Putting the party in politics
A renewed sense of participatory democracy seems to be running loose in our land.
Some trace this resurgence to the halted Florida recount in the 2000 presidential election, while others credit the global antiwar movement that coalesced before the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The Internet is surely playing a role as well (the Howard Dean phenomenon, MoveOn.org's populist surge).
Yet without question, one of this groundswell's prime cheerleaders is Jim Hightower, the populist firebrand, writer and progenitor of the Rolling Thunder Down Home Democracy Tour, which rolled through Asheville last May.
The local group that came together to launch that high-profile event has continued to work in WNC, most recently hosting "Halloween With Hightower" last October. And they're now at it again: Rolling Thunder/Asheville will present "Our Voices Heard: A Celebration to Reclaim Democracy" at the Unitarian Universalist Church (1 Edwin Place; 254-6001) on Friday, April 2, beginning at 6:30 p.m.
Speakers will include Patsy Keever, a member of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners and a Congressional candidate for the 11th District; Wally Bowen, founder of the Mountain Area Information Network (MAIN); Hope Taylor-Guevarra, executive director of Clean Water for North Carolina; Ned Doyle, organizer of the Southeast Energy Expo; Lance Kurland, a board member with Pure Food Partners; and David Lynch, Barry Summers and Xpress' own Cecil Bothwell, all local community activists.
Entertainment will be provided by Mad Tea Party, Lynn and Chris Rosser, Sylvia Huning, Aaron Gunn, Jen Hamel, Jann Nance, Daniel Barber and Carrie Gerstmann.
Jubilee! Community founder Howard Hanger -- repeatedly voted Asheville's favorite spiritual leader in Xpress annual best-of polls -- will emcee. Admission is free.
-- Xpress staff
The politics of poetry
Poet, playwright and activist Sonia Sanchez is no stranger to the perils of challenging the status quo.
One day back in the 1960s, she arrived home to find some FBI agents waiting for her. At the time, Sanchez was running the first black-studies program at San Francisco State University, and earlier that day she'd noticed a stranger in her class who was intently taking notes on her lecture.
The FBI agents had her landlord in tow and were telling him to evict her because she was teaching "all that radical stuff," Sanchez recalled in a 1999 interview with UU World magazine.
"I asked them, 'What do you mean?' and they said, with utter disdain, 'W.E.B. Du Bois and Paul Robeson and Marcus Garvey and Pablo Neruda.' "
With a laugh, Sanchez told her interviewer, "I thought all that was literature, and America thought it was seditious!"
And if the FBI thought they could intimidate her into silence, they were dead wrong. No one, it seems, has ever stopped Sanchez from speaking out -- not those G-men, not the Nation of Islam (outraged when she taught Muslim women about birth control), not the editors of a journal called Negro World (who refused to publish her review of Soul on Ice, a memoir by Black Panther leader Eldridge Cleaver, whom she declared was "not a revolutionary; he's a hustler.")
Sanchez's fearlessness in speaking her truth is evident in her work as a writer, teacher and activist. The author of more than a dozen books of poetry, a half-dozen plays and several children's books, Sanchez is also an international lecturer on African-American culture and literature, women's liberation, peace and racial justice who has spoken at more than 500 colleges and in the United States universities and beyond.
After graduating from New York City's Hunter College, Sanchez was swept up in the revolutionary social movements of the 1960s, becoming a powerful advocate for black-studies programs. She began a long teaching career that included stints at several universities before finding her way to Temple University in Philadelphia, where she teaches today. Along the way, she's collected many awards and honors.
On Thursday, April 1, Sanchez comes to Western Carolina University to give a presentation that she calls "part sermon, confession, invocation and recitation." The program will begin at 7:30 p.m. in the Coulter Building's recital hall. Tickets are $5 for the general public, $3 for senior citizens and students from other schools, and free for WCU students with valid identification.
For more information, call 227-7206.
