Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Cycling Toward the Revolution with Times Up! Reflecting on a Quarter Century of Direct Action with Bill DiPaola and the Times Up! Gang

Girl hooping at the XUP space at City Streets.

One of my favorite groups in town is Time’s Up!, which turns 25 this year.  On their twentieth anniversary, the group put together a timeline of their work since 1987, when they committed to “improving the environment by empowering individuals to become active participants in their communities.”  Through a do-it-yourself approach to problem-solving, the group supported efforts to create community gardens, non-polluting transportation, and wind power.   In the same ways, members of the group squatted old buildings and repaired bikes left in the rubble. Those involved brought elements of direct action, media activism, anarchism, as well as the insurrectionary possibilities of play to their efforts. 

Bike Revolution Now By Louis Columbo
Anti fracking bike sign at Times Up! bike valet at the Clearwater Festival 2011.
Bad Karma by Jen Morgan Moriarty
Burn Fat, Not Oil! Fuck Cars! by Kong Niff

Tonight, we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the group. I was asked to think about some of the most important elements of the group over the last thirteen years of being involved.  A few significant pieces of the Times Up! history and practice are worth highlighting at this 25th anniversary moment.

Scarlett and this writer on Parking Day in Times Square with Times Up, 2007.

1)      My kids refer to the group as the Times Up! gang because we all act as friends when we see each other.  They started using this term after we all sat around eating bagels singing songs outside the bike valet at the Clearwater Festival a few years ago. The group had been camping out all weekend helping park bikes.  Times Up! is a family of friends as much as a community of resistance.  This makes working with the group feel as authentic as anything.

Top right Scarlett five years later riding the Times Up! energy bikes with the Times Up Gang!
Bottom, left Dodi and the other kids at Children's Magical Garden on Times Up! Children's Magical Garden Cleanup Day!

2)      The group makes use of direct action to create communities.  Direct action is often thought of as a method used to oppose things.  And it certainly is.  But there is more to this.  With the prefigurative organizing tradition from which Times Up! comes, the aim is to create an affirmative image of something better with each bike ride, garden clean up, or event the group helps support.  Times Up! volunteers help create images of a better world with each ride or action in which they participate. 
Barbara Ross and the rest of the Clown Bridage after the Grassroots Media Conference 2006

3)      I first got involved with activism with ACT UP two decades ago.  ACT UP started the same year at Times Up!  Each year since then a new hot affinity group was born.  SexPanic and Lower East Side Collective came and went from 1997 to 2000.  The global justice movement gained steam in 1999 with local groups such as Reclaim the Streets finding support from bikes and the DIY spirit of direct action which Times Up! helped propel and support. More Gardens and Green Dragon came and went.   In the years since then Critical Mass and Occupy Movements have been born with Times Up helping each. While many of these groups and movements have come and gone, Times Up! is still active.
Times Up, RTS banner hang under the Manhattan Bridge, by a vacant lot later turned into a public park. The police followed activists crossing the bridge to this action on Mayday 2000.

Babs aka Barbara Ross, one of Times Up!'s most feisty and fierce volunteers at the World Naked Bike Ride 2011!

4)      Fighting for what is right.  The darkest most McCarthy like years I have seen in activism were the years from 2004-5 in New York, when the Patriot Act was enforced with a vengeance, critical mass rides were criminalized, people power felt at an all time low, and the Times Up! was sued by the City of New York.  And over and over again the group said there is nothing wrong with people getting together and building community as they express they constitutional rights to petition the government for a redress of grievances.  Many dropped out of activism during this period.  Yet, Times Up! stayed the course, beat back the lawsuit, and birthed affinity groups organizing to fight for sustainability, defending community gardens, and safety in bike lanes.

Bike Lane Clowns take on the bike lane backlash on Kent Ave by Ben Muesig
I know I can.  I know I can. Monica taking on truck bike lane. Photo by James.
Babs and Jamie ticketing a car parked in a bike lane during the first bike lane clown action in 2005. The clowns helped make cycling activism fun at a time when Critical Mass rides felt like a ring in Dante's Interno.  We needed to lighten things up and help actisim feel inviting and fun and meaningful.
Photo by Fred Askew. 
From playful Critical Mass and World Naked Bike Rides to our collaboration with Clearwater to bring the "No Fukishima on the Hudson" message to Indian Point, Times Up! has tried to make a point about the toxic threats to our bodies by pollutants, cars, and nuke fuel (bottom three photos by Peter Shapiro.

5)      At its best, the group has helped make riding and engaging in street activism a joyous, highly participatory endeavor.  More than any group I know, Times Up! lives up to Emma G’s disposition that if there is not dancing it is not our a revolution. 
Times Up! members celebrate the tragicomic of modern life, engaging in a die-in on the Clearwater on the way to Indian Point, photo by Peter Shapiro.  Below bike clown Hunka Munka, aka Monica Hunken teaching some of the finer points of bike clowning to New School Students. 
Bike lane clowns celebrating the 9th Ave liberated bike lane.

Times Up! helps us see the city as malleable work of art, a space in which we can all play a role in creating a sustainable city.  As my buddy Monica Hunken explained to the Culture Project:
Biking is grand with Monica, Madeline, Benjamin and Babs. Photo by Peter Meitzler
Olive in Parking Day 2007!

New York City is a perfect city for bike riding. It is mostly flat and everything is relatively close together. It is also cluttered, congested and asthmatic. We need more bike lanes just as we need more parks, gardens and public spaces. I have been volunteering with Time’s-up! since the 2004 Republican National Convention when there was another surge of crackdown on bicyclists in NYC. I work with Time’s-up! because we celebrate the joy of biking and reclaiming public space for the people. We create roving dance parties and themed bike rides drawing attention to saving community gardens, protecting bike lanes, keeping Wal-Mart out of NYC and other local issues. We use our bodies as the means and the message. By powering ourselves we are less reliant on the destructive overuse of fossil fuels.

Hunka Munka aka Monica by Rebeca Vaughn
Bike Lanes are for Bikes. Bike Clown stuff transporter by Brian McGloin

Times Up! has also challenged the power of the police and the city to control its streets. Throughout the years, legal and political tools used against the demonization of dissent started bearing fruit.  Video activists had been documenting police attacks of friendly community activity, including biking. And their work drew the attention of the New York Times, which documented the aggressive and dangerous approach the police were taking to chasing down and arresting those participating in the Critical Mass. One videographer actually filmed the Officer Smolka of the NYPD forcibly pulling Adrienne Wheeler off her bike without warning during a Critical Mass ride.  And CBS aired the video.  When NYPD Police Officer Patrick Pogan was caught on video aggressively knocking cyclist Christopher Long off his bicycle during the July 25, 2008 Critical Mass bicycle ride, the officer responsible was indicted on five charges, including Falsifying Business Records and Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the First Degree, both Class E felonies, and Assault in the Third Degree, a Class A misdemeanor and later convicted, losing his job.  And this was because activists with Time’s Up! distributed a video of his actions around the world.  Still, the attack on Critical Mass continues, despite the city’s unsuccessful attempt to shut down the ride.  Despite ongoing attacks on cycling, cycling is on the upswing with countless group rides still taking place on any given moment throughout the city.  Faced with so many challenges to  riding in a global city, activists maintain a flexible disposition.  Some rides fade while others take new forms, creating new kinds of communities of care, fun and resistance.

