Punks & Politicos
When punk rockers criticized hippies, it was in the context of criticizing their failures and complacency. The agendas of the late-sixties/early seventies radical counterculture -- anti-war, anti-racism, women’s rights, gay rights -- were shared by punk’s political wing. In fact, several individuals in the Vancouver punk scene were inspired by the hippie counterculture. They grew up admiring the wild-haired radicals on television and in the press, but they were a bit too young to join the counterculture in its full-flower. Of course, there were also hippies who criticized the failures of the counterculture.
In Vancouver, as elsewhere, these individuals tended to identify with The Yippies, New York-based radicals who came to prominence in the aftermath of the Chicago Democratic Convention riots. In punk rock, some local Yippie-types recognized a kindred spirit. On Canada Day, 1 July 1978, members of Vancouver’s punk subculture co-mingled with members of the radical hippie counterculture for a free punk concert in Stanley Park. The event was billed as Anarchy In Canada, organized by the Groucho-Marxist Party, and featured DOA, the Subhumans, and Private School. The Canada Day concert was preceded by a Mayday Anarchist Carnival in Stanley Park, which gathered together Vancouver’s Yippies and assorted fellow-travelers (and which was itself an echo of the be-in’s and free concerts that dotted Stanley Park in the late-sixties/early seventies). Among the organizers of both events were Brent Taylor, Ken Lester, and David Spaner. They and their friends helped stage many political-themed punk concerts over the next few years, including Rock Against Racism shows, the Rock Against Radiation concert in Vanier Park, Rock Against Prisons, and Rock Against Reagan.
Brent Taylor, Ken Lester, and David Spaner were all veterans of the “underground press” and various activist organizations, and were early converts to punk. Taylor published the punk fanzine Vacant Lot. Lester was writing for Public Enemy (he was a former Georgia Straight staffer), and eventually became the manager of DOA. David Spaner, who had been organizing punk concerts as Ed Sullivan Presents, became the Subhumans’ manager. Both managers organized North American tours by drawing upon their connections in the continent-wide counterculture network.
In January 1983, an event happened that shook the Vancouver punk scene, especially its political wing. On a highway near Squamish BC, a SWAT team disguised as a roadwork crew stormed a van containing a cache of weapons, and five Vancouver residents -- Ann Hansen, Doug Stewart, former Subhumans bassist Gerry Hannah (aka Gerry Useless), his girlfriend Julie Belmas, and Brent Taylor. For the next few years, during their trial, the Vancouver Five were household names in Canada. They were charged with firebombing pornogrpahic video outlets (accused of selling violent porn), dynamiting a power station on Vancouver Island, blowing-up the Litton factory near Toronto which was manufacturing components for Cruise Missiles, and conspiracy to rob a Brinks armoured truck. Their arrests and trial gutted the political component of the Vancouver scene. Activists who had been familiar faces at punk shows seemed to disappear almost over night. Perhaps the arrests were too close for comfort, and they decided that laying low was the best course of action. Or maybe disagreements about the validity of the Five’s course of action caused rifts among activists. Whatever the cause, the sudden loss of experienced politicos hit the punk scene at an inopportune time -- at the point when punk rock audiences were being swelled by an influx of excitable, young white males from the suburbs.