Last H.O.P.E. (Day 3): Ranting and raving with Jello Biafra

lhope-skull.jpgOn Sunday I attended the final day of Last H.O.P.E. It was pretty much the coolest conference I’ve ever attended. The Hackerspace Village was awesome. Welcoming you as you ascended the escalator was the multi-coloured LED dildo sculpture; I turned away instinctively, burning with that ingrained Catholic shame, and only near the end of the con could I pause directly in front of it to study it properly. Then there were all manner of hacker groups set up, like NYCResistor, The Hacktory, Telephreaks and a new Canadian group, HackToronto. There were various workshop spaces set up, so if you wanted to practice circuit bending, learn how to pick a lock (I did), make a free long distance call on an old public pay phone, or work on a collaborative Lego project, well, you could. There were also vendors: Free Software Foundation was there, Make magazine, and a bunch of other nerdy entrepreneurs hocking their wares. It totally kicked it.

lh-jello.jpgThe conference closed with a 2-hour fiery diatribe by Jello Biafra, former frontman for the Dead Kennedys. This was the first time I’d ever seen the guy. In 2001 he was supposedly performing somewhere in Quebec City as part of the massive demo against the FTAA. We bumped in to some friends from Windsor and spent the whole day roaming the city looking for Jello. We saw a lot of things, including a drum circle of thousands, the fence coming down and the usual police abuse of dissenting citizens, but we did not see Jello. Anyhoo. He’s an engaging and, not surprisingly entertaining, speaker. It’s more performance art than public speaking, and he was dressed for the occasion: an American flag shirt, star belt buckle and the pope hat JPII made iconic. He spent about an hour giving a sort of State of the Nation address, recounting in a rapid fire rant all that is wrong with the world – specifically the U.S. – today. It was/is brutal. It’s the little things that get you; you know, shit like the utterly corrupt American political system; corporate inspired and produced environmental suicide, the distraction and outright deceit of the corporate McNews, the senseless war on drugs, the assault against a woman’s right to control her own body… and on and on. It was a bloody endless inventory of all the ills plaguing and preventing a progressive, humane America.

Jello spent the rest of his talk debunking the Obama myth and unloading a pile of steaming invective on bloggers. Seems a disgruntled ex-girlfriend and ex-bandmate conducted, separately, a viral smear campaign against him. This part of his talk, which was otherwise pretty right on, seemed more like a personal rant disguised as media critique.

“What do we now? I know, start a blog: Vent vent vent vent vent. Send. Mission accomplished. I don’t want to put down the idea of blogs….the blog explosion has happened in part because more and more people completely distrust the joke of corporate McNews: ‘Presstitutes.’”

Jello advocated the practice and teaching of media literacy, invoking blogs as a new sort of media bogeyman. “Bloggers are not journalists,” he almost sneered. “The blogosphere is limited to an echo chamber where all agree with all.”

But Jello ended on an upbeat (and raucous) note. “When you look at big picture, it’s pretty damn depressing but doesn’t stop people from winning small local battles.” He urged political engagement, and shamed the audience when, after asking a series of “Are you sick of…” questions, he asked how many were registered voters. Only about half.

“This is a contest, a war, and it’s not red against blue or left against right… It’s between the top and the bottom… A class war is being waged in this country against almost everybody who lives in this country.”

Part of the task of affecting change, he said, lies in convincing people that “life doesn’t have to be this way. We don’t have to be so stupid. We don’t have to be so obedient. We need to illuminate what’s possible. Illuminating good ideas is what put them on track to slowly becoming reality.”

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