Monday, June 25, 2012

Drag March in an Occupied City

My favorite demonstration of the year is always the drag march. Last year the spectacle before pride helped usher in a gay marriage and a year of occupations, unpermited parades, and unprecedented energy. It felt like mardi gras throughout the unpermitted march dance party. As the year passed, the streets of New York filled with occupations, new situations, street riots, colorful responces, arrests, defiant expressions, acts of repression, accompanied by gestgures of creative resistance, moving onward, backward. With each move closer to the queen, the state countered with a increasingly aggressive reaction, point counterpoint. The power of ridicule, of play is to challenge these moves to those in power have no idea what is taking place or how to respond. 

Mark Addams, featured in the middle above, is known as one of the most playful of activists in  OWS.  He is also a man with a prophetic voice, ready to engage in civil disobedience for what he believes in.  As I write this, he is jailed in Rikers   Island for tresspassing in a private space owned by a Church with a real estate arm with holdings once given to them by the queen of England.
 Yet, sometimes even the most playful of spectacles are received with a frown, an over reaction or an arrest. Few have ever accused the NYPD of having a sense of humor. New York's public spaces tend to function as stage sets for a theater of politics and possibility, particularly in the last weeks in June.

Still Friday night, these worlds and ambitions would crash into one evening of Casseroles Marches with Zombies and pots and pans running against traffice, a Street Party with a marching band, and a march gender role subverting, radical faeries roming from East Village to West where Gay Liberation had a coming party the last week fo June 1969.

"Im hoping for a grand convergence of Queerball Night of the Living Debt and the fabulous Drag March at some point this evening," mused my friend Madeline on facebook. "We're gonna rock lower Manhattan."

"Will there be a Queen-Zombie convergence?" another friend asked after she saw my post. "That'd be pretty awesome"

I posted the call for the annual drag march in my facebook page with a message to those considerring their multiple options for weekend filled with trans, dyke, gay, drag, and naked mermaid marches. "For those who hope to march outside of parades with corporate sponsors and tens of zillions of cops, join us for one of my favorite pride events, the drag march at dusk."
The call announced the drag march would take place:

7:00pm until 10:00pm
Tompkins Square Park

Queens, Kings, Otherwise & In-Betweens

Put 'em marchin' heels on. This is the fuckin' DRAG MARCH!

Begins at Tompkins Square Park [Avenue A & St Marks entrance].
... March to the Stonewall Inn at Sheridan Square.

We gather & circle in Tompkins Square Park before marching West to the Stonewall Inn.

"The very first Drag March happened 19 years ago as an (unofficial) part of the Stonewall 25 commemorations - the organizers of Stonewall 25 didn't wish leather or drag at their event thus our event was propelled into being..."
~Drag March Co-Founder Harmonie Moore of the NYC Church Ladies for Choice

We still gather & march each year because -- well -- we can!

Put on a frock and join us!

Rain or shine (please shine)...

There are two Places to Dress before the Drag March this year.
Le Petit Versailles & Amichai's apartment on St.Marks.
It will be a 'good idea' to bring drink [etc.] to share and a mirror [if possible] to either place.
Folks will be able to return for items post march -- but should coordinate that in person with their perspective hosts... ♥

Le Petit Versailles
346 East Houston St
@ Avenue C.
Dressing between 2pm & 7pm

The call for the street party was equally provocative, framing the street party as anti- assimilationist extravaganza.

l strikes back: a radical stree party

...because Stonewall wasn’t the beginning and marriage isn’t the end!

MEET US: At the end of the Trans March! Gathering at 6:30pm in Washington Square and leaving at 7pm. Look for the Queerball Banner on the edge of the TDOA Rally!
DANCE, DISSENT & TAKE THE STREETS TO: Tompkins Square Park & the Drag March! Dancing and chanting facilitated by the RUDE MECHANICAL ORCHESTRA!
THEN GATHER: outside of Stonewall after the Drag March, for a glittery, theatrical Anti-Awards Ceremony, paying sarcastic tribute to some of the jerks who’ve sold us out!

Because it SUCKS (and not in a hot way) to not be represented, and to be misrepresented, by mainstream Pride celebrations.
Because we CAN'T BUY LIBERATION with corporate-sponsored Pride -- but we can come together, dissent, and have rowdy fun for FREE.
Because we, too, get to make & TAKE UP SPACE for ourselves and our own politics.
Because radical queerness has to be about DISMANTLING SYSTEMIC OPPRESSION including white supremacy, capitalism, the class system, ableism, colonialism & imperialism alongside (and not after) homophobia, transphobia & patriarchy.
Because we want space to BRING TOGETHER folks of many queer identities, rather than dividing and subdividing ourselves into segments or fighting over identity & territory.
Because we're hot, we're diverse and inclusive, and we're gonna be SEEN & HEARD.

