Friday, December 17, 2010

Full write-up of the Marty Zap!

**please forward**

Time's Up! Love Your Lane Bike Clowns serenade Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz with singing telegrams, and deliver a "Golden Bicycle" Holiday Gift.

Awesome Video by Time's Up! video collective


Fabulous photos by Adrian Kinloch & Rich


Thursday, December 16th, the “Love Your Lane” cyclist clowns from the environmental organization Time’s Up! came to Brooklyn Borough Hall dressed in holiday- and festive-colored costumes. The clowns were ready to recruit. After Brooklyn borough President Marty Markowitz’ clownish behavior last week at the well attended bike lane oversight hearing, the clowns hoped to invite Markowitz to join their circus. After all, his rendition of “My Favorite Things” to the City Council’s Transportation Committee hearing on NYC Bike Policy, chalk full of anti-bike lane misinformation, made him an ideal candidate.

The “Love Your Lanes” clowns were also interested in adding a verse to the childhood anthem, “My Favorite Things”:

When the car honks,
and trucks double park,
when we're run off the bike lane
I simply think of Prospect Park's designated bike lane
And then I don't feel so bad.

Keep reading here:

Lyrics to all the songs they sang here:

Press Release:

Bike Blog write up:


Brooklyn Paper

Love Lane Clowns Sing for Marty

(Implore the Borough President to Change his Tune about the Bike Lanes)

Thursday, December 16th, at 9:30am, the “Love Your Lane” cyclist clowns from the environmental organization Time’s Up! came to Brooklyn Borough Hall dressed in holiday- and festive-colored costumes. The clowns were ready to recruit. After Brooklyn borough Presidend Marty Markowitz’ clownish behavior last week at the well attended bike lane oversight hearing, the clowns hoped to invite Markowitz to join their circus. After all, his rendition of “My Favorite Things” to the City Council’s Transportation Committee hearing on NYC Bike Policy, chalk full of anti-bike lane misinformation, made him an ideal candidate.

,The “Love Your Lanes” clowns were also interested in adding a verse to the childhood anthem, “My Favorite Things”:

When the car honks,

and trucks double park,

when we're run off the bike lane

I simply think of Prospect Park's designated bike lane

And then I don't feel so bad.

Walkers by cheered along as the clowns sang their versions of “Joy to the World” as “Bikes to the World” and “Jingle Bells” as “Prospect Lane” in homage to benefits of biking, particularly in designated two way bike lanes such as on Prospect Park West. There residents have shown widespread support for the lane in a recent survey taken by Council Member Brad Lander’s office. Despite this support, Markowitz continues to campaign against the lane, showing little regard for the youth and the families who find the lane a safe transportation alternative for a neighborhood which recently lost a cross borough bus line, the #71 cut by MTA service cuts. Given this, it is not surprising passers-by showed so many signs of approval for the sign carried by one of the clowns, “Marty Markowitz Is Out of Touch with Brooklyn.” “Today’s Brooklyn supports bike lanes, healthy non-polluting transportation and biking,” explained Times Up! volunteer Benjamin Shepard. “Come on Marty. Bikes are hip. They are a great way to model healthy urban living in which we do our part to reduce global warming and remain healthy at the same time.”

The clowns attempted to present Borough President Marty Markowitz with his holiday gift of a donated bicycle painted gold with pro-biking messages, and the word, “Oy Ve” on the handlebars. But his staff members rebuffed the effort. In addition the clowns sent Markowitz a massage that he should cease and desist his campaign against the Prospect Park Bike Lane and start to ride. Specifically, the clowns invited Markowitz to the Time Up! Love Your Lane Valentines Dance Ride scheduled for February 14th. “The invitation still stands,” noted Times Up! volunteer Monica Hunken.

The action was also a response to the very one sided bike oversight hearing held last week.
“Markowitz used his time last week to sing a song, rather than give any real facts to explain his opposition to the Prospect Park West Bike Lane,” said Barbara Ross of Time’s Up! “Meanwhile, a packed house of New Yorkers in favor of more protected bike lanes waited for hours in below-freezing weather for their turn to testify. Many didn’t.” By the time pro-bike speakers got to testify most of the council had left (

“If Marty wants to clown around, we can too,” said Ross. “His stance is not shared by most New Yorkers. Marty does his constituents no favors by lacking both knowledge and a desire to be educated on the challenges faced by pedestrians and cyclists alike.” Ross noted that other officials like Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and such Council members as Brad Lander, Tish James and Gale Brewer came prepared with a both a real sense of the current situation and realistic solutions for bike policies.

“Don’t be a schlemiel Marty, love your bike lanes,” added Ben Shepard, a Time’s Up! volunteer. “We have an obesity epidemic in this town. It can be fought with daily exercise like bicycling. Look at the cyclist who lost 30 pounds commuting to work. How can you not embrace the idea of biking as both transportation and a model of healthy urban living?”

