treads On

OCCUPY ASTORIA is, as of this writing, only a little over two months old, and again, I’m a tiny bit disappointed: we have yet to see the kind of mayhem that makes for good copy. Seriously, folks, what’s it going to take? Are we gonna have to import cases of pepper spray (American pepper spray, of course; must keep those domestic debilitant manufacturers solvent) and pay local law enforcement to spray it in our faces at carefully-staged photo ops? Goad them into engaging us in an unfriendly game of taser tag? What will it take to get your attention?

Ah, but maybe I’m preaching to the choir here – chances are, if you’re reading Hipfish in the first place, you’re plugged in to the local sociopolitical current and don’t need to be reminded of our small but stalwart subset of the greater movement to redress social injustice and establish economic parity in this little civics project we call the USA. But then again, there’s a chance you only picked this up to check the date of the forthcoming Bluegrass Tribute to Prime Numbers, so allow me to get you up to speed.

In the month since we set up camp for our first, 24-hour public gathering, OA has kept on keeping on, via weekly Tuesday-night meetings and regularly scheduled rallies in various locations about town. December promises more of the same: there will be a SUPPORT OUR LOCAL MERCHANTS MARCH on December 3, plans are afoot to involve ourselves in the West Coast Port Shutdown scheduled for December 12th, and further gatherings and events are sure to follow thereafter. Updates and information are available at the official website, www.occupyastoriaoregon.org. Speaking as a supporter and member of Occupy Astoria, I’d like to use this space, first to shout out a word of praise to the facilitators and organizers behind the movement for their tireless efforts to hold it together and push it forward, and then, perhaps, to prod those both within and without OA (including myself) to strengthen our collective resolve. (Warning: subjective opinionating ahead. Keep your hands inside the vehicle at all times.)

This is a critical moment for the Occupy movement as a whole – certain conservative commentators have been smugly sneering that the uprising has failed, the latest round of evictions has succeeded in damaging the center of gravity that even a self-described “horizontal” movement like this one needs to survive, and the actions of an unfortunate few have resulted in damage to property matched only by the resulting damage to our credibility. The major problem, as I see it, is clear – the forces pushing against the Occupy movement are aligned, allied, and on point; one thing the far-right has always been adept at is coming up with a narrative and hammering it repeatedly home until it resembles a persistent commercial jingle or an insidious pop hook. Irritating, annoying, insistent, but you can’t get the damn thing out of your head. It takes a mighty effort not to sing along. Occupy has managed to get into the national consciousness by appropriating that technique to its own ends – “We Are the 99%” is a flat-out brilliant slogan, as clear, succinct and memorable as anything cooked up in the gray-flannel meth-labs of Madison Avenue – but our major strength as individuals, the awareness of and willingness to grapple with the complexities underlying that brilliant hook, threatens now to undermine and, if we’re not careful, capsize our efforts.

We need look no further than a hundred miles down the road to see where this has gotten us. Three weeks after the eviction from the former site of Occupy Portland, reports are coming back of a general splintering, of unification drifting apart into factions, a deconsolidation of energies that allows the standard devisers of the media narrative to re-assume command of the storyline. As of this writing, a Google News search for “Occupy Portland” reveals little about the marches and demonstrations that continue there on a daily basis, and much more on the tab for the cleanup of the now-fenced-off parks. The surface-level implications are obvious; these folks are nothing more than irresponsible troublemakers bent on destroying more than they’ve built up. Which is a narrative that may sound somewhat familiar to those with memories stretching back four decades or so; hey, it may be an old tune, but it’s a good beatdown and you can dance on their shallow, preemptively dug graves to it.

In saying all that, I am neither looking to absolve the larger movement’s members of their ultimate responsibilities, nor am I leveling a finger at our smaller, homegrown grassroots subset. Occupy Astoria has, in its short lifespan to date, distinguished itself by its unfailingly respectful relations with local authorities and the care with which it has used (and not abused) the public spaces where our gatherings have been held. But there are hazards afoot. Some have already parted from the movement or rescinded their support due to internecine squabbles over relatively minor concerns regarding procedure. Too much energy has already been expended in the simple act of holding Occupy Astoria together. Let us not lose sight of the greater picture; that way lies disillusionment, dissolution, and ultimately, apathy. We are not finished, not by a long shot, but we have a long way to go and it will take much strength and cooperation to get there, lest we fall into the trap that’s been set for us – just a small group of crackpots barely worth slowing down to read their handwritten signs as you drive past them. The motivations behind this movement affect all of us, and it will take all of us to effect real and lasting change. As the saying goes, “the people united will never be defeated.” (I always thought it should be “divided” instead of “defeated,” seeing as it rhymes and all, but nobody consulted me.)