The Times Up! space in Brooklyn. 
Top Biblioteca Salaborsa, middle end of ride bike valet, bottom Bike Summer 2003 bike valet by Peter Meitzler

In 2011-12, I was proud to watch the group collaborate with Occupy sustainability, bike coalition, media and performance guilds.  The group helped right some of its limitations of the past drafting a safer spaces policy, we helped collaborate with RMO on their CD release, as well as lend a hand to the ACT UP 25 celebrations, providing our sound bike for speeches and MC’s.  
 Times Up! volunteer Keegan aking energy with pedal power at the OWS sustainability committee photo by Robert Stalerik

I asked Times Up! members about some of their favorite moments with the group.  Many revolved around the Republican National Convention or Critical Mass Rides in the thousands of nights of group bikes organized over the last quarter century.  “My favorite Time's Up! moment was sometime in the Summer of 2003, when I did 3 Time's Up! rides,” noted Steve. “Bill was present, the first one was a Prospect Park Traffic calming ride, then a quick stop at the corner of N 7th Street and Bedford Ave in Williamsburg, where there was a preliminary street take over party in anticipation of the RNC next Summer (Brad Will was breathing fire, and was the only person arrested at that action, I believe), followed up by riding to the 10 PM Central Park Moonlight Ride.  That was a night to remember, as I really saw the potential of Time's Up! and the bicycle for fun and life experiences!
Cars out of Central Park.  Matthew Roth, right. Photo by Times Up!

Brad Will at La Plaza community garden with Times Up!

“I think carrying Brad Will through Time's Square on a pedicab blowing fire while I was driving it in a gorilla suit is a top fav memory of mine,” noted PedalPower Pete.   “And the Earth Day parade back in the 90s down 5th Ave....the Paul Revere ride Aug 2004,Bike Summer critical mass across the 59th street bridge to Socrates Sculpture Park.”  Many would refer to New York anarchist Brad Will, who was a constant in garden and Critical Mass rides for well over a decade of New York activism, until his death in Oaxaca in the Fall of 2006. “Faves” were an “Earth day Critical Mass to Central Park with arrests, early repression resisted! Like 1998 or something. Hundreds attended like 10 arrests,” noted Harry Bubbins. “Other one likely not for your project was a February dead cold Crit Mass like 3 riders!”
Ablove a photo of Brad Will, a regualar on Critical Mass rides, garden defence actions, dressed as a sunflower.
Below a photo of the Friends of Brad Will at the Mexican Consolate after of friend's murder nearly six years ago.  
With public space activists such as Brad Will shot filming a protest, cyclists arrested, and killed riding their bikes, the politics of public space takes on any number of meanings for Times Up! members. 

Times Up!’s long term impact is probably its capacity to support an engaged activist practice, which helped support a non-polluting transportation infrastructure in the city, as well as a garden preservation agreement which was created in 2002 and later fortified in 2010.  During the funeral for Michael Shenker in 2010, I ran into Harry Bubbins, of the Friends of Brook Park.  “We’re winning,” he conceded as we talked.  Friends from Times Up! including Susan Howard and Ludmilla, members of the Church of Stop Shopping, Monica Hunken, Benjamin Cerf, and company were there celebrating the life of one of the great organizers in the history of Lower East Side organizing.  We had fought to help preserve the gardens all summer long.  By then, it was time to celebrate the memory of a friend and a community of resistance the group still supported. 
Observing the fights over Critical Mass and the politics of public space, Greg Smithsimon and I were inspired to write The Beach Beneath the Streets: Contesting New York's Public Spaces.
In the summer of 2010, XUP and other LES activists held a memorial for Squatter and garden activist Michael Schenker. Running into Harry Bubbins, he declared: "We are Winning!" When the whole community comes together like this, it certainly feels like it.

Interview with the Founder
Laurie and Bill meeting other Times Up! volunteers on the way to the Times Up! Beach Party last Sunday.
Bill Weinberg speaking at Still We Speak.  The author to the right.  Photo by Times Up!

I first met Bill DiPaola, the group’s founder, at a community garden in the spring of 1999 during a meeting with New York’s chapter of Reclaim the Streets (RTS), a working affinity group of the Lower East Side Collective (LESC).  DiPaola has long credited the collective with revitalizing activism in the Lower East Side.  In 2004, RTS faded into the woodwork and I started working with Time's Up!, connecting with their campaigns to defend public space, civil liberties for cyclists, bike lanes, and community gardens.  Throughout the Spring of 2005, the group held ‘Still We Speak’ rallies to defend Civil Liberties before each Critical Mass bike ride which had become an epicenter for a police crackdown on street activism. Bill invited me to come MC one of the speak outs, which I did, surrounded by activists and a ring of police at Union Square. Rather than become intimidated, the ride proceeded despite the attack and subsequent suit against Time’s Up! for its participation in the ride.  Through the years, the group has enjoyed ups and downs, including breakdowns in communication in 2007 when I was living in California.  In between, some of my most powerful moments in activism have taken place with Time’s Up! members.  Some of these include the campaign to preserve Esperanza Garden 2000, the 2004 Critical Mass defense of civil liberties, bike lane clowning, the 2010 garden defense, dance rides, the Love Your Lane campaign, World Naked Bike Ride, the Drag rides, and even the 2011 Indian Point: Shutdown Before Meltdown ride.  Throughout the years, Time’s Up! connected the DIY spirit of creative direct action born of the global justice movement with neighborhood community organizing of LESC and RTS.  Time’s Up! has maintained an abiding faith in the need for positive solutions to environmental problems, mixed with a jig of high octane fun.  Activists such as Barbara Ross and Monica Hunken helped push the media message with direct action and clowning, while newer volunteers helped bring fresh talents to every meeting.  Rather than funding, the group depends on the talents of volunteers who pour their creative energy into the group.  One of my favorite things about Time’s Up! meetings is that we paint banners and create props at every one, injecting arts and creativity into everything we do.  While many, many volunteers support Time’s Up!, the longstanding partner in the group is DiPaola, who brings a famous irreverence to this work.  “Anarchists are the people who didn’t want to clean up their bedrooms,” he once said to me.  Despite Bill’s irreverence, the group favors direct action over more formal political channels.

