“Are we who live in the present doomed never to experience autonomy, never to stand for one moment on a bit of land ruled only by freedom?”
-Hakim Bey, The Temporary Autonomous Zone
“It’s been awhile since I gave a gadget a smack—
people feel some type of way when you do that”
-The Unseen Chiefs, The Protocols
I do not and have never used a smartphone.
Before you continue reading, I’d like you to stop and ponder that for a moment. Think about how much of your everyday life is now integrated into this machine.
No smartphone means no GPS directions. No Uber, no Lyft, no mobile soundtrack, no streaming music, no googling random factoids in the middle of a conversation, no constant access to (anti)social media, and so forth. I’ve never shopped for lovers on a dating app or Facetimed a holiday celebration to distant relatives.
The first i-phone came out in 2007. What began for me way back then as a casual rejection of what I regarded as a pointless, overpriced gadget has since evolved into a spiritual commitment. I’ve watched what these things have done to the remnants of society—the poisonous battleaxe Margaret Thatcher was a few decades ahead of her time in declaring there was “no such thing as society.” Looking at the effects of machine-colonization on the people around me, her words now seem like prophecy.
Don’t get me wrong; I realize that I’m extremely lucky to be able to maintain my freedom from these devices. Most people I know would not be able to do their jobs without a smartphone, from Uber drivers and labor organizers to contractors and schoolteachers. I’ve been fortunate in that I continue to be able to earn a living without it. That in itself is revealing; we’ve collectively become slaves to artifacts produced and controlled by a cabal of sinister corporations. Our lives, relationships, and livelihoods depend on them. So much for democracy.
If past experience holds true, at least a few people will read this, then send me e-mails extolling the virtues of smartphones, or offering silly platitudes about using the master’s tools to destroy the master’s house. Please don’t bother; I’ve heard it all before, and it’s all bullshit. I’ve never met any other variety of junkies who felt the need to so vigorously defend their addictions. This seems to be a particular characteristic of phone jockeys (and of BDSM aficionados, for reasons I dread to contemplate).
Back in the early 2010s I worked in a restaurant, and I regularly had to witness Moms, Dads, and their 2.5 Children spend entire meals staring at their smartphones—or, in the case of infants confined to high-chairs, in front of a propped up i-pad. I’ve watched people clutch their phones in hand for entire commutes, whether they were actively using them or not. I’ve sat on buses packed with teenagers, every single one of them diddling a screen. I see people compulsively shield themselves from any tinge of social discomfort with aimless scrolling. I’ve had to accept that at any given moment, any in-person interaction can be interrupted by the phone’s call to prayer.
This god has a name, and it is Disembodiment. Welcome to the virtual dystopia. Even Philip K. Dick would be aghast. Thinking too much about this repugnant sci-fi nightmare makes me physically ill.
I’m not naive; I know that no matter how evil and socially destructive these devices are, they’re not going anywhere. At this point they’re too thoroughly integrated into life for people to reject them even if they wanted to. We’re stuck with them until the Total Collapse arrives (stay tuned). In the meantime, it is still possible to carve out a piece of humanity within the toxic cybernetic shell… if you’re willing to be the asshole.
Enter: the Invisible Army.
The story goes like this—after the scraping through the 2008 economic crash, by late 2009 I had landed back at my mother’s house in suburbia, having abandoned burgeoning notoriety in the L.A. underground hip hop scene. In an attempt to recreate some of the magic I’d experienced in the Angel City nightlife, I teamed up with my nephew D.J. Innalect, who had recently graduated high school, and we began throwing house parties. They started off small, typically attended by fewer than a dozen people, mostly my young suburban co-workers.
By this time, the fix was in—people were well on their way to being fully colonized by smartphones. Instead of dancing, chatting, or enduring basic human awkwardness, people would spend half their time at the party staring at their phones. As you have probably experienced, this makes for a wack-ass party.
With a head full of Hakim Bey’s radical anti-mediation texts, particularly The Temporary Autonomous Zone and Immediatism, I decided to take a stand. We initiated what later came to be known as the Invisible Protocols: No Pictures, No Videos, No Phones Allowed.
I started referring to the party attendees as The Invisible Army, a somewhat tongue-in-cheek reference to the protagonists of author Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles, a ‘90s comic book series about a team of occult anarchist revolutionaries. We threw our first official party on December 21st, 2012—the winter solstice, and the end date of the Mayan calendar, famous for sparking a great deal of Armageddon Fervor among certain contingents of the New Age yuppitariat.
D.J. Innalect and I became The Unseen Chiefs.
It was after I moved to Oakland in 2013 that the Invisible Parties really blew up. I was performing at local shows, and later working at a hip hop activism non-profit. I met a lot of rap artists, all of whom had grown accustomed to lackadaisical, phone-stroking crowds.
