When the Symptom Sits in the Supreme Court & Your Local Music Venue

I refrained from saying much about the Kavanaugh case while it was happening, not because I wasn’t paying attention, but because I was afraid that the entire hearing was a performative jest displayed by right-wing misogyny in the face of widespread trauma. I’m sad to find out that my skepticism was on point. To see history play out before my eyes, to see it come back and hit me as hard as the abuser it reminds me of, to relive a forced kiss and groping in an alleyway after a music gig like when I was twenty-three, renders a physiological response that is best understood by those who have lived it.

I spent the night of the Kavanaugh hearing throwing up into a toilet.  I hadn’t eaten anything strange that day, and I am overall in good health.  I was in fact throwing up stress from my day job as an advocate, throwing up #MeToo stories from friends and acquaintances-now-friends who have come to me recently for support (very glad that they have, btw), and throwing up survivor stories that have been circulating Portland’s indie music scene as more people come forward with the support from the #MeToo movement.  I threw up all night and by morning I was empty.

I’ve spent the last year heavily involved in Portland’s local indie music scene, while simultaneously investing as much of myself into my work as an advocate for survivors of trauma (of all kinds). My job is also heavily involved in the trenches of Medicaid and our dwindling social services. While living out this feedback loop of experiences (which I no longer separate because they’re both a part of me), I’ve also been working on this upcoming album as a response to our national political Zeitgeist because that is the only way I know how to understand the issues that I care about.  I’ve been reading Roxane Gay’s writing about trauma and Bell Hooks’ “Communion”, trying to understand how a healthy relationship (both in same-sex couples and hetero-couples) can exist in such a poignant moment of sexual and social uncertainty. I’ve watched Hannah Gadsby’s “Nanette” and Tig Notaro’s “Tig” and seen stories that I understand and feel finally being heard and praised. I’ve delved pretty deeply into listening to queer and POC songwriters from the US, UK & Australia. Meanwhile, playing shows throughout the US and the UK, I’ve talked with so many different people (musicians, venue owners, new friends, fans at shows, etc) about the #metoo movement and what emotional labor means.  The assuredness of strangers is heartening and gives me hope that people are thinking about these issues. But I don’t want to hear about being sure, I want to hear about the grey areas of how people grapple with this social and sexual uncertainty.

In the US, government politics are so tightly woven with our discussion of identity politics that the two go hand in hand. Nationally we’re going through an identity purge/refiguring as we see our civil rights disregarded and tossed aside right before our eyes based on race, gender and class. Meanwhile, the Symptoms of this purge sit in the White House without batting an eye. Kavanaugh, Trump, McConnell, Azar are indeed all symptoms of the greatest issue in America: an addiction to capital and power, which forcibly produces male fragility (thanks to archaic gender roles and expectations) and continues the erasure of other voices - a continuation of Othering as a mechanism of imperialist, Draconian rule.  We can date it back to the Greeks and call it a symptom of imperialism, but by just calling it a symptom excuses these men from any accountability. They know exactly what they’re doing. Like that Atlantic article that’s floating around says, “the cruelty is the point.” We need to address this head on for what it is: crime against our body politic, crime against our bodies. This is a national assault.

As we see each new Trump nominee appointed, as we see our civil rights being overturned right before our eyes, it’s hard to separate out politics from anything I do and say. It’s even harder for me to respond to people in the music scene and not understand what they say or do in an inherently political context. This isn’t something I feel the need to argue or explain, it’s just what is happening. There have been several venues shut down due to survivors bravely coming forward and naming the perpetrators who own these venues. Women are coming forward to name the names of men (producers, musicians, venue owners, bookers, band leaders, etc) with a lot of social capital in Portland’s music community who aren’t safe. I hear a lot about people (male friends of mine, mostly) who then claim allyship because they care and think about these things. But do you, really?

Roxane Gay has said this, and I have said this in my own way, but true care is not performative (i.e. seeking short-term gratification) but a long, slow haul towards supporting each other in what we need. It isn’t rocket science, yet it is still oddly overlooked in present day activist/music culture. I saw a lot of people speaking up on social media throughout the Kavanaugh case who I didn’t even know cared about issues of sexual violence and assault but felt the need to shout about it anyway. I saw/read/heard many opinions from my male friends about what they thought was going on and what needed to happen, but I never see any of them actually making moves to do something about it in real life.  Here’s the thing, allies: you do understand what’s going on, and you do know what needs to happen. So, do it.

Let’s keep talking about it, let’s keep posting about it, and I also want to see allies organize a group to storm Greg Walden’s house.  I want to see allies organize en mass a letter signed by you and all your friends directly addressing Alex Azar, Kavanaugh and every representative who voted to swear him in. The SARC Executive Director sent out an email earlier this week saying that the day of the Kavanaugh hearings, just one week ago, SARC saw a 166% increase in calls to their crisis line and a 400% increase in requests for referrals to case management. I want to see allies organize a fundraiser for SARC Oregon or Call to Safety. I want to see them sign up for a survivor advocacy class (which are usually FREE by the way) and spend a year listening to stories of survivors and realize that, as much as allies want to be one of the good guys, they have more to learn and so much more to do. I want to see more men who book and promote shows that have one dude to every three women/womxn/nonbinary folk.  In fact, book and promote a show of aIl women and don’t even play! I want to see allies invest time and self into doing something about this, because there’s lots to be done.

I understand that not everyone can physically do these things, which is why internet activism is great. A lot of organizing can be done from bedrooms and laptops - get creative! The ultimate goal is: eventually online organizing needs to actually affect the physical lives of survivors.

I don’t like to speak on behalf of large groups of people because everyone is different and has her own opinion, but I think it’s safe to say that we (survivors of all genders (men can be survivors, too), women, womxn, women of all colors/identities/class/background/abilities) are tired. I haven’t lost faith in allyship, but we need help from allies in a real way. We’re holding the door open for you to join us, all you have to do is walk through and begin.

Olivia Awbrey