OCCUPY ASTORIA meets on Tuesdays, 5:30pm at the First United Methodist Church, 1076 Franklin Ave, Astoria – in the downstairs social hall – enter through the door on 11th st.  FMI: http://www.occupyastoriaoregon.org/.

Categories
FEATURES

The Rural 99% – Notes from an Occupation (or “The Armies of the Damp”)

Occupy Astoria
Occupy Astoria: writer Ham waving in the middle -- after marchers brave the October monsoon

WISH I could make the first event in the young history of Occupy Astoria sound more exciting than it was:

We were beset on all sides by a phalanx of local law enforcement officers, National Guardsmen and disgruntled mail carriers.  The tension mounted exponentially; we knew the situation was a powder keg just ready to blow.  I had brought a powder keg with “THIS IS A METAPHOR FOR THIS SITUATION” stenciled on the side just to make sure we were all on the same page.  Something had to give.  Someone had to make a move.  And I knew instinctively that that someone had to be me.  Also, they told me to. So, fired up with righteous indignation and a handful of black-market pseudoephedrine, I did just that.  I crossed the street to the Bank of America trailer and bravely, brazenly, attempted to withdraw twenty dollars without paying the $5.00 ATM fee.  Then, in my boldest act of civil disobedience, I crossed back – refusing to use the crosswalk.  That was all it took. Fists flew; angry chants issued from the crowd as protestors were pummeled with truncheons, billy clubs, and rolled-up Sharper Image catalogues. Several of my fellow protestors were struck in the head with rubber bullets.  If the police hadn’t forgotten to bring the guns with which to fire them, their injuries might have been even more severe.  Chaos descended on this sleepy North Coast town, and through the smoke and the rage, I recognized it for what it was – a charged moment of brutality, passion and fury the likes of which this town had never before seen.  Aside from that whole “Goonies” thing a couple years ago, of course.

Gosh, that would have been great.  It’s neither a secret nor a surprise that many involved with the Occupy movements nationwide have been inspired by the protests of the sixties – against the Vietnam War, in favor of civil rights legislation, feminism and gay liberation – and I’m as guilty of romanticizing the era as much as anyone.  But where others dream of walking in the footsteps of the Mark Rudds, the Mario Savios, and the Jerry Rubins – the charismatic theoreticians and front-liners of Boomer radicalism – I dreamt of being the guy walking a few steps behind, scribbling madly in his notebook as he goes.  What I would give to have been present for the ’68 Democratic Convention – not for the glory of having my skull creased by one of Daley’s stooges-in-blue but for the chance to rub shoulders (and nothing else) with William Burroughs, Jean Genet and Terry Southern.  And so it went in the dreams that filled the days preceding Friday, October 28 – visions of New Journalists danced in my head.

Occupy AstoriaOh, that’s not to say that the more exalted motivations that power the movement were absent from those dreams.  Like so many, I have felt hard done by the inequities in our financial system; the corporatization of America and the exploitation of the have-nots (or at least the have-not-muches) by the haves via sub-prime loans and student loan debt (etc., etc.) enrage me like they do many others.  But we all do our part according to our abilities; what would be better than to utilize my meager talents in the service of Occupy Astoria, to report from the epicenter of the conflict for the world to see?  Maybe I could become the Norman Mailer of this small subset of the 99%!  Only one insightful communiqué away from awards, fame and drunkenly goading Gore Vidal on The Dick Cavett Show!  (Or whatever the 21st century equivalent might be – drinking half a Four Loko and making snarky remarks to one Kardashian or another on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, maybe. And they say civilization is in decline…) And now that the first, crucial event has passed, all I can say is…

I should have known better.