Noise & Music Makers: buckets, drums, pots & pans, tambourines, horns, kazoos + tools to get us dancing through the streets.
Posters: make your politics visible with messages that show that “Stonewall wasn’t the beginning and marriage isn’t the end!” Think NYC budget cuts to homeless youth, the prison-industrial complex’s targeting of QTPOC, the appropriation of queer movements by corporations for profit, the promotion of gay rights to mask human rights abuses... oh my!
Visual Spectaculars: costumes, headwear, boas, bow ties, sparkles & glitter, whatever makes you feel queer + whatever makes you feel sexy.
Mobile Talents: hula hoops, stilts, acrobatics, contortions, face-painting, tarot reading + DANCE MOVES.
Every queer, homo, gender-transgressor, radical, alphabet-soup-inspiring, awesome, fun, or angry person you know or like.

You. Me. Your besties. Your lovers. Your comrades.

Events such as Queerball remind us that equality will not provide a single shelter bed for homeless youth in need of a space to call home. shelter bed for homeless youth in need of a space to call home

And then there was the call for the Zombie March:

Night of the Living Debt
6PM Solidarity Summer Assembly
7PM Debt Zombie exorcism by Rev Billy Talen
8PM Casserolesmarch


On Friday, June 22nd, 7PM at Washington Square Park, NYC students will rise from the DEBT. Get ready for a zombie-walk!

"David Graeber, the anthropologist who wrote the soon-to-be-classic Debt: The First 5,000 Years, likens the process [of acquiring a student loan] to a horror movie, in which the zombies or the vampires attack the humans as a kind of recruitment policy. 'They turn you into one of them,' as Graeber told me."-Thomas Frank

On June 22nd, in solidarity with the Quebec student strike, NYC students will rise up from their eternal slumber, in a night of undead mischief. If they will not give us free education, we will be forced to eat brains!

Come in your zombie best and let Rev. Billy Talen exorcise your Student Debt Demons

This is the fourth weekly Casseroles event in NYC, so bring your casseroles (pots and pans)!

These marches were originated in solidarity with the student strike in Quebec and we hope to build momentum for an American student strike in the Fall. We believe education is a right, not just for the rich & white. So join us on our weekly marches starting at Washington Square Park.

In 2010, the average college graduate had accumulated over $25,000 in student loan debt by graduation day. Approximately two-thirds of all college students graduate with student loans.
On July 1, 2012, the interest rate on federally subsidized Stafford loans is set to double from 3.4% to 6.8% unless Congress takes action.

NYC students have faced rising student debt for far too long. The strike in Quebec symbolizes a struggle for a system that provides everyone equal opportunity to achieve their full potential. Debt is slavery and education is the liberation that will help us win all our struggles. It is time to bring Quebec's infinite strike to the United States, starting in NYC.

Check out videos from our past marches:

Here's a link with a lot of resources that explain the Québéc student movement pretty well: 

The overlap between the queer and occupy crowds has prooven vexing, engaging, and occasionally frustrating. Whle natural bedfellows, many in queer circles have debated the merits and meanings of queer struggles for something better for everyone and a gay approach to earning equality for decades. Queers suggest equality equals bland, dumbing down the movement and its goals of a better, more colorfulworld for everyone. They argue going along to get along is not the stuff of movements for social change. ‎"Assimilation = Extinction"argued Clifton Webb on the queering OWS Website, posting a "Call to Action: Reclaim Pride From the 1% #OccuPride" from the Pink Block. It stated:

#OccuPride #OccuQueers #Tranarchism #PinkBloc
Pride 2012: The Struggle for Sexual and Gender Justice Continues
This summer, communities across the world will celebrate Pride Festivals commemorating the birth and victories of the Gay and Trans Liberation Movements. Despite the profound social change these movements have accomplished since the first high-heels were thrown over the barricades at Compton's Cafeteria and the Stonewall Inn, it is clear that the struggle for queer, trans, and gender-variant liberation is far from finished.