Cyclists defending Esperanza Community Garden 2000.
Times Up! members were active in New York's chapter of Reclaim the Streets, active from 1998 - 2004.

After a planning meeting for the Roving Garden Parade of 2006, I sat down with Bill Di Paola in the Time’s Up! space on 49 East Houston Street to talk about his life and activism growing up in New York.  Much of DiPaola’s activism began with social organizing, putting together parties, arranging DJ’s, deciding on themes, etc.   
Photos from the Roving Garden Parade, an event Times Up! organized, bringing together the Rude Mechanical Orchstrata (above) , as well as a cross section of members of the New York activist community, including members of More Gardens! The Church of Stop Shopping, and the Children's Magical Garden!  This interview was conducted in between organizing for the Roving Garden Party in 2006!

Urania at the first XUP roving garden party.  photo by Gaylen Hamilton.

BS: What brought you to this type of community organizing?

BD: Well, I was sort of an outsider in high school, and that helped me see a lot of things that other people missed. I wasn't a great  student, as you can imagine… I was organizing a lot of parties, but as time went on, my parties started to have a political message. While making copies in school, I started to see  how much power corporations had over our lives. I started to study Coke Cola and how much they used advertising.  I started thinking, “Is Marlboro just advertising, or does it really taste good?” I started seeing how much marketing and advertising was making corporations very powerful. And then I started to change the themes of my parties. I started giving them political themes.

BS: With these parties you were putting together, what was the philosophy –getting people together and building community?  The political element of running parties is interesting. 

BD: When you do things early on, you really don't realize why. You just kind of do them. Growing up in America, I never felt a great sense of community. I had to discover community differently. After college, I traveled outside of the country a bit, and I began to see how other cities work and how other cities used community. Then I realized, “Wow, this is it. This is what we’re looking for.  This is the opposite of corporate control – it is community control.” When someone in a community has a problem, they  can rely on their  community instead of going out and buying something.

BS: All of what I have known from you from having BBQ’s to defending gardens to Reclaim the Streets to bike rides is all about defending community spaces.  What are the groups you have worked with? You used to tell me you worked with ACT UP, a group which never asked for permission to take a street. 

Reclaim the Streets and Build a Garden, a street action organized by RTS NYC, with help from LESC and Times Up! Photos by Times Up!

BD: I didn’t really work with ACT UP.   But as director of  Time’s Up! I always  study other groups. You see, as an activist, making a mistake is kind of  costly. It's stupid and it's a waste of people’s time. So I studied ACT UP because they were so efficient. They held marches and organized direct actions. For me, no group came even close to organizing as efficiently as ACT UP, so I went to a lot of their rallies and demonstrations and I tried to support them in other ways, with technical stuff, but mostly I studied them.  

When I started  Time’s Up!, I didn’t think there was enough direct action. I saw a nitch. And the name came to me, Time’s Up! “Wow,” I thought, “what a great name. Time's Up! for indirect action, for environmental devastation, for the privitization of public space, for standing on the sidelines.”  The next thing I knew was that Time's Up! would need to focus on the East Village, because so much important activity and work was going on there. And like the Lower East Side Collective, I knew Time's Up! would need to have a community decision making process. Lastly, I knew no one was going to get paid for this work, so I knew we would be an all volunteer group.

BS:      How did LESC work?

Spiral Dance at Cabo Rojo in the Bronx before the Garden was bulldozed.

BD: The Lower East Side Collective started in 1997, ten years after Time's Up!, and it organized around public space issues, especially community gardens, and they really didn’t care what the police said to them. They were very tough and very able to move around without very much money. They didn't exactly share our philosophy, because their meetings were not very organized, sometimes hostile and violent, and always kind of crazy, but we did a lot of work with them because of their defense of the gardens and the squats.

            After  [the police riots of 1988-1991] it became very difficult to organize in the Lower East Side. The police were sabotaging  meetings, and there was a lull in organizing because of this police infiltration. I felt it myself. They would drive around the neighborhood and if they recognized you, they would harass you, they would let you know, “Look we know you are involved in this or that. Get out of the community.” And they would check to see if they had anything on you..I had to move out [of the neighborhood] for a little while.

            I had a girlfriend who said he could move in without being on the lease, so I could exist off the radar for a while and see what was going on. That’s when I discovered the Lower East Side Collective, and I was like, “How are they going to have a meeting in the Lower East Side with this hostile atmosphere.” Everyone thought everyone else was selling out. There was so much anger and hatred. For at least two years there had been no meetings on the Lower East Side because of this whole thing with the cops, at least  among white people. There were meetings among Hispanics or Blacks, around the gardens especially, and the squats, so I was excited to see how the Lower East Side Collective try to hold a meeting. 

            Now, for the first time, I felt like I wasn't in college anymore, planning parties with people in a protected environment. I finally felt like  an organizer dealing with a lot of poor people. Even though I was there helping, I was there to learn what they were doing. I guess people like Leslie Kauffman were very intimidating to me at the time. They still are actually, but they gave me the idea that you better have your ideas together before you start talking.

BS: That’s the way that people talked about ACT UP’s early activities, you know, you go  on the general floor, and you would be scared that if  you say something stupid, they’re going to ridicule you. You have to have thought about what you’re going to say, and at the very end of the meeting, you only had a minute or so to speak on the open floor.

BD: And that was amazing  about this too, because I felt that this structure the Lower East Side Collective was providing  – good or not –  was the only thing that could work. It was a miracle that I was in a meeting on the LES, and the name of it was the LES Collective, so the structure they were creating, though it was intimidating, was highly educated, was all these things that really intimated people, and it was what you needed to do at the time.

            The other part of the structure that was very interesting, was that the general meetings had committees, so you couldn’t rant on about what you were working on, there were only committee updates. If you were working on the garden, you were working with the garden committee, and you just updated the general meeting.

            They also did this other amazing thing. When they asked people to take on a project, like who is doing the next mailing, there was this long moment of silence. And then whoever was coordinating the meeting would just wait, and be like, “Who’s going to do this?” and just wait, and then finally, someone would volunteer, and then everyone would clap and say thanks for doing that, and you had immediate gratification for stepping up and volunteering. I always thought that was amazing. I still can’t get that to happen at Time’s Up! I think that even happened at our meeting tonight, no one stepped up, and I was upset about it, because I always think about the LES Collective, how they used to do it, and I always go back to what they did. With what I’m doing today, working with an all volunteer group, there’s no other group in the U.S. I can compare us to so I always think about the LES Collective, and how they used to wait.

