Interview with Leslie James Pickering
Since the time he served as spokesperson for the Earth Liberation Front Press Office between the late 90’s to the early 2000’s Leslie James Pickering has been continually active as an advocate for the earth and the autonomy of its creatures.
He has recently been under government surveillance along with his family and business, being branded as a domestic terrorist threat by the FBI. Here, in his own words, he describes his ideas, the background of his case, and discusses his upcoming speaking tour on which he will explore the nature of the claims against him and the implications they have for us all.
1. For those who are unfamiliar with you, your work as spokesperson for the ELF Press Office, and so on, can you give us an overview about who you are and why you’re you?
LESLIE JAMES PICKERING: I was just one of the young people drawn into the struggles for environmentalism and animal liberation during the 1990s. I grew up here in Buffalo, skateboarding and listing to punk, hardcore and hip hop, and just soaking up all these ideas about how screwed up our society was. I wasn’t into the American Dream thing so much. My lesbian, counterculture aunt took me to a Bad Religion show in the 8th grade and things just kept snowballing. At 15, I picked up some issues of Holocaust and Dressed In Black at an Earth Crisis show. Those zines taught me about the Animal Liberation Front, and I was completely won over. At 16, I moved to SF with a potential future skateboarding, but I found something there much more compelling. I hooked up with this group of people that were obsessed with getting arrested for protesting animal experimentation. We were running around at night, climbing buildings with ski masks and radios… It was wild. It felt like a calling or something. At 17, I dropped out of school, left home and submerged myself in struggles for social justice. I barely worked, got arrested a couple dozen times and was just doing whatever I could to fight for wilderness and autonomy. I kept at it, and one thing led to another. The Earth Liberation Front formed and started sending us their communiqués. I guess I was just in the right place at the right time, but I also worked to put myself there. My friend Craig and I formed the Earth Liberation Front Press Office, so that we could put all our energy into PR work for the ELF and better spread the word. The ELF just blew up, became the FBI’s “#1 domestic terrorist priority.” We were doing this crazy amount of national press and were getting regularly subpoenaed to federal grand juries and harassed and raided by the FBI… Now I’m back here in Buffalo, have a family and we run Burning Books and the FBI’s saying that our bookstore is a front to form a 9-person eco-terrorist cell, and that I’m its “mastermind sociopath.” For me, and a lot of our allies, this is just life. We’re not looking to retire or anything. Not expecting to get wealthy or appreciated. We’re just in the struggle because that’s what you do. When your people and your relations are being killed, oppressed and imprisoned, when the Earth is being ravaged like it is…that’s your calling. You just find a way to answer it.
2. Why is everyone scared of Leslie James Pickering?
LESLIE JAMES PICKERING: Are they? If the people in power are afraid of anything it’s being held accountable for the crimes they’ve committed against the rest of us. Our movements threaten those kinds of consequences, but I like to think I’m a pretty nice guy. I love my family, our communities and allies, the wilderness… It seems silly to think that anyone would be afraid of me. I am more than happy to be playing a role in this struggle, however. There’s really nothing I’d rather do with my life.
3. What do you think has been the most important project or initiative you’ve been involved with?
LESLIE JAMES PICKERING: I’m always trying to figure that out, because I want to make the most of life and the future’s looking too grim to take lightly. Asking that question was what moved Craig and I to form the Earth Liberation Front Press Office, and I think that was a pretty good project. I’m really into Burning Books. We’re working to build something solid that supports and legitimizes the struggle. Its grueling work at times, but we need strong movement institutions if we want new and powerful formations to keep sprouting up. The support work that we do for Seth Hayes, Jalil Muntaqim, David Gilbert and other political prisoners is important in the same way. My support for political prisoners largely comes from my support of what they’ve contributed to the struggle. How can we expect anyone to consider fighting today or tomorrow if we neglect our allies that are in prison for fighting yesterday? I also see the more confrontational protests I got involved in early on as really important. Learning is largely experiential, and those experiences shaped a generation of us that are still at it. We really don’t have any time to waste. Start a campaign. Go to Standing Rock. Throw yourself out there, follow your passions, but be smart. The future is what the people struggle to make it.
4. Can you tell us why you are not a “domestic terrorist”?
LESLIE JAMES PICKERING: No, not really. The way I see it, this is an international resistance movement against oppression. I could try to claim to just be an activist who exercises free speech and other activities protected under the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, but what does that imply about our underground allies? My work is a component of the overall struggle. The goal is liberation, not to find an easy or comfortable way to simply voice a level of dissent. If the Informal Anarchist Federation, ELF, ALF, Black Liberation Army, United Freedom Front, George Jackson Brigade, Weather Underground, AntiSec… are “terrorists,” then we should at least happy to be in good company. There should be nothing new or surprising about being called nasty names by the system that we’re fighting for liberation from.