From California to North Carolina, and around the world, our relationships remain under assault by the State. The progress made so-far by the established LGBT Rights movement has been uneven, excluding trans women, homeless youth and elders, people of color, low-income and poor communities, immigrants, gender non-conforming people, people with disabilities, neurovariant people and sex workers — the very communities whose militant resistance to police brutality and vice patrol raids first gave life to the Gay and Trans Liberation movement. Now, the life-or-death (primarily economic) needs of marginalized people are ignored by the mainstream LGBT Rights movement in favor of symbolic victories for relatively-privileged members of our communities.
For too long, we have been force-fed an ¨LGBT Rights¨ program centered largely around the priorities of wealthy gay cisgender white men (whom writer Allison Kilkenny aptly referred to as the 1% of the LGBTQ community). Of course every relationship should be cherished and honored. But why are we fighting for marriage equality while trans, queer, and gender non-conforming people are dying, losing their jobs, and being locked up at dramatically higher rates than straight, cisgender populations? Why are we fighting for a few more documented monogamous couples to be let into an exclusionary institution instead of demanding health care, immigration status, respect, and autonomy for everyone? Of course no one should be discriminated against on their job (or anywhere). But why are we celebrating the repeal of the U.S. military's Don't Ask Don't Tell policy (which does not even benefit trans servicemembers in any way) while soldiers are still being sent to die in unjust wars and veterans are doomed to poverty because every social program has been cut in the name of austerity?
Transgender people face universal job discrimination and half have considered suicide. In Washington, D.C. alone, at least half a dozen trans women of color have died violently in the past year, and there are many more in other cities. We will not fight for inclusion in institutions that are built on profit, hierarchy, competition, violence, incarceration, and coercion — especially when these very institutions are the ones carrying out our oppression by killing us, putting us in jails, and leaving us hungry in the streets. We do not need to assimilate into an unjust system. We need mutual aid. We need a revolt. We need — we demand — homes, food, communities, health care, and legal status for all. We demand the end of poverty, criminalization, police brutality, profiling in the criminal justice system, ¨bullying¨ (better known to us as assault and harassment), psychiatric control of our identities, and discrimination. We demand a radically re-imagined society, and we are here to build it.

Why #Occupy Pride?
Adding insult to injury, the Gay Elite who hijacked the movement also sold one of our most important annual festivals to the highest bidder. What once was a celebration of open defiance against violently State-enforced sexual norms and gender hierarchies became a marketing and advertising venue for ¨gay-friendly¨ banks and corporations, complete with entrance fees, merchandizing, and $15,000-a-plate fundraising galas. Decision-making became further centralized in the hands of an emerging white, wealthy LGBT upper-class.
This year in NYC, Pride is sponsored by notorious union-busters, foreclosure profiteers, and other corporations desperate to pinkwash their image like Wells Fargo, Citigroup, AT&T, Whole Foods, and Target. From ejecting veterans of Stonewall because they were trans women of color, to banning free speech for queers who take a stance against social injustices, Pride has been effectively depoliticized and removed from its true history.
This year, we will reclaim Pride. We will truly honor decades of militant resistance by carrying those struggles into the present and future. We call on a broadly-inclusive coalition of people to #OccuPride.

Marsha and Sylvia and the Street Trans Action Revolutionaries. 
We remember the work of groups like the Street Transvestite/Transgender Action Revolutionaries, a radical network of trans women of color and sex workers in New York who provided housing and mutual aid and allied themselves with the Black Panthers and the Young Lords. We pay homage to the sex worker activists who jump-started a movement against State-enforced morality and for human rights by occupying churches across the world (with the help of many clergy — Trinity on Wall Street has a lot to learn from them). We carry on the traditions of the trans and gender non-conforming civil rights activists who held sit-ins at lunch counters to take direct action against transphobic and racist discrimination.

We stand in solidarity with the AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power (ACT UP), who continue to use creative direct action to end the HIV/AIDS crisis. We support the queer and trans youth who occupy Christopher Street Pier in defiance of gentrification. We send our love to, and demand the immediate release of, CeCe McDonald, a young trans woman of color in Minneapolis who is currently incarcerated for defending herself against a violent racist, transphobic attack.
This summer, we invite you to join us. Form a militant trans-feminist bloc, show your unashamed support for sex workers, or march with an anti-capitalist queer contingent for your local Pride march. Set up an info-table or booth at the Pride Festival (but don't pay for it). Distribute literature that reminds people of the radical history of Pride. Hold a benefit for CeCe McDonald. Mic-check against the corporate cooptation of our movement. Crash a Gay 1% fundraising gala. Take over a building and give it to homeless queer and trans youth. Organize your own DIY alternative Pride full of radical workshops and free dance parties. Get creative. Stay militant. Never give up.
We are the 99%. We are here to recruit you.
With queer love,
Trans World Order, the trans ladies (and our allies) who brought you
More Info: Off your computers and into the streets!

Debate about the call spread far and wide. While some wanted to march in the pride parade, others followed the lead of anti-assimiliationist groups such as Gay Shame and Radical Homosexual Agenda, who have said there is no point in OccupyWallStreet based groups participating in an an event sponsored by the very banks and corporations, OWS has been challenging for months. A few of these corporate sponsors for the NYC parade include: CitiGroup, AT&T, Coke, Target, Macy's, TD Bank, W Hotel, Delta, NY Life, and Walgreens among others. Many opposed having anything to do with an event they were sponsoring. Afterall, the point of Occupy was to fight forclosures, not support events banks which forclose donate to. Others thought the point was to get the message out to the millions who come to the parade. The result was a discussioin on facebook addressing queer and assimiationist conflicts daing back to the earliest days of gay liberation.