Thursday, December 16, 2010

"Love Your Lane" Clowns Serenade Brooklyn BP

"Love Your Lane" Clowns Serenade Brooklyn BP



Contacts: Benjamin Shepard – 917 586 7952
Barbara Ross - 917 494 8164,


Time’s Up! Gift Giving to Marty Markowitz
Thursday, December 16th
9:00am: Love Your Lane Bike Clowns gather at Court & Joralemon, near elevator outside of Borough Hall
9:30am: Cyclists walk over to Marty Markowitz’s Office, Brooklyn Borough Hall, 209 Joralemon Street

New York, NY (Thursday, December 16, 2010) – Thursday morning at 9:30am, the “Love Your Lane” cyclist clowns of environmental organization Time’s Up! come to Brooklyn Borough Hall dressed in holiday- and festive-colored costumes. They will present Borough President Marty Markowitz with his holiday gift of a donated bicycle painted gold with pro-biking messages, and to sing telegrams with their own versions of the song “My Favorite Things.”

This is Time’s Up!’s response to Markowitz’s own clownish behavior last week. That’s when his rendition of “My Favorite Things” to the City Council’s Transportation Committee hearing on NYC Bike Policy illustrated his anti-bike lane stance. By contrast, the “Love Your Lanes” clowns’ songs feature positive messages about bicycling.

“Markowitz used his time last week to sing a song, rather than give any real facts to explain his opposition to the Prospect Park West Bike Lane,” said Barbara Ross of Time’s Up! “Meanwhile, a packed house of New Yorkers in favor of more protected bike lanes waited for hours in below-freezing weather for their turn to testify. Many didn’t.”

“If Marty wants to clown around, we can too,” said Ross. “His stance is not shared by most New Yorkers. Marty does his constituents no favors by lacking both knowledge and a desire to be educated on the challenges faced by pedestrians and cyclists alike.”

Ross noted that other officials like Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and such Council members as Tish James and Gale Brewer came prepared with a both a real sense of the current situation and realistic solutions for bike policies.

“Don’t be a schlemiel Marty, love your bike lanes,” added Ben Shepard, a Time’s Up! volunteer. “We have an obesity epidemic in this town. It can be fought with daily exercise like bicycling. Look at the cyclist who lost 30 pounds commuting to work. How can you not embrace the idea of biking as both transportation and a model of healthy urban living?”

CLICK HERE for the link to Council Members Brad Lander and Steve Levin’s survey about the Prospect Park West bike lane that depicts widespread support for the re-designed street.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

More Bikes, Less Cars

More Bikes, Less Cars.

Testimony in Favor of Bike Lanes

by Benjamin Shepard, PhD

Benjamin Shepard here. By day, I am a college professor at New York College of Technology/CUNY. Every day, I ride my bike from Smith Street across Jay Street to Tillary, where I traverse into traffic to avoid crashing into cars double parked outside of the Court, swerving in and out of the designated bike lanes. I am certainly not alone in having this experience. According to a Hunter College study, there is a 60 percent chance of a cyclist being obstructed by a car in a bike lane (Nelson, 2009).

For the last five years, I have participated in bike lane liberation rides as a member of Times UP! We have witnessed cars double parked in lanes, police cars in bike lanes, loading trucks in bike lanes, delivery vans in bike lanes. Yet, never have I seen a policeman arresting a car in one of these lanes. "Is this a parking lot or a bike lane? we frequently ask those parked in the lanes. “Is this thing a bike?”

My days begin dropping my two daughters off on Prospect Park where countless kids now ride to and from school. We lost a bus line (the #71) so more and more people ride. I hope the ride will become safer as time passes and these new riders grow. I applaud the city for its commitment to cycling. But the experience must become safer so more of the new bikers can ride with confidence.

Today, riding in New York City is not a safe experience. Over the last year, I have been doored by two cars - this year alone and that was on a bike lane. On one of the drivers even suggested it was an optional bike lane. No one should take their life in their hands when they ride to school or work.

The New York Department of Health report “Bicyclist Fatalities and Serious Injuries in New York City1996-2005” confirms this finding. Key findings from the report note that:

1. While bicyclist injuries declined between 1996 and 2003, fatalities remained steady.

• Between 1996 and 2003, a total of 3,462 NYC bicyclists were seriously injured in crashes with motor vehicles.

The annual number of serious bicyclist injuries decreased by 46% during the 8-year period.

• Between 1996 and 2005, 225 bicyclists died in crashes. Bicyclist deaths remained steady during the 10-year period.

2. Bicyclist fatality rates in New York City are similar to national rates, though NYC has higher rates of

cycling for transportation.

• The bicyclist fatality rate for NYC is similar to the national rate – 2.8 compared to 2.7 per one million residents.

• Census data show that many more NYC adults (11% vs. 3%) walk or bicycle to work compared to the national average.

3. Nearly all bicyclist fatalities (92%) occurred as a result of crashes with motor vehicles.

• Most crashes (89%) occurred at or near intersections.

• Although they make up only 5–17% of vehicles on NYC roadways, large vehicles (trucks, buses) accounted

for almost one third (32%) of fatalities.

• Nearly all (94%) fatalities involved poor driving or bicycle riding practices, particularly driver inattention and

disregarding traffic signals and signs.

• Although there are many more miles of local roads, more than half of fatal crashes occurred on arterial (large,

four lane) roads (53%).

• 7% of fatal crashes occurred on limited access highways, where bicycling is prohibited.

