Appropriating the Cultural Commons
How radical actions, and tyranny of the majority are hurting marginalized spaces.
It is safe to say that America is more politically divided today than it has been in many a long year; and that this divide is becoming ever more virulent. Unlike the party politics of the last two decades, these disagreements are spilling out from their designated arenas and into our private lives and cultural spaces. Some view this as a triumph, for do we not desire a politically active and involved populace?
Well, some of us do. Others of us would just like to get along with each other and get on with our lives. Should those people be forced to engage; or to have their cultural spaces infected or destroyed by politically motivated action? This issue becomes of special concern when it impacts those in already marginalized communities.
Take, in example, the absurd case of the Rocky Mountain Fur Con. For those unfamiliar, the furry community is a sexual minority that enjoys dressing and/or acting as anthropomorphic characters. Furries are frequently effected in other intersectional ways, such as being members of the LGBTQ community or living with a disability. Nevertheless, they are frequently othered even within the general queer and sex positive communities; and thus having their own spaces for recreation and networking is vital.
Nothing about this or the activities of what amounts to a fandom convention imply a political position. However, dispute arose over the participation of a group of furs perceived as dangerous due to their political leanings; and the wearing of paw-print arm bands by the group's members which critics claimed mimicked those of Nazis. It should be noted that marking members of a given house, ship, or crew with an armband has been a time-honored tradition in festival community.
Nevertheless, with public threats of violence mounting between the politically activated contingents of participants, new security costs made the decade-old event impossible to carry forward – to the loss of the community as a whole.
In another example, as told by Steven DeCaprio (a Lebanese-American musician and activist in the Bay Area) similar use of social media to threaten violence shut down a show by Metal band Marduk at the Oakland Metro Operahouse. As he explained in his open letter dated March 6, 2017:
“Founded in 2001 the Oakland Metro Operahouse has its roots in the punk D.I.Y. tradition and is unique in Oakland because it emphasizes outsider artists. This is particularly relevant to marginalized communities which are underserved by other venues. Because of this the Oakland Metro Operahouse has been targeted for harassment by real estate speculators and city officials looking to gentrify the Jack London Square neighborhood where the Oakland Metro Operahouse is located.”
Given the recent Berkley riots, these actions gave the police all the ammunition they needed to deny permitting. The organization which circulated the threats (Anti-fascist Action Bay) claim that the band in question is “cryptofascist”. Obviously, the band disputes these claims.
“In an interview with music blog Invisible Oranges shortly after the cancelation, Håkansson was asked if he identified with Nazi ideology. He plainly stated 'No,' explaining: 'If you sing about something the way it happened and doing objective writing about it, what's the problem with it?'”
Regardless of what we think of Marduk, the actions taken threaten a marginalized community venue in a way that plays right into the hands of the powers to which all parties claim to be in opposition. The actions threatened would have violated the non-aggression principle; and the basic rights of private property, free speech, assembly, association. DeCaprio concludes with a call for those organizing locally under the banner of Antifa to cease operating under that name; and to instead work in support of “historic movements led by marginalized people.”
It seems simple enough: let's just keep our fighting in the designated areas. But what of the political arena itself? Surely this is not in jeopardy. Unfortunately, this is not the case. We need look no further than the cancelation of the Mid-Atlantic Liberty Festival to see the consequences of this general assault on the commons. When boycotts and other non-violent means failed, opponents resorted to bomb threats. While the intention of action taken against the Libertarian event was in protest of the participation of one hated opponent, in fact the action also silenced the voices of Muslim, queer, and three rare Libertarian women presenters right along side him.
In fact, the invitational debate between Coley and Invictus made up only a tiny fraction of the programming available at the event. The remainder of it (at least by description) should raise no eyebrows on either side of the aisle. Topics ranged from homeschooling to Muslim liberty to local civic involvement to fundraising. Even the scheduled debate on immigration policy was a matter of perfectly legitimate interest. The dispute of a topic should not, in and of itself, instill fear – that is, unless one sees all of ones political opponents as necessarily villainous.
And what of Coley, who invited Invictus to debate? This father of seven is the national director of Muslims4Liberty and the first Muslim American
to appear as a candidate on a presidential ballot. Are we to believe that he would invite a rabid fascist to his event? In his own words,
“Just an FYI, if you're trying to incite violence at the MALF, you're a dick, and you're messing with my ability to care for my family. This is my PROFESSION, doing these events is how i support my family 7 months out of the year. Antifa idiots are now calling the Hilton where MALF will be hosted, and threatening violence. To the point the hotel is discussing canceling the event all together. Which will cost me about $1000 due to loss in speaker's fees and merchandise sales. Your misguided crusade is about to have a very real cost for myself and my family. Those pushing for violence are no better than those they claim to oppose.”
In all of these cases, we see infighting between highly volatile political factions destroying spaces that middle-of-the-road attendees were meant to enjoy. Event planning and production is a difficult affair that rarely profits the producers overmuch. If hatred for one another leads us to take action that destroys community spaces and silences already marginalized voices, clearly it is we who are in the wrong.