From punk’s inception to this day, similar voices are stuck in an echo chamber expressing the somehow radical thought that there is a need for spaces in the music scene to adapt brave space practices and be less toxic. In light of white supremacist infiltration of the music scene – and the world, it seems – there has never been a better time than now.
In an op-ed piece for The Guardian titled If punk is the ultimate anti-establishment scene, why is it still run by all these white men?, Alyssa Kai, a trans woman and musician, wrote the following about punk:
“Certain punk men built their scene on images of violence against the established order and, while the genre hasn’t yet torn down the state, it has enacted that state’s violence on the lower class, non-white, disabled and non-men folks in the scene. No matter how many dialogues we stage on anti-oppression, safer spaces, radical inclusivity and mutual aid, men in punk can still stand in front of a crowd and scream about almost anything they want or feel – just so long as they avoid a given list of anti-oppressive no-no words. Their power has put on a more pleasant face, but some men remain a fundamentally violent presence that I must witness if I want to be a part of the beauty of the scene.”
Kai wrote these words in 2014. It has been shared over 33,000 times.
There is a common misconception about the practice of safe spaces that shrinks the phrase into coddling, and not what was intended – the freedom from physical and verbal harm and abuse. While safety is illusory, the reduction of safe spaces to comfortability has led to its erosion.
As individuals living in a white supremacist cis-heteropatriarchy, the awareness of our differences – whether they be culturally, the languages they speak, our physical abilities, or our expressions of gender and attraction, to name a few – places us in precarious and often unsafe conditions. The dominant group creates an alienating environment to those who fall short of its idyllic fantasy land.
The idea of a brave space has offered an alternative frame to the conversation. Brave spaces are transformative, and provide a framework that is rooted in challenging oppression and privilege. It is also a system in which collectives and organizations have been operating through all across the United States.
Based in Chicago, the Feminist Action Support Network (FASN), makes it their mission to address sexual and gendered violence in Chicago’s music, DIY, art, and literary scenes. FASN has also created a resource guide on offering accountability for abuse and sexual assault that is free and available to the public.
London’s Good Night Out (GNO) campaign is renown for their service delivery and support around best practice policies and procedures to help tackle harassment and assault in bars, clubs and pubs around the world.
As of last year, Transgress Fest, a transgender punk and hardcore music festival, has been operating out of Santa Ana in southern California.
More locally, the Bronx Underground (BXUG), a now-defunct collective from the borough, had to close the curtain on their 14-year program for local teenagers back in 2015. Its three founding members Dave Rose, Anita Colby, and Adam Fachler provided opportunities for young, independent musicians, while holding space for an “all ages” crowd in an alcohol-free venue.
No Flowers for White Powers is a continuation of the best parts of their predecessors, because their organizers make it a point to use the concept of brave spaces in every collaboration or interaction they have.
No Flowers, for short, is a non-hierarchical collective of punks, New York natives, and QTPOC (queer, trans, people of color) artists and organizers who activate their prowess in the form of music festivals and pop-up art shows. This open community actively combats toxic masculinity, homophobia, transphobia, and racism using public facing events as their vessel. Within these spaces, they find and maintain space for women, femmes, queer, non-binary or trans* people of color. No Flowers navigates the underground alt-music scene effortlessly.
Adrian, one of No Flowers’ founding members, shares what, to him, was a call to action. “I was sick of being the outcast in the so-called scene. I was sick of being ignored by the same punks that go to the same shows all because I’m not white enough, because ultimately I can put on the same punk costume as everyone else and still be invisible. I was sick of seeing people of color going out their way to be noticed by these established white artists that gentrify their neighborhoods only to ignore them, or give them crumbs, if any. I was sick of it all just as much as the other punks of color around me and wanted to do something about it.”
No Flowers was established earlier this year in response to a violent attack by 211 Crew/211 Bootboys against two anti-fascist organizers at Clockwork Bar earlier this year. No Flowers began to seek friends and allies to go to the last physical remnants of the city’s counterculture and create an environment of safety and self-defense by literally taking up space, especially against emerging white supremacist presence in bars and music venues across the five boroughs.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there are 47 hate groups in New York. Of those 47 factions, about 20 are localized in New York City.
After the ‘Unite the Right’ white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia that killed 32 year-old Heather Heyer over the summer, Nazi iconography has been spotted in Greenpoint, which lead to an anti-Nazi protest at McGolrick Park.