4. Bicycle lanes and properly used bicycle equipment may reduce the risk of fatalities.

Biking is a solution for a global city. It reduces traffic and opens up the city to new perspectives, connecting the boroughs, bridging streets and people, communities and individual riders. Yet, the program will never reach its full potential as long as there is no enforcement of traffic laws prohibiting cars from parking in the bike lanes.

I applaud the city for the increase in bike lanes. I now ask for assistance from you in supporting safe, non-polluting transportation.

NYDOH. Bicyclist Fatalities and Serious Injuries in New York City


Nelson, Katie. 2009. Hunter College Survey Finds Car Drivers Block Bicycle Lanes in

Manhattan. New York Dailey News. , 3 December 3. , Accessed 29 December 2009


Sunday, November 28, 2010

All out for gardens hearing November 29, 2010

Press Release:


Contacts: Benjamin Shepard 917.586.7952; Susan Howard 917.207.6738;

Times Up! Statement for Oversight Hearing on Community Gardens
Any plans for a green NYC, must include passing a law that preserves, supports and creates more community gardens.

New York, NY (November 29, 2010) –

The mobilization for the community gardens this summer shows there is overwhelming support for expanded green space in the city. And when needed, people will organize. While we are proud that the city responded to the work of activists citywide to preserve the gardens, we need a law. Until there is a law passed and gardens are mapped as parkland, garden supporters will remain suspect of the city’s intentions. For example, we noted that in her Food Works speech last week, speaker Quinn spoke of several pieces of pending "green" legislation - the passage of which she is guaranteeing. Yet when she talked about the community gardens - it was clear that there is NO legislation pending before the City Council that would make the gardens permanent - just talk about support - but no real legislative action.

As of today, we are losing lots and lots of gardens. We’ve lost 350 since 1999 and a lot more than that over the decades. In 1980, the city had 1400 gardens. Today, there are only 300 community gardens preserved in parks. The few remaining under other agencies are in imminent danger of being bulldozed. Additionally the Parks Department has been in the practice of "swapping" these preserved gardens, moving gardens out of parks to be bulldozed for housing. This practice must stop. Many of these swapped gardens are still green spaces and must be preserved. We oppose the loss of these spaces. And Astro Turf and cement pocket parks don’t count (and in fact do more harm than good).

We are concerned about the lack of commitment to support, preserve, or create new green spaces. The social rate of return for community gardens in terms of quality life, property values, increased civic participation, food security, green space, global warming should help make preserving and creating more gardens a priority for the city. Any discussion of PlanNYC should include ways to preserve and create more community gardens to ensure green spaces as part of the sustainable future of NYC.

And finally, gardens are not standing in the way of housing. Garden activists support the need for both more gardens and affordable housing. The city could easily reach its benchmarks for truly affordable housing if all properties that went into tax arrears and were taken over by the city, were preserved as low income housing. The City could also review all such properties to indentify land to create community gardens. In sum, ensure gardens are here for our children. Gardens are a crucial part of the solution for our global city's sustainable future.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Happy Birthday Direct Action and Fundraisers for Rev Billy and NYCAHN!

Hello Everyone,

Next week is my 41st birthday. Last year, we celebrated at the Picture the Homeless fundraiser.

This year, I’d like to celebrate my birthday with you at two fundraisers for two of my favorite organizing groups in town: Rev. Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping (11/16) and the New York City AIDS Housing Network (11/11). I am on the board for the Church of Stop Shopping and on the host committee for NYCAHN. Both groups had amazing years this year, creating potent people’s victories with little to no budgets. Rev. Billy and company spent much of 2010 dropping dirt in the lobbies of Chase banks around the city in protest of the bank’s continued support for mountain top removal. This simple gesture of direct action forced a change in corporate policy. One of my favorite Rev Billy shows this year was for the Gardens and Mountains Save Us! show celebrating this community victory, in connection with the ongoing struggle for green space and public space in NYC! After watching Rev. Billy shows for over a decade, this was probably the best, most connecting, community show I have seen by the Church of Stop Shopping. Please join us for the Rev Billy benefit

TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 16, 2010 7:00PM - 10:00PM


Theatre 80

80 St. Mark's PLace, at 1st ave

New York, NY 10003

If you can’t make this show, please purchase a ticket for the 10th Anniversary Gala of the New York City AIDS Housing Network (NYCAHN) on November 11th.

For any who knows me, I take few things more seriously than community organizing and building social justice movements. And no group in New York continues the direct action AIDS movement strategy like NYCAHN. This year alone the group successfully pushed the state to decriminalize syringe possession, as well as pushed to have the Senate and Assembly pass a 30% rent cap bill. The governor veto’d the bill and NYCAHN has been after him ever since. November 9th, we have another demo to get the governor to sign this bill at 11 AM at City Hall Park!

Over the years, NYCAHN consistently showed the very best in brilliant, strategic, ethical and transformative organizing. NYCAHN staff and leaders guided and aided my students as they learned the tricks of organizing. They were the most militant and fierce member of the my steering committee at Housing Here and Now. Now I draw from their membership models of homeless and formerly homeless people in my work at Queers for Economic Justice. No group has had a greater impact on how the AIDS movement churns forward, connecting local struggles with global justice campaigns.

