Photo by James BunoanOn April 9, while most of us were transfixed by Saddam Hussein statues toppling halfway around the globe, Fullerton activist Gary Blitz was considering a graver threat to national security: dancing.
That was the day Congress passed Senator Joe Biden's Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act. If signed by the president, the act will hold rave promoters responsible for any drug use, possession or sale at their events.
"Rave is a very easy target," says Blitz, noting that the federal government might just as reasonably hold the NFL responsible for football fans "who go to sports bars on Super Bowl Sunday, drink too many beers and drive home drunk."
But that's logic, and this is the world George W. Bush created. The Biden bill comes at a time when law enforcement can ask for the world—and get it. "Scaring parents, you can get millions of dollars to build a club-drug task force, [produce] anti-drug commercials, and [get] more funding for police and prosecutors," Blitz says.
Blitz, who grew up Catholic, Republican and geek in Orange County, is on the front lines of the battle to defend the rave nation. He's working with the Electronic Music Defense and Education Fund—which goes by the very hip-hop acronym EM:DEF and is backed by such heavy hitters as the ACLU and billionaire philanthropist George Soros—to organize club kids, ravers and hip-hoppers into a righteous army of the night to fight the Biden law and protect their rights of free speech and assembly at clubs.
Blitz's trajectory is classically suburban. At 17, he was heckling anti-nuclear demonstrators by day and raging at night. He produced a cable-access punk rock show called Media Blitz, hosting TSOL, DI and even an early incarnation of the Cult. Graduating from UC Irvine's computer-science program in 1986, he landed a consulting job in the defense industry while promoting Goth and rave clubs at night. When the Cold War fizzled, Blitz took his hobby full-time, DJing such raves as Apocalypse and Knott Over. In the mid-1990s, he joined with DJ Beej to create the cheesiest disco club either could imagine at the former Club 5902 in Huntington Beach. What started as a joke—and featured among its go-go dancers Marilyn Manson's current squeeze, Dita von Teese—Disco 2000 regularly drew 1,000 people to its Thursday-night events.
Now, thanks to drug paranoia so powerful it's almost hallucinogenic, Blitz's passion for dance is under assault, and Blitz is looking for allies. It's a difficult search. "[Nightclubbers] are concerned about these issues," says Blitz. "But when you ask, 'By the way, are you registered to vote?' they always say no."
Then there's the question of sheer political ignorance. "I recently talked to one of the major promoters in the nation and used the word 'lobbyist.' Not only did he not understand it, but he also said he hadn't heard the word before."
To combat ignorance and apathy, Blitz is preparing a big-time summer campaign. He's compiling a database of clubs across the nation where ACLU volunteers will post fliers warning nightclubbers that their civil rights are under attack and show them how to organize against the new federal law.
Blitz hopes such activism will direct nightclubbers to EM:DEF's website (www.emdef.org), where they can get more information on fighting police harassment and file incident reports when their parties are unjustly busted. They'll also get updates on anti-rave-law rallies and names of senators and congressional representatives they can write to in hopes of repealing the new law.
Like many ravers and clubbers, Blitz, now 38, made the leap from promoter and fan to activist following the high-profile case of Disco Donnie Estopinal, the New Orleans rave promoter. In 2000, federal prosecutors successfully indicted Estopinal under a Reagan-era anti-crack law that made property owners liable for criminal behavior on their premises—the forerunner of Biden's recent legislation. Though the feds conceded that Estopinal and his associates followed every applicable safety law, the anti-crack law made Estopinal responsible for any drug use at his events. The prosecutors went so far as to allege that Estopinal encouraged drug use through the sale of bottled water (because Ecstasy dehydrates) and glow sticks (which the feds said were designed to appeal to users of Ecstasy). Given Estopinal's ambitious promotion schedule, the feds tacked on charges that he was also guilty of running an ongoing criminal enterprise.
While in New Orleans in 2000, Blitz attended such Disco Donnie events as ZooLu and ZooLuv—among the eight parties federal investigators watched. Blitz considers it noteworthy that he was offered crack cocaine everywhere but Estopinal's raves, the only place in New Orleans where he was ever searched for drugs or weapons.
"Donnie was just running a business," Blitz says. "He was targeted for the music he was playing with a law used for going after hardcore, dangerous drug dealers."
Blitz and Estopinal discovered EM:DEF at about the same time. Then a project of Santa Monica activist Will Patterson, EM:DEF made Estopinal a deal: fight the federal prosecution with the support of the ACLU, and EM:DEF would raise additional funds for the legal battle. Estopinal's lawyers had already bargained the penalty down to a year in a minimum-security prison; Estopinal was wary of a legal fight.
"It was take the year or take the chance of trying to explain rave in front of all these middle-class old people who are the jury," Estopinal says. "If I can't explain it to my lawyers, how am I gonna explain it to the conservative jury?"
But the case never went to trial. Backed by the ACLU and emboldened by EM:DEF's offer to raise cash (Patterson eventually collected about $30,000), Estopinal fought back. The feds dropped all charges.
Blitz found EM:DEF on the Internet during the Estopinal case, joined as a volunteer and became the organization's national coordinator in January 2002. In September 2002, EM:DEF helped mobilize demonstrations against the first federal attempt to criminalize raves; that bill died in Congress. Two months later, EM:DEF successfully defended more than 400 Racine, Wisconsin, ravers facing charges they were patrons of a disorderly house.
Then came Biden's revamped anti-rave bill and Blitz's resolution to continue the good fight. He has no experience running a national civil-rights group and just two volunteers—Patterson, a drug and alcohol counselor, and Susan Mainzer, an LA public-relations executive specializing in electronic music. But he seems confident.
"Since I volunteered to keep the thing going, I felt my goal wasn't necessarily to see how many people I can involve or how much money I could get," Blitz says. "In fact, I didn't focus at all on fund-raising. It was just getting this information out to people. That's my personal take on it: keeping rave alive."
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