Many things trouble me before I go to bed, and many more every morning when I wake up; but the one thought that has stuck with me the most this whole year is sustainability: the ability to maintain what we have at the quality we want. Coordinating MRR means being mentally fit and physically healthy to manage it all. Bad eating habits, not enough sleep, at least one day a week away from the compound—all these things are crucial to our ability to run this massively amazing and important institution. Putting out and collecting records means we still have resources at our disposal that we can use. Oil and paper: what happens to a punk scene when the communication, music, zines and interactions are all online? Taking it a step further, beyond the pragmatic environmental sustainability we should be working towards:
Certain things happened this month that kept bringing me back to this this notion.
I recently signed up for a staffing agency that recruited me to work at “the largest software conference on the planet.” The first gig was a three-day bag stuffing job for none other than that giant, horrid convention that takes over the city once a year, called Dremforce. Basically a production line job. We had to show up all in black. The information packet sent to us actually said, “The client requests NO expressions of individuality; jewelry, scarves, etc.” To sidetrack briefly: I looked into the role of a uniform, or at least uniformity, among workers a bit, and the read was quite distressing. Even workplace psychology, which can be used towards improving workplace conditions for the workers’ benefit, is employed by corporations to figure out how to get the most out of their workers for the company’s benefit. Increased productivity = increased profit. Increased illusion of happiness and safety = more chances of compliance + less chances of a revolt. Sustainable slavery. Our first job was to stuff a fancy backpack with a fancy water bottle, pen and promo pack of thirteen flyers, in order of promotional support of course, all stamped with the Dreamforce logo, of course. We broke up into smaller production groups and over the course of 22 hours made over 26,000 of those wretched things. Just the thought of how much money DF spent to make just this component of their conference was mind-boggling. The silky, baby-blue lining on the inside of the backpack said “I [picture of a cloud] SF.” “I Cloud SF!” for fuck’s sake! I wanted puke! I wanted to get onto the table they had us stand at and scream out to everyone, “We’re all idiots! This is not how it’s supposed to be!” … but of course I didn’t. Instead I worked in angry silence, mentally taking notes on the whole thing, wondering about all the other workers, what their story was and how we all ended up in this giant warehouse by the water at 7am, assembling bags for the Children of the Cloud. The next ten days were spent registering people in and monitoring rooms (glorified way of saying “smile, scan badge, say thank you.”) Every one of those days I had the same sour taste of irony in the back of my mouth: not only could we not find a job in this booming, highly competitive city, but when we did, it was working for the enemy: the conference that teaches the corporate world how to utilize new technologies to maximize their profits. It sounded like a marriage from hell; the techies teaching the money-makers how to make more money! Sustainable productivity.
Sure, a lot of smaller companies, unions, hotels, vendors and other service providers probably made good bucks printing all their glossy, full-color materials, setting up their booths (about six grand just for the space), putting down all those wires, housing all their attendees, making all those meals. But there was still that gross feeling of separation and inequality: either you were one of them, one of the 135,000 attendees, working for some multi-national company (though, according to DF statistics, 7,000 of them were non-profit), or you were serving them; stuffing their freebie bags, serving them food, cleaning up their rubbish, bussing them around, or simply holding up a stupid sign with information for them to read. I haven’t always enjoyed working—because come on, let’s be real, humanity is so scientifically and technologically advanced that we really should have been automated out of the industrial revolution and past the information age into the revolution of consciousness ages ago. The machines take over labour, resources and riches are equally distributed, and humans are allowed to live up to their full existential potential because we have connected to the higher powers of the universe that do not require money or status to be attained and which enrich us more than… “Oh I’m sorry, wrong meeting.” We’re not worthy of enlightenment anyway, why waste my breath?—I do however find great value in the ability to discover, develop and apply one’s skills and oneself to a healthy, productive, creative environment. That said, doing this job was probably the easiest one I’ve ever had, yet still, I was morally opposed… but of course I did the job. I was, and still am, super broke, so I can’t afford to get fired or quit. Unsustainable ethics.