Brandon Cuicchi would argue: "I think is primarily trans activists who helped inspire/organize OWS in the beginning. I think the letter is just a rallying cry to inspire thought and action in a general sense. It's not necessarily proposing THE plan for NYC; it's just using NYC as an example and throwing out suggestions. It's also educating people about Pride's roots as an unsanctioned event and the corporate changes to it over the years. I don't know if we'll reach consensus on all aspects of Pride. It feels like some people are fine with registering and marching in Pride and others might rather interrupt Pride. I'm not convinced it's important either way. It's not like the tens of thousands of queers who attend and maybe heard about Occupy a few times will be like, "Oh man, do you think they registered?" or "They're for real because they didn't register." Whether we're registered or not, we'll still upset/disrupt/subvert the dominant, corporate nature of it. "

Amelia Sabine Rebelle chimed in noting: "... as a poor, neurovariant trans woman, I don't really think I can support any assimilationist tendencies nor a capitalist pride that serves only to be a reminder that more often than not, those with privilege (i.e., white, cis, neurotypical, able-bodied, middle-upper class, etc.) tend to throw the rest of us under the bus for any chance at gaining a little more privilege. that privilege comes at the expense of others, and I want no part in conforming to a toxic, destructive homonormativity..."
Todd Tif Fernandez  followed noting: "... obviously everyone has their own perspective. But there is a huge difference between being upset with the gay inc. establishment agenda, and even how pride has evolved into what it is today, heavily corporate sponsored, etc. - on the one hand - and working to liberate us from oppression at the societal and legal level.... The root of this oppression precedes capitalism as we know it today - but is very rooted in the similar underlying issues of greed and power. Calculated homophobia - though it's all about gender ultimately and oppression of the feminine imo - goes back to colonial times ...."
The meetings for Queering OWS were open and many active participants took part, wit h
far less of those who commended into the flame war attending the meeting. Eventually, those who attended the meeting would endorse marching in the parade. After listenning to weeks of this discussion, long-time OWS participant Steven Menendez chimed in that he felt like there was very little room for the words "love" or care or affect or "joy" in the debate. After literally decades of this debate about assimilation vs radical queer outsider status, Mendez' argument resonated with many.

The last time I took part in the Pride Parade it was with SexPanic! in 1999. We brought Rudy's Sex Mobile driving down the parade route, with two semi dressed women making out on the front of the car, as others shot water guns at the crowd and each other. We passed out signs declaring, "Because Rudy Hates You!" And eventually, hhe police pushed us off the parade route. When we asked about our first amendment rights, they explained these gave us a right to spend the weekend in jail. When the corporations and police dictate the agenda, these conflicts happen. Too much crowd control for me. When the corporatoins sponsor our events, certain messages just will not be tolerated. The police will be there to make sure the right images is communicated. Still, some would take part in the drag and trans marches on Friday before the parade. Others would support the Dyke March, or join with ACT UP and Occupride Sunday.

The Times Up! sound bike on its way to the ACT UP 25 demonstration where it  supported the speeches and action. by PeeWee

As it has done the previous two years, Times Up! brought a sound bike to the parade. I attended the beginnings of the trans march in Washington Square before going to pick up the sound bike. Torrential rains filled the sky It rained as we set up the bike in the Times Up! Williamsberg Space. Yet by 7 PM, the sky was clear once again as we traversed back into Manhattan.

Riding through the East Village to the ride, my mind trails through memories of the countless other drag marches I have taken part in every year since 1999, only missing one in 2003 after our first daughter was born and for a trip to Italy in 2005. The intersection of communities, between the Radical Faeries, Church Ladies, Anarcists, radical cyclists, critical mass participants, radical queers, radical marching band members, ravers, long time gay liberationists, AIDS, harm reduction, sex work, and global justice actiivists, performance articists and homeless folks, these communities help make this open space inviting for everyone to take part. Taking part in Critical Mass, Brad Will joined the march at one point in 2000 or running into Mattilda or Stonewall veteran Bob Kohler along the way. So many memories.

Arriving at 7:30, I encountered hundreds and hundreds of well dressed village people in various assortments of drag, women with moustaches, men in gowns, faeries, friends, and heros, such as Randolfe Wicker, who helped organize the first Gay Picketline in US history in 1965. He was there to interview those taking part. We talked about Bob Kohler, as well as Sylvia, and Marsha P Johnson, who were once Wicker's roommates. Their quircky friendship is part part of what drives this movement. Countless supporters, including members of the Marsha P. Johnson Brigade, carried Marsha P Johnson and Rivera signs. As it got closer and closer to 8 PM, few seemed interested in circling up for the Faeries ritual before the march. Those in the park appeared to be enjoying catching up and vamping for the cameras and in no rush to leave.
As we talked, the Queerball Radical Street Party crashed into Tompkins Park, bringing a marching band followed by police along with them. They played; people danced and the faerie ritual did failed to commense. I was more than happy to catch up with the members of the RMO who had done such a great job with clinic defense, when few else would attend two weeks prior.

