A SCAM FOR THE BIG IDEA is a Pittsburgh anarcho-punk compilation album benefiting The Big Idea Cooperative Bookstore & Cafe.
You can buy or stream the album on bandcamp. It’s also available for streaming on spotify, youtube, and a bunch of other sites. All proceeds go directly to The Big Idea.
Over the last 18 years, The Big Idea has become a second home for many Pittsburgh anarchists. The space’s rent got jacked up recently, and it’s likely to get raised again in the coming months. With that in mind, some Filler kids figured it was time we pay The Big Idea back for all the coffee, books, zines, pins, patches and vegan goodies that we’ve nabbed over the years.
We found some cheap recording equipment and decided to hit up our friends to see if anyone wanted to record a track or two for a benefit compilation album. Now that the album’s done, we’re offering free recording to anarchist bands/musicians living near the three rivers, so hit us up for free recording!
The accompanying zine will be released in the coming weeks, be sure to check it out! It’s gonna have art/lyrics for every track, as well as some perspectives on anarchy in the East End.
An excerpt from one of the introductions to the compilation zine.
Bloomfield remained relatively affordable throughout the last decade of gentrification in the East End, and it’s made us complacent. This supposed hub of radicalism has failed to meaningfully contribute to the ongoing struggles against cultural erasure and displacement in other East End neighborhoods. And now, as developers rapidly encircle Pittsburgh’s so-called “Little Italy,” the rent hikes are accelerating again. How many friends have already been priced out?
Anarchists cannot continue to passively rely on Bloomfield’s proximity to whiteness as a shield. The fact that fucking “Little Italy” is experiencing another wave of development is proof that the capitalist class has already outmaneuvered community resistance elsewhere. “We” have failed to materially disrupt revitalization, even now as everyone seems to be scoffing at Peduto’s “Most Livable City” propaganda.
Gentrification functions differently in every neighborhood. Here in the East End, the rent hikes threaten a budding inter-generational anarchist community(ies). We don’t all hang out in the same spaces or roll with the same crew, and this benefit album is not an attempt to cohere around a single space (sorry infoshop vanguardists) — but if we lose our infoshop, it’s safe to say we lose our neighborhood.
The Big Idea is a project that spans nearly two decades of Pittsburgh anarchy. In other words, it’s one of the few remaining places capable of retaining collective memory.
If it weren’t for the things I’ve read, the people I’ve met, and the boxes of old junk I’ve dug through at the Big Idea, I would have never heard of the Pittsburgh Organizing Group, East End Mutual Aid, the Greater Pittsburgh Area Anarchist Collective, Indymedia, Anti-Racist Action, Occupy Pittsburgh, The Yinsurrectionary Times, Landslide Community Farm, Fight Back Pittsburgh… on and on.
If it weren’t for The Big Idea, I would not know the names of our dead. I never met Mike Vesch, but The Yinsurrectionary Times is what inspired me and some other Filler kids to expand our fanzine into a local counterinfo website; I never met Daniel Montano, but I’ve read his writings about art and resistance nearly every day since I moved here in 2012—MF1 is still all-city, even after years of buffing and gentrification.
As the years went by and I began to lose some of my own friends and comrades, The Big Idea also became a place to remember them, to share stories about the life they breathed into Pittsburgh anarchy.
Stephie was a Big Idea collective member. If you drop by Big Idea and look at the wall above the comfy chair in the corner, you’ll see a black and red flag with an angry cat in the center. That’s Badcastki, that’s Stephie. Her art was subversive; her ideas as dangerous as she was kind. She organized at the intersections of anarchism and mental health during a time when few people in the scene seemed to recognize just how militant you have to be to fight on that front. Badcatski chose to commit suicide on May 5, 2016 at the age of 34. Knowing Stephie, her decision was patient, deliberate, conscious, intentional, necessary. Like all anarchists who have died in the social war, her act can also be remembered as martyrdom. Sometimes during quiet shifts at Big Idea I sit in the comfy chair in the corner, drink coffee from her favorite mug, and understand that she is here. That realization reminds me to take a minute to be honest with myself, to confront my feelings. She reminds me to take care of myself and my friends as if the fate of the movement depends on it—and she’s right, it does.
In acting and learning to act, we find that we can share stories, skills, lessons, memories, tactics, and ideas. We should never be content to just survive, to go through life as a passive spectator in the spaces you inhabit. There’s a difference between life and survival. We are at war. Every decision we make—from where we live and who we live with to what we do for fun and how we do it—might be better understood strategically, and taken with intent.
I often hear stories about the glory days of Pittsburgh anarcho-punk scene and wonder what the fuck happened. Of course, there are still some really good bands and cool spaces, but the reality of the situation is that anarchists and punx don’t really organize much together. It seems that when someone burns out from one scene, they turn to the other.
But if we think our scene(s) are lacking something, that shouldn’t mean we just drop out of them. Instead we might ask ourselves how we could contribute materially, artistically, and sincerely to all the shit that we can’t help but care about.