5. What is your upcoming tour about and what are the key messages you hope to convey?
LESLIE JAMES PICKERING: I’ll be showing a bunch of newly unclassified FBI documents and walking audiences through the 2-year attempt to frame Burning Books up on a fictitious eco-terrorism conspiracy. Informants, federal grand juries and a wide array of
surveillance activities will be brought to light, detailing how repression works against our movements. It should be pretty eye-opening. It’s one thing to know about this stuff abstractly, but another to really see it up close. I’ll emphasize how repression should be expected and needs to be resisted, but I’ll also stress how our own fear is the most powerful outcome of repression. If you walk away simply afraid of the government, I’ve failed. I got into this struggle because I was inspired by underground direct action. The FBI focuses on our movements because we are so strong, because we have the potential to change the world. My message is always that we can fight back.
6. When you consider the state of the world today environmentally, what are the issues you see as most dire (bonus question only if you have time: might you offer any ideas for how we can correct those situations?)
LESLIE JAMES PICKERING: There’s no time to waste when it comes to issues like the environment, police murder of people of color and incarceration, etc. We already have plenty of examples of how we can fight and win. We just have to start looking at them, and start acting on them much more intensely. Whenever powerful movements sprout up, the state responds with repression and violence. But it’s really our own apathy and fear that keep us down the most. If we organize with the understanding that repression is an inevitable result of progress, and we really commit ourselves to the struggle, there’s nothing that can stop us.
LESLIE JAMES PICKERING – FALL 2016 TOUR SCHEDULE
7pm, Friday, November 4, 2016 = Artrage, 505 Hawley Avenue, Syracuse, New York – https://www.facebook.com/events/361648534181227/
7pm, Saturday, November 5, 2016 = Plainfield Co-op, 153 Main Street, Plainfield, Vermont
6pm, Sunday, November 6, 2016 = Dreamship Cooperative Community, 15 Boynton Street, Portland, Maine – https://www.facebook.com/events/347244938953207/
7pm, Thursday, November 10, 2016 = Wesleyan University, PAC 107, Middletown, Connecticut
5pm, Friday, November 11, 2016 = IWW Union Hall, 375 Smith St, Providence, Rhode Island – https://www.facebook.com/events/1117813588297496/
7pm, Saturday, November 12, 2016 = Democracy Center, 45 Mt Auburn Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts – https://www.facebook.com/events/1134358393324836/
2pm, Sunday, November 13, 2016 = WESPAC, 31 Mamaroneck Avenue, Suite 403, White Plains, New York
LEARN MORE AT: http://www.lesliejamespickering.com
Tour with Great Reversals…November 2016
Heading out on a five day spoken word tour in two weeks with my friends in Great Reversals. Hear me rant about our relationship with power/authority or our need for risk/connection, depending on the night. See you soon friends.
PITTSBURG PA November 10th:
PHILADELPHIA PA November 11th with Toska and Pulling Punches:
BOONTON NEW JERSEY – November 12th with Hell Mary:
COLUMBUS OH – November 13th:
DETROIT MI – November 14th with Bracewar, Bent Life, and Bitter Peace AD in Detroit:
Download the new Great Reversals record here for free:
FOLLOWUP POST TOUR 11/15/2016
Just walked in the door after flying home from my spoken word tour with the passionate hardcore band Great Reversals: five excellent humans and truly sincere people.
So many people helped make this tour happen: in Pittsburg, Kristine Michelle Hayes is the embodiment of determination and courage. In Philadelphia, Andrew at Hydrogen Man Records put on a great show and Chris Striegel taught us how to eat in quantities that would kill a normal human. Paul Alan in New Jersey put on the only seven band show in history that ended early. Josh at Head2Wall Records in Columbus Ohio created a banger of a show which was a tour highlight featuring vegan Polish food(!). And Maxxwell Lange in Detroit managed to get 120 kids to come out to a Monday night show in a display of pure promotional genius.
So many bands to thank and for you to check out: Hell Mary, Northern Widows (like Nails on steroids), Pulling Punches, TOSKA, None Above All, Silence Equals Death (like One King Down for 2016), Bitter Peace A.D., Bent Life and so many more. Steven Muczynski lent us his van. Mike Moynihan took photos. I am forgetting key people I am sure. So many true friends.
Spoken word in the hardcore/punk scene is an exercise in honesty: getting out of your head, being present in the moment, and opening up as much as possible in front of strangers in new bizarre settings every night. Few things are more intimidating and as fulfilling. Thank you to everyone who interacted and engaged with ideas on what to do now that our future is entirely in our hands. Our heroes are dead. No kings or priests or leaders are coming to save us. Any hope is within each of our abilities to connect with and expand to others amidst insecurity and fear. Our communities, our world, and our lives depend on it.
See you next time, and there will be many more next times. xxx
I see you. I am here.