NYCAHN organizes homeless and formerly homeless people living with HIV and AIDS in New York City. They prioritize people directly affected as leading all their work. They were one of the few progressive groups who were successful in getting legislation through the New York State Senate this year. They use direct action, fierce protest, and serious on the ground organizing to wage some of the strongest left campaigns in New York. Through their sister organization, VOCAL, former and active drug users fight for civil rights and just drug policy. NYCAHN is a core strategic leader in building the future of a left in New York lead by those with the most stake in fundamentally transforming this city.

In just over two weeks, NYCAHN/VOCAL are holding a major fundraiser celebrating their 10th Anniversary on Thursday, November 11. I'm proud to be on the Host Committee for the event. For all who can afford the $75 tickets, I want to strong encourage you to purchase a ticket, including for those who live outside of the city or who can't attend. For everyone, I ask you to donate whatever you are able to NYCAHN.

Too purchase tickets or make a donation, go to

The event details:

NYCAHN/VOCAL 10th Anniversary Gala

November 11, 2010, from 7 PM to 10 PM

1199 Penthouse

330 West 42nd St, 33rd Floor

Please let me know if you are able to join us or otherwise contribute to NYCAHN. Thank you.

In Solidarity,

Benjamin Shepard

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Rally to Support the New Prospect Park West!

Rally to Support the New Prospect Park West!

Thursday, October 21 · 8:00am - 9:00am

LocationGrand Army Plaza

Created By

More Info
Opponents of the Prospect Park West bike lane and traffic-calming project are planning to hold a rally and media event on Thursday morning, October 21. Their goal is to get rid of this innovative livable streets project.

It is essential that supporters of this project show up in large numbers for our own demonstration that morning. We need to make it clear to the press and politicians, once and for all, just how much this project is valued by the broader community.

Supporters will be rallying at Grand Army Plaza on Thursday, October 21 at 8:00am. We would like to get a big, diverse and civil crowd out to this event. If you show up to one local political event this year, make it this one. And please feel free to your bring kids and their grandparents. Show that livable streets matter to everyone.

If you plan on coming, please RSVP to

More information here:

And our local City Council members are taking an online survey on Prospect Park. Please fill it out if you have a second:

Critical Mass - the ride which changed New York City

The bike ride that helped change the whole city.

In New York City during the 1990's, bicycling was extremely dangerous. The number one complaint of cyclists was always safety. Group bicycle rides, like the critical mass, were one of the few places where cyclists could ride together and be safe. Besides their safe and fun dynamic, the group rides steadily attracted new riders which in turn built up the confidence in the riders to become everyday commuters.

In early 2000, the New York City critical mass started gaining huge popularity due to it's celebratory spirit and safe community environment. Bikers of all types would meet the last Friday of every month, as they do in over two hundred cities around the globe, for the monthly critical mass rides. The critical mass ride in New York City has always been a place where new riders could feel safe while building a strong community voice for non polluting transportation.

The cyclists were also fed up with the lack of safe bike infrastructure, and were continuously putting pressure on the City for more bike lanes, bridge access and green infrastructure that most cities around the world already were enjoying.

Some short sighted few in the New York City Police Department attacked the critical mass riders with a vengeance. They tried everything from law suits, tickets, arrests, and harassment, to violence, spying, undercover agitation, divisionary propaganda, and even going to the point of cutting locks and stealing peoples bikes to try and stop the bike movement. However, the bikers were persistent and adopted slogans like 'Still We Ride!' despite the harassment.

Eventually, after much persistence and global media embarrassment, the bicycle community got their way and New York City hired a new and bike friendly D.O.T commissioner who had vision. Today, our new greener, safer and bike friendly city is now enjoyed by all. In fact, the very spot in Times Square where each month thousands of cyclists raised their bikes over their heads is now an auto free zone.

Thank you New York City critical mass for this positive sustainable change!

Big Win for Critical Mass Supporters

The problem is Ray Kelly and Bloomberg consider violations for First Amendment
Protections and related law suits just part of the cost of doing business.
Still its a big win showing we have been on the right side of history.
Way to go everyone involved.




A press conference will be held 1:30 PM Tuesday, October 19th

Time’s Up! Press Contact: Barbara Ross - 917.494.8164,
Plaintiffs’ Attorney Contacts: David B. Rankin - 212.226.4507, Gideon Oliver - 646.263.3495

When: Tuesday, October 19, 2010 at 1:30 PM

Pearl Street steps, U.S. Federal Court House, 500 Pearl Street, Lower Manhattan

Plaintiffs, Critical Mass participants, and attorneys Gideon Oliver and David B. Rankin

A $965,000 settlement has been reached and was made public by the court on Monday in a civil rights lawsuit brought against the City of New York by 83 cyclists who were among hundreds arrested by the New York City Police Department on the nights of Critical Mass bicycle rides beginning just before the 2004 Republican National Convention and continuing through 2006.

Participants, including attorneys, will discuss the lawsuit and settlement, as well as, among other topics:

• The NYPD’s wasteful and dangerous use of police resources in response to Critical Mass rides since the 2004 RNC
• The lack of oversight of the NYPD’s Critical Mass policing by the NYPD, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and the New York City Council since the 2004 RNC
• The chilling effects of the crackdown on present Critical Mass rides in NYC

# # #

Critical Mass is a monthly celebration of non-polluting transportation, which takes place in hundreds of cities around the world. Critical Mass and other group bicycle rides have contributed to increased cycling and safer streets.