Why do so many of us find ourselves living in the East End? What would a new anarcho-punk movement look/feel like in Pittsburgh? What are the first steps? Here’s a collection of preliminary answers/thoughts/desires/filler from a few of the kids featured on this comp:
I want to know that my broke ass won’t be turned away by a $10 cover charge at the door, so I guess I could reach out to the promoter and put up a few flyers around town earlier that week.
I want to hit the bagel dumpster before my shift at the Big Idea so the staffers during the rest of that week can eat for free.
I want to know who the harm reduction distro kids are so I can cop more narcan without having to go out of my way.
I want to know what my friends’ basic boundaries are with strangers so I can understand when I’m expected to step up to a jag, when I just let the homie handle it, and when I should just chill out and stop being such a PC cop.
I want to write hyphy reviews on my friends’ bandcamp releases.
I want to learn to make tapes and record music and help my talented friends finally put that album out.
I want to be the designated driver and get my friends to the gig because I know the homies will buy me some merch from the touring band as a thank you.
I want to know that my skill set can help my friends save money (or at least keep it in the solidarity economy) because they won’t be overpaying some capitalist to repair their bike/car/phone/drywall.
I want to film my friends’ protests, shows, music videos, skateboarding—fucking whatever, honestly—cos I know I’m pretty good at making that shit look wayyy harder than it felt at the time, and I like to hype my friends up.
I want to know that my friends won’t judge me when I tell them that I’m in active addiction, again.
I want to start writing again because all my friends love sharing their zines with each other, and because I know they will actually read what I give them and invite me out to talk more about it over a coffee or a few beers.
I want to start going to shows again because I realized most of the people I run into are passionate about the music, the spaces, the ideas, the projects, the food…
I want to know every word to my friend’s band’s songs, and when that drop comes I want to rush to the front of the pit and shout I THINK THERE’S SOMETHING IN THE WATER!
I want to stop buying dumb shit online because I’d rather buy the clothing and furniture and jewelry and patches and art that my friends make, not just because I can save money though! I know that those earrings they made will turn heads.
I want to start tabling again because sometimes there’s honestly nothing hotter than a crew of six dekt queer punx rolling up to an event, nodding to the person running the door, and walking in for free with 3 boxes of zines, a foldout table, a bag of narcan, and a stack of flyers for next week’s show.
I don’t want this shit to feel like a job or duty. I can’t do everything I would like to. And I especially don’t want to have to prove my worth just to feel like I’m allowed show up to an event. I don’t have to do jack shit if I’m not feeling up to it. And I don’t find myself wanting to do this shit for the woke internet posturing, or to climb some scene’s social ladder. Sometimes I just want to throw a beer can across the room, or tag some toy shit on a condo, or toss a U-Lock through a windshield. And I sure as hell don’t feel like justifying that to anyone.
I’m a punk because I’m a fucking nerd. I’ve only ever had like 3 or 4 close friends at a time. I’m constantly cycling through tides of depression, anger, and mania. Most of the time, I feel like I can’t really hang, and so I don’t really go out much, unless it’s to a show or something. Socializing is a lot easier for me if there’s something creative or fun or useful I can bring that might make it easier to talk and connect with people. The lyric sheets I that grew up on told me that punk’s not a fashion show— it’s a fucking way of life. I feel like that punk should mean something more than whatever bullshit it is I find myself doing these days.
Find each other, because the Something we’re waiting for is never going to happen unless we become Something. If each of us acts on our own ideas and desires, a shared perception of our situation is temporarily understood every time we act collectively—every time we create spaces, projects, and experiences together. Which is really just a roundabout way of saying, what you do or don’t do makes all the difference.
It’s time we see ourselves for what we are and have always been: a movement. We’re an international web of relationships, held together by a few DIY spaces, bars, art collectives, bands, distros, niche skillsets, and the mutual aid that arises from common needs and interests, from the experience of building something together: from living communism and spreading anarchy.
Punx and anarchists cannot face down these monied developers alone, but together we can face these faceless profiteers and build something resembling a community in the process. With all the struggles in our own personal lives, the raging fires across the planet and our neighborhoods can seem like someone else’s problem. It feels like we don’t have the strength, the time, or the resources to face these problems, but your own resilience, endurance, and passion can surpass even your most arrogant self-confidence. Now is the time to come together in solidarity. Keep moving, keep fighting.
punx is weapons // punx is small town
– Filler Distro
“East End, the fashionable residence quarter of Pittsburgh, lies basking in the afternoon sun. The broad avenue looks cool and inviting: the stately trees touch their shadows across the carriage road, gently nodding their heads in mutual approval. A steady procession of equipages fills the avenue, the richly caparisoned horses and uniformed flunkies lending color and life to the scene. A cavalcade is passing me. The laughter of the ladies sounds joyous and care-free.
Their happiness irritates me. I am thinking of Homestead. In mind I see the somber fence the fortifications and cannon; the piteous figure of the widow rises before me, the little children weeping, and again I hear the anguished cry of a broken heart, a shattered brain….”
– Alexander Berkman, Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist