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

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