For more than 20 years, Time’s Up! Environmental Group has worked to educate people about the environmental impacts of everyday decisions, from the food we buy to the means of transportation we use.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Now is the time for community organizing and direct action.

Its up to each of us to save the gardens and create more.


Benjamin Shepard – 917 586 7952

Susan Howard – 917-207-6738

“The gardens were created through direct action and sweat equity – creating a green space out of rubble. They were protected in the late 1990’s with direct action in combination with a well organized campaign to preserve and protest community gardens.  And this summer, Times Up used direct action to sound the alarm about the limitations of the new rules.  And the city took notice.  Today, more than ever, it will be direct action and community organizing which will protect and save the gardens.  Each garden must be an open space, available for organizing communities.  Through such organizing, regular people preserve these spaces. Today, we call for all gardens to be mapped as parkland.”   
To this end, there are some very, very specific things garden activists can do to help preserve the community gardens.  Among others, these are:

Push the city to include community gardens in their vision for a PlaNYC. Add your comments. Make sure the city understands that any discussion of a green New York must include discussion of gardens. PlaNYC commits to a 10 min walk to a park for all New Yorkers. This must include a community garden. There are PlaNYC meetings coming up this month. Attend the next PlaNYC community meeting in your neighborhood: Lower Manhattan, October 19, 6-8 pm, Theater 2, BMCC,
199 Chambers, NY, NY 10007; Bronx, October 26, 6-8 pm, Lincoln Hospital, 234 East 149th Street, Between Morris; West Queens, November 3, 6-8 pm; Frank Sinatra School for the Arts Tony Bennett Concert Hall, 35-12 35th Avenue, Astoria 11106

Support gardens which are in danger of development, such as La Guardia Community Garden under threat from NYU. Come to the community board 2 meeting on this issue on October 18th

Use the gardens and keep them open.  The best public spaces are well used public spaces. Make sure that each garden in your neighborhoods are well used on a weekly basis. 
Let your community know.  If you find out a garden in your  neighborhood is under threat, let the world know.  Contact your council member.  Set up a bulldozer hotline.  (Our hotline will be ready soon). And connect gardens with a larger struggle to a healthier world.  
To this end, this weekend, please join Time’s Up! With The Reverend Billy &
The Church of Life after Shopping invite you to a
No Plastic BBQ at El Jardin del Paraiso
Sunday, October 10th, 2010
3:00-7:00 PM

Inspired by’s Global Work Party and the ongoing imperative to
preserve and relish in New York's Community Gardens!

Participate in a plastic free bbq immediately following
The Rev. Billy’s Mountains and Gardens fabulous worship
1-2:30 pm at The Highline Ballroom

Free guest ticket available to Garden friends, contact
Please bring food & prepare to explore a plastic free future.

El Jardin del Paraiso
Enter on 4th Street bt Ave C & Ave D

TIMES UP! is a non-profit environmental group that has been using educational outreach and direct action for the last 20 years to promote a more sustainable, less toxic city.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Michael Shenker - RIP

