Greedstock 99: Why We Rioted
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Why We Rioted
I don't mind stealing bread from the mouths of decadence.
-Eddie Vedder, Temple Of The Dog, Hunger Strike
I have just returned from Woodstock 99 and already have seen my face on CNN. I'm sure that within the next few weeks there will be ensuing media coverage of the events which I myself have witnessed. I have read the reports. I have watched the news coverage and I can see what is coming. There will be a slew of opinions deriding and accusing the concertgoers for this mayhem. We ruined Woodstock. It was supposed to be a festival of "peace love and music", and instead it turned into a festival of "fire, violence, and destruction". We destroyed the spirit of Woodstock. We are to blame. I have heard the reports. It was doubtless that the heavier musical acts playing this year were responsible for the mayhem which ensued. I have heard that opinion. It is because of the fact that Korn, Rage Against The Machine, and Limp Bizkit played instead of Joan Baez and Crosby Stills And Nash. Those damn kids with their moshing and violent antisocial music ruined Woodstock. It is a generation gone bad, a "sign of the times". Yes I have heard the reports and seen the footage of crazy kids ripping down sound towers and setting them on fire. But I was there when they ripped down the towers and set fire to the trucks. This is what I have to say.
The spirit of Woodstock was not destroyed yesterday. Much to the contrary, the spirit of the original Woodstock was reborn from its own ashes. The original Woodstock symbolized the high water mark of the counterculture. It was a statement of rebellion against the mainstream. The idea of peace love and music was a radical statement in the face of a corrupt political system, an unpopular war, and conservative society. The hippies of Woodstock stood in stark contrast to the horror of Vietnam. Their peace and love was the antithesis of war. That was their statement, and the ideal of rebellion upon which Woodstock was founded. The spirit of Woodstock was in standing up to corruption and making a political and social statement. Most people probably attended because it was a good concert and offered some excitement. But that became overshadowed in time by the larger political and social statement which became the myth of Woodstock, the spirit which was supposedly destroyed in the flames of 1999.
I attended Woodstock for much the same reasons as many of my counterparts in the 60s. Like them, I was also unaware that I would be caught up in an event of such importance. Unaware that I would be making any kind of a social statement, I went simply for the bands and a good time. Unlike them, I had to devote half a month's pay to purchase tickets. After arriving at Woodstock, we parked nearly two miles outside the gate and waited for one of the shuttle buses to take us to the campsite. After several hours it became apparant that no consideration was given to the fact that camping equipment weighs a lot and two miles is a long walk. The buses never arrived, and I like most people set up camp in the parking lot. I was lucky to have done this. The festival bragged of providing adequate drinking water and facilities for concertgoers. What I saw inside was appalling. The only drinking water available flowed freely from decrepit outdoor fountains located directly in front of the portable restrooms. The water overflowed and flooded everything in sight, including many camping areas. People were bathing and drinking from the same fountains. The sewage leaked out onto the fountain areas and created a virtual cesspool of mud and urine by the east stage and camping grounds. I had to walk through a pile of shit and mud to get fresh drinking water. Because of these problems, the water was periodically shut off to avoid more flooding. This only made matters worse. The only alternative to drinking this water was to pay a vender $4.00 and up ( I quoted one at $6.00) to purchase a small bottle of water which sells for less than a dollar retail. Due to the extreme heat hundreds of people passed out from heat exhaustion and dehydration. However the venders were incapable of consideration in lowering their 300% profit margin to accomidate those in need.
Water was the least expensive thing that you could buy at Woodstock. To survive a day with adequate nutrition would cost at least $50. To actually enjoy the day would cost far more. Hot dogs were sold for $4 apiece. Sausage on a bun cost $6. Lemonade and soda were each $4-5. To buy a burrito at woodstock, you had to wait an hour and a half in line for the two ATM machines on site. The burrito cost anywhere from $10-12, depending on the toppings. A pretzel cost $4 and only added to the thirst. The only fairly adequate meal you could buy was a cooked frozen pizza for $12 (less than $6 retail value and I'm sure they bought in bulk). It was corporate profiteering in its finest moment. The rules of Woodstock assured that no one could bring any perishable food onto the site. In other words, only snack food could be brought in. They were supposedly worried about spoilage. If they were worried about bad food creating a mess, then why were the trash barrels allowed to overflow turning Woostock into a sea of garbage and bad food? Anyone caught bringing perishable food or bottled/canned beverages into Woodstock would have their coolers emptied and all contents poured onto the ground. I saw it happen. It was supply and demand economics. Hundreds of thousands of dehydrated hungry concertgoers were forced to pay top dollar for inferior products because they had no choice. They gave their money to the venders or they went hungry and passed out from heat exhaustion. I was lucky to have an ATM card because I ran out of money on the second day. I knew that Woostock would be exploited, but nothing could have prepared me for the blatant greed exhibited here. I spent well over $150 keeping myself and one other person fed adequately for three days. Supply and demand economics doesn't even figure into the equation when one examines the situation in reality. When the vender trucks were looted at the end of Woodstock, thousands of bottles of water and soda were taken from them. The supply was obviously there the entire time. They were simply exploiting demand for as much profit as possible.
