shootin' blanks, 1877

Someone yesterday brought up on the message board the long-defunct Project 1877, the physical embodiment of Revolution Summer 2003 in Pittsburgh. I've come to regard that space and that summer as the time when a lot of my idealism withered and gave way to somewhat bitter realism. I actually became overly cranky about all things related to activism and organizing around the time it all ended, and only recently have I begun to recover and feel a little more positive about things (though there'll never be another winter of 2002/03 for me).

The ultimate undoing of 1877 was of course a huge plan (community center, show space, resource center, host to organizations, messy-ass free store) without the resources to sustain it. There was a lot of theoretical planning but not enough human power and momentum to keep the place afloat. On a more abstract plane, it felt like all the energy we gathered during the year or so leading up to it losing its direction and careening all about the scene like a drunk driver. There was plenty of downright bad stuff happening that summer, like the resistance gods were smiting our spirit for having gotten so far so fast the previous fall and winter. The winter was our 1968, but 1877 was our Altamont.

It bugs me the way so many people remember 1877 as "a pretty great venue." It's a misconception that keeps coming back and kicking my ass. There were LOTS of good things about 1877, yes. But it was meant to be, and was, a lot more than a venue, and its development into something that was primarily being used as a venue and not nurtured as a community space was a very big part of what eventually was its undoing. I wished at the time people would've taken more stake in it than just going to shows there (though admittedly the structure really wasn't well established for doing so), and in retrospect I wish people would understand what happened.

Another part of its undoing, in my opinion, was its very opennness -- obviously an important facet of its existence, but also the reason the energy being put into it wasn't able to be harnessed. Keeping the doors open all day so that kids from the neighborhood can come in is fine; letting said kids run roughshod over the place and make other people feel uncomfortable or annoyed to be there is not. Hosting events of all sorts wherein the people in charge care about the space and are interested in the community (geographical and ideological) is good; letting shady rave promoters come in and take over for a night, exploit the place and the people there, potentially attract police attention, make some money and leave is not.

(As an aside, one of my most surreal memories of the place, and possibly ever, is of watching the Anti-Flag IMC benefit show there while the rave promoter and his shady crew of kids came in to set up for the late night's activities. The space wasn't double booked per se, but kind of one-and-a-half booked. The result was Anti-Flag playing whatever their songs are, plus weird big pink stuffed things and shit hanging from the walls, and ravers trying to teach punk girls how to do the invisible globe thing.)

In retrospect, there are simple things to take away from the experience: dream big but start small, don't rely too heavily on already-taxed individuals for a great deal of volunteer work, have someone clean out the food piles regularly when you're constantly getting food that's coming from dumpsters anyway or else things will start to smell pretty rank. There are plenty of other ways to chalk it up in the end -- bad timing, bad vibes -- but more than anything it was a big learning experience for a lot of people. A lot of the same issues that came up there have come up in other collective organizations I've been a part of or have been close to. I've been planning for a while to put together a zine of people's collective organizing experiences in Pittsburgh -- Toni B and I came perilously close to actually doing it last fall but then things got crazy. Perhaps I'll get back to work on that.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Toni B and I came perilously close to actually doing it last fall, but then things got crazy.

I accidentally skipped the sentence before that and was wondering what that possibly had to do wih Project 1877...

For real though, what was your degree of involvement in the space? And where was it located (I didn't want to ask this on the board and show my ignorance)?


12:38 AM  
Blogger andybot said...

DOING THE ZINE. Doing the zine. Jeez Louise.

Re: 1877 -- IMC had an office space there, so I was involved in that respect. I was involved in some of the early planning, and spent some time there as a liaison for the IMC to the space. I didn't do any booking or staffing or anything. It was at the corner of Penn and Mathilda, a couple blocks down from MoFo, across from the Red Star Iron Works.

10:41 AM  

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