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‘GRUNGE POLITICS’ GROWS UP
May 12th, 2010 by Clark Humphrey

I should have written about this topic back last November, around the 10th anniversary of the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle, and of the surrounding protests that totally upstaged it.

It was the peak of what could, in retrospect, be called “grunge politics.”

There were plenty of other movements and philosophies at work during the WTO protests, but this particular trend is one that had its greatest moment that week.

It was a time when busting a window at Niketown seemed like a provocative act, when white kids could dress up like Mexican Chiapas insurgents and imagine they were overthrowing something bigger than any mere government. They were, in their own minds, driving a stake into the diseased heart of global commerce itself.

This was a movement, or trend, that was less about changing the world and more about personal expression. It was about expressing strongly felt, if one-dimensional, notions of good vs. evil and us vs. them.

They insisted they were not a target market, that they would not be defined by corporate marketing. Even if they were defining themselves in large part on the basis of their consumer choices in music, attire, transport, food and drink.

The typical proponent of this attitude/lifestyle (male version) was the sort of dude I met a lot at places like Linda’s Tavern and the Six Arms in the late 1990s, and then later at the old Tablet newspaper.

The ideology for the grunge-politics adherents I knew only partly overlapped the ideology of the Olympia radicals and Riot Grrrls from earlier in the 1990s. These Capitol Hill folks I knew weren’t as big on gender issues as the Olympia kids had been, and weren’t at all into the “straight edge” scene (clean and sober partying).

Mostly they had no agenda, because they weren’t vocally in favor of much of anything. What they were “for” was being against stuff.

I’m thinking of one particular guy. We’ll call him Geoff (not his real name). He and I would get together occasionally at a Pike/Pine bar or coffee houes, to agree to disagree.

He firmly believed everything in the world beyond him and his own subculture was the enemy—that big, amorphous enemy that the hippies had called “the Man,” and that the Riot Grrrls had called “the Patriarchy.”

Everything wrong in the world was the fault of Those People. You know, those sap masses out there in Mainstream America. Eating meat. Watching television. Unquestioningly obeying the dictates of the corporate media.

Geoff repeatedly expressed contempt for everything he felt Those People stood for. This included America’s mainstream political system. Organizing, building coalitions, persuading people from other walks of life to join together in a common cause, were things he found boring and useless. He thought of himself as “too political” for any of that.

No, to him “being political” meant publicly protesting, and privately complaining, about everything he was against. Which was a lot.

The things he spoke out against ranged from the epic (wars) to the personal (commercial “alternative” fashion accessories on sale in the malls).

There was one thing he was unquestioningly for. At the time, it was called “hemp.” In more recent years, it’s been called “medical marijuana.”

Of course, Geoff’s reasons for being for it had little to do with the carefully prescribed alleviation of physical pain, and had nothing to do with the promulgation of industrial fibers.

I once argued with Geoff about pot smoking. I said it turned too many people into pacified submissives, and that no real movement for true social change could come from it. He stared at me vacantly and asked me in a droning monotone if I had some.

Which leads to the current marijuana initiative, I-1068.

Its proponents are now gathering signatures across the state. It doesn’t claim any noble non-recreational justification. It’s about pot, and asserting the right for any adult in the state to have and use it, for any purpose. No excuses, no sanctimonious fronts.

This is actually progress.

This is a generation, or a piece of a generation, getting up off of its collective protests and actually doing something.

Which is what I told Geoff, those several years ago, I didn’t expect him and his pals to ever do.

I was wrong.

(Cross-posted with the Capitol Hill Times.)


One Response  
  • Peter A. writes:
    May 14th, 201010:36 amat

    I went to Hempfest last year and listened to a few speeches by some fairly intelligent people on the importance of getting mainstream America comfortable with marijuana and hemp. Then one of them carried on about how hemp fixed pretty much ever problem in the world, including how hemp oil cured “almost every disease in the world” and how it reversed some woman’s cancer within a couple days. These views were either overtly or tacitly endorsed by the other speakers.

    I don’t think it makes sense to outlaw marijuana, but if its advocates want to mainstream it, one suggestion would be to try and stop making claims that make you sound like a moron to any rational person without a cult-like devotion to omnipotent powers of pot.


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