Pearl and Michel... photographer unknown.
If available, please email me. 
The author by Randolfe Wicker
imjustmadaboutsaffron who rode the sound bike from williamsberg and  back.
Randolfe Wicker

Finishing dancing with them, I looked up to see my friend Michael Tikili, an AIDS activist with Healthgap who was attending his first drag march and looking very much much like Donna Summer in doing so. He was accompanied by drag icon Pearl McLove.  Soon enough, circles overlapped between those dancing to the RMO and the Radical Faeries who ushered in the spirits of the East, West, North, and South. And the march was off.

Huckelfaery leads the faerie ritual. by E. Gonzalvez

Meanderring West, the sun shone in a vibrant red sunset. I greeted friends along the way we as danced to Queer, "I want to be Free." Several buddies from the Church of Stop Shopping Walked along. A few chanted, the OWS chant, "Shits Fucked up, Shits fucked up and bullshit." But it didn't catch on. Neither did "We Don't Want to Merry, We just want to fuck" an anti assimilationist chant popular in the late 1990's. We talked about Occupy and the crazy year which has passed. "It seems more subdued than last year," he observed. "People have been through a lot this year." Last year was the beginning of an earth quake of actions through the summer, fall and winter. But at a certain point people breathe and slow down.
A few of us sang the Merry Tyler Moore theme song.

The sun going down as we travel west.
Nancy Borowick

As was approaced the Stonewall, a few chimed in with, "Arrest us just try it, Stonewall was a riot. It was more a joyous engagement between those roaring in approval from the sidewalks and those enjoying being togeter as we marched, dancing, drummed. Donald lead us in "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" in front of the Stonewall. And people reveled in being alive. The unpermited rally is acelebration of a new way of people coming together to shareconnections between bodies, music, and a movement in time.

Effrain Gonzalve

For the most part, the subdued quality of the event continued as the drummers ended their beats and the sound bike took over. "I will survive," "Its raining men," "Dancing Queen" and "I Can't Get No Satisfaction" filled the air. The police starting moving in and few of us were moving. No point in moving we consensed. Last year, we had pushed the police off the street, unarresting one of the activists involved. The year before, we had to pushed back into the streets, once the police left.

The NYPD Crushing Popular Dissent. Pearl McLove.

There are peole I see every year at the drag march, in the streets, in the corridors of my memories between movements and friendship networks of resistance. Its a space to let out some of our crazy, free er selves, in the streets and support these networks of care and action. "Thank you to everyone -- especially our dear Sis Hucklefaery Ken and everyone else who did the negotiating/dealing with police/etc.," Seth Stewart wrote on facebook after the action. "... but also to everyone else who threw on a frock (or a suit) -- for a wonderful night tonight. And thank you to Saint Marsha P. Johnson and our other blessed trancestors for giving us this glorious night. I've reason to [believe] that Heaven is one long Drag March with endless friendly bars and cafes along the way. I look forward to it. xxx Na-Gig"

Scenes from Occupride NYC by Mickey Z Vegan

There was a lot of gratitude in the air throughout the weekend, as cascades of queers celebrated that God is a Lesbian at Dyke March, dressed as Mermaides, Occupride churned forward on Sunday, and Steven Mendez found his way back into the Pride Parade with a little audacity.

"I voluntarily led the march with a couple of friends ... " he explained, after taking part in countless Occupy events the World Naked Bike Ride, summer civil disobedience school, the Mermaid Parade and Drag March in just the last few days. "We were in front of the Heritage of Pride opening banner followed by Cindi Lauper the Grand Marshall!! I had an incredible experience!! I kissed at least 500 people on the cheek during the march!! I was overwhelmed with JOY, LOVE and Pride!! ♥" Go Steven!

Just another day in the life in an Occupied City. I wish I could have taken part in more. Some of my favorite activists took part in all the events; others in one or another, the drag or dyke marches, or even the megga rally on Sunday.

Steven carrying a photo of Marsha P Johnson by Randolfe Wicker

In the end, Occupy chapters marched and made their presense known in pride parades in around the country. Carrying signs declaring "Community, Not Commodity," they brought the Occupy message to each, all while contending with the co opting, fanancially controlling presense of corporations ready to curtail the message of a movement once pround to critiqque and subvert rather than accept donations with strings attached. Here, the point remains as always, there is something bigger, free er and more intriguing than going along to get along. The drag march images of Sylvia, Marsha P Johnson, of Randy Wicker filming, of the Street Parties, and dancing queens, and so many more cascading between Critical Mass rides and riots remind us another world really is possible, if only we can dream it, or imagine it across the rainbow on the other side of the city and ourselves.  

SF Occupride by Liz Highleyman

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Homage to Vieques

From 1941 to 2003, the US Navy used it for target practice. I remember walking into work in 2003 and seeing Panama and others who had spent years fighting the bombs dance in a circle celebrating the end assault on the little island just off the Puerto Rico mainland.

