Carnaval Versus the Klingons

Do San Francisco and the Bay Area have a role to play in dragging this country and the world at large back from the edge of the chasm? This isn’t an entirely absurd question, for — if you think about it — San Francisco has often been a cultural source of new ideas and movements that are incubated here and then spread across the country and beyond.

The beat generation, the ’60s counter-culture, the gay movement, the punk scene, the rave underground, and the explosion (and implosion) were all San Francisco progeny. Why would this be?

For much of the 19th and 20th century, the settlement of our country occurred in an East to West movement. San Francisco was the Western-most city of the Gold Rush era — a boom town of dreamers and schemers. During our Barbary Coast days, (named after the pirate ports of Morocco and North Africa), San Francisco was synonymous with loose women, drunken sailors, and a live and let live attitude.

If cities or regions could be said to have genes, it seems like there’s something in the local DNA that maintains a certain wildness of attitude and the energy to act on it.

Which brings us to our present juncture when, from our Left Coast vantage-point, the power centers on the East Coast have been hijacked by a bunch of Klingons and their grinning front man.

Strategies cooked up in think-tanks have been put in place that call for an American Empire that brooks no rivals and reserves the right to run roughshod over any other country who dares to give us a funny look.

We’ve been promised a war on terror that could go on for decades. And since such a “war” can never be declared truly ended, this is tantamount to ushering in a permanent National Security State where the Constitution is shredded and the Bill of Rights becomes a mere nostalgic memory.

Yet, S.F. and the Bay Area are living proof that people of many different cultures, races, and ethnic traditions can live together in relative peace and harmony. Our very existence as a vital urban area gives the lie to those who would have us relate to others by threats of war and war itself.

Granted, the American Founding Fathers — many of them Freemasons — had to resort to a revolutionary war in order to give birth to this, the world’s first democracy. Sometimes push comes to shove. But that was a struggle sparked from the grassroots, kindled by the Masons’ belief in brotherhood and free association, and enflamed by the oppressiveness of a mad King named George. Resistance to injustice from the bottom up is always preferable to declarations of war from the top down. War should be a tactic of last resort, not a cynical device to force submission.

Terrorism is a technique of individuals, groups, and governments to wield power through instilling terror in the populace at large. It only succeeds when we allow fear to dominate our lives and decisions.

Peace and true security come not from playing “my weapon is bigger than yours,” but from embracing the world’s differences and tearing down walls — not erecting them. If it’s heroism we crave, better we look into our own souls and tackle the angers and resentments that too often get projected onto others. That way our Hero’s Journey can be grounded in the true hero’s task: recognizing what is really threatening and solving that, not getting caught in a Hall of Mirrors where we’re spooked by our own reflection.

Carnaval in San Francisco is a vibrant and sassy celebration of the life force that percolates here, courtesy of our mix of peoples and cultures.

The theme of the 2003 Carnaval is “A Mass Affirmation of Peace.” Maybe this can provide the inspiration for the Bay Area’s next great contribution to making things better, not worse. Instead of fostering just one subculture of alternatives at a time, perhaps it is time to spread the word that we can let a thousand subcultures bloom, united in our determination to reject the climate of fear and to win back our country from the armchair warriors and their remote-control bombs.

For beneath all our differences and varied traditions, we are all just humans, no more, no less. The antidote to the dehumanization of war and terror is the rehumanization of waging peace.


— Tomas Paine

Tomas Paine is a long-time resident of the Mission, who has worked as a writer, illustrator, and cartoonist since the '60s.