Michael Shenker RIP
I just got a call from Aresh about Michael. Michael was one of the leaders of the Lower East Side Squatter movement. He helped connect More Gardens with the Esperanza Community Garden. And was later quoted Sophocles when he was arrested as Esperanza was being bulldozed. I spent thirty hours in jail with Shenker that night. His good humor through the whole event was parallel to none.
When Reclaim the Streets New York held a rant-a=than Shenker was awarded the honor as the top neighborhood ranter. And the competition was steep, including David Graeber and Steve Duncombe, but he gave a prize winning final rant about anarchy and nature, which inspired the standing room only crowd at KGB bar to roar with laughter at his self deprecating rant, in the Lower East Side speak-out tradition which was his own. He was always ready to put his body on the line if needed. When the US planned to attack Iraq, Shenker was arrested several times. I was lucky enough to again be arrested with Shenker and spend the next few years seeing him as we successfully sued the city as result of the Carlyle arrests. Fortunately for me, I had the pleasure to interview Shenker five years ago for my book Play, Creativity, and Social Movements. Here is the full interview.
Interview date, 8/22/05
Michael Shanker
Michael Shanker is a long time Lower East Side squatter and garden activist.
Why play?
1) Age and place of birth?
49. I was born in Long Island
2) What brought you to this type of community organizing? Biography question…
Squatter movement.
I’ve never considered myself an organizer. Organizers to me always struck me as people born in Appalacha who draw a salary for it. Sometimes its necessary to organize people to maximize the impact potential. Through squatting was where I learned how to do that and that it became an absolute necessity for people to organize in order to defend their homes.
Started this in 1984. Before then, I came to the Lower East Side in 1971, ’72. Back then, apartments cheap, relatively affordable. You could get an apartment for $100.00. They hadn’t burned the neighborhood yet. I moved around. Lived on seventh street, 12th Street, and I lived on Avenue B Right over Madonna. Kate’s joint is actually Madonna’s old apartment. I lived up on the 6th floor. That was my last place before I started squatting. In 1979, 80, 81, the landlords started to see the potential for reclaiming the neighborhood for real estate. And rent kept going up and it kept going up and it kept going up. And they were going up faster than my ability to generate revenue and income.
So I lost my last apartment on Avenue B. There was a fine in the building. Half of the people had to move out. Nobody was paying the rent. There were horrible mosquitos coming up from out of the basement. I wasn’t paying the rent. The landlord was pissed.
My girlfriend’s dad was living in the other side of the apartment and it was time to go.
And I used to hang out at the Life Café. Like in that play, the Life Café was quite a scene back in those days. There were a lot of things before that, the Fillmore, lots of things. …Yea, I hung out at the Life Café and that’s where I met Natasha and Rick.
The new wave of the squatting movement was just getting started then. Before that some people had made some moves with their buildings in the late 1970’s. Three of them are part of the current UHAB deal. As of today, its eleven buildings. The UHAB is the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board.
(plug in seth t. argument about the two guys... and the humor of the moment).
3) What were/are the names of the groups you were involved with?
4) Have you utilized elements of creativity, play, direct action, or performance in your organizing? Where has the rambunctious playfulness been part of this struggle for housing.
Well, there wasn’t a lot of it. Our survival was not dependent upon it. I think its a very brief phenomenon. I don’t think its going to make much of a difference. As a matter of fact. I think it tends to be counterproductive.
BS: Why?. Shenker notes that music and cultural production was part of the movement.
I mean, we did a lot of art. And visual artists were particularly effective. We did a particular amount of propoganda, which was influential for people. It created sympthathy or empathy. It opened up people’s minds. So visual arts were particularly effective, concerts sometimes being done.
Yet, the spirit levity, which often accompanies play, was deminished by the seriousness of the endeavor.
But our struggles in the buildings sometimes came down to physical confrontations, beatings; cops got beat; it wasn’t something to rejoice about.
THe result of a failed action had a direct impact, which was that people were in the streets. Sometimes they go to jail and they get out all their belongings have been taken out of their home. So, it wasn’t too joyful or playful.
5) What best experiences with the use of play and creativity in your work?
What are high high points...
Yet, paradoxically Shenker smiles and acknowoledges: “We had a blast the whole time. It was like fun. Yea, it was a pain, but the other side of that was great joy and pleasure. Incredable culture too, smoking parties and stuff like that.
BS: So there was a great deal to this. It was a great time. The stakes were incredably high. You could lose your apartment if you had a bad demo.
Some people died. Homelessness kills....
You have to remember this is a very, very diverse population. There is this amazing diversity in the building. There are people who are like family people. People who have kids. And a lot of conservative people. People who just got a pad to see whats going on.... There were a lot of people who never really did political stuff.
And there were a lot of people over the years who supported the squats who were not even squatters. People like this had apartments but they saw that there was a movement and they got invovled with it and they played really instrumental roles.
The apex is right now because we are codifying the entire process, which means we are going to be signing some contracts with the city and the state government. And these contracts kindov summarize the struggle cause they are going to be binding for 32 years or whatever. And so we’ll see what’s in writing, you know.
6) Is creative protest and community building a viable alternative to traditional models of organizing and politics? Is there a contrast?
7) What is the politics of playful creative protest as opposed to conventional protest?
How do you use play?
8) When you use play, theatre, and creative direct action, what kind of audiences do
you have in mind?
9) What responses have you gotten?
10) How do you think that theater, creativity and play work to effect change?
Can creative playful fun approaches to organizing practices result in practical shifts in people’s lives?
11) To what extent is the community you are seeking to create embodied in your protest tactics? Is creative protest most useful for connecting political actors with formal political channels or for creating an image of a better world in which activists hope to live? Like a syringe ex, or a bike ride, whats so interesting with the squatters is people actually built their own world in some ways. Its interesting to talk about that prefigurative work where wins came out of that organizing and community building.
What did you need? You needed a place to live. You needed a place to hang out. You needed a place to touch nature. We won pretty much all of those. We won buildings; we won gardens to a large degree; and we won ABC No Rio. And we pretty much used the same sets of tactics in all three of those struggles.
