Save the Rave at City Hall: Next Stop Sacramento?

save the rave at city hallIn my 12+ years in the scene – if I ever questioned how diverse we all really are, it was certainly very apparent tonight.

— Samantha Marie, on Facebook

It was a huge success for the electronic dance music community. With the diversity of attendance and the overwhelming support for Supervisor Scott Wiener’s resolution supporting electronic dance, it’s a harbinger of how we’ll work together in the battle over AB74.

— Save the Rave co-chair Matt Haze Kaftor

Over 400 people turned out on a rainy Tuesday night for the San Francisco Youth and Entertainment Commission’s special joint hearing. Several hundred of us were in the overflow room, watching on video until we were called to speak, and cheers erupted again and again as dozens of people spoke beautifully.  We heard from teens, students, teachers, parents, business owners, promoters, lawyers, harm reduction experts, an astrophysicist — and somebody from the San Francisco police department, who described it as the most professional hearing he had heard on the subject.   If you missed it, Trance Family SF has posted the video and mp3 audio.*  I’m so proud to be a member of this community.

Save the Rave had done a remarkably good job of organizing before the meeting: checking in and encouraging potential speakers, posting and emailing talking points, and suggestions from organizer Liam Shy including “when the time comes tomorrow for you to speak, speak from your heart!”

They accepted meAnd people most certainly did.   I talked with Omega after his moving description of himself as a veteran who felt like “a lost puppy” as he transitioned into civilian life until he found the SF electronic dance community, and he summed it up beautifully: “I am who I am because of the people I’ve met here.”   Here’s just a smattering of what others said:

  • “As a teenager, my parents were abusive.  I went to my first rave and found a new family.”
  • “I started going to raves seven months ago and this is the first winter in years that I wasn’t depressed.”
  • “My colleagues and I go because the infectious and positive spirit keeps us young.”
  • “As a teacher, I try to instill these values of positivity and respect in my students.”
  • “I go to all kinds of events in SF — the ballet, the symphony — and can honestly say I’ve met more interesting people of all ages at raves.”
  • “There’s no easy way to say this but when I was 16 I tried to kill myself.
  • “It’s been so important to me.  Don’t deny other immigrants the same opportunity.”
  • “Please, I beg you, don’t take this away from us.”

people applauding at save the raveAs well as emotions and personal experiences, we also heard about the economic value of electronic dance events, other unsuccessful experiments on clamping down on teens enjoying music (Boston in 1958, Seattle in 2005), and freedom of assembly. There was also a lot of discussion of the contrast between a repressive law-enforcement based attitude towards raves and the “harm reduction” philosophy that’s more common in Europe and Canada.

Many speakers went out of their way to empathize with people’s fears — and share their concerns about the importance of education and risks of unsafe conditions.  But events with good ventilation, free water, EMTs on site, well-trained security, and community members looking out for each other are remarkably safe.  And there aren’t a lot of other inexpensive, physical, fun opportunities for teens these days (or adults either).

It was so valuable for us to join together as a community, regardless of genre, socially as well as politically.  The hearing was an excuse for us to do something together in a world where people look for excuses to do things separately.

— Save the Rave organizer Liam Shy

Yeah, really.  When I first connected with Liam about Save the Rave a couple of months ago, he talked about helping people realize that by working together their voices could be heard, and that’s exactly what happened here.  In the process, the community’s bonds are deepening and we’re discovering new reasons to like, respect, and admire each other.

save the raveNow what?  In San Francisco, the combination of this hearing and Supervisor Wiener’s resolution offers a great opportunity to seize the initiative.  Presumably I’m not the only person who’s noticed that the combined rave/EDM/Burning Man community is a pretty significant voting block in SF; so it’ll be interesting to see what politicians have to say.  With so many great stories and larger-than-life personalities, there’s a good chance to start to attract broader media attention.  And with my civil liberties activism hat on, I hope that other campaigns are taking notes on how it should be done.

Statewide, the focus is still on Fiona Ma’s AB74, the “Anti-Raves act of 2011”.   There were folks at last night’s hearing from Napa, Medocino County, Santa Cruz, and Los Angeles.  For those who couldn’t be there in person, it was streamed live and the video and mp3 audio are already available.  The Facebook group makes it easy to collaborate online (and make new friends in the process), so the success of last night’s hearing is likely to catalyze organizing across California.

At one point, a speaker was criticizing AB74, and a commissioner asked “are you ready to go to Sacramento?”  The room erupted in cheers so loud that I couldn’t actually hear what the speaker said, but I’m pretty sure the answer was “yes”.   Sounds like a good idea to me.  Can’t wait for the afterparty!


* I’m at 1:59:30 in the video; here’s approximately what I said.

Images from the Save the Rave Facebook group