By the end of the third day, you could feel the tension in the air. People were at the end of their rope, out of money, hungry and tired. It took the smallest thing to set it off. After the Chili Peppers finished their set, there were several bonfires raging by the east stage. I was lost, confused and desperately searching for my girlfriend (receiving no help from security despite numerous requests). I saw the bonfires on the horizon and decided to check it out. When I got there it was total chaos. Vender tents were being pulled up and burned. People were dancing in the cesspool around rings of fire engulfing the remains of corporate profiteering. That's when they toppled the sound tower. It was pulled down and people started climbing on it and dismantling the remains. It looked like a scene from Lord Of The Flies. The security was nowhere to be found. They were probably too busy emptying coolers of concertgoers to help get people out of there. I looked for my girlfriend some more, again recieving no help, and then wandered back to see the chaos. When I arrived at the trucks, several people were smashing the windows out of a rig. I came around the left side of the row of trucks to see hundreds of bottles flying through the air. Someone offered me free water and I took it, dying of thirst and eternally grateful. I quickly became aware that everything was free when I came around to the other side of the trucks. People were inside handing out soda and water from the trucks to everyone. Thousands of bottles were hurtled through the air at the trucks and poured on the ground in protest of what we had survived. One kid walked around with a case of water saying, "I am Woodstock, 5 dollars a bottle, pay up." This drew applause and laughter from the crowd nearby. I saw several of the trucks go up in flames, draped by the remains of a destroyed vender tent. This ensued for about an hour until the riot police showed up. When they rolled in on their ATVs, it coincided with the first explosion from a vender truck. Most people, including myself thought they had opened fire on the crowd and started running. When I saw people hurtling bottles at the police, I knew that things had taken a turn for the worse. That is when I left through a hole in the wall and made the three mile trek back to my tent from the east stage. Looking back, all I could see was a cloud of black smoke and fire piercing the night sky. It burned for hours.
This was my first riot. I don't have much experience and I didn't really take an active part. What I did notice however that was unusual was the lack of violence. There scattered injuries, but most were accidental. It was a night of fire and destruction, but not of violence. The mood within the crowd was friendly comraderie. The intent was not to hurt other people. I felt perfectly safe within the heart of the chaos. When bottles were hurled at the police I left because I didn't want to take part in violence. Most of the other people did the same. The action here was not directed against fellow concertgoers, but rather against the outrageous behavior of the venders and corporations which had been allowed to violate the dignity of the people for the entire weekend. You cannot display that sort of cold calculated exploitation of 250,000 people for days without expecting some kind of a reaction. What started as pure anarchy with bonfires and toppled sound towers erupted into what was really a socialist upheaval of corporate greed. It was not the music that fueled aggression. It was not a generation gone bad. It was the corporate profiteering that incited anger and it was a generation standing up for its rights. For the people paying $175 a ticket to camp in open sewage and miles of garbage while paying $4 for a drink of water in 90 degree weather, it was a stake in the heart of the vampire which was sucking them dry. The water and soda was handed out for free, hurtled through the air, and dumped on the ground along with soggy $4 pretzels. It was the Boston Tea Party revisited in 1999. The music was great, the crowd was friendly and peaceful all weekend. The only thing which marred the Woodstock experience was the open greed displayed by those hoping to make a quick profit off of necessity. No it is not the audience and the reaction of a small minority which ruined Woodstock. Woodstock was long ago taken from its original roots and transformed into a corporate nightmare. A giant money making machine for those involved. The promoters, the corporations, and the venders are the ones who destroyed the spirit of Woodstock by charging $4 for a bottle of water. What happened here was the rebirth of Woodstock's original ideals. This generation has no Vietnam yet, but they do have an adversary in the kind of naked profiteering which is all too common these days. The burning of those trucks represented their statement of rebellion against the opression which they have endured. While it may not be as romantic or idealistic as the 60s rebellion of peace and love, it is just as important. I can't condone publically the actions which I witnessed. I have looked anarchy in the face and it is not a pretty sight. But I do understand what the real causes were. Many were there just to break stuff, just like many went in the 60's just for sex and drugs. However the overlying tone of what happened is far more important than individual motivation in both cases. It was a generation standing up for its rights in the face of adversity. And if that is my generation's statement then I stand by it. I am proud to have witnessed the rebirth of Woostock in 1999.