            There are other groups like Time’s Up! elsewhere in the country, but New York City adds a slough of other problems for organizing that the LES Collective provided a lot of answers for, so I always look back and am like, how did they deal with that? Time's Up! is a very big group right now. We have a lot of committees, but a lot of our committees die and others emerge. Our video committee is super-strong right now. Before tonight, the outreach committee was getting weak, but tonight it got strong again. There's a constant flow. But I would say one of our biggest problems right now is that we don't have a ministry of love [which the LESC had to address]. We don't have someone checking the vibe at the meetings. We also don't have someone who comes early, like at the LES Collective, and [provides an orientation].

BS: You had the committee report-backs, and you just reported on your committee, it took like 45 minutes to get through the committees, and then they had an open discussion. If you were going to be negative in the open discussion… they would take you apart.

BD: And now we’re having this interview, where Ben was just at this meeting, and one volunteer, even though she’s a great volunteer, was upset about some of the past meetings. She was being a little negative about some of the new concepts and you know,  we’re lucky at Time’s Up! because we’re not in the hostile environment the LES Collective was in, and we have a really great  track record. We’ve been around for 20 years and we have a large volunteer base, and there’s a number of women in the group….

BS: Which is important. What committees were you involved in with the LES Collective? Were you on a committee?

BD: I think I was very light in a lot of my involvement, but I brought a lot of people into the group and I was on the garden committee.

BS: When did you first get into community garden defense? The theme of the interview is about using creativity and playfulness in organizing, so…

BD: Ok, I have a lot of experience with that because of my background in organizing parties, and the one thing I have to say about activists in New York City, though I hate to say it, is that they're boring. They're usually braniacs, and nerds, and just really boring around the edges. So early on, I was interested in making every event we were doing fun.  At the same time, with the police harassing us, and the public yelling things like, “Get a job, get a job!” especially at animal rights events, I knew we had to make everything we did meaningful, as well.

BS: What was wrong with the public yelling “Get a job, get a job”!? What was wrong with the animal rights stuff?

BD: At these rallies, we were always barricaded in like a spectacle, and the public ridiculed us. It was just too stationary and it was too intense for some people. People started dropping out, so I realized we needed motion and fun. I became very interested in developing this, and it certainly had its day. People like Ben, who’s sitting right here, and people like Tim Doody, they understood this idea of making events fun.

            I also understood the movement factor. It's certainly exciting. A car chase is always the best thing in a movie, right? Cause you don't know what's going to happen next. So to have an event that's moving, it's always different, it's exciting. Time's Up! is very big with bicycling—even though I consider it an environmental group—but originally one of the great things about it is that a lot of people in our group just bicycled cause they were environmentalists, then we incorporated bicycling into some of our events. Not only is bicycling fun, but we don't have much money, as I get back to all the time, so we can't get  in a lot of  legal trouble, because it just ties us up.  I have a very good reputation of not being arrested and it's because I'm constantly moving.

So movement in actions is a way to prevent being arrested in addition to being a way to have fun, so we do a lot of our stuff on bikes. In the early days we did this demonstration on bikes called Christopher Columbus Is a Murderer. We decided we wanted to ride our bikes straight into the Columbus Day Parade with our signs and banners, and it worked perfectly! When the police finally figured out who we were they didn't have time to react because we were already passed them. We realized, “Wow, this is so awesome, this whole bike thing, because  you can really do a little bit of everything.” So we used a lot of bikes and we still use a lot of bikes.

An interesting side effect of this was that a lot of people got involved with the group just because we were on bikes, people who weren't necessarily environmentalists. When you have such a light focus, like a subway party, like Reclaim the Streets or Critical Mass, where your focus is extremely light, some people don't really pull out the harder message, which is okay. But what can happen is, other divisions or other things can form. And I think that's what happened with Time's Up! where people were like, “Oh, they're on bikes!” Then people would come to our volunteer meetings and say things like, "I'd like to just do a light ride through the park." And we were like, “Okay.” It didn't sound great at the time, but we realized that every event using bicycles promoted new bicycling so we incorporated that kind of thing, as well.

BS: Is play a way to avoid social control, like the police crackdown and sort of add a moving and motion and pleasure element. I mean you've dealt with crackdowns from cops your whole career.

BD: There is a crazy, crazy police presence in New York City. Some people say it's the third largest standing army in the world. I don't  know what a weird statistic like that means, but we think there are over 30,000 police in NYC and they take public space very seriously. They take demonstrations very seriously. They are probably the fastest police in the world. Their reaction time is astonishing. In other words, if you're in the street and they don't like what you're doing, they're not even going to say something to you. In any other city in the world the police will say, “Hey, get out of the street or you'll be arrested.” Here, they'll just go in there and arrest you. So we at Time's Up have to be faster, which is very difficult. But we've been able to produce that faster reaction time and  put our message out there, and that makes it all the more successful, because it's like  holding a mirror in their faces, and saying, “Hey, this public space is ours, why are you attacking us?”

Along with environmental groups like ours, there are people like Rev. Billy, the Radical Cheerleaders, the Hungry Marching Band, and a lot of other colorful community characters, you know, a lot of artists, and we all worked together, so at a lot of our early events we were able to use the artist community to organize actions that were  half environmental and half artistic. One time I was watching a video with my friend Mike Green and all the people that he knew in the video I didn't know, and all the people that I knew in the video, he didn't know, so we realized that a lot of these events were half activists and half artists. This was great for theater, but a lot of the artists were unaware of the political aspects of what we were doing. … in conjunction with all the erratic weather happening all over, in places like New Orleans. It's really waking people up, and we're finding that people are less likely to make a distinction between activists and artists. People are more likely to realize that we're all one, which is really great. People are also coming in who don't fully understand the message, but we don't shove it down their throats. That's something we pride ourselves on at Time's Up! We don't over-speak to people. We let them use their own mind, to let them figure it out themselves.

Reverend Billy performance in Esperanza Community Garden on the last day of the last mellinium.  Bill D. declared to Rev. Billy, "I am a tomato!" 
Brad Will and company were there to help us reimagine what public space could be.

BS: You've always gotten the politics of play in some ways, the point that if an event isn't fun people aren't going to participate. I remember the last day of the millennium—Dec. 31, 1999—we were in a community garden, at Esperanza Garden, with Rev. Billy and you were dressed up like a giant tomato and you said, "I am a tomato! I am a tomato!"

and Rev. Billy said, "You're deranged Bill." But for a second I kind of believed you. To me that was the millennium, not the party that night but it was that moment of being connected with my city, and with the garden and with the space, with this fantastical imaginary space for a little bit.

BD: With a lot of these things, I just noticed what other people were doing and helped out. More Gardens was very good at making people see the connection between themselves and the bugs, fruits, vegetables and other living things in the community gardens and the city. They were constantly dressed like bugs and tomatoes, and we liked that, so we helped out and gave it our own flare. We made huge bikes and decorated them like bugs. More Garden's didn't have the means to produce a prop on as large a scale as we did, so we did it, and it helped with their activism and ours.

            At Time's Up!, we've always been very lucky to have a lot of  mechanical people involved. I grew up using tools and I work as a plumber. Time's Up! always has workshops in its spaces, so we can use our expertise and our spaces to help out. But it's really the other people that have provided the color. Of course, we've noticed we needed the color.

BS: Why'd you need the color?

BD: Because we're competing with corporate entertainment. At Time's Up! were not just trying to demonstrate and tell people about an issue, we're trying to give people an alternative to going to the bar or the bowling alley that is rooted in community. We're trying to get people to go on a bike ride or fix up a community garden. We're trying to do two things at once.

BS: What’s the difference between those two things?

BD: We're trying to say that you don't need to give money to what we see as corporate entertainment. Ideally, we hope people will give up their corporate jobs, but let's say you still have a corporate job, the weekends shouldn't be about what bar you're going to go to, or what dress you're going to buy, or how you have to spend money to have a good time. You can have a good time by just working with your community, doing something positive like going to the community garden and planting a tree, going on a moonlight bike ride, or taking your family camping. We've been able to do a lot of events that promote that. We're not sure that people are making the connection. But we're trying to keep these events free, which is very difficult. I've been trying to count, but it's impossible. We do over a hundred workshops a year, and a hundred bike rides, and everything is free.

BS: Fifty two weeks a year you're doing an event and a workshop every week. Then you're doing a hundred events a year.

BD: We're doing about three workshops a week. Well, at least. We're actually doing at least four workshops a week. So we're doing hundreds and hundreds of events a year. But the point is we're trying to make them free. We would love to get people to pay for it, but it's the idea that community is free and that you can do these things without paying for them. We're trying to make this bigger connection. It's difficult to make. A lot of people are just coming to our events and taking advantage of us, but some people get it and become part of the community.

BS: That's the interesting thing that I saw with the gardens. In some ways people felt very much like they could see that connection between their space and the space that they've grown up in. No matter where a lot of us are from, most of us have had the positive experience of green space where we grew up. And then you're in the city and here's a little bit of green space and all of a sudden the city is trying to take that away from you. There's this teeny bit of green space and the whole rest of the street's concrete and they're trying to take away that green space, and people couldn't connect with that. You've defended Chico Mendes, you've defended Esperanza, you defended Cabo Rojo Community Garden, green spaces that were being taken away, how did you connect those?

BD: Well a lot of it was Time's Up! working with More Gardens… Before More Gardens, we did some garden stuff – I was working in the Lower East Side Collective garden coalition – but we didn't hook that many Time's Up! volunteers into gardening. We were mostly doing bike rides and other stuff. But when More Gardens came around, we really jumped in. The cool thing about gardens is a lot of gardens are mixed use, but almost every single garden has community. They are places where people can go and talk about the new power plant, or how can we rebuild something, or how can we work together. Not only do the gardens provide clean air and a place where people can grow their own fruit, they are this amazing public space where people can work together, and I think the city is very scared of that. They're not so much scared of the community gardens because they wanted to put a building there and make the money, they're scared of the fact that people can meet in these community gardens and organize. And I feel that was the reason why the squat gardens were the first to go, cause those were the ones where most of the organizing was going on.

BS: You think they were attacking the places where there was organizing going on.

BD: Well, sure. If you look at what happened, the Standard Diggs garden very early and the Dos Blockos Garden, so many of the squat gardens. These were gardens next to squats and there was a lot of late-night organizing and parties going on.  There was a different type of political discussion there. Certainly when the status quo is questioned,  it's going to be questioned a lot harder and a lot  faster and with more force if it's being questioned in a political or a community situation that the city doesn't agree with.

BS: What was the most powerful garden campaign that you were involved with?

BD: Esperanza Garden, no question. I was very involved with Aresh. Here was a garden that needed to be defended. It was in the middle of the East Village. What better place to defend a garden. It's our strongest volunteer base. The people there think very differently, they understand community. It was a great place. On top that, the gardeners let us have the garden. Normally gardeners have a lot of different criteria about letting you help save their garden. You can't dig, you can't do this, you can't do that. But not at Esperanza. The gardeners said, “Do whatever you can to save this garden.” And me and Aresh were very honest with them. We told them we probably wouldn't save this garden but that we'd make such a stand here that people would know about it and maybe some other gardens would be saved. And they were like, “Fine, whatever you can do.” So this was a very unique opportunity where the gardeners let the activists work with the community to do anything they could do to save this garden. Aresh and More Gardens certainly provided a lot of color. They made this big coqui. And Time's Up! was more involved behind the scenes, in a way not everyone could see. We helped get certain events to come to the garden, and we got press to come.

BS: Cause for Chico Mendes there were events there like all the time. I mean you had the morning breakfast coffee at Chico Mendes, which was part of what drew me into the Esperanza defense. But my impression was that what Chico Mendes didn't have was the mobilization to the city. What was the difference between Esperanza and Chico Mendes?

BD: You know I wasn't working that hard on Chico Mendes but in Esperanza I was practically sleeping there in the my tent. We were spending our own money. The most interesting thing I found out with Esperanza was if you told enough people that something is going to happen, it will happen. That is very scary now that I think about it. Because if you tell enough people that victory is possible in Iraq, maybe they'll think it is possible. I've learned from Time's Up! that if you put out a certain kind of structure and framework, if you put out a certain idea and have enough publicity around it, people will believe it. This is a great thing for us to know to save a garden or start a movement, but think about the corporations who have a lot more power than us, and know this same thing. It's scary.

            Anyway, here's how this worked at Esperanza. I did a lot of tours. I reached out to everyone. I reached out to the community, to the press, to politicians, even to the police, and I brought them in and I showed them exactly what was going to happen.

            We had what's called an encampment, so I showed them the encampment. An encampment is where people sleep there every night and are prepared to lockdown and call the press if anything happens, so I showed them where we were going to lockdown. A lockdown is where people literally lockdown to a physical object. I told them we were going to lock down to trees to stop the city's bulldozers from destroying the garden. Then I told them that while they were trying to bulldoze the garden, we were going to go to court and get a temporary restraining order, because you can only get a temporary restraining order after an act has started. Susan Howard was very active in that part.

            We told everyone we possibly could that this was going to happen. More Gardens was very good at getting travelers from all over the world to come stay at our garden. It became international, which is very important for a press campaign. We had people coming from tree sits and other countries. Rev. Billy came by. We ate very well. People donated food and cooked for each other, which always builds community. It was very cold in the garden and people were locked down so this was particularly important.

            Then for months we described the exact same scenario of what was going to happen – to the press, to the people, to the police. We told everyone they were going to come with bulldozers, we were going to lock down, we were going to call the press, go to court, and get a temporary restraining order. We said we might be able to save that garden if we really fight for it, but even if we didn't, the press from that garden would affect the next garden.

            And that is exactly what happened. I don't know how it happened exactly, maybe because everyone knew what to do so well and wanted to make it happen to bad that they just did. But that is exactly what happened.

            The city came with bulldozers, we slowed them down with our lockdown, we ran to the courts and filed a temporary restraining order, we won, but it was too late. We lost that garden. The bulldozers plowed through. But in the end, we won, because the courts were so mad that the developers didn't halt their demolition, that we saved countless other gardens, largely because this spectacle was so open to the public. 

            We always have a lot of great video artists working with Time's Up! and they made a great video of that garden being destroyed. It was played on TV over and over again, and that really hurt the city in the long run.

Our videos accomplished a similar thing with the squats. The city brought in a tank down 13th Street to destroy a building that people were living in, and when people saw our video of this, they realized how disgusting it is that the city is constantly trying to destroy communities. We lost that squat, but that video reflected so badly on the city, that people got fed-up and started to get involved. A lot of what we do doesn't work immediately, but it prevents things from happening again, it gets people involved, and it reflects poorly on the city.

BS: One of the things that you pointed out at the time was this awareness that if people weren't enjoying themselves in these campaigns they weren't going to be able to stay involved. And I always remember you said we have to make the events fun. Like with Time's Up!, you talked about Chris Carlson, he had a different approach to Critical Mass in San Francisco. He wasn't organizing it but he's one of the people that was involved in it in the beginning.

BD: Right. And I talked to Chris Carlson extensively about some of this stuff because I told him that I was having trouble keeping group rides going. He explained that I had to make them more fun. And then coming back from Seattle or some earlier demonstration, I thought what would be fun is a moving circus, you know, like fun on your bike with puppets and stuff like that. A circus would be fun, people like circuses, and they could be part of it. That's the key: people just can't be watching fun, they have to be part of the fun.  I think corporate America looks at fun like it's something you need to watch. It's not something you need to participate in.

            We tell people on the Moonlight Ride that this is an auto-free ride through the park, and you're not just on this ride, you're part of it. We need drops, we need sweeps, so come to the front and then drop and then mark that turn for the next person. It's this flowing thing where everybody on the ride becomes part of the ride. And I think when you make things fun you make theater, and that's kind of cool, because in a real community, everybody is part of the fun. There are little tricks you can do to get people involved. You can give them pinwheels or whistles, or give them a sheet where they can sing along to the song, where it's a much lighter connection—but they're still connected to the actual theater.

BS: What was your favorite bike ride you've ever been on?

BD: Well I think the first one was where we made puppets to save a garden. The idea was to make one of our bike rides a More Gardens' ride. There was a crazy amount of workshops with More Gardens, and we made  all these cool bikes and stuff. The idea I was that once people knew about all the workshops they would realize the ride was going to be fun. Then we had an after event in an endangered garden. I think it was Standard Digs. The idea was to hype up the event as a lot of fun, go on a really great ride to draw more people in, then hold a great event at an endangered garden, and while everyone was having so much fun enjoying community and a public space, we would say, “Hey, did you know the city is trying to destroy this garden? Why don't you sign this petition to save it or get involved?” So it was a way to have fun, participate in non-polluting transportation, and save community gardens.

            The name of the event was Saving Community Gardens. A lot of people liked that idea, but were a little afraid of the neighborhoods these gardens were actually in, so the element of movement was very important. We could start these bike rides in nicer neighborhoods, then bring them to the community gardens, and the transition was seamless. People could see that parts of these neighborhoods they were afraid of actually had some of the best communities in the whole city, and the myth the city was perpetuating about them was false. Then they would sign up to save them.

BS: And people are participating. They're not doing the passive stand around at a rally and hear someone else preach to you, but they're actually taking an active role. The carnival is what you make of it. Steve Duncombe once said, We don't do events, we just do a time and a place and let people make it themselves. And if you don't show up in your costume or whatever you want to do then it's not an event.

BD: Time's Up! calls it a celebration. We call a lot of our events celebrations. We don't block traffic, we are traffic. There's a lot of different words we use, but really we're celebrating what the streets could look like, or what the gardens could look like. When we were saving the gardens we tried to make it a celebration. More Gardens is awesome at this. But they also did something I thought was a little boring. Sometimes their events went on too long. Time's Up! does things a little different than More Gardens. We try to keep everything super short. So our little trick is to make events  shorter and get people to want more.  We don't give them enough of what they want, so they keep coming back.  When we have a celebration of a tree or a plant, it was very tough negotiating with other groups because they always wanted to over speak, or overdo a celebration or a rain dance. Time's Up! does the opposite. We keep it as light as possible.

The early years for Times Up! Bill has been the constant.

BS: We are political. I don't mean to say that you don't have the politics of it. That's the line with play is when it's not political at all you lose something there.  Why do you think Critical Mass was attacked?

BD: Because it was successful.  When something  is so successful, it causes a reaction. I In our case, the reaction was obviously a positive reaction in one camp. Bicycling is up in New York City and has been up. Many different types of people are bicycling. The ride has been incredibly successful. And that could be one reason.

BS: I have a sense there's different kinds of play. There's as you say the corporate play, corporate entertainment, where you have to watch. And then this is the kind of entertainment where everybody turns into this living amoeba. It's not sanctioned play. That's why the Chinese government goes after the Falun Gong breathing exercise people—they don't say where they're going to show up, 5,000 of them show up and do breathing exercises. And that's like a threat, cause there's no coordination, you can't regulate that, there's not a permit.  My sense of the Critical Mass ride is that this is something that's not sanctioned. It's like unofficial play is threatening.

BD: Well, sure. It doesn't have a permit. None of our events do. We don't believe in getting a permit. The first amendment is our permit. The right to peaceably gather. That used to be all fine and dandy, but  now there's a lot of bigger groups out there, like United for Peace and Justice or the ANSWER coalition, and they're grabbing these permits very early because it's more like promoting their group. This is horrible for smaller groups that work so hard not to get permits. Now we're in this situation where it's almost like when you don't get a permit, that you look bad, like you're doing something wrong, when you're doing the same thing you've done your whole life, the same thing everybody's done. If you want to have a bike ride you don't need a permit, or if you want to have a rally you don't need a permit. But because other groups are getting more permits it's difficult, because as you pointed out earlier, a lot of groups don't survive. So these new groups think it's totally acceptable to get a permit and then other groups that have been established for years that think getting a permit is ridiculous are not around.