I just had a truly genuine human interaction. I was walking from my loft to the train, about a mile or so. I usually take a back way, along the tracks, by some spray painted walls and broken chain link fences. Just now as I was walking that path, about fifty yards ahead I saw a guy in tattered clothes climbing out of the bushes. He was collecting his things on the ground. My brain went into “self protection” mode as I got close. I knew the pitch was coming. I was a few feet away when he stopped me. “Excuse me,” he said, launching into what I assumed was the pitch for money, “Can I ask you something?” I stopped and turned to him, “Yes?”
He immediately started in with the pitch, with the rushed cadence of someone who has been denied so many times and who knows they need to get all the important words out as quickly as they can. “Well I’ve been having a hard time and I’ve been staying out here and I am wondering…I don’t know what to do… if you could help because I need help and I was wondering…”
I cut him off, slightly impatient for him to get to the point so that I could catch my train. I was ready for him to finish the pitch so I could say, “No…I don’t have any cash on me, sorry my friend” and walk on. I said, “I do need to get to the train…is there something specific you needed?” I was trying to prompt the end of the interaction.
He took a deep breath and said, “Well I’m not sure if I should just stay out here again and walk around for a few days, or just go to jail and turn myself in because the drug of my addiction makes it hard to be around people when I try and stop. And maybe it’s not safe for them and I think I should just turn myself in at the jail or else just walk around and try to avoid people for the next couple days…….what would you do?”
There was no money pitch. He was literally just asking for advice. The look on his face was truly desperate, sad, exhausted. I took a deep breath too and my whole tone changed. My whole world changed. I told him, so I could establish common ground, that someone very close to me was an addict and that I wanted to hear more. The look on his face in that moment. I don’t have words for it. He realized he was being listened to.
He told me about his addiction and where he was in his life. We talked about options. We talked about staying away from jail because the police are not friends of African American men, the homeless, or the drug addicted. We talked about how he was doing everything right by considering the safety of those around him. We talked about how good it was that he was trying to get sober even if the path seemed impossible. We talked about places he could walk to downtown to ask about safe places to detox and hopefully sleep safely. It was one of the most genuine conversations I’ve been a part of in forever. I just hope it was helpful.
At the end of our talk I told him again that he was doing everything right by trying to get sober and to keep himself and those around him safe. He looked at me and said thanks and added, “I’m trying. I can’t do it alone.”
As I turned and walked away he was looking out across the tracks, considering his options.
This isn’t a post about me. It’s a post about all of us. Its a post about being so wrapped up in getting to a train, one that runs every five minutes, that I would have been willing to ignore and deny another human being who was in a desperate place, before he even had a chance to finish his first sentence and connect. How jaded have I become, and how self absorbed. I think about the greeting one encounters in Africa when a person will greet another by saying, “I see you” and the response to having that said to you is, “I am here”. Connection, at the most basic level. Seeing one another. Being here. And how simple it can be to reach across the closest of distances…that is…if we don’t make those distances so far by being wrapped up in our own seemingly-so-important absolute bullshit.
I see you. I am here.
My only regret is that I didn’t ask his name, the guy by the side of the tracks who is trying to get sober in a way that keeps those around him safe, and who was at the point where he was willing to ask for help from a total stranger. What a hero.
The masks we wear
I dropped out of college after my freshman year in order to study mask making and the theory of masks for a year with an absolutely brilliant theater performer in rural Connecticut named Larry Hunt. I spent a year watching him perform, learning his techniques as a mask maker, exploring what masks signify, seeing where they manifest in society and culture, and realizing how they can be used to shed light on what is hidden underneath the surface of what we present to the world.
To say that Larry was a profound influence on me is the greatest understatement. Larry showed me what it meant to be a citizen of the world, a performer of the stage, and to combine the two together. Simply put, Larry Hunt was a genius. It was like he was five people in one. He was politically aware, deeply empathic, and had the ability to synthesize all that he felt and thought and saw into performances which left audiences speechless and inspired to transform their lives. I am as in awe of his abilities today as I was the first moment I saw him onstage as a teenager.
Larry Hunt used stage performances with actual masks that he would wear and switch to play various characters representing our emotions and inner feelings. He transformed the world he saw – politically and socially – into new language that everyone could understand by showing us our own faces. He asked everyone who saw him perform to reflect on ourselves and on the masks we wear and invited us to think about what they hide, and what they reveal.
Aside from what I learned from him, the lessons of which are continuing to this day, at the end of that year when I was clueless about what I wanted to do next in life, Larry inspired me further by suggesting that I move to Seattle to explore acting and study theater at Cornish College of the Arts. Because of his influence I went and auditioned and spent the next few years getting a fine arts degree and forming the foundation of what was to become the next huge section of my life in the Pacific Northwest.
