Portland Zine Symposium
Portland State University
DIY: Do it yourself. It's the most important philosophy of the 21st Century. To some, it might conjure shallow associations with crusty vegans, or scarlet-letter "anarchists," or ratty-tatty, pedal-pushing bike punks. But if you examine the idea of DIY more deeply, you'll see that it's an alternative mode of living. It's about self-empowerment and fierce individualism, but at the same time, it's about building real community. It's an alternative to the "get married and buy a house in the suburbs" capitalist utopia that's simply unacceptable for those of us who were weaned on Reagan, then thrown into this age of corporate lockdown. And, for the increasing percentage of young people barely skimming the poverty line, it's a way to survive.
"DIY" is a blanket term for making your own clothes, fixing your own bike, growing your own vegetables, etc., but the quintessence of DIY culture is zinemaking. Zines, in case you were wondering, are magazines made by individuals and printed 1. With money from said individuals' pockets or 2. In various other ways that are illegal, and therefore will not be illuminated here. (If you really want to know and you are not a law enforcement officer or the owner of Kinko's, you can call me and I'll tell you.)
This weekend's Portland Zine Symposium, organized by zinesters/ DIY kids Joe Biel, Nicole Georgis, Alex Merrill, Theresa Moltier, Gillian Beck, Lindsey Poirier, Timmy Budinger, Muffie White, Eleanor Whitney, and Alex Wrekk, is going to be a hallmark for Portland DIY. Though Portland has been something of a zine hotbed for many years (due to its easy standards of living and a wealth of community support), this is the first such event to happen in our city. (Other, similar events have taken place in Bowling Green, Ohio and San Francisco.) Zinesters will be attending from all over the U.S. to participate in zine-related workshops (such as alternate book structures, silk-screening, and activism through writing). Many of the Zine Symposium workshops, however, fall under the general umbrella of DIY, including bike repair, cheerleading, and DIY electrical wiring.
"I think a lot people who are into DIY start by just doing zines," says White. "Once you get into that, you realize that there's a whole other world of stuff that you can create. A lot of people I know who started out as zinesters now do craft [distributions], or they sew, or make their own records. Zines are a forum to start the idea."
Lately, zines and what they can do, or at least the idea of creating your own voice rather than simply waiting for someone to listen, have been getting a lot of publicity. In a recent article for The Nation, Bill Moyers wrote, "Senator McCain said on the Senate floor during the [1995 Telecommunications Act] debate, referring to the major media, 'You will not see this story on any television or hear it on any radio broadcast because it directly affects them.' And, in our interview, he added, 'The average American does not know what digital spectrum is. They just don't know. But here in Washington the assets that they own were being given away, and the coverage was minuscule.'" That's a reason to start a zine if I ever heard one. Punk Planet, considered a large-scale zine due to its healthy distribution and advertiser support, devoted its entire May/June 2001 issue to the idea of "Becoming the Media." It featured articles about operating DV cameras, making small-band radio stations, and programming HTML. Part of the impetus behind this is the fact that people want more control over their information; that the populace distrusts the media. That idea is not unfounded, nor is it the delusion of a group of paranoid reactionaries. The most stark illustration of the unreliability of mainstream media was during 1999's WTO protests: AOL/Time Warner-owned news station CNN was forced to change its "Everything's fine!" story after the website indymedia.org posted that peaceful protesters were being tear-gassed by the Seattle Police Department.
Another reason activism in zines is so prevalent, as Whitney explains it, is because "people who started doing zines when they were 13 in 1992 are growing up now. To make a generalization, you're not too involved in politics when you're 13, or even aware what's going on. But you just progress."
"There're more and more resources aside from zines in indie media," adds White. "I just emailed Ayleen, who does Portland Indymedia [www.portlandindymedia.org], about the conference, and she said, 'It's really great you're doing that--when I was a teenager in 1992, I did zines. Now I'm doing Indymedia, which is another kind of global network.'"
Merrill asserts, "Well, people are more inherently politicized these days; you can't underestimate the impact of globalization. Artists are going to be at the forefront of that, doing a lot more in the public consciousness, and it's going to come into the work of zinesters, too.
"A friend of mine wrote into [anti-advertising magazine] Adbusters and basically said, 'Adbusters is just liberal masturbation, and people should think for themselves," says Merrill. "I think zines are definitely a big part of political and social change, but in the grand scheme of things, you can't just do a zine or write an article and say, 'I'm done. That's my activism.'"
One aspect of the far-reaching activism the Zine Symposium will create is the fact that their workshops can take on another name: education. "I think our society puts value on who is allowed to teach you things, and who is allowed to give you information. These are the people who've spent or been given a lot of money and opportunities," says Whitney.
These zine kids are offering a street-level method of free education, in subjects that will be helpful to a person's basic existence. It's based in the same idea as Freedom Schools--that everyone has a right to an education, no matter what their economic or social background.
And, in a way, that idea is also the basis for DIY. If community is the act of communicating with and supporting one's peers and neighbors, then DIY is the act of self-educating so that you can be a better, more productive member of society. It keeps you from being cynical--a radical act in these times when rebellion has a bar code--and, most of all, it's self-empowering. As Molter says, "With zines, you can always get someone to listen to you. Even if you can only afford to make ten copies of your zine, then that's ten people who will listen to you."