Riot Grrrl Lives! Meet the Cool Moms and Ladyfest


"I.E riot grrrl connects to young women with music, a thriving zine scene and direct political action. We are dedicated to making our voices heard. We share ideas. We teach each other. We create our own way of doing things. We are dedicated to expressing radical thought, grassroots feminism through art, activism, language, poetry, music and activism. " -- from the riot grrl Inland Empire Facebook page

In the early 20th century, Riverside, California was famous throughout the world for its citrus groves; a dynasty of imported orange tree seedlings that took root here and made this region a leader in world fruit production. But although the trees have now mostly been paved over for suburban development, there is a new harvest afoot, one that has symbolically been grafted onto the mother-heart and soul of this onetime desert region all the way from its early 1990's origins in the lush northwest town of Olympia, Washington.

In other words, the riot grrrl is alive. The decidedly feminist, self-empowerment culture woven closely into the fabric of the punk rock and arts scene, "girl-style," -- perhaps starting with the band Bikini Kill in 1992 -- thrives in the Inland Empire. Two major community events, Ladyfest, I.E 2012, planned for Aug 10-12 and SlutWalk, Riverside 2012, scheduled for Aug 25, keep the torch well-lit here, much like, in a popular music world that now seems dominated by remotely mainstream acts like Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, fiery smudge pots once kept the fruit in the orange groves from freezing on cold winter nights.

Raffle Items | Photo: Ladyfest I.E Facebook page.

And these local, early 21st century riot grrrl incarnations aren't your average fly-by-night happenings. This year, Ladyfest I.E 2012, which is one of many Ladyfest music, arts and education-driven events held in cities throughout the world, and SlutWalk, Riverside 2012, are both linked to major global movements through the tools of the Internet and Facebook networking era. Their community-driven momentum and committed do-it-yourself, self-empowerment ethic seems to thrive here where the orange trees once grew, against all odds, or perhaps because of them. Ladyfest, I.E, 2012 will feature, as part of a stellar music lineup, the all-female band, Cool Moms. One of the band's singers, the legendary riot grrrl, ex-Bratmobile member Allison Wolfe, is a co-founder of the first Ladyfest in Olympia back in 1999.

"In every town there are awesome music/arts-involved women who have something to say and contribute, and that a community of them can be formed to put on a special event by, for, and about women at every level," says Wolf, who also volunteers her time at a summer rock'n'roll camp for young girls. "I am always excited and honored to be part of Ladyfests anywhere, and make a point to play them or get involved however I can. I think it's important to play in woman-supportive environments and try to support them in turn. We (women) don't exist alone in this world and we need to be reminded of that."

Ladyfest I.E | Photo: Ladyfest I.E Facebook page.

Ladyfest, I.E 2012, now in its fourth year, welcomes everyone in the community, and will take place at two locations, Back to the Grind Coffee House, and Blood Orange Info Shop, both located in downtown Riverside. The festival is run entirely by volunteers on a not-for-profit basis, and prides itself on being a safe haven for women, queer/transgendered members of the community, and oppressed others. In addition to the Cool Moms, other bands at Ladyfest I.E 2012 will include All or Nothing, Rape Revenge, the Meow Twins, Anus King, Le Panique, and other bands whose self-empowering music offers positive lyrical content void of sexism, transphobia, or homophobia. Ladyfest, I.E 2012 will also offer a film festival, a bike ride, discussion sessions, poetry readings, an art show, 'zine making, women's health, awareness, self-defense and self-celebration workshops. Whew.

"Women in this area need to speak up for themselves, be educated about feminism, and celebrate themselves through the arts," says Riverside resident Gloria Lucas, co-founder of Ladyfest, I.E, along with Renae Bryant, who ran a female-fronted, all-female band record label, On the Rag Records in Los Angeles in the mid-1990s. According to Lucas, who along with Bryant organized this year's event along with a local collective of women and queer-identified folk, including Claudia Coy, Chris Albidrez, Elena Carrillo and Eliana Buenrostro. "We want to raise awareness, bring in the numbers and build solidarity in our community. We want to empower other women to organize and take charge," says Lucas.