When I heard late last night that Larry had died yesterday in Connecticut, I was stunned. Mostly because this was a man of the most incredible talent, yet one who few if any had heard of. He wasn’t an internet star. He didn’t have his own tv show. No national press will cover his untimely passing. He was just an artist. And I say that in jest. Just an artist. He was a creative revolutionary.
Most eulogy posts yield comments of people saying they are sorry to hear the news and hoping the writer is ok. My life has been far more than okay thanks to the influence of Larry Hunt. I hope that instead of sorrow that this post serves to have us all reflect on our masks. What version of ourselves do we present to the world and why? What do we hide? What do we reveal in the character we play for the people around us? How do our masks protect us? How would we be more loving, more passionate, and more alive if we were to strip away some of our masks, change them, or even add more in times of need? If we ask what we gain and what we lose as a result of the masks we wear, we might very well run the risk of leading more genuine lives.
Our masks – which convey our personality, our responses to emotions, our aggressions, our pride and ego and insecurities – protect, serve, inhibit and elevate us. Larry Hunt asked us to reflect on the masks we wear and on those worn by our leaders, friends, enemies, lovers and those around us. His message and legacy wasn’t that we should remove all masks but rather to understand them on a deeper level. If our mask is rage for example, might it not help us and the people nearby if we were to consider removing that mask if indeed pain and vulnerability were beneath it? We can ask ourselves questions like this about every emotion we feel or react to, and about every aspect of our personalities which we share and pride ourselves on.
Let’s have today and in fact every day be a reflection for us on what masks we wear, why we wear them, and who we are beneath them. A more honest interaction with the world and a stronger bond on a more genuine level with those around us await.
While we all wear masks, Larry Hunt changed lives with his. Underneath what he wore, he was a genius, a true artist, and a dear friend.
“Masked, I advance.”
– René Descartes
In memoriam, Larry Hunt.
November 6, 1949 – July 30th, 2016
The voices of others…
From my friend Zephyr, on who speaks, who is being heard, and who is affected as a result (posted here with full permission)
okay after a few days i feel like i’ve had time enough to gather my thoughts about orlando?
i am the kind of queer that never gets to be invisible. idk if anyone has looked at me since my transition and assumed i am anything besides 100% gay. up until recently, that’s been more or less okay with me. it’s true. why should i feel shamed into toning down my queerness for other people’s comfort? i have long since moved past my self-loathing queer phase and embraced my visibility.
but for the past few days, i am consumed with unfortunate self-awareness. my most common anxiety is “do i look like a faggot? do i sound like a faggot?”. i haven’t had a single concern about a public bathroom until i started seeing every cis person i know chime in about whether or not i have the right to pee in public. nobody ever cared whether or not i sat to pee. but who’s to say now there isn’t some hypervigilant hate-monger on high alert who will notice something out of place with the 5’3 femmey dude who sits to pee and make it his job to investigate?
when was the last time i thought twice before holding a guy’s hand? when was the last time i checked my surroundings on a date?
visibility is what gets us killed. every time one of my cis peers posts on facebook about the bathroom bill, well-meaning or not, some cis person who never thought twice about who is sharing their bathroom starts to look a little closer. every time an argument breaks out between two straight people about my fucking humanity, we as queer people are the ones who suffer. y’all get to read about orlando and share an article and go about your day while i struggle to hold it together at work because i can’t stop fixating on how fucking queer i look and how easy of a target i am.
and this is all coming from the perspective of my white self, without the layers of complexity added by intersecting racial identity.
just think about that before you instigate, straight friends. you are not the ones who will suffer the consequences of what you say.
To contact Zephyr with thoughts / ideas / support, email us using our contact form, subject line ZEPHYR.
On personal responsibility in Seattle and Orlando
NOTE: I posted the following on my Facebook earlier today and did so unedited. It remains unedited. I want to clarify something important. The use of the word “promiscuity” (and also for that matter the use of the word “flirtation”) do NOT refer to sexual assault allegations and survivor accounts being told now. My intention was to make a statement on one of two types of stories being reported currently (i.e. “now”). First there are the sexual assault allegations. Secondly are the stories my use of those words referred to: the stories from people who knew him well that the perpetrator was “a flirt” or “promiscuous” in years gone by. I am not using “promiscuous” with any intention to condemn promiscuity. I am not referring to sexual allegations being reported now as simply being flirtation or promiscuity, which would be dismissive. What I am saying is that reports to me of Jim Hesketh’s past perception as someone who was flirtatious or promiscuous are coming to light often now. What is distressing, especially to survivors, is what was going on beneath the surface of those things. What follows is unedited.