Today the bombs are a memory, leaving shells and undeveloped land behind.  This tiny island   is not just a space surrounded by Caribbean and the Atlantic, just East of Cuba, Haiti and the Dominican Republic. It is a place in between ideas and worlds.  Sitting North of Valenzuela and Southeast of Florida, today it thankfully feels like a part of modern world, though for ages it was a first stop. 

After a week sitting in your lush hills, it is worth saying thank you for all you are and all you shared.

Thank you for your banana flowers, mangrove and mango trees, lush and lyrical out of time, or a line from a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel. 

Thank you for the 375 year old Celba Tree born well before Jefferson or the US still overlooking the Atlantic and the Mosquito Pier where kids found star fish.

Thank you for the Gringo Beach where horses roam, families revel and we found green, brown, white and blue sea glass.

Thank you for the Green Beach where we snorkeled and played in the rocks overlooking the boats and the palm trees. 

Thank you for the windy roads with potholes and wild horses wandering, roaming free, friends with space to revel in their own self determination, unlike the US plains where such activity is considered a nuisance and horses are seen as a problem to be taken care of.

Thank you for the old dogs who wander, making friends in the streets and the years.  One particular friend used to sit and smile meandering to and from like he owned the place, ambling up to us like a king from another age.

Thank you for the old church with lush trees, overlooking the ocean, with horses rushing up and down in between the trees and pasture.

Thank you for your beaches, Playa Caracus (Red), Pata Prieta (Secret), and Playa Plata (Orchid Beach), some of the most blue tiel, warm and lovely spaces I have ever dipped my toes.

Thank you for the lobsters we steamed and the grouper we cooked wrapped in a banana leaves.

Thank you for the Paella and stories in Esperanza, the beans and rice where we jumped off the pier with the families hanging out.

Thank you for the salty, international Mar Azu, a watering hole facing the water along the ferry in Isabel II.  There we drank El Presidente, ate fish fries, looked out at the sea, talked, and reveled in being alive.

Thank you for La Finka el Caribe, where we swam in the pool, BBQ’d, read books, watched movies, ate pancakes, napped, fought flies, slept with salamanders, learned chess, and lazed in our hammocks looking down at the hills, at the island. 

Thank you for the wildlife refuge, the windy roads lined with the lushest trees and vines hanging in the distance with an occasional mongoose running to and from.
Thank you for your waters where my family and I reveled, Caroline and I looked out and swam, Dodi and I snorkeled and surfed, and Scarlett and I played imaginary games.  I was Rick Van Winkell floating from Puerto Vallarta to Vieques, lost at sea for 28 years only to find my  daughter on the beach and regain memory as we reveled in the father daughter reunion, imaginary captain and first captain sailing across the pool from Florida to Vieques.
“I see your soul,” Scarlett explained as we swam, a little fantasy, but in play there is a degree of experimentation with reality, with who we are, or might be.

Thank you for your skies where I sat thinking about my life and my story, remembering Bob and Panama my other friends who used to come here.

No teaching or activism or bike rides, just a place to imagine as a humming bird floats outside my window, while their friends chirp in the distance.

Today, we sailed back to the big island, where we explored old San Juan, drank sangria, ate paella, and played chess, looking down the streets at the lonely vines handing meandering through the curvilinear distances once again.

When we arrived in Puerto Rico, we saw an iguana in the airport.  Tomorrow, we’re headed back there.  Perhaps we’ll see the same iguana. 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Body Autonomy, Clinic Defense, and World Naked Bike Rides

Fragile bodies to bring a message to BP at the body autonomy ride June 9th.
Photo by Barbara Ross. 