BS: How did you defend a win around this Critical Mass stuff? I know this organization isn't involved at all in Critical Mass. You guys support something that's already out there, but how have you, I don't know what you feel comfortable to talk about…

BD: Well Time's Up! is obviously not the organizer of Critical Mass. It happens all over the world, there is no route. But we do publicize it and try to make it fun. We also help with themes. A theme can turn a bike ride into a celebration that saves a community garden. And riders want this. They love it. They love themes and parties and the after-parties, but it has to be done by the riders themselves. Time's Up! is well connected and has a lot of volunteers, so a lot of people who are at our meetings help plan these things as well, but with an all volunteer group, how can anyone say we over participate? Or under participate? But there was no arguing that Critical Mass was a lot of fun, and the city basically wanted to take the fun out of Critical Mass, so they went after us.

            It all came to a head at the Republican National Convention, when the city was cracking down on all kinds of biking. They tried to sue us, and they're still trying to sue us, which is so frustrating because right now as I'm speaking to you, the same group that the city is suing is in this basement teaching people how to fix their bicycles. We are giving them tools, we're educating them. We have a lot of educational workshops. We are by no means an anarchist group or any kind of radical organization. Our events just try to promote non-polluting transportation and community garden cleanups, so we feel we're getting a bad rap. But the city is using their propaganda to say that we are the leaders of  Critical Mass, and they feel we have a lot of control. Sure, we're a bicycle advocacy group, we do have a lot of control over what happens on the street with bicycles and we will protect bicyclists, but we're not the organizer of Critical Mass.

            One way the city always tries to take the fun away is to show up and say, “You need a permit.” One time they even told people that if they lifted their bikes up in the air that they would be arrested. Anytime anybody's having too much fun, they want to stop it. It's very difficult because we don't want to lend our sound bike out to Critical Mass because we feel the police will take it away.

BS: Groups stopped doing street parties after they stole the sound system. It took three years to get it back.

BD: That's why we try to create more mobile stuff and we tell people who are on these sounds bikes to pull the equipment at the first sign of police intervention, because we don't have enough money to replace it. So right, the police have been doing their best to make our events boring, and if our events aren't fun, we're going to have less people at  them, and if we have less people at them,  less people are going to be educated about the environment and about community. So if you ask why the police are doing this, it's obvious we don't know. Who are they getting orders from? But they are seriously focused on trying to kill community. And community  needs to have fun because if people can't have fun creating community, they'll turn to corporate entertainment.

BS: And you're by yourself. You're not a democracy anymore. You're home watching TV.

BD: There's this great story. We’re doing a moonlight ride one time and we're in the middle of Central Park, and we stop the ride. The ride's free and everybody just comes, and it's a great ride and we get to this hill and we just stop. It's snowing everywhere and we're at this great hill called Dog Hill, because it used to be for dogs, but the city decided they didn't want dogs there anymore, so they banned them, but the garbage cans for the dog waste are still there, so we take the lids off all the garbage cans and start having the greatest time.

BS: What were you doing with the dog garbage cans?

BD: We were sledding down Dog Hill! It's snowing and we were sledding with all these kids, and we got to talking to them and they thought it was great that we were riding our bikes. A few of them were really sad, and they couldn't understand why they were sad while they were having so much fun, so we started talking to them and we realized they were sad because they were having fun without spending any money, and they were so used to needing to spend money in order to have fun. When I suggested this to them they totally got it. They understood it and they were totally freaked out by that. They just happened to be going by and saw us doing something and they did it and they were having the greatest time and then they made this connection that they normally needed to spend money to have fun, because that's what they've been doing they're whole lives, and they realized how sad that was, and that it didn't need to be that way. And that's the biggest problem we're having now. Time's Up's biggest problem is that even though people are having fun at our events, they don't understand why. I have to actually tell them, “You're having fun!” because they're so used to this corporate fun that to have fun without paying for it is difficult for a person in this city to understand.

BS: It's sort of a funny thing. I think in the end some people say the rap on activism is that it's only community building and some people say it isn't about creating external changes. Do you think that it can be both? Is creative activism more about community building or is it more about external changes, or are those one in the same?

BD: It's something different to everybody. A lot of our events are something different to everybody. But we should not underestimate how strong the corporations are and how corrupt people are, because it's something that can't be underestimated at all.

BS: Any final words of wisdom, Bill, if you look back on all the work you've done through activism?

BD: Yeah. It's been difficult for me. It's still the same way. People are still confused. I saw this thing on Free Speech TV the other day. This guy who's like a Noam Chomsky type of person was talking about how when big change happens, it doesn't just happen, there's a buildup first. So it's kind of like a wind-up clock that ticks for years. For the click to be huge, the windup can take years. He was trying to say that we shouldn't be discouraged right now that there's not a big change, because he thinks the windup is happening. I understood what he was talking about, and I can see that myself. When the change happens, change  doesn't just happen. There's an incredible build-up first, then it happens. And I think that people don't realize we could be very close to that right now.

BS: I remember with Seattle. We've talked about 1999 being a big year. But I think about how it all started with Diallo. There were massive Diallo rallies, and everybody was doing lots of civil disobedience. Then there was the garden actions. And again we were fighting the auction, people felt like they could actually stop something. And they could also say what they wanted. It wasn't just about being for the gardens and against the NYPD, it was about being for community. I don't want a person of color to have to feel like he's going to get capped for walking down the street cause he's black. In a democracy, you should be able to walk down the street, so I want a community garden.

BD: Well that pissed me off because what you're saying is so right. On one hand I'm like I know Time's Up! is still doing this stuff but what happened to everybody else?

BS: But there was this sense that these things were achievable and then we worked on our street party in Times Square before Seattle and we stayed there all night dancing waiting for people to get out of jail. And then Seattle happened, but it's like Seattle is almost the aftermath of all of these events of a year of activism, or years of activism that a lot of people were involved in. And like you said that was maybe the gear shifting, but there had been years of people pushing the gear to get it to shift before that.

BD: Right. And it seemed like more on the West Coast obviously.

BS: It seemed like around the world something was happening. Zapatismo before that, ACT UP before that.

BD: That's the thing. We could be spinning here, but someone else is spinning somewhere else. And at the same time as Seattle was happening, I feel there was a major spin by the corporations to take over all the media outlets. And they've  done that. So although Seattle was so amazing, and it was amazing to Time's Up for other reasons, but at the same time the corporations were doing their best to take over all the media outlets. So it’s very tough.

BS: And the demonization of the protestors was a media…

BD: Well it doesn't matter what you do. Someone has to report it. So basically I would say to myself, something great is happening in the world, it's just not getting reported on.

BS: Why was it important to Time's Up what was happening there?

BD: I think because after a lot of the volunteers—and look, the room is full of volunteers right now.

