“You gotta practice crossing those legs, man!” yells Eddie Falcon, 27, an ex-senior airman for the US Air Force who now lives with a crew of activists in a loft on Mission and 16th Street. His friend, Robin Long, 25, who was recently released from a military prison outside of San Diego after a year-long sentence for deserting the Army in a time of war, is giggling and pulling his miniskirt down over his hairy thighs, trying to figure out how to pose in a chair without being too obscene.
Falcon laughs as Long pushes his hair behind his ears and purses his lips in an exaggerated mock kiss. “Man,” Falcon says. “This is gonna be crazy. I don’t think this many veterans have ever gotten together and hung out in dresses.”
Falcon and Long are both members of The San Francisco chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), a national organization started by a group of Iraq War veterans in July 2004 to give a voice to active duty service people and veterans against the war. In four days they’ll both be lip-syncing and dancing alongside ten other veterans at Dance Mission Theater in a fundraiser for Dialogues Against Militarism, another anti-war organization that’s sending a delegation to Israel to meet with young war resisters on November first.
The drag show is based in pure hard-nosed activism–Falcon and Long are neither gay nor particularly inclined to dance and sing– but part of a group of war veterans who travel the world, speaking in front of students, protesters and government officials.
“Our chapter is special,” said IVAW’s San Francisco chapter president, Stephen Funk, 27, who made international headlines in 2003 when he came out both as a gay man and as the first conscientious objector to the war in Iraq. “We’re visionaries. I mean, you won’t see any of the other chapters doing drag shows anytime soon; they’re more traditional. But believe me, it’ll happen eventually.”
The show, he said, is good for gathering supporters tired of the traditional protest gambits of marches, posters and speakers.
Hosted by “His Noble Negress, Malcolm McDrake” and featuring performances by award-winning drag queens such as Raya Light and Suppositori Spelling, the fundraiser, Make Drag Not War, represents the adoption of a new, unorthodox style of activism for the veterans. It’s partying-with-a-purpose and IVAW is just one of a growing number of Mission District non-profits trying to advocate in new ways. To many, partying and activism aren’t mutually exclusive.
“The Mission is a great ecosystem for this type of thing,” said Brent Schulkin, founder of Carrot Mob, an organization that uses consumer power to woo businesses into changing their evil ways. “You’ve got your general activists, your technology people, and of course all the people who are down go out and party. It’s just a great place for thinking different.”
Started in 2007 by Schulkin, a former Mission resident who practiced and eventually got bored with traditional activism, Carrot Mob is “a method of activism that leverages consumer power to make the most socially-responsible business practices also the most profitable choices.”
Using social networking, he invited a large group of friends to meet at the market to buy their beer, cigarettes and snacks for the night, thus guaranteeing a sudden influx of money for the store. In exchange, he asked the owners of K&D to invest some of the extra cash into energy saving renovations. It worked. Friends invited friends and by the end of the evening, people were drunkenly dancing in the aisles and K&D had enough extra money for an energy efficient lighting system.
Since then, Carrot Mob has expanded using its website as a hub for new branches popping up across the globe. Most recently, the organization hosted another “anti-boycott” on September 10th of this year at Epicenter Café in the SoMa. The result? With the extra money from five hour’s worth of Carrot Mob spending (10 times the usual), the café was able to implement a new 8% price discount for people who bring their own mugs/cups, install color coded trash/recycle bins, and switch from wooden stir sticks to a clean/dirty spoon system. Not bad for a day’s work.
Schulkin is hoping to turn Carrot Mob into a forceful worldwide movement, organized through a system of online collectives. “Imagine going to Nike or Reebok and being like ‘look, it’s Christmas. I got five million people ready to buy your shoe instead of your competitor’s. What can you do for us?’”
It’s that kind of thinking that sets San Francisco’s activists apart from the herd.
Other eccentric organizations with San Francisco roots include Rebar, the art collective behind PARK(ing) Day, a worldwide annual event where activists transform metered parking spots into temporary parks for relaxing, dancing and drinking and Swap SF, a sporadically occurring — the next event is set for early December said the organizers — clothing swap/warehouse party with a residency at Cell Space that donates clothes to various shelters in the Bay Area. There’s also The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, The Bicycle Coalition–which began advocating for cyclist’s rights in 1971 before disbanding in the early 1980’s and then reforming in 199 –and so on. Of course, these organizations represent only the most recent wave of San Francisco bred non-conformist activism.
San Francisco has played host to dozens of creative activist movements throughout the years–there were the beats in North Beach, The Diggers in The Haight, gay rights organizations in The Castro, etc–and the legacy carries on today thanks to forward-thinking activists like Schulkin, Falcon, and Funk, the main organizer behind Make Drag Not War.
As an ex-marine, a former inmate (he served six months for an “unauthorized absence”), a career activist, and an occasional porn performer, Funk, who’s been the president of his chapter since its inception in 2005, is accustomed to thinking different. He encourages other members to do the same.
“Demonstrations and marches certainly have their place,” said Funk. “But a lot of times its like preaching to the choir. At an event like Make Drag Not War, you’re gonna have people who come just to party and leave feeling inspired to get out and do something. Isn’t that the point?”
Make Drag Not War happens Saturday, October 31st, at 7:30pm. Special guest appearance by Cindy Sheehan dressed as George Bush. Also featuring SF Boylesque. $15-$20. Dance Mission Theatre, 3316 24th St. 415.826.4441