Bodies, like streets, are contested spaces in New York.  On June 9th, we fought for and celebrated the need for these free bodies.  This year, the conflict felt particularly stark on June 9th, the date of our scheduled two part body autonomy ride.  The day would begin in South Brooklyn, for clinic defense, meander in and out of Manhattan for Summer Civil Disobedence School in Manhattan, and back to Williamberg for the World Naked Bike Ride.
            It was  clowdy as I pulled my bike out at 8 AM for part one.  Once or twice a year, a group of anti-abortion activists, led by Bishop Caggiano, assemble to hold a prayer vigil outside of a women's health facility in Sunset Park, a neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York.  These groups are typically met by a coalition of pro-choice groups: the Rude Mechanical Orchestra, the Brooklyn Pro Choice Network, and the Church Ladies for Choice and (of which this writer is a member).  These groups were dedicated to both ensuring access to clinics as well as street theatre to convey their political agenda.  A primary tactic of ‘the anti’s’  is setting up a clinic vigil as they planned to do last Saturday.
  The Students for Life of America, or SFLA (2007) lists steps to organizing a
clinic vigil:
1. ‘Choose a clinic’
2. ‘Announce the vigil’
3. ‘Know the laws’
4. ‘Gather materials for your vigil . . . with pictures of both living and aborted
babies’, and
5. ‘Be a witness for life at the clinic’.
               What SFLA does not mention are the eorts of abortion opponents to harass or
intimidate clinic clients, often screaming, ‘You’re murdering your baby.’
In response, queers have organized a practice known as clinic defense.
Over the last few years, I have attended clinic defense at the Ambulatory Center
in South Brooklyn.
               Through the clinic defense, the Church Ladies, Brooklyn Pro Choice Network and  company stand on one side of a barricade at the entrance to the clinic. On the other side, the anti’s hold a group of pro-life activists held rosaries and a replica of a dead bloody fetus; they oer diapers to those willing to be turned away.  This year, there was only one church lady, but several supporters from Brooklyn Pro Choice Network, Times Up! and the RMO were on hand.  Only two Church Ladies arrived, not enough for quorum. 
               Seeing a smaller crowd, which had not asked for a permit, the police told us we had to stand along the side of the building.  In contrast, the anti’s were given full access to the street.  Standing with a sign in my hand, the police walked over and told me to move. 

               “Why are they given the street and we can’t even stand on the sidewalk?” 
Photos by Peter Shapiro capture the conflict over just a  few inches while anti's sat and prayed on the streets.  

               “What do you want to do, have a fist fight?” the policeman replied.  He looked like he was sixteen years old.  A senior officer came up and let me know in no uncertain terms that I needed to stand behind the line.  My blood began to boil.  But there is little glory in getting arrested at 9 AM and being off the streets, especially over a conflict I have witnessed so many times.  Few street activists see any need to apply for a permit for a right we already have in the first amendment.  But the police see things differently.  Our idea of first amendment expression is their idea of disorderly conduct.  So I stepped back.  The anti’s prayed in the streets; their minions tried to intercept those going in for care, and clinic escorts from Brooklyn Pro Choice Network did their work, making sure those who needed care got it.  But it was a fight.  And the police certainly had taken a side. And members of the RMO played their songs, including “We Shall Overcome” and most importantly, “Whose Side are You On?”
               The Rude Mechanical Orchestra (RMO) and the Church Ladies each use songs as a component of their street theatre.  Dressed in green and black marching band uniforms, RMO members performed Salt and Peppa’s “Push It” injecting the words “Hands off Our Bodies” into the chorus to drive home their manifesto.
               Throughout the years, the Church Ladies have offered parodies of popular traditional songs with gay and pro-choice lyrics. “If You are Happy and You Know It” was sung to the words, “If you are Pro Choice and You know It – Kiss a Dyke.”  The Woody Guthrie anthem “This Land is My Land” is framed as  a pro choice anthem:
This womb is my womb
It is not your womb
And there is no room for Bishop Caggiano
From Flushing Meadow on Down to Bay Ridge
These wombs were made to be free!

As I was walking up to a clinic,
I got socked by a psycho-Catholic
He showed me pictures and showed me lies
I said my womb belongs to me refrain (Church Ladies hymnal, P. 6).

The Rude Mechanical Orchestra’s performance climaxed with a rendition of the 1980’s heavy metal anthem 'We're Not Going to Take It' as the anti-choice contingent, still praying, departed the scene.
               Of course, this cultural activism campy not a new approach.  US anarchist Emma Goldman brought the same ingredients to her early-Twentieth-century struggle for reproductive freedoms.  In February 1916, Goldman was arrested while speaking about abortion, in violation of the Comstock Law.  After her arrest she explained that the battle over birth control had become: “a war of the oppressed and the disinherited of the  earth against their enemies, capitalism and the state, a war for a seat at the table of life, a war for well being, for beauty, for liberty.”  She concluded, “Above all this war is for a free motherhood and a joyous, playful, glorious childhood.”

            For Goldman, whose work helped establish the foundations for both anarcha feminism and queer theory, an anti-capitalist critique overlapped with the pursuit of a richer experience of the world on one’s own terms. Much of Goldman’s philosophy was based on a broad belief in personal freedom. For Goldman, joy and justice intermingled, neither able to exist without the other. Today, Goldman’s adage on dance and revolution provides the underpinnings for the street party-style protest of Reclaim the Streets and the global justice “movement of movements”.  OWS celebrates this approach, yet the movement is still in the process of connecting the dots between reproductive autonomy, freedom of space, and bodies.  
            Over the years, advocates such as the Singing Nun, Margaret Sanger and Emma Goldman sacrificed everything to challenge the pseudo morality of the Comstock law which linked discussion of reproductive health with obscenity.  In the years to follow, queer activists would continue to battle the prohibitive politics of Comstock’s ilk.  Taking apart the arguments of the self appointed moralists, would remain  an ongoing target of queer politics and activism.  Current battles over abstinence-only sex education mirror much of this the struggle between supporters of sexual self determination and advocates of social control dating back to the Comstock era.
            This struggle against the anti’s challenges a cultural body shame, resentment, and docile approach to living.  The point of social movements is to challenge this.  Leaving the clinic defense, we rode for breakfast and then to take part in the OWS summer civil disobedience school.  We found SCDS meeting at Times Square where activists defiantly challenged the sense that Times Square is a depoliticized shopping space, as Comstock’s cultural inheritor, Rudy Giuliani hoped it would be.  The group held rally and hung gong in the space.