BD: Activists were different before Seattle. Activists were a certain type of person. They were dedicated. We always knew we would get kicked out of the streets but we kept fighting for them anyways.

            After Seattle something changed and we had control of the streets and anything was possible. A lot of regular people got interested in activism, or understanding activism.

BS: At least my experience of it, and maybe this is what you're talking about, is it brought that “do it yourself” approach to the forefront. I remember after Seattle, a friend called me one night we were going to do a newspaper wrap. I'd never done that before, but it was like that. They were like, “We're gonna tonight take out all the other newspapers and put a different cover on all the newspapers.” And it was something about the WTO folding or whatever. But it was our little thing that we were going to do. It was like our little way of changing a neighborhood for one day. And it was like, “We can do this, we can have an impact, and it won't just be symbolic but we'll actually change something.” And it felt like that was all of a sudden in our hands at that moment. And I still feel that.

BD: There are so many things about Seattle. The fact that you might be able to achieve something, the affinity group methods where everybody picks a part, the fact that there is jail solidarity. The IMC, the Independent Media was created, I was on the front lawn, me and Mark Read, when the guy was explaining how it was going to work.

BD: In Seattle. So many things were created. But for me, someone who has to deal with a lot of volunteers, I saw this other thing and it was the fact that regular people will now volunteer for our group. Now it's hard to even find an activist who was around before Seattle. Do you know what I mean? So there's this whole thing, before Seattle and after Seattle. A lot of our volunteers are kind of after Seattle, but we have a lot of organizers – and they are the key – who were around before Seattle. Organizers are still hard to find.

BS: To me it was a lot of little gestures afterward, like staying up all night in Union Square to sleep over with the homeless people. Regular people all of a sudden felt like they should do something.

BD: All of our events were twice as full. And the media, instead of ignoring us, somehow took light of us.

BS: And you guys, even with the Bush years, you built a structure that people have been able to plug into. And I think that's because of the bike—the leisure but political. It's like political leisure. I grew up biking. I always had a bike in whatever neighborhoods I was in. I rode my bike around Dallas growing up and around Princeton growing up, and I never thought it was political. I just rode my bike. It took for you guys to say that this is an event, that we all do this as a small way of getting around the city because it's practical. But at the same time it's connected to non-polluting transportation, it's connected to not being involved in oil wars, because that's the most fucked up foreign policy we can possibly have. How did you guys get people to start to think, this little gesture that we all do, riding a bike, you've grown up with it, you enjoy doing cause it's fun, and it's practical, how'd you connect that to politics?

BD: I have a long connection with that. The space we're in was a space called Light Wheels years ago and I was a volunteer before I worked with Time's Up! for Light Wheels. And Light Wheels was about solar and energy efficient transportation and batteries, and all kinds of weird stuff.  And we used to go to schools and teach kids about different stuff. But as I was doing Light Wheels I realized every day they would say, “Tomorrow the technology's going to be there, tomorrow…” And I got snowed on this for 10 years, about this delay—it's going to be tomorrow when all this stuff comes—and I realized that a lot of this stuff is political.

            We can make change today! But politics are trying to slow us down. That's why we're called Time's Up! Because corporations, which are very connected to this administration, want to stall everything. They know that the movement only has so much money and so much energy, so they know that if they stall it they can probably win. So we need to make change right away!

BS: And so for you guys, that's been part of your, you've been politicized around that right away.

BD: And what better way to do it than on non-polluting transportation and just always sticking to a certain kind of theme. At the meeting tonight, we were mentioning if we're going to have a picnic, we should have an auction and vegan stuff, so we try to always do things in a certain way. And some people get it. But it's difficult financially sometimes to use soy based ink and recyclable paper and have vegan food at all our meetings.

Buy Nothing Day 1999

            As the interview wound to an end, DiPaola and I recalled a moment the weekend before the Seattle protests in 1999 when activists with Reclaim the Streets were arrested in Buy Nothing Day in November of 1999.  The police had arrested people on 42nd Street and taken a group of activists downtown.

BD: Right. Well, we were down on Pitt Street. So part of the whole thing with Reclaim the Streets is we knew that the police were going to arrest people and make it boring, so we wanted to continue to support the arrestees plus bring the demonstration to the police station—a very successful strategy that Reclaim the Streets kind of came up with—we were down at the precinct…

BS: We did aerobics.

BD: We did aerobics, but the high idea was to bang stuff to let the arrestees know we were out there, and to annoy the police, putting pressure on them to let the people go. All night long, the police would come out and say, “That's it, we're going to arrest you!” Then we'd bang the drums more. Then the lawyers would come out and say, “We can't get the people out if you're going to keep banging the drums.”

            There was this one point where we ran around the corner, we did aerobics, but we kept the fun going and we kept the noise level up and I really think that it helped get people out. Then all the other Reclaim the Streets went to different precincts.

            The police have adjusted by bringing people further away, but still to this day we have a lot of support at the precincts. A group like Free Wheels comes along, there's food outside, I we try to support the people who are being abused.

BS: ACT UP was great with that. Good groups, nobody's ever left on their own. When you get out of jail there's always a group of people waiting for you. A lot of people when I've interviewed them they've said that's the happiest moment they had in activism. Those people that waited outside of jail with them…

BD: And remember that one moment—I have it on video and it's a really great thing—Will and Louis were the ones to climb the tripod and get arrested, and we all waited for them outside of the precinct in the West Village, and when they got out we all lifted them above our heads and cheered for them like they were basketball stars. 


Six years later, the group is still thriving.Just this last month, Times Up! held its Body Autonomy ride as well as a Drag Ride and Beach Ride.  Bill was at the Beach Ride.  Finishing the short survey of Times Up members’ favorite moments, my friend Keegan pointed to the current moment as his favorite in terms of Times Up! history. 

Times Up! volunteer Keegan doing his best Habiscus immitation at the 2011 drag ride.

My favorite Time's Up! moment is whatever moment is about to happen,” noted Keegan, referring to a ride planned for that afternoon, October 10, 2011.  “Today my favorite Time's Up! moment is the Occupy Fountains Ride,” taking place at  “3:30pm Herald Square. Be there. Love –K.”  Reading that email, I stopped writing about the Times Up!’s past, ran downstairs to get on my bike and ride, something I have loved doing with Times Up! for the last thirteen years and I hope to keep doing for many years to come. 

Keegan was sure right that October 10th Fountain Ride would turn out to be a blast.  Jefferson Seigel's photo of the Times UP! gang dancing in the fountain helped make a point about enclosure of public space as well as New York Daily News' Top 100 photos from the Year.
Bike Lane Clowns by Wendy Brawer

1 comment:

  1. Amazing, Ben. You are a voracious writer. You're energy is truly inspiring. Love our crew.