Culture Clash

'86–'95: From Evangelicals to Trannies, the First Gulf War to Tupac Shakur

Organized by the Lady Bunny, also mistress of ceremonies, Wigstock '88 mixed poetry, cabaret, folk/pop/acid/disco/polka/punk/funk/rap-rock, protest, recitative, Greek tragedy, and the fine art of kazoos. Many of these acts appear regularly at the Pyramid Cocktail Lounge, home to both hardcore bands and "Whispers," a weekly Sunday night gay cabaret. Pyramid helped fund Wigstock, and its fusion of gay and punk sensibilities pervaded the festivities.

The Tompkins Square Riots

Message in a Bottle: Homesteaders Rock the Lower East Side
By RJ Smith

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August 23, 1988

A little dirty, Harris Pankin wears a T-shirt with three faces looking at you: Jesus, Manson, and Pankin. "Choose your God," it says beneath. His hair—Pankin's, I mean—is curly and long enough to fall, in ringlets twirling around his purple-tinted glasses. The singer for Letch Patrol, Pankin wants to be your Jesus. Sometimes he sleeps in Tompkins Square Park.

The joke around the park last week was that for a few dollars you could buy the same shirt, spattered with Pankin's blood. He was beaten, he says, three different times by the police during the riot, and was dumped bleeding in front of Stromboli Pizza. "Personally, I will admit I threw three bottles. I'm quite proud of how I threw them." In his case, Pankin tossed bottles—a 40 ounce XXX Ballantine Ale and two smaller missiles, aimed at the street—to distract mounted police who were bashing people . . .

The violence August 6 (and July 30) came from the police. They arrived at the park with their badges covered, not expecting a fight. They expected to beautify the park, to sweep the square of illegitimate members of the community: homeless, the potential homeless, rockers. What's amazing is how some of the aggression was returned, by neighbors who came prepared. "They were totally fearless, and they were getting the shit beat out of them," one witness said. Some threw bottles, M-80s, burned garbage in the street. No one expected this much rebellion. Maybe that's why it happened.

For at least a week, this is a movement. There's no real order, no card file of names to mobilize, just a group suddenly poised.
. . . read more

Beat the devil: The faithful rally to receive marching orders.
photo: James Hamilton

With God on Their Side: Operation Rescue Hits L.A.

By Kathy Dobie

April 11, 1989

"You will find many other women in the movement who have suffered abortions," the reverend says when I call him at his church and tell him I want to join the antiabortion movement. He asks what I've done before. "Nothing," I say, and then tell him I had an abortion 10 years ago that still haunts me. The abortion part is true. "Praise Jesus. He opened your eyes before it was too late," the reverend says. He recommends that I join Operation Rescue, promising that a rescue will give me "God's overall view of the opposition from His heart." He invites me to Bible study that night, giving me step-by-step directions to his church and making me repeat them back to him. Firmly in hand.

Something healthy and animal in me resists going to the Wednesday night Bible study. But I attempt to attend one of the morning prayer services, which are held every weekday at 6 a.m., the Spirit prying open even the bedroom doors and sticking its head into the dark fluttering business of sleep. On the walk over I try to screw myself into my character. I feel guilty only about lying; I'm afraid of being found out, and depressed about being among prayerful people again. I recede deep inside myself—the closest approximation I can muster of religious piety. It will do. At the storefront, I see three men sitting outside. Two sit on plastic chairs, heads bowed into their laps. Another kneels on the floor, face down in a chair. They look like men who live alone in small rooms. Words come back to me—"an expense of spirit in a waste of shame." I cannot go in.

I speak with two OR men in Orange County, the nucleus of OR's organizing activity. Orange is wealthy, Republican, and just southwest of L.A., the killing capital of the West. Enemies camped side by side. The women are sweetly cheerful and revved up. "I'm learning so much! There's one woman coming here that's been doing this for 16 years!" one says. The women tell me that I will be picked up by an OR activist to attend the rally. In the days before leaving I buy pastel-colored clothes and delicate jewelry and am filled with anxiety.

photo: James Hamilton

End the War on Drugs

Hell No, I Won't Go
By Ellen Willis

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September 19, 1989

At last the government has achieved something it hasn't managed since the height of '50s anti-Communist hysteria— enlisted public sentiment in a popular war. The president's invocation of an America united in a holy war against drugs is no piece of empty rhetoric; the bounds of mainstream debate on this issue are implicit in the response of the Democratic so-called opposition, which attacked Bush's program as not tough or expensive enough. (As Senator Biden—fresh from his defense of the flag; the guy is really on a roll—put it, "What we need is another D-Day, not another Vietnam.") To be sure, there is controversy over the drug warriors' methods. Civil libertarians object to drug testing and dubious police practices; many commentators express doubts about the wisdom of going after millions of casual drug users; and some hardy souls still argue that drugs should be decriminalized and redefined as a medical and social problem. But where are the voices questioning the basic assumptions of the drug war: that drugs are our most urgent national problem; that a drug-free society is a valid social goal; that drug use is by definition abuse? If there's a war on, are drugs the real enemy? Or is mobilizing the nation's energies on behalf of a war against drugs far more dangerous than the drugs themselves?

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