Meet The Queer Organizers Using A Pink Truck To Turn Up Protests
In the wake of George Floyd's death, queer activists have dispatched a pink construction truck into the streets of California — and are dancing their way through the movement to end police brutality.
Tylar Moore presses play on Janelle Monaé’s “Hell You Talmbout”, a song that has quickly become popular at protests around the country, from the bed of a Barbie-pink pickup as the wind catches the fuschia smoke billowing around her, carrying queer magic and liberatory anthems to surrounding crowds at the All Black Lives Matter Pride March in West Hollywood.
It’s June 14, and there’s a demonstration tying the Stonewall riots to the current protests calling for systemic change. Others march alongside the truck decked in rainbow outfits or carrying signs with demands like, “Defund the Police.” But Moore is leading what one co-organizer calls “a gay chariot of the revolution.” Her mission? To amplify activists and soundtrack change.
This is Turn Up the Streets, a mobile sound system that Moore, a sound engineer who performs under the name Tynacity [That DJ], put together in service of social actions. When waves of unrest rippled across the country following George Floyd’s death, Moore found herself marching nearly every day in Los Angeles, sometimes multiple times a day.
But after a few weeks into the protests, she gathered with creators from her shared studio space to brainstorm how to best lend skills and resources to the BLM movement. Someone mentioned bringing music or helping to project leaders’ voices.
“I was like, ‘Oh, no, that's my department,’” she laughs during an interview with BuzzFeed LGBTQ. “I was a sound for cinema major. I've worked in live sound for several years. That’s my area!” And that’s how it all began.
During that meeting, trans artists Bianka Black and Cameron, who uses a mononymous name in the vein of Cher or Madonna, agreed to help bring Moore’s vision to life. Black, a veteran of LA’s modified-bike scene, volunteered her truck. She drives it for her work in construction, but she’s painted it pink and added embellishments to express herself, a self-described “chopped up, rave edit Barbie girl.”
The truck’s been lovingly christened “Pablita,” and Cameron, a performer and illustrator, hand-painted cloth banners to adorn Pablita’s grill and sides — dozens of them to adapt for different demonstrations and actions. Combining powers, they’ve manifested an iconically queer approach to crowd control.
On June 7, their first day out with the sound system, they weren’t sure what to expect. LA’s curfew had been suspended just three days prior, and the National Guard was still present. Moore, Black, and Cameron were uncertain if marchers would embrace Turn Up the Streets — or if they’d get caught in a showdown between police and protesters that would damaged the equipment or truck. To their surprise, the sound system helped diffuse a standoff.
“We were just a half a block away, and we could see tension [between cops and demonstrators],” Moore said. “So we drove over. I put on the instrumental for Shyne’s ‘Bad Boyz’ and basically invited people to come to the truck. It was a march that led to city hall, and we got them marching again and were able to lead them to a safer area. … Police are aggressive. We want to protect people.”
Over the next few weeks, Moore quickly realized police weren’t the only thing protesters need protection against, and she began taking Turn Up the Streets’s musical protests to smaller cities in Southern California. “Smaller communities are fighting more of an uphill battle,” Cameron says, describing recent protests in cities outside Los Angeles like Palmdale.
“There’s a lot more of a white nationalist presence outside the city,” he continued.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, California has 88 hate groups — the highest number in the country. (Just three years ago, it was 79.) Roughly a third of those groups are concentrated in or around Southern California, which has its own legacy of sundown towns and racist housing policies as well as incubating several prominent white supremacist leaders, such as the founder of the Aryan Nations. Similar to other major cities, many Los Angeles BLM marches have faced heavy counter-protesting — from MAGA types to more extreme xenophobes.
“It's been really important to be able to bring something that's big and loud and a presence,” Black said. “It shows that — even if it's a small crowd — like, we're not fucking around. We're very much here to take up space and disrupt.”