Fifty dead in Orlando. Dozens revealed to have been raped worldwide by Jim Hesketh from Seattle. Details of both are sickening. This week feels hopeless. Tragedy on top of tragedy on a scale that is incomprehensible. I was working on a long blog post for wordsasweapons about personal responsibility and rape…and then a mass murder happens. What kind of world do we live in when news of possibly the most active mass rapist in the history of the hardcore music community is eclipsed by news of the biggest mass shooting in the history of the country? Inhumanity is never ending. But it’s not just us and them. I’m starting with me.
How am I responsible?
Seattle first. I never really knew Jim Hesketh as well as people assume. We hung out twice as far as I remember outside of hardcore shows. Once in 2011 at a movie with another friend and once in 2013 or so in Portland at lunch with another friend. I never knew a thing about his conduct with women. His flirtation, what he did when not onstage with Champion, or about any of the promiscuity that everyone is revealing now. He and I weren’t close enough for me to know about his personal life. But that doesn’t matter. That doesn’t alleviate my personal responsibility for his crimes. I can’t know the actions of everyone in my world. I barely know intimate details of close friends oftentimes let alone more distant ones. But that doesn’t alleviate my responsibility.
I’m responsible for not doing more to follow through with creating a safer space for women in hardcore. I don’t ask enough questions. I stand on a self ideal that I do a lot. But that’s empty. And feeling good about yourself is not nearly enough.
I said in 2009 that I wanted to create a 24 hour help phone line for victim / survivors, locally staffed in Seattle, with options for survivors to request support by gender as they felt would be helpful. When I trained with Seattle Rape Relief in the 1990’s they didn’t want men on crisis lines. I argued that it was up to survivors to have a choice as to who they wanted to talk to by gender for the sake of their own healing. That didn’t fly with them at the time we talked about it and I held onto that idea long after Seattle Rape Relief shut down their phone lines. I let my dream of a crisis line go by the wayside when I learned that a crisis line already was available to victim/survivors more or less even if it wasn’t exactly what I had envisioned. I figured that things were good enough with that crisis line existing. They obviously weren’t. That new crisis line could have been an outlet for women to share their stories and in doing so protect other victims from harm. I didn’t push hard enough and I prioritized other things over it. It could have been an outlet for survivors. I failed in follow through. I didn’t do what I said I would and that could have been a space for women in Seattle to share.
I’m responsible for not continually asking women in our community, “Do you feel safe? And if not why?” And helping to be proactively supportive of those who might not be sharing their secrets. What a privileged worldview I hold to be able to go to shows and think my scene is safe and secure and happy and vibrant. Of course it is for me. Im a cis-gendered male. We always feel safe and that the world is ours. It’s ingrained into us in ways we don’t even realize. That’s the other place I am responsible. Not challenging my own privilege. Not questioning my own position as a building block of rape culture simply on the merit of my gender and socialization let alone by my actions or inactions. Every second we aren’t reaching out to others, actively creating conditions of safety for others, or working to question ourselves and the laurels we rest upon, we are creating the conditions upon which rape culture thrives. That’s on me.
I am responsible too for not focusing enough on my immediate community at home. I will forever stand by the work I do in other countries and especially in Haiti and how commitment has extreme value long after news stories fade. The anti-child-rape support work in Haiti is changing lives there. But that’s not enough. More needs to be done close to home. Not because friends locally are more or less important than Haitians, who I will always support and fight for and love…but because as long as the women in my community are being raped by a member of my community I am responsible.
All of this has been running through my mind since news of Jim Hesketh broke the other day. What more can I do. I have solace in knowing that I wasn’t close friends with Jim. But that solace is an illusion. I’m friends with many of his victims. And I still didn’t know. I’m friends with people who might have had a sense that he was “sketchy”. But that I was unaware doesn’t matter. Its my responsibility for not having any idea about him. It’s not on the victims for not speaking out. It’s on me for not actively helping to create the social conditions wherein they felt safe to speak and share their experiences. And it’s on me for not questioning myself more and asking what more I could do for others. To all the victims, I am sorry. For whatever I did or didn’t do, for feeling safe and not asking enough questions. For not being there for you when you were hurting and each feeling alone.
And then this tragedy gets layered today by another. Fifty members and supporters of the LGBTQ community gunned down at a club in Orlando. What is happening in our world. Mass rape and mass shooting back to back. Orlando’s shooting could have been Seattle. Seattle’s rape could have been Orlando’s. I am sitting here in that post-mass-shooting daze of “I can’t believe it happened again”. And feeling small and powerless. Like there is nothing I could do because gun violence and terror on whatever level is so much bigger than me. But THAT TYPE OF THINKING IS EXACTLY WHAT HELPS TO CREATE THE CONDITIONS OF THE NEXT TRAGEDY whether shooting, rape, or otherwise. “I can’t do anything. There’s nothing to do but hope.” That’s insanity. There’s everything to do along with hope. Action means asking myself how am I responsible for Orlando. After Sandy Hook I swore to myself I would never let myself forget. And I did. After the Bataclan I swore I would never let myself forget. And I did. With the exception of One Hundred For Haiti, after tragedies I have ALWAYS let myself forget. That’s privilege. Only someone who doesn’t worry about rape lets himself forget about the potential for rape. Only someone who has the privilege to feel safe let’s himself forget about the potential for feeling unsafe. Yes the Orlando shooting location couldn’t have been predicted. But…the loud echoes of me asking myself “what are we going to do about terror and violence and guns?!?” after the Bataclan in Paris or after any other shooting have long faded. I have let myself feel safe again. My responsibility is to not let those echoes fade. To always remember that even if I feel safe, that the calm is an illusion. Others might not feel safe. To the victims in Orlando, I am sorry. It’s in part my fault for not speaking up and for not following through.