I hate to disappoint everybody, but, contrary to what the naysayers caught up in the media gulfstream may believe, Occupy Astoria was rather well organized, pretty clear in their intentions, and overwhelmingly peaceable.  Hey, I’m disappointed as well – all those meetings I attended at the Labor Temple, with that slowly-widening circle of passionate people, and nary a major breach of decorum to be found in any of them?  No chairs thrown, no raised voices, no decisions arrived at without first consulting Robert’s Rules of Order?  Okay, fine, perhaps a little agreeability among like-minded citizens isn’t so surprising, however lacking in dramatic tension it might be.  But surely it will have been more than made up for in municipal resistance, right?  This town – named, after all, for its founder, America’s very first multi-millionaire – will surely erect roadblocks, deny permit applications, and otherwise entangle all concerned in enough red tape to colorfully mummify an entire district?  Alas, no.  Our first choice of venue for our 24-hour vigil fell through; another came along to take its place, no problem.  The requisite permits to use that land were almost as easy to come by – as long as we didn’t sleep in tents or engage in unlawful food-handling, we could do as we pleased from noon Friday to noon Saturday.  The local police force pledged to stay out of our way unless we called on them.  What the hell is going on here?

Occupy Astoria marchGood thing, then, that we had the biggest enemy of all working against us that day – the weather.  Beautiful, unseasonably sunny days preceded us (and an equally lovely day followed immediately thereafter), but 10/28 itself was host to the highest winds and the heaviest rain we’ve seen all year.  Now that was more like it – a heroes-against-the-elements scenario!  (I was heartened, then disappointed, when I went online to check the forecast for the day and found it on ground.”  I was hoping that it was the work of renegade meteorologists commmitted to fighting the climatic power by any means necessary – “Our Seven Day-of-Rage Extended Forecast shows a 75 percent chance of oppression by means of precipitation, but at least the clouds are black” – but no, it was just a regular old weather website with a name that had obviously stuck in someone’s head without any political/historical resonance or sense of irony whatsoever.  If that doesn’t give you a snapshot of what’s happened to radicalism in this country, I don’t know what will.)  How inspiring, really, the sight of those hardy few battling wind and rain to stake their temporary claim on that tiny patch of land on Leif Erickson Drive, erecting canopies, unfolding tables, priming generators, setting up lights, testing the efficacy of Sharpies on damp cardboard, chasing after one of the canopies when a heavy gust sent it flying onto the adjoining baseball field – okay, that last might have been less “inspiring” than “funny” – and it only became moreso when some thirty of us massed together to embark on our March on Astoria.  Our clothes may have been dampened, but not our enthusiasm as we made our way downtown, waving, cheering, chanting, hey c’mon guys we should really come up with a good chant, should we turn left here, we should really wait until the light turns green before we cross, seriously guys I spent all night coming up with chants and the least you can do is, wow that puddle is a lot deeper than it looks, I think my sign just fell apart, do you think God is part of the 1%, I mean, have they looked up his tax returns lately, no I don’t think “wooooooo!” counts as a chant… By the time we returned to the site, we were saturated but elated.  (Now that would have been a good chant.)  And it laid the foundation for the truly heartening display of unity and fellowship that went on into the night.  A makeshift PA system was fired up as the sun (hah) went down, and the members of our little tribe took turns giving testimony well into the evening.  (The less said about my personal contribution, the better.)  Some drifted away as the hour grew late, some toughed it out through the night, and others joined us on the much brighter Saturday morning which followed, raising their voices (and their much-drier signage) in streetside protest before coming together at noon to clean up (and, it should be noted, leaving the site cleaner than when we got there) and then part fondly.  How wonderful, how moving…

…how utterly unjournalistic.  No riots.  No real confrontations.  Not even any dialogue with those opposed to the cause, unless you count the people who drove by, gave us the “1% salute” and screamed “GET A JOB!” out their windows (and for all I know, they might have been members of an all-white Coasters tribute band and they were just rehearsing).  No, I don’t really want to see our efforts marred by violence for the sake of a story, but it bothers me that most seem content to express their discontent from the safety of message boards and Facebook posts, when true engagement is what’s needed if this discussion is going to get anywhere.  The impulses and concerns behind the Occupy movement affect us all, and unless we come together, talk, argue and listen, to recognize the considerable common ground we share across the sociopolitical spectrum, we may as well cede that ground to the corporatocracy forever.  A true populist uprising is in progress.  Perhaps you’d care to join us.  You can find me by the side of the road, dripping wet, holding the sign that reads “I AM HOLDING A SIGN.”  (Hey, every movement needs its clowns – if I can’t be Norman Mailer, I’ll settle for Paul Krassner.)