BS: What were the tactics you used in the garden movement?
Well, in the first place Giuliani created a problem for himself there. He set himself up by trying to bite off more than he could chew, by trying to take 400 something gardens at once (and attempt to auction them off). Before that they were effectively taking a few gardens from small numbers of gardenners.
BS: It worked in the Bronx – take two or three at a time.
Well, they’re not stupid. But then they tried all of them and he thought if he demonized the gardeners, called them communists, he could succeed. And so he tried to take everything all at once in a big hand over to real estate. And basically, it was pretty like a thousand different groups got involved with it. One of the groups that I was particularly involved with was More Gardens. I’m a founding member of More Gardens. More Gardens’ original members were: Harry Bubbins, Michael Shanker, Rafael Bueno, and Emily Nobell Maxwell. And really what motivated the formation of More Gardens was that on that list of 400 gardens was Cherry Tree Garden. That was the Garden Next to Casa Del Soul. Its always a great motivator to movements when they are directly impacted by the outrage which was occurring.
There was another group which was involved, which was the Lower East Side Collective, which played a really crucial role in it. And they were very, very effective. And one of the archetects of that group kindov brought in what you are describing, which is a joyous aspect. But there wasn’t a lot of that in the gardens. Its first manifestations were with the crickets and Charas. And that went straight down the hill.
BS: They gave it away. They didn’t fight for it.
They didn’t know how to fight for it, the people there. That would definately be a fascinating case study of what not to do. But its really clear. Its transparent. This inherent distrust of people and a heirarchical structure in juxtoposition to a horizontal movement. And ultimately they did not trust the people. And ultimately if you want to make a popular movement, the great gift for the people is the opportunity to be creative and to realize their own individual potential, creative potential. And heirarchical structures tend to neuter that.
BS: What I loved about More Gardens was you walked in and you were welcomed and plugged into the movement. The barrier to participation was nothing. You showed and you wanted to do something.
What can you do or give it a try.
BS: Thats an incredably empowerring thing, even if you can only do it for twenty minutes a week. The barriers were reduced to the point that anybody could participate and lots of people did. It felt very empowerring.
People need to have that feeling. Its rooted in us as a species. A lack of empowerment means you might die in the forest. Our survival is contingent upon it.
BS: With the bike rides, the squats, the gardens, they were all movements in which many were invited to be involved.
Aresh was the great master of that. He really brought that spirit way into the garden movement.
Shanker recalled four tactics used in the garden struggle in NYC. “The first was direct action; the second was a judicial strategy, a fundraising strategy, and a legislative strategy, which is a real risk because it’s a real snake pit,” he explained. Direct action combined with a joyous approach played out through tactic including a ‘sing out’ disrupting a public hearing, as well as an ecstatic theatrical model of organizing which compelled countless actors to participate in the story themselves. The aim was to convey their messages and engage an audience without being excessively didactic. Thus groups such as made of range of crafty approaches which engaged audiences in playful engaging ways, lulling audiences with stories which seduced rather than hammered. This theatrical mode of civil disobedience had a way of disarming people and shifting the terms of debate.
“But really the fundraising, the judicial, and the direct action components of that front worked synergistically. And its always important, when you are dealing with a guy like Giuliani, because they left him with a face saving way out of a dilemma. And there was that exact quote, which he said at the end of the struggle. ‘It’s a win-win situation.’ Those were his words for it when he actually received one of his major defeats. The way we did it was with a lot of great civil disobediences. We took over City Hall. And sixty seventy year old people were doing it. Gardeners from all over the city were getting involved. The very first civil disobedience where we did our cd training was a sing-out.
… I think it Rector Street, where it was one of these things where it was going through this mortibound administrative committees. And this guy has a little plackards which says he stands for the mayor and he sits there and they are going through the necessary steps in the legal process of disposing of property. There was this wonderful woman named Lisa, who went to Casa, and she wrote the More Gardens songbook. And it had things like ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic’ and we re wrote the thing to be like a garden song. We went into the hearings and we distributed the songbook. And people at key moments would just sing for long periods of time, which brought the hearings to a halt in a very, very unthreatening way. And it kinda got people’s feet wet to challenging authority. And it began to give them that feeling of collective empowerment through that collective challenging of authority and also was spiritually inspiring by joining together in song. And we began to say, ‘Aha, if this works here then we can make it work there in such and such a way.’
And it wasn’t such a stretch to ask people to go into City Hall and not leave. And City Hall has great acoustics. (see Tim Becker account). There was a hearing at the legislative wing and people took over the lobby. There was like 40 or 50 people arrested in that.
BS: And LESC stripped down to sports bras, like the US Women’s Soccer Team, back in 2000. The other case that stands out if the image of someone getting arrested in a tree in city hall park dressed like a sunflower.
That was Aresh. They took him out with a boat, some boat on top of a truck and they dropped him into the truck. Or was it Mario up in the tree? I think it was Aresh. And then we did the auction with like 80 arrests and I think we’d already won by that point. And that was to drive home the point that you’d better make sure that we’ve won.
So direct action has done its job. And the state’s got a delimma. Holy Mackerel, people express popular support and look what power they have. We don’t want that to get out. So can we confuse them? But we also have the fundraising and judicial strategies. So on a parallel track we have Elliot Spitzer, the state attorney general, come to the rescue. And all the various city council people are lining up. Lawsuits are filed in Brooklyn. And this is happening simultaneously to all the direct action. Meanwhile the angels from heaven come, we have the Trust for Public Land and Better Middler arrive. And this is a great way to get rid of the horizontal concept of power and say here’s our savior Bette Middler. Aren’t get grateful that she showed up. And I talked to people a matter of months later and they said, ‘oh Bette Middler saved the gardens.’ But that was part of strategy, which was fundraising with the Trust for Public Land, the New York Restoration Project, that there would be opportunities for funding instutions to come in. And basically Bueno cooked this whole thing up. And we discussed this strategy before the whole thing. So Elliot Spitzer and these people who had standing brought suit to stay the bulldozing through the courts. And all these things worked in synergy. And my job was to do the direct action component.