-- Lisa Watters
The party bus
I don't know what I was expecting, but it wasn't this: a sleek, 29-foot-long black-and-silver bus with flashing lights and bass-driven funk escaping out the open doors. It was as if some rock band's tour bus had inexplicably gotten lost on my little street and was now stopping right outside my door to get directions.
But no. It was 360 Entertainment Transit owner Steve Wicker, right on time, coming by to take me for a ride on his party bus. I stepped on board through one of the bus's two doors to find wrap-around black-leatherlike seating, a 29-inch video screen, club lighting (complete with plasma balls and a disco orb), a custom stereo -- and a refreshment well where chaperone/concierge Lewis Meyer, Wicker's right-hand man, was already icing down the case of beer I'd brought along.
But what good's a party bus without a party? So we headed out to pick up other Mountain Xpress staffers -- all in the name of solid research, of course. We wound up with 17 passengers (the bus has room for 20), including six over the age of 45, several under the age of 4 (who especially appreciated the laser lights and dry-ice machine), four parents of young children, and one mostly teetotaling, early-to-bed bookworm (um, that would be me). Not your usual demographic for this sort of outing, maybe, but hey, we know how to make the most of a cool party vehicle when we see one.
During the ride, Wicker told me about the initial research he and Meyer had done into the party-bus biz, looking into existing services in neighboring cities like Charlotte and Atlanta and others as far away as Tampa Bay, Fla., and Phoenix. "I wanted to see what they did and what I liked about their designs and incorporate them into mine," he explains.
Wicker's bus, a 1969 GMC, originally belonged to the city of Asheville. After a lengthy tenure with the city's transit authority, it became a city school bus in the mid-'80s. "It's really cool because I like classic cars, and this is a classic bus -- it has some really neat lines to it," notes Wicker.
And despite having been completely gutted and retrofitted in its latest incarnation, the bus still sports its original transit number on the front: T131. "A lot of people have gotten on the bus and they're like, 'Yeah, I used to ride this back in school,' " says Wicker, adding, "It has a lot of history in Asheville."
Up and running since New Year's, the party bus has been making promotional runs between bars and has hosted a few birthday parties. Wicker envisions it as mostly a charter bus that people can hire for private parties such as ski excursions, kids' birthdays, concert runs to Charlotte, gambling trips to Cherokee, organized bar crawls, hot-tub junkets to Hot Springs, and perhaps even trips to out-of-state destinations such as Greenville, S.C., and Nashville, Tenn. "Basically, wherever the customer wants to go," he says.
Wicker has worked closely with the state Department of Motor Vehicles to make sure everything is copacetic; he's also made sure the APD is aware of his new business.
So far, he reports, "It's worked really well. Nothing's gotten out of hand; people have been really respectful."
Wicker expects the same with the increase in business he's liable to see during the upcoming prom season. "This is a really safe and convenient way to get around Asheville. ... And the parents can trust the service, because there's not going to be any alcohol on board," he notes.
The "limo-bus," as Wicker likes to call it, is available for private rental at a promotional rate of about $100 an hour ($85 plus driver gratuity). The fee covers the fully insured bus rental as well as the services of the driver and the chaperone/concierge. Passengers bring their own wine and beer (Wicker doesn't have a license to sell the stuff), though soft drinks, bottled water, snacks and cigarettes can be bought on board. Customers are also invited to bring their own CDs and DVDs to augment Wicker's collection.
And when 20 people share the cost, notes Wicker, "For $5 an hour, you can have the most happening thing going on. When you pull up in front of a club with this thing ... everybody turns around and looks to see who the hell is getting off."
The Mountain Xpress crew definitely had a happening time, and the next day (in strictly scientific fashion, of course), I asked different people about what they liked best. Here's what they said: "the unexpected comfort," "felt more like a lounge than a bus," "the cool red light patterns," "the mirrored ball," "the tinted windows -- it made it feel very exclusive," "the '80s soundtrack," "when they stepped on board, everyone immediately got into the party spirit," "the low-key yet competent vibe of the driver and his crew," and "the subwoofers ... so you can feel the music in your booty!"
-- Lisa Watters