Sober Spaces in the Punk and Anarchist Scenes- from cuddle puddles and hot pants #2

1 Feb

Sober Spaces in the Punk and Anarchist scenes

Within the punk and anarchist scenes there are many activities that are of interest to a broad spectrum of individuals- including people who drink/smoke/use drugs, people who never have, and people who are recovering addicts to certain substances. The problem is that many of these activities end up being organized in such a way that they are only accessible to people who drink, smoke, or do drugs. This means that there are significant sections of the populations who are either put in situations that are uncomfortable and lead to mental and physical health problems, even relapse, or are not able to attend at all. It splits our community. This is even a bad situation for people who do drink/smoke/do drugs. Because if they are not exposed to people who don’t do these things they may not realize that they don’t always have to do them to have a good time.

At C.L.I.T. (Combating Latent Inequality Together) Fest in RVA in the Summer of 2007, there was a really important discussion about substance use and abuse within the punk scene. There was a combination of users, ex users, straight edgers, sub free folks etc. Basically, the full spectrum was there. Some of the ideas that were brought up were about how hard it is to be a recovering addict of any sort within the punk scene. Many people do not take other’s addictions seriously, and spend more time goading them to return to substance abuse than they do supporting them. A lot of people spoke about how hard it was to not use when there was pressure to “be fun again” etc. An issue of venues was brought up. Many punk shows happen at bars and clubs with bars. Even house shows typically include alcohol. A lot of punks will decide not to go to a show if they know they cannot drink there. There is a lot of work to be done within the punk scene to be supportive of people with drug addictions and who are in recovery. The creation of sober spaces would be a good start. If there were shows where there was not alcohol more people would be come. Not to mention that those shows would not have to be 21 + and so younger people could come too.

I’m doing a self- education thing right now of learning more about civil rights, because I know jack shit about that time period. I finally read the autobiography of Malcolm X. And I found that while some parts really frustrated or confused me, other parts made perfect sense. For instance, there were some things that seemed relevant to the straight edge idea- because Malcolm X dealt with substance abuse issues and then stopped using after joining the Nation of Islam.

Here are some Quotes from Malcolm X that particularly struck me:

One day, I remember, a dirty glass of water was on a counter and Mr. Muhammad put a clean glass of water beside it. ‘You want to know how to spread my teachings?’ he said, and he pointed to the glasses of water. ‘Don’t condemn if you see a person has a dirty glass of water,’ he said, ‘just show them the clean glass of water that you have. When they inspect it, you won’t have to say that yours is better.’” ( The Autobiography of Malcolm X 209)

I know I have been guilty of being on the condemning side more often that I ought to have. And while probably none of use will be able to always set a good example and have that be enough (because the temptation to rag on others is too strong), it is a really good idea to keep in mind. Being all righteous does not make people want to be like you, it makes them more likely to rebel just to spite you. Straight Edge people in general could benefit from more leading by example. Be a fun, active, kind person, and others might start asking you about quitting and moving on. If they can see that being edge does not make you an asshole they might be more tempted to join in. And this certainly applies to more things than sobriety. Anarchists and organizers in general can gain a lot of positive energy out of creating new realities and better solutions- not just criticizing the dominant structures.

Another quote:

I knew that our strict moral code and discipline was what repelled them most. I fired at this point, at the reason for our code. ‘The white man wants black men to stay immoral, unclean and ignorant. As long as we stay in these conditions we will keep on begging him and he will control us. We never can win freedom and justice and equality until we are doing something for ourselves!’” (The Autobiography of Malcolm X 225). This for me is another strong reason why sobriety and anarchism go so well together. The idea that inebriation is a form of oppression has been brought up in other contexts too, but I still don’t think it is ever brought up enough or taken seriously enough. I don’t know the best way to approach this position- how do you talk to someone about the way that their inebriation contributes to their oppression. It can easily come out sounding so conspiracy theory-ish that people reject it offhand. For many radical anarchist type people, the idea of discipline is not well received. But self serving discipline is a good thing. Being able to control oneself to one’s benefit is great. Being able to wake up when you want to, exercise, eat well, stay healthy, and not over imbibe are all positive ways of being. The easiest point to strike with anarchists and radicals is how as consumers of certain products they are supporting corporations and practices that they otherwise do not support. People who won’t drink soda but buy cigarettes- or drink beer but refuse to own a car. No one is perfect, and no one should be the hypocrisy cop, because they would first have to arrest themselves, but there are some very blatant ways that people’s substance use and abuse hurts them and is not consistent with everything else they stand for.


Drug abuse hurts our communities, hurts ourselves, and makes us weaker. We need to develop healthier ways of escape. Maybe even more permanent escape…like a better community, neighborhood, town, world?