A we interfaced very effectively with the Lower East Side Collective, with Leslie Kauffman. Though I pay her all sorts of tribute, she was very creative and very dedicated, and fine posters too, great posters; and they really did get those posters up. I wish she had an equally nice voice to say things about me…
The first campaign was to save Chico Mendez Garden. It a beautiful garden. The campaign got everybody warmed up. But I liked the ones when we actually won. Chico Mendez was a great sacrifice. Of all of the sacrifices, ones that we’ve lost, one that I thought we kindov transcended our defeat was Esperanza.
BS; Why was that?
Just because it was so beautiful. The Coqui was just so magnificent. People’s involvement and the winter and the fire pit over there and the solidarity with the Torres family, their willingness just to say ‘do it.’ And also it gave a bruising to some of our quasi-socialist housing activists, Margarita Lopez, who have no concept of the importance of green space.
BS: I felt the same way about the campaign, there was enough witnessing. Back to the idea that people were articulating the world you wanted. You wanted a garden as part of a healthy community. The Times quoted Shenker quoting Sophocles as he was being arrested during that action, Giuliania fooliani, the furies will be following you for the wrest of your days.
You’ve talked about a horizontal organizing model and creating an image of the world that people want to live in within the protest, do you want to elaborate on that, when that worked and didn’t work?
Well, I think that people are individuals, even when they join within collectives. Some kind of balance is needed between what kind of action creates the maximum potential within the collective and what the needs of the individual to even join the collective. People want to be creative. They want to be a crusader. They want to go out on a journey of self discovery. We’re not getting paid. No one is being forced by anyone, except maybe by circumstances. People have different personal needs. Realization and utilization of individual potential. And then the joy of working collectively with other people so that that is recognized by other humans and esteemed by others and appreciated by the collective. And that in essence is non heirarical. It doesn’t mean that there are not structures in place.
This is why I have problems with groups such as ANSWER and UFPJ. Seattle was an incredible inspiration for me. It appeared we were moving in a direction of popular brilliance of small collectives. And all of a sudden when things get really serious. We have this war in Iraq, lets just turn things over to fy and z. You go to one of those marches, you feel like a cog. You feel like a cattle. Then you get the recording at the end of the march which says you’ve been photographed and counted. And then George Bush says, ‘it’s a focus group.’ And that’s what you are cause you are not going to disrupt anything. And the day of the march nothing is going to be open. Its uncontionable that we didn’t confront Colin Powell at the UN. And we have a quarter million lives on our hands as a people cause we didn’t make some kind of effort to confront the aggressor at the time.
BS: We certainly could have done more.
I’m not blaming the people. I’m blaming the hieratical structures. On February 15th, a million people were on the streets. People were so highly motivated. If you want to manage a movement, you have to think a little bit. And maybe work with two hands. There are things that are the best that the movement has to offer. If we can get a million out on a Sunday, maybe we can get 75,000 out on Monday so maybe Colin Powell has to be brought in on a helicopter. So that a billion people do not have to watch the streets of New York do not have to be clear as Colin Powell drives in to make one of the most aggregious speeches in human history. I know the vibe at that point, a hundred thousand people could have come out at that point. The computers were clicking.
12) Are you fighting to build community or create external changes? And are these aims mutually exclusive?
I’m kindov conservative in that I’m trying to keep the world that I grew up. I wanna keep the Forth Amendment. As a squatter, it was my favorite amendment, cause it guaranteed my security here in my building. They couldn’t come in with thirty days.
I thrive off the Lower East Side. But I really don’t like politics.
13) How do you define success and find meaning on this work?
14) What are the strengths vs the limitations of playful, creative protest and direct action?
There was a style of things that came out after the gardens where you can’t really go to a demonstration unless you give out the party toys. You know, I can’t get with that. The mode of the expression and the tenor of the expression needs to be proportional to the injury being inflicted. So if a quarter million people have died, it’s a little difficult to say we are going to go have a good time without paying some type of tribute through the collective expression which could actually create a deeper level of expression of the human experience. Some type of tribute needs to be made to the people who are sufferriing. There comes a time when we need to transcend ourselves and say we are not Americans or Iraquis, we’re human beings.
BS: Play does not need to be in opposition to that.
Its just like going to a Socialist Worker’s party. Who wants to do that?
Bs: The dour stuff does not get anyone anywhere.
There is no need not have some sort of creative expression. You might as well have a good time. I tell you, a lot of our best parties, the best parties I have been to were the parties after the demo. And not even just after a win, sometimes when we didn’t win, a lot of dancing and people going crazy and having some art.
I look at groups like Billionaires for Bush and I think that’s all right but that’s not winning right now. Cindy Sheehan and Code Pink, those folks have really got something. And nature has chosen them to do this. Here is a person who has lost her loved one and women. And there is a real movement. And Code Pink is a joyous example to put that example right out there. There she was at Union Square with her chi wa wa dog the other day. And you know she can have a good time. But you could feel the connection between her joyous expression and her with the hardship and suffering that the Sheehan family has obviously experienced.
Steve Questor said: Cindy is the one who got me out there (for the last anti war march 2005).
I think that Critical Mass is the perfect expression of the fusion of joyful experience and a projection of a better world and a new world and also taking the hard knocks as they do it. People are getting busted and they are still doing their thing, coming in costumes and just rejoicing in doing what they are doing.
BS: I agree with you. I think there were four things that worked really well. 1) Critical mass which is non-heirarchical, 2) syringe exchange programs – it save a lot of lives, 3) gardens, and in some ways 4) food not bombs – what is your action – giving food away. Its not perfect, but its still a gesture of care to the world.
And it tastes good.
BS: Three out of four times (laughs).