Our rhetoric post-tragedy is always so intense. So committed. So devoted to change and transformation. And then often life slips back to normal because we find ourselves at a loss of what to do. We can’t bring back the lives of those lost in Orlando. We can’t have Jim’s victims suddenly un-raped. But we can follow through with action even if we don’t know what the first step is.
In Seattle my first steps are checking in personally every day with victim/survivors. Ones who have already come forward and ones who haven’t yet. That lets me use my words to the benefit of those who might need them and who might need support. I’m questioning how I could have better been there BEFORE the fact for members of my community. More self questioning, past present and future. More local community support whenever I can participate and supporting others when I can’t participate locally. Less guilt, and more action, even if those actions are step by step and bit by bit.
For Orlando, my first step is to ask those around me what they think about guns and violence. Even if we realize that we don’t know what to think about what comes next. How to prevent the next Pulse Night Club might be too large a question? But maybe it’s not. Maybe friends who work the doors to clubs have practical ideas. Maybe collectively we can find answers to gun violence through our confusion if we just reach out and let our voices be heard to one another. Let that confusion be a first foundational step.
If we let the echoes fade then the next shooting rests on our shoulders in the same way that rape culture thrives on the silence of us all.
None of us will be perfect. None of us will do it right. None of us will have every answer. But silence, comfort, or complacency surely won’t bring us any closer to the world we want to live in.
I’m posting this unedited. Forgive me any lack of coherency.
Rape accusations in Northwest hardcore, and a response to them…
To say that today was a difficult day for the hardcore/punk community in the northwest would be the greatest understatement, not only because of how emotional it was for the victim/survivors of Jim Hesketh (accused by over thirty women worldwide of sexual misconduct, rape, assault, and predatory behavior against minors)….but an understatement because it would focus only on ONE day rather than a cultural expanse of decades of systemic abuse and improper conduct.
STACEY SPENCER SAID IT BEST…
This morning I woke up with horrible laryngitis, went to urgent care, and discovered that I’ve been fighting bronchitis for the last month. It’s ironic that during the time I’ve wanted to scream the most, I’ve been completely voiceless. All day I’ve been thinking about how to put what I want to say into words. I’ll do my best:
The last 24 hours have become a completely gut-wrenching examination of everything I’ve experienced in the punk & hardcore scene for what is now over half of my life. By now, everyone has heard the 30+ allegations against Jim Hesketh, and has likely been watching that unravel all day today. You’ve seen the horrifying comments, the dismissal of the survivor(s) by people all over the internet, as well as the folks coming forward to support his victims and try to give women space to tell their stories. I personally don’t have my own stories about Jim’s predatory nature – our bands toured together, we hung out without incident – but I have witnessed and experienced enough in the hardcore scene to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that his victims are speaking truth. And that presents a larger story which I think this conversation needs to evolve into, in time. Yes, Jim Hesketh is a problem. But Jim is not THE problem. We cannot simply denounce him and then let this conversation end.
When I started going to hardcore shows at 15 years old, I was received with mixed reactions. I was invited into the scene genuinely and whole-heartedly by some. My intentions were questioned by others – punks of all genders who doubted my sincerity, who felt threatened by new kids entering the arena. And then there were the worst kind of dudes – the ones who were “welcoming” and excited about a new girl joining the ranks – only to try to date or sleep with me. At the time, it felt like a compliment. Being flirted with by men who were a decade older than me was flattering. I felt like I was “cool” and “accepted” when I turned 16 and a guy in his thirties started giving me sexual attention. Young women are always taught that “girls mature faster than boys” – and older men sexualizing young girls is so normalized in mainstream culture – it didn’t strike me how bizarre it was that someone literally twice my age would want me in that way. Our mutual friends knew what was going on and nobody said or did anything. It just felt normal.
