CAN WE (party) OBAMA? What next for Clubland America...

Words by: Gregorio
Posted: 5/12/08 16:23
"There is nothing that can stand in the way of the power of millions of people calling for change". Barack Obama. Jan 2008.

And change is what has happened, with the highest voter turnout since the 60s and importantly, record levels of young people voting in the 2008 elections. The world hailed a truly inspirational victory.  

But what will be the impact for this young demographic when it comes to clubbing, terrorised somewhat over the course of the last generation by a prevalent neo con agenda from Washington and mayors like Rudy Giuliani in New York City. The latter seemed to personally relish attacking the club scene, most notably as part of his 'Quality of Life' campaign regularly invoking the archaic 1926 Cabaret Act, which banned groups of 3 or more people dancing in bars, cafes or clubs that didn't hold that licence. The agenda of course wasn't the dancing; it was the portrayal of a zero tolerance attitude towards criminal activity, with the link nearly always being to drugs. And therein lies the problem. Politicians and authorities don't have policies that relate to dance music culture; instead they'll speak about drug use, drug laws, etcetera, et bloody cetera.  

So if the impact on clubbing stateside relates to drug policy, where does that leave us with Obama? Overall the answer is that there is a greater chance of a more liberal and uncontrolled clubscene, but there are some major qualifications to be made to such a statement.  

It has to be understood that Obama, however much he is a beacon to many around the world, still very much represents a politics closer to conservatism than anything else, especially through my European eyes. The remnants of the Cold War make quasi-left wing politics in the US too scary. Obama even had his pledged repeal of the notorious Bush tax cut policies called Marxist, even though they simply return the status quo to the George Bush Sr. era, hardly straight out of 'Das Kapital'. The point is that Obama is unlikely to be quite as liberal and open-minded as some people presume he will be; it would be tantamount to political suicide. 

Obama has previously taken drugs (cocaine and marijuana) and admitted to it, reflecting in his autobiography 'Dreams from my Father' (1996): "Junkie. Pothead. That's where I'd been headed: the final, fatal role of the young would-be black man." Clearly regretting his actions, his early experiments with drugs point, at least, to a character that can understand sub-cultural movements, putting him light years away from predecessors in the White House. Clubbing, however, finds itself so far down the political agenda that any attitude favourable towards the scene is unlikely to equate to meaningful policy or action. We're taking about a nation at war and in the gloom of a tumultuous economic crisis here, the fate of some clubbers is understandably, at best, peripheral. Moreover, as previously explained, much of the real damage - club raids, licences revoked or not renewed and people put out of business - was down to local or even personal agendas, like in the case of Giuliani. 

The final sticking point is the Reducing Americans' Vulnerability to Ecstasy Act (2004), better known as the RAVE Act (see there's that link between drugs and clubbing again!). This bill "prohibits opening, managing or controlling any place for the purpose of manufacturing, distributing, or using any controlled substance." 

Reasonable enough, until you look at the "Findings" or guidance attached to the bill, which picked out "chill rooms, neon glow sticks and sale of bottled water for large fees" as evidence for the places the Bill was seeking to regulate. The logic being that people in clubs take drugs, so let's impose draconian laws upon all involved, in the name of drugs, and close them down if need be - a red herring cop-out from the real battle to control the Mexican border and the crystal meth labs in the Midwest. The Bill didn't even make it to the Senate after being introduced in 2002 and then failed to pass in early 2003 before it was backdoored onto a child abduction bill, without debate or a single vote being cast.

What's all this got to do with Obama? Well, the sponsor of the RAVE Act was the new Vice President-elect, Joe Biden. Oh dear. The RAVE act echoes elements of the Patriot Act in its ability to really stretch Amendment 1 and 4 of the Bill of Rights to breaking point. On 27th June 2008, to go back to New York City, 7 clubs in Manhattan and Brooklyn were raided and forced to shut by city cops. The same old arguments of 'drug sale, consumption and activity' along with the clichéd ambiguity of 'endangered health and safety' may have been the explanations of the city cops, but they have the RAVE act as their back up. So ultimately, whilst most promoters, club owners and clubbers are most concerned about local level constraints, there is much to be said about the impact of messages coming out of Washington...


Roberto Capuano
Politics Of Dancing
Ralph Lawson