I developed a simple formula: four parties a year, on or near the solstices and equinoxes; book six to eight acts, give everyone a strict ten-minute time limit, and fill the rest of the night with D.J. Innalect’s vinyl selections. Soon we were getting anywhere from 50 to 80 people at every show, packed into my living room and backyard, hands in the air and asses shaking. There was one party where almost the entirety of San Francisco State University’s Native American student union showed up.
“This is not a gimmick. It’s not even a movement. This is a motherfucking cult!”
In the beginning, I relied on the good faith of party guests to refrain from using their phones. Several years of frustration, fury, and phone-smacking later, we started collecting phones at the door—turn it off, label it with your name, put it in the box, pick it up when you leave. Or better yet, don’t bring it at all. The benefit of having gatherings in one’s home is that you have total control over the rules of attendance. I’ve kicked out a couple of people who refused to surrender their phones, but for the most part there were no problems. Of course, we had to eventually expand the ban to other new and exciting spy-tech—smartwatches, etc.
It helped that the parties were invite-only; I designed paper invitations and sent them out in the mail for every event. At its peak, circa 2017, there were over 100 people on the mailing list.
One of the most personally fulfilling moments for me came at one of the early Oakland events, when no less a luminary than James Mott—an active member of the Black Panther Party for over ten years, and a founding member of the Black Panthers’ funk band The Lumpen—attended with his wife. I’d met him at a reading for Ricky Vincent’s book Party Music, and interviewed him for a zine I published back in 2013. I sent him an invitation to our next event, not daring to hope that he would come. Not only did he come to the party, but before leaving he pulled me aside to praise my efforts in building community. That’s a hell of an endorsement, if you ask me.
Another such moment came when some friends brought their fifteen-year-old daughter—a genuine phone addict—to a barbecue. On the way out, she made a point of telling me how much she enjoyed having the chance to disconnect from the machine and bond with her folks. I might have cried a little bit.
People are so alienated by technology that simply removing phones from the social equation is enough to consistently create magic. The most common response from performers: that was the best crowd response I’ve ever gotten at a show. The most common response from attendees: this is the best party I’ve ever been to. Several women and queer folks told me that being there was the first time they ever truly felt comfortable at a party.
Over the years, whenever I’ve told people about the Invisible Parties, their reactions have generally fallen into one of two camps: they’re either immediately enthusiastic, or they’re immediately suspicious. The first is by far the most common; I’m convinced that most people secretly long to unplug from the matrix, even if it’s only for a short time. The second camp seems to believe that anything short of full and robust participation in the Surveillance Society is sure proof that we’re Doing Something Wrong. The worst cop is the one inside your head.
Now that everyone is carrying around their own personal wiretap, I’d like to take a moment to point out that it might behoove activists—both overground and underground—to initiate some basic level of security culture by having the occasional gathering where people are not permitted to bring their tracking devices. Just a thought.
The Invisible Army was the focal point of my social life for many years. It spawned a theme song, a manifesto, numerous erotic adventures, and copious amounts of drunken laughter. Organizing and hosting these events was a lot of work—printing and mailing invitations, coordinating performers, buying supplies, prepping the house, cleaning up, etc. I couldn’t have pulled it off without help from a small group of dedicated friends—shout-outs to Bernie Uber, Wisdom Born, Huracana, Vic, Cindy, and Kween Bi.
For a time, the Invisible Parties were a legitimate phenomenon. I got to play rock star, and, more importantly, I got to create an unmediated communal space and share it with many people who otherwise would never have had such an experience.
Then covid shut it all down.
Even now that vaccines are widely available, I remain reluctant to pack dozens of people into my living room… especially since I have both black and Native friends who refuse to be vaccinated. Many of us are familiar with how frequently the Powers That Be have used us as unwilling lab rats in their mad science experiments, and just plain don’t trust ‘em.
I get it. But I’d rather take my chances with the vaccine than end up dying alone on a ventilator. Either way, I’m not interested in hosting a super-spreader. I’m the last person in my circle of friends who still consistently wears a mask when indoors in public. Truth be told, in a world under such heavy and constant surveillance, I like having my face covered. Privacy is sacred.
This winter solstice is the ten-year anniversary of The Invisible Army. I’m deeply saddened that we’ll not be celebrating it with a raging fiesta. Rather than simply mourn the loss, I decided to write this piece, in the hopes that it will inspire some readers to recruit themselves into our neo-Luddite cult. All you have to do is create a space where the Invisible Protocols are in effect. Then write me a letter and tell me about it—P.O. Box 7654, Oakland, CA, 94601. I’ll send you a member badge (it’s blank).
Whatever you do doesn’t have to be big; it could be as simple as a dinner party or a date.
The point is to be fully present. The point is to be human.
No Pictures. No Videos. No Phones Allowed.