Hundreds pack City Hall to save the raves

A huge, enthusiastic crowd that showed up for the hearing include one guy touting the old rave motto: Peace Love Unity Respect
Steven T. Jones

Hundreds of young ravers and other supporters of electronic dance music parties packed into City Hall last night (Tues/22) for an Entertainment Commission hearing on health and safety issues connected to events that draw young people, both permitted and unpermitted. And their message was loud and clear: save the rave!

The hearing was prompted by legislation proposed last year by Assemblymember Fiona Ma (D-SF) that would criminalize dance parties and subject their promoters to fines of at least $10,000, as well as by continuing local efforts to crack down on DJ-driven dance parties, such as aggressive police raids, onerous permit fees, promoter registration requirements, and other tactics that are part of what the Guardian has labeled the War of Fun.

Ma's legislation, AB 74, was temporarily suspended after it was met with a wall of angry protest, the same source of energy that resulting in more than 1,000 people RSVPing to a Facebook invitation to last night's event. Despite the rain and the meeting room's limited capacity, several hundred people still packed into Room 400 and the overflow area in North Light Court to hear often poignant testimony.

Many speakers talked about being saved from depression or suicide by discovering and being supported by the rave community. Others called on adults to remember what it's like to be young and drew comparisons to cultural movements past. Learning how to socialize and let loose in party environment is a rite of passage, many said, and a source of positivity in an other harsh society.

“This is a critical part of growing up,” said Sup. Scott Wiener, who has championed San Francisco's nightlife and entertainment communities, a stark contrast to his predecessor, Bevan Dufty, who sometimes led the crackdowns on parties and other cultural events.

UPDATE AND CLARIFICATION: While Dufty led the crackdown that killed Halloween in the Castro and blocked the expansion of car-free spaces in the Golden Gate Park, he reminds us that he has often been protective of nightclubs and that he opposes Ma's legislation and defended raves during the furor following two deaths at a rave at Cow Palace a couple years ago. "I'm very supportive of raves continuing and being safe for people," he told us. 

Wiener has tasked city staff with developing a study of the economic impacts of entertainment and nightlife that is due to be released later this year.

While the messages from the speakers varied, one consistent theme was that the city and state is better off practicing harm reduction strategies for addressing drug use and illegal gathering rather than trying to institute a broad crackdown, which new groups such as Save the Rave have pledged to resist.