As I became more immersed in the scene and To See You Broken started touring, I began to see the rampant sexism all over the country. There were the never ending micro-aggressions (“is the band here yet?” when we were setting our gear up on stage, constant questions like “do you write your own music?” and backhanded compliments like “you’re pretty good for a girl band!”) There was outward misogyny (like dudes yelling “show us your tits” when we got on stage, or the now infamous “no clit in the pit” signs at shows). There were so many sexual propositions that TSYB actually made a rule that we would NOT hook up with any men while we were on tour, for fear of inheriting a reputation for being promiscuous. Dudes were constantly badgering us for sex, and yet we were frightened that WE would be ostracized for our behavior if we ever succumb to their advances. We wrote songs about scene sexism and rape, and the backlash was intense at times – one record review in particular stands out in my head because it compared Sara to a “bitch barking,” and I remember being ashamed for having a voice. At times it felt like everything would be easier if we would just shut up.
As I got older and began dating and having relationships with men, it took me a long time to learn how to communicate consent. Far too many partners were either ignorant about how enthusiastic / verbal consent works, or unwilling to practice it. I have dealt with a disturbing and embarrassing number of men who actively did not ask for my consent. Men who were coercive when I was hesitant, who ridiculed me for being nervous about particular sex acts. Men who would compare me to other partners they’d had to make me feel ashamed about things I’d never done. Then, men who were disgusted with me when I admitted I HAD tried particular sex acts or slept with more people than they had. Men who said things like, “I thought you were just being coy!” when I explicitly told them “no.” Men who assaulted me while I was asleep. Men who non-consensually hit me during sex because they thought it was a turn on. Most of these men are people that my friends are still friends with. Some are men that I am still friends with. Some that I am even empathetic towards. This is the problem with rape culture: it is so ubiquitous, so normalized, that people sincerely don’t understand the difference between sex and rape. And as women, we are taught to be so self-conscious about our sexuality, we rarely speak out when these things happen. Even now, writing this, I am mortified that my family or colleagues will read it. I am still ashamed.
Recently, I’ve seen more women come forward to confront the men who have coerced, abused, and taken advantage of them. The reactions have been all over the map. I will be the first to admit that my own responses have been unfair and shitty at times. When an acquaintance first came forward about Kyle Oels years ago, I took part in a failed accountability process for him and actively tried to help him resolve his issues, despite his blatant disregard for the women involved. When news about Andrew Arellano hit my radar, I gave him a chance to tell his story – and I was duped by his bullshit lies for months because I didn’t want to accept his victims’ experiences at face value. I have since vowed to never make that mistake again. I have realized that if we are ever going to make progress as a community, we need to tune out the manipulative rationalizations that abusers spew, and amplify the voices of their survivors. I am making a promise to myself and to my community to be better. I hope that you all will too.
With all of that said, I’d like to quickly point out the fact that I have 33 mutual friends with a rape apologist who has been accused of sexually assaulting at least two women. I have 29 mutual friends with a known abuser who has been confirmed to use sexual coercion and emotional manipulation to control his partners. I also have friends who continue to maintain their relationships with one of my ex-partners, even after hearing about his verbal abuse, control tactics, and sexual assault. I’m honestly not trying to put these people on blast – my point is that we ALL have work to do when it comes to figuring out what we are going to accept from our friends and the people in our community. And we ALL need to figure out how to resolve these problems – preferably without the use of the cops and the courts who have failed survivors over and over again.
Women: we need your voices heard. It breaks my heart to see so many of your comments stating things like, “this is why I stopped going to shows.” While I have to respect your decision, WE NEED YOU. Don’t let these garbage humans destroy what you once loved. If you can find it in you to join this conversation, please do so. The hardcore scene needs to hear you.
Men: it’s time to sit down and listen. Women have been trying to tell you for literal decades how difficult it is for us in this subculture. So many of you constantly say things like “how come more girls don’t come to shows?” one minute, then the next minute you’re sending unsolicited dick pics to the women that do show up. Or you’re questioning the legitimacy of a new girl in the scene. Or you’re spin-kicking into an unsuspecting bystanders face with no regard for anyone’s space at a show. (Mosh etiquette is a whole other subject that I can rant about: bands constantly tell us on to come into the pit because it’s “not just boys fun,” but what are you going to do to protect us once we’re there? I am guilty of this too, don’t get me wrong. Just two nights ago at the Angel Dust show in Portland, some shitty dude was aggressively wind-milling into folks who were clearly not enthused, crowd killing to the back of the room and making everyone uncomfortable… and even I was scared to say something to him because I didn’t know who he was, didn’t want to start a fight, and didn’t want to seem like I was overreacting to someone just trying to have fun. UGH.)
I hope my voice comes back soon because I really want to talk to you all about this. You have my word that I will do the best I can to help make things better for our community. Please don’t let Jim Hesketh’s dishonorable discharge from hardcore be the end of this conversation. Brian Skiffington, Sam Lee, and others are working on facilitating an open meeting to get a dialogue going. Get involved if you can. Tell your stories. Listen to one another. Maybe NWHC can be an example for the rest of the country for creating something that is truly accepting, truly radical, and truly inclusive. I’m not giving up on us yet.