Identity Evropa has shared their leaflets at Mercy College and Columbia University, and have successfully executed anti-immigration rallies in Times Square. They were responsible for the disruption, and untimely end of Shia LeBeauf’s anti-Trump interactive exhibition at the Museum of the Moving Image in February.
With all that in mind, creating spaces free of harm or exclusivity in a political climate rooted in state sanctioned and interpersonal racist violence is so desperately needed.
The milieu of white punk spaces turns some folks away, whether because of it’s frat bro tendencies, or rampant physical and sexual assault. Jin, one of the organizers of No Flowers, stopped going to shows of their own volition because of a lack of belonging. “I think that punk movements reflect ideals of resistance, overcoming adversity, and community building – a narrative that I feel rings true and echoes within the QTPOC community.” Jin works within several venues in Bushwick and has singlehandedly witnessed the drastic shift in Brooklyn’s alt-culture.
This cultural shift comes under the guise of gentrification and displacement, pop-up kitchy cafes and restaurants, and a reallocation of spaces for industry giants. It is responsible for empowering folks like Gavin McInnes, former co-founder of Vice, and his white supremacist cronies the Proud Boys. And who can forget last year’s fiasco at Black Bear Bar in Brooklyn coming under fire for booking Oi! Fest, a neo-Nazi music festival.
Genevieve, who worked with BXUG for most of their tenure, now finds herself in a similar place with the No Flowers team. “I definitely felt that it’s (No Flowers) been lacking for a long time. There is truly something magical about working together for and being bonded over music and allowing people to have this space to exist without getting shoved to the side.”
For Jay, who frequents spaces in the alt-music scene, No Flowers’ policy of inclusivity is one of the main sources of allurement for them. “I’ve been around many collectives in which I’ve felt that people of various marginalized identities didn’t have a space. No Flowers seemed to have space for all of us and we all seem have conclusive goals and passions. I think there is a big misconception that punk is inherently ‘white’ but that’s the furthest from the history of punk culture. It’s always been about revolting against oppressive systems & oppressive social standards, whether through music, uniformed clothing representing synchronicity, or expression through dance & physical release. QTPOC are punk as fuck, whether you mosh or not.”
No Flowers was able to execute their first music festival in the summer with support from friends with BUFU during their month-long programming titled “US.” For the entire month of July, BUFU and over 100 artists and collectives from the five boroughs focused on events, skill sharing opportunities, and strategizing on how to build through organizing, healing, nightlife, and art. Featured performers included Dog Breath (Brooklyn, NY), War of Icaza (Oakland, CA), and Maduros (comprised of founding members of No Flowers, based in NYC) all performed to a packed crowd for their inaugural two-day festival at Secret Project Robot in Bushwick.
“Post election-Trump America has left us divided and targeted more than before, it seems,” laments Rodney, who joined No Flowers without much of a concept of what the punk scene looked like. “I expected white guys in beat up Docs and leather jackets, maybe a mohawk or two. I like punk music, but considering my expectations, I never went to any show. No Flowers opens these doors in the same way that Afropunk did in the beginning – providing safety in numbers and an outlet for kinship, support, opportunity, and family.”
On Halloween weekend, No Flowers for White Powers Volume 2 was held at The Glove in Bushwick and featured Library, a band comprised of non-binary and trans artists that have become Brooklyn’s underground punk staple, drag performances by Chola Spears and a DJ set by the the newly formed Molotov Sisters collective. The raucous crowd was all-ages and partied until close to dawn.
Abib Ascencio, one of the participating artists at No Flowers’ pop-up, believes that No Flowers is a “different type” of collective. “What attracted me to work with them was the fact that this is a group run by POCs who look out for one another. That’s hard to come by when working with other creatives.”
Punk was founded by people of color, by femmes, by queer folks, by marginalized folks that needed an outlet to rage through music, through community building. On discussing sustainability, Adrian mentions hopes for the sustainability and expansion of No Flowers for White Powers. He sees it turning into a movement that is broad and accessible to all. “No Flowers is a collective that utilizes its resources for the benefit of all marginalized peoples as best we can, which means we collaborate and showcase QTPOC artists, musicians, speakers. We have a lot to express and a lot to offer without compromising our standards and needs.”
Written and photographed by Shaira Chaer
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This 168-page issue showcases original photography and exclusive interviews with creators whose fame is rooted in controversy, radicality, and rebellion. Features include Mykki Blanco, Nadya Tolokno, Andres Serrano, Gavin Rayna Russom, Chitra Ganesh, Amazon Ashley, Pandemonia, and more.