Another group that I think confronts substance abuse in important ways are the Zapatistas in Chiapas Mexico. They have long had a policy, which is reflected in individual communities of a prohibition on drugs and alcohol. There are multiple reasons for this- the harm caused in their communities from alcohol (ie drunk and irresponsible men not taking care of their families, domestic abuse etc.). Also, if there are illegal drugs being grown, consumed, or trafficked through their regions that is just the excuse the government needs to severely crack down on the Zapatistas. Being intoxicated on any level greatly reduces the alertness of community members who may need to be ready for an attack at any time. I think that the Zapatistas set a good example along these lines of why a revolutionary or even just revolting group ought to not engage in the consumption of drugs or alcohol. There is too much to lose.

-Towards a Less Fucked Up World Zine- This is a zine that was one of the first I encountered about sobriety and I liked large portions of it but struggle with the last section that was about a safe space.

The idea of safe spaces in general does not sit well with me- which I know stems from my personal privileges and ability to be assertive and aggressive. But even if one is pro safe spaces and sober only spaces, the reality of it is that sober people want to be able to hang out with people who sometimes use as well. Typically the sober-only population is pretty small. It would be cool if there could be some compromises by everyone so they could all hang out comfortably sometimes.

One thing that I really appreciate is when people go out of their way to check with me about whether or not it is ok for them to drink beer around me, smoke pot or a cigarette in a certain space or whatever. My friend Johno does that when I’m hanging out with him in New Orleans and I really appreciate it. Asking people if it is ok for you to drink or smoke or blow some coke or eat meat or take your shirt off or kiss them etc. are all ways that we can make others more comfortable and show our respect for them. Because using consent to build healthier relationships has more to it than just sexual consent.


6 Responses to “Sober Spaces in the Punk and Anarchist Scenes- from cuddle puddles and hot pants #2”

  1. The Red Son February 7, 2008 at 7:17 pm #

    Interesting perspective and you raise some concerns that I can relate to. I have had some sober periods of my life and definitely would have appreciate some sub-free events that were actually fun to go to. As for teh EZLN, I haven’t been into the communities but in San Cristobal de las Casas, this rule is definitely not followed. I was never sure how much it was just a disclaimer to cover their asses. If I were to enter the communities I would be sure to follow their rules, simply out of respect. Beside, when you’re chilling with the Zapatistas, the spirit of revolution intoxicates you.

  2. A Roc February 8, 2008 at 3:34 pm #

    I am really interested in who led that discussion group at that conference. I am a recently sober individual who stumbled upon the same zine and found it TREMENDOUSLY useful and illuminating. There is a radical conference coming up in my town of Sarasota, FL: I was reallllly interested in having someone (a more knowledgable than myself someone) come and do a presentation on the topic. Maybe it would be more effective do a discussion. I don’t feel comfortable enough to do it myself buuuuut, hey, maybe I can?
    Any feedback about your experience with it, people I can talk to, etc. would be great!

  3. anarchymo February 8, 2008 at 6:16 pm #

    The Red Son- San Cristobal de las Casas is not an exclusively EZLN place, plus I think part of their point is that when you are in a EZLN community there are certain risk levels that make sobreity and legality in terms of petty stuff like drugs important to maintain. In my experience in the Zapatista communities, they do follow these rules strictly and it is not a disclaimer in the communities, but an agreement followed out of respect.

  4. anarchymo February 8, 2008 at 6:25 pm #

    A Roc- I don’t have the contact info of the people who lead the workshop. If you maybe search for the C.L.I.T. 2007 website it might list who the facilitators were. I will say, that I would guess that some people coming to a workshop like this might have points that they already want to have discussed, and then others will respond about how they feel about those topics. Breaking up into small groups can be good for this type of discussion. Not demanding that people admit their stance on substances, but also making room for people to share stories of addiction is important. Maybe if you know people who would be willing to talk about their experiences trying to be sober in punk/ anarchist spaces to start off. I would also recommend having relevant literature available, including stuff about AA, NA, and any other recovery/ addiction counseling/needle exchange/ rehab resources in your town.
    Even if you don’t have too much experience with the topic if you are a good facilitator I bet you could lead a workshop on this on your own. let me know if you want more ideas etc. I know other zines about it too, if you want.

  5. click December 6, 2008 at 2:30 pm #

    glad to have read this today. am currently trying to get over one of my addictions (cigarettes) and am finding that doing that within the radical scene is much more frustrating than i ever could have imagined. which has been really weird and surprising because one of the things i’ve always loved about this community is that it is open-minded and supportive. anyway, here here for bringing up the subject because i think it’s one we as a community could probably use a little more discussion about.

  6. click December 6, 2008 at 2:36 pm #

    glad to have read this today. am currently trying to get over one of my addictions (cigarettes) and am finding that doing that within the radical scene is much more frustrating than i ever could have imagined. which has been really weird and surprising because one of the things i’ve always loved about this community is that it is so open-minded and supportive, and though there has been some really awesome support, i’m usually left feeling like the only answer is to stop going to all the events and places that i love and that feels like shit. anyway, here here for bringing up the subject, the more communication about it, the better. cheers.

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