OWS Summer Civil Disobedience School by

Mickey Z-Vegan

            Finishing summer civil disobedience school, we rode to ABC No Rio to pick  up the sound bike.  We would bring it along for part two the body autonomy ride in solidarity with World Naked Bike Ride.  Themes this year included the struggle for freedom of bodies from police, stop and frisk, and the state.  We called the ride body autonomy to celebrate the practice of freedom of bodies, safety of bodies.  While some go naked many others simply arrive and take off a shirt.  Other cities, such as London witness thousands naked.  Yet, we still have to fight our cities prohibitive puritanical ilk.  Yet, with each smile and celebration, we break this down just a little bit more.  Throughout the ride from Brooklyn to Manhattan and back, car drivers honked and people laughed, smiled and cheered the naked and semi clad riders dancing and singing as they rode through the naked city.  \
This blogger's message by Cara Hartley

Friday, June 1, 2012

Body Autonomy / Liberation Ride


Body Autonomy / Liberation Ride
in Solidarity with Clinic Defense and World Naked Bike Ride
 “Body autonomy means hands off our bodies,” declare activists. “Exercise your rights! Love your body, ride your bike!”

Benjamin Shepard – 917 586 7952

What: A two part clothing-optional bike ride calling for the state, police, and the Church to keep their hands off our bodies. 

Saturday June 9th, 2012
Part One Starts: 8:15 AM
Where: 43rd Street & 3rd Avenue, Brooklyn
Body autonomy ride joins the Brooklyn Pro-Choice Network, the Rude Mechanical Orchestra and the Church Ladies for Choice at a prayer vigil of Bishop DiMarzio and the Helpers of God's Precious Infants ("HOGPI") to let them know: “YOU ARE NOT WELCOME HERE”
Part Two Starts: Gathering 5:30 PM
Where: Grand Ferry Park on the Brooklyn Waterfront. Ride departs at 6:30 PM

New York, NY (June 9th, 2012)Saturday, June 9th, Time’s Up!, a direct action environmental group, will call attention to the need for free autonomous bodies, safe from interference from the state, cars, police or the moralists.

“From mandatory transvaginal ultrasounds to stop and frisk policing to the hyper restrictions on our right to gather together in public space, our bodies have been under assault,” declares Times Up! volunteer Ellen Levin.  “Fight back and have some fun with body autonomy.”

“Clinic defense in the morning and support for the World Naked Bike ride in the afternoon, June 9th will be a day to celebrate liberation of our bodies and minds,” notes Times Up! volunteer Benjamin Shepard.

A joyous and liberating protest aimed at reducing the dangers posed to our world and our bodies by automobiles and oil dependence! The ride takes place in solidarity with the World Naked Bike Ride, in its 10th year internationally, with rides happening across the Northern Hemisphere on this date.  While the ride is clothing optional, many will be clothed yet still ready to celebrate body autonomy in any way they see fit.  Feel free to come as dressed or bare as you dare. Creative costuming is also highly encouraged. Body painting and bike decoration will start at 5:30 PM, with the ride departing no later than 6:30pm. Activists will provide a know your rights training and teach-inn on consent.  Be sure to bring lights, bells, a sense of humor , a positive attitude, and respect for all riders. 

The ride is endorsed by the OWS Bike Coalition.

“The cops ripped off my clothes, that’s why I’m riding naked,” declares Cara of the OWS bike coalition, who will join the ride. 

“I can’t afford clothes,” notes Audrey Hephburn of the OWS Bike Coalition.  “We’ve got nothing to hide.  Come and stop and frisk us.” 

The body autonomy ride is established to critique the over policing of public space and the social imagination.  Riders are encouraged to participate in the June 17th March to End Stop and Frisk action as well as the drag march on June 22.

Reclaim your body! Reclaim your streets! Reclaim your planet! Ride your bike!  The Body Autonomy Ride is a safer space for all bodies to ride free of harassment or pollutants in the physical or mental environment. To participate each rider is asked to respect that the liberation of bodies requires freedom, autonomy, and justice for all. This begins with joy and commitment to self determination for all. 

For more on Times Up’s Safer Spaces Policy, see:

For scenes from Previous Rides:

TIMES UP! is a non-profit environmental group that has been using educational outreach and direct action for the last 25 years to promote a more sustainable, less toxic city.