Beyond facing the white supremacist groups, it’s also been an opportunity to elevate the voices of those harmed while in police custody. At one event, Jennifer Guardado, sister of Andres Guardado, who was killed by an LA County Sheriff’s Deputy on June 18, used the sound system to address officers at a demonstration for her brother.
Turn Up the Streets has become such a known asset in the recent weeks that grassroots groups and individual organizers make a habit of coordinating with Moore before protests. She has developed a system for receiving communications from leaders as well as crowd members, so she can redirect people if routes change or broadcast dangers that need to reach further than a megaphone can and might not be visible from the truck.
And demand is so high that, when Pablita isn’t available, Moore has backup trucks she works with.
Growing up as a Black femme in Milwaukee, the most segregated city in the United States, according to a 2018 study, Moore grew up with an understanding of social inequity. At 13, she came out to her family and went on to become president of her school’s Gay-Straight Alliance, leading campaigns to inspire peers to ditch “gay” as an insult and have safer sex. She also worked hard organizing community and legislative support for the DREAM Act with Voces de la Frontera. Her commitment to organizing for change earned her a Gordon Zahn Peace Prize in 2010.
“I just wanted to support my friend at the time because she was having trouble becoming a citizen,” Moore said. “It really hurt me to see the pain that she went through. That's why I went so hard. Black women go hard for the causes of other oppressed people — and I think that's important to point out.”
Moore was also raised as a Nichiren Buddhist. The faith is guided by the phrase Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, which roughly translates to “a devotion to the mystic law of cause and effect through sound vibration.” In practice, this means making choices with an understanding that intentions and actions have an energy or “vibration” that impacts one’s surroundings. For Moore, she sees her music as an extension of that, too — using literal sound to influence the world.
"Music and rhythm are spiritual for me,” she says. “But having a background in film, I know the impact of what sounds go where and at what time to tell people to pay attention. My background helps with how I DJ.”
One of Moore’s cousin and music mentors is Charles Chambers, better known as ghetto-house pioneer DJ Funk. Getting people to boogie isn’t just a family tradition, though; it’s part of a cultural history of dance music as resistance, especially for queers and people of color. Disco can be traced back to underground clubs of Paris that were sites for anti-fascist organizing during WWII. Its emergence in 1970s New York came, in part, from the need for people experiencing poverty and violence to have sites for glamour, fantasy, and abandon. As disco evolved into house and techno, groups such as Underground Resistance emerged as sonic responses to ravaged inner cities.
“I think it's really important not to separate joy or things like dance from the revolution,” Cameron said. “Some of the most life-affirming, validating moments [during the protests] have been when people are dancing with the truck or rapping along with what Ty is playing. … It’s community building in that way and reminds people what we're fighting for. We're fighting to be able to have joy, we're fighting to be able to feel safe in the streets.”
And Moore isn’t unique in bringing dance music to demonstrations.
For instance, in Detroit, a tweet went viral showing a Mad Max-looking vehicle blasting techno. Someone on a megaphone shouts, “I said no justice, no peace,” then the crowd responds, “Fuck these racist-ass police.” In Chicago, protesters have blasted the Village People’s “YMCA” to chant “Fuck CPD.” At the height of the unrest, people were doing footwork atop police cars. Where there are protests, soundtracks and movement will always follow.
And Moore hasn’t brought the only sound system to LA streets, either. Bands have been doing performances in truck beds, and Amplify LA has a fleet of battery-operated PA systems it’s lent or donated to grassroots groups. But Moore’s success with Turn Up the Streets has hinged on cultivating strong relationships and building connections to harness collective power — skills that have helped her thrive as a queer Black woman.
Moore has a fundraiser underway, so select groups from Milwaukee and New York, as well as some of LA’s most active groups, can have permanent sound systems. Los Angeles is seeing as many as five protests every day, and more sound systems in circulation mean future protests and movements can benefit from them too. Moore also intends to put together a video to empower anyone interested in assembling their own mobile DJ setup for protests around the world.
In the meantime, she’ll continue doing what’s gotten her this far: turning up the streets.