And while print 'zines - a staple feature of the riot grrrl movement since the early days - have moved forward into the Internet era, existing alongside bands' Facebook pages, Ladyfest I.E 2012 will also feature hands-on, old fashioned 'zine making workshops. Like the old school riot grrrl, feminist print 'zine scene also flourishes in the Inland Empire, due in no small part to the efforts of local artist/educator/feminist Angela Chaos. Her artwork is being featured along with works by other local women artists in a Ladyfest, I.E-sponsored art show at the Blood Orange Info Shop. One interactive art display, "Clothesline Project," will provide shirts and art supplies for people to make their own shirt as a survivor or knowing someone that is a survivor of physical, emotional or psychological abuse, rape, incest, etc.

Don't Let Them Ever Silence You | Photo: riot grrrl I.E Facebook page.

The presence of a riot grrrl in the I.E is also marked by another sister-event planned here: SlutWalk, Riverside 2012, which will start on August 25 in front of the downtown Riverside library. It's part of a global event that began several years ago in Toronto, Canada, formed to oppose idea that a rape victim "is asking for it." This will be the second year that a SlutWalk event is held in Riverside, and local organizers expect more than one hundred people to participate. "SlutWalk is a march and protest against all forms of sexual assault. SlutWalk focuses on ending rape culture and bringing awareness about sexual assault. Our aim is to let it be known that victims and survivors of sexual assault are NEVER the ones at fault," according to local organizers, who learned about SlutWalk through the Internet and feminist blogging sites.

SlutWalk Riverside was started by a small feminist activist group at the Riverside City College campus called Feminists Unite, which decided to organize a SlutWalk in Riverside. The organizers, Jackie De Paz, Gladys Garcia, Stacey Patino, Brennan Gonnering, Alexandra Contreras, Erica Thames, Danielle Delgado and Elena Carrillo, all under the age of 22, feel that because this is an issue that is important to them, it is an issue that more people need to be aware of. The Riverside Area Rape Crisis Center (RARCC) is helping hosting a counseling workshop after SlutWalk for survivors or victims of sexual assault, and educational information will be available. Although SlutWalk Riverside is open to people from all walks of life, organizers are extending a special invitation to people of color and LGBTQIA folks.

Mom and kids at Slutwalk IE 2011 | Photo: Claudia Marcela Cloy.

Many of the younger attendees of Ladyfest I.E 2012 and SlutWalk, Riverside 2012 may have never heard of Bikini Kill, or Naomi Wolf, author of the eye-opening book Promiscuities, published in 1991, which heralded much of the early call to the formation of the riot grrrls. But fortunately, they also probably don't remember an era when, prior to 1991, most women in the world of punk and other rock music were rarely allowed on stage other than as groupies. And, they will be lucky enough to see Allison Wolfe and the Cool Moms, and they'll be able to say "no" to rape and domestic violence while participating in SlutWalk, Riverside 2012, and they will be able to see these events chronicled instantaneously on Facebook and other social networking media and see their own efforts and participation resonate in cyberspace and create bridges with a global community far beyond, yet no less disconnected from, the I.E.

They also are more fortunate to have the wildfire-rapid mode of the Internet and Facebook to communicate their solidarity and promote their hugely-popular, and successful, events, something those who were around during the early days of the riot grrrl movement are invariably grateful for and proud of. And due to the strong persistence of the riot grrrl, through the Inland Empire's symbolic daughters and younger sisters of the movement, the feminist ideologies and well-raised progeny of "girl power," in all of its proud and vocal manifestations, is kicking, is alive, and is more than well - in fact, it is thriving - in the heart of Riverside. As Allison Wolfe of the Cool Moms sings, in "Wake Up": "I'm a crazy old lazy girl/ And I'm here to show the whole world / 'Bout everything that I got."

Cool Moms | Photo: Courtesy of Allison Wolfe.

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Top image: Cool Moms | Photo: Courtesy of Allison Wolfe.

About the Author

Ruth Nolan, M.A, a lifelong resident of the California desert and southern California's Inland Empire, is professor of creative writing and desert literature at College of the Desert in Palm Desert. She is also editor of the criti...
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