On the last day of the DF convention I decided to stick around for a bit and hear what some of the 1,450 speakers spread out across 18 venues had to say. (Previous days included Al Gore (geez!), Hillary Rodham Clinton (uuuh…), Neil Young (I guess he’s been converted) and Will.i.am (pffff, I know, right?) I listened to Arianna Huffington with her proudly thick Greek accent talk about power, success, burnout and happiness. “Success and power are like a two-legged stool. Eventually you will fall off.” Then she spoke with Eckhart Tolle, the author of The Power of Now, about the importance of rest, centering one’s self and getting down time. Tolle talks of the “I am” state of just being—being in the present because you can never not be in the present—and how we lose touch with the real world when we are constantly trying to live in the future. She sits on the floor, cross-legged and goes through her five-minute centering routine, making the audience follow suit, mentioning how many corporations now offer yoga sessions and sleep rooms to their employees. Even God, on the seventh day, took a day to rest. I kid you not, she referenced that! Sustainable dominance.
I deduced that education—nay, learning is one of the most direct and integral ways we can achieve sustainability. Within the punk world, where expertise is not a prerequisite to getting things done, knowledge is a powerful tool. Learning from one another, learning how to do it ourselves, is a key part of our culture. If we can acquire knowledge, we can apply it, which is a great step towards taking change of our own lives.
What a year it has been! A year of first and lasts, I am happy 2014 will soon be over! One of my first, was back in May, when for the first time in my life, I missed a flight; from NYC to SF, going in the red by about $600. I got back home to a practically empty bank account. I had also just been forced to resign from my lovely bookstore job—as they would not give me time off (three days!) and neither could I find someone to cover my shifts—so I was broke and unemployed. Then in June and July I was running the magazine, at least everything but distro, pretty much alone, which meant I was now unemployable. Throughout those solo months I did, however, have trusted shitworkers Kyle, Layla and Chris help me out immensely, and so I want to formally extend my thanks to them for all their support! And of course to my partner Mike, who has put up with every bad morning and moody night. Then, thankfully, in August our new content coord, Grace, arrived, and we threw ourselves into training. September found me still jobless and in debt, but very much enjoying our special Ex-Yugo/Slovenia issue. By the time October rolled around, and given that we work on multiple timelines here, one of them being a two-months-in-the-future timeline, I realized Christmas holidays were right around the corner. I haven’t been back home since I got here in April 2012, and tickets to Greece are not cheap, but I went ahead and booked tickets to visit my family and friends in Athens anyway. Sometimes you’ve just gotta do what you gotta do, and you figure out the details later. So, here I am, one day after sending the magazine to print wondering what will come hurtling our way next. Taxes are due at the end of the year, the Crudos Discography 2xLP will be back from the pressing plant by that time, I am stepping down by March (could you be the next über-organized content coord?!)… Yes, dear readers, the time has come (yet again) for me to try and figure out my exit plan. I will be leaving MRR in the 2015. I were to stick around until all of MRR’s problems were solved, I would never leave. And while dedicating the rest of my life to this magazine may not sound like a bad idea, it is not sustainable for one person to do for years on end. Burnout is a lose-lose for everybody. So, we have been working on ideas that can help keep MRR in business not for one or two more years, but for one or two more decades. Part of the reason we still exist is our readership basis: without you guys this wouldn’t be possible. And even though our print run has dropped since the glory days of the ’90s, even sometimes I wonder if young punks even know what MRR is and who are we doing all this for anyway, I know what we have to keep going, with tooth and nail, until we no longer have reason to exists, because that is the right thing to do. Because people depend on us to be the living proof of a system that can persevere and overcome. Because no one else is going to ensure punk is a sustainable alternative. So, unlike, say, solar energy, an exceptional example of sustainable energy, DIY punk is a bad business model for capitalism, it doesn’t make anyone any money. So the question is: how do me move towards making punk sustainable; for ourselves, our communities, and for future punks? It’s up to all of us to answer that question, because if we don’t, the only people we will be letting down is ourselves.