Lastly, I want to acknowledge my partner, Sean, for being an amazing example of a super radical human being, a person who consistently and intentionally practices consent, and who has been listening to me rant about this nonstop and encouraging me to speak my mind. Also, to Carey, Sara, Lisa, and Katy for being in the trenches with me during the TSYB years – I learned so much from you, thank you. Let’s keep this going, please. Remember: “Fuck you – the sexism ends here… I don’t want to keep screaming, without being heard.”
LOSING OUR RELIGION – a two part podcast interview
A former devout Christian, Zac Gandara became disillusioned with organized institutional Christianity. He found me through another former pastor in Los Angeles, and invited me on his show. I asked him a few questions today:
1. Who are you?
I am a former Pentecostal Mega-Church Pastor, now commune-living lover of sinners. I currently feel most comfortable being labeled a “Jesus-leaning anarchist.” I often describe my life as having left Christianity to attempt to follow the life and ways of Jesus. I am on a quest for normality. From experience, I am weary, cynical, and often untrusting of corporate structures, especially of those that lead them, of myself particularly.
I spent the first 30 years of my life with those who considered themselves righteous and now desire to spend the rest of my life with those who I once would have called sinners. Those I used to shun: Gays, Queers, Punks, Anarchists, Atheists, Transsexuals, and the rest of us that feel like rejects on this planet of misfit toys. For it’s from the misfits I most aptly see the characteristics of the one they called “The Christ.”
2. Why did you choose to do this podcast?
It seems this podcast chose me. I had multiple friends and acquaintances encourage me to write a book, or somehow tell my story. When a “Christian” friend said he would do the podcast with me, I felt the courage to do it. Shortly after realizing we wanted to take it two different directions, we parted ways, and Losing Our Religion is the bi-product of that separation.
I’m tired of the Christian audience; they’re like talking to a wall that seems to listen but is only interested in navel gazing, and resting inside their comfort zones. Leaving Christianity, I wanted to learn how to listen because I had spent more than three decades talking. The podcast is a reflection of my often let down idealism. My hope of humanity, one day getting along. My way of doing that is sitting down over drinks, listening to one another, and hugging it out.
3. What is one thing people don’t realize about institutional Christianity that they should?
I think many already realize it, but if they don’t…The American, Christian institution is a reflection of America, not of the Jesus they claim. It is a business, not a church. It is a social club, not a community. It’s looking for entertainment, not transformation.
The “church” after the time of Jesus was a persecuted band of idealistic misfits, trying to find solace in the comfort of one another, by living in the peace that their God was not mad at them, and didn’t need them to change to be accepted.
If you’re looking for the real “church”, it’s found outside of a building. It doesn’t need money to operate. It’s entirely inclusive, and you can come as you are, and stay as you are. It’s called the common bond of humanity, where black or white, gay or straight, we all bleed red, and enjoy the common suffering of what it means to be human together.
Recently, over a few ginger beers and a couple of hours Zac and I covered a wide range of subjects including:
• The sexy, sultry embrace of gods.
• The Legacy Project – Traveling to areas around the world which have experienced extreme trauma and exploring the need for dictators to bring order amidst chaos
• Deep talks of the pull and the captivity of institutional religion.
• Knowing yourself and being yourself.
• Punk, Metal, and Hardcore Culture.
• Music, Art and Comedy as communities where people dive into their pain and express it in unfiltered therapeutic ways.
• Humanity is in need of art, but will true artist ever be able to feed their families with the art they create?
• How do we keep the arts growing in our society for those that need and desire it?
• Living in the moment with others, and learning to live in their moments with them.
• The things we do to try and attach meaning to our lives, things which are completely unnecessary
• The pursuit of pleasure and chaos at the same time.
• The privatization of water and the depletion of it.
• Art giving life to culture and individuals.
Part One – Embrace Your Terror
Part Two – Embrace Your Human Experience
Which Side Podcast interview on activism, hardcore, veganism and more
This was a killer interview. Good energy, great questions, fun times all around.
The Which Side Podcast brings you people that are in the trenches trying to make a difference in this world. Created, produced, and hosted for activists of all kinds. Whether you’re a veteran animal rights activist or just exploring issues for the first time, Which Side is for you.
Episode 184: We talk with Greg Bennick; Vocalist of Trial and Between Earth & Sky, Professional speaker, Humanitarian activist, award-winning producer, and writer. We discuss Veganism, Technology, Hardcore, Music, Straight-Edge, Intersectionality and more.
Punk Rock Pariah episode just released
On Episode 32 of PRP, Seattle punk rocker / lawyer / and soccer fan DJ Grendel sits down with musician/activist/professional speaker Greg Bennick (aka me). From how we derive meaning out of every day life to the ways that we have been changed as a society by technology, we get completely existential.
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