Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Salon for the End of the World and other December Rituals

Outside of Sophie's for the December salon.

Each year since 1999, we have had salons.  Started during jail support for the Buy Nothing Day arrestees of November '99 heading out to Seattle, the salon has grown and evolved over the years.  Some years it is a reunion of the Reclaim the Streets affinity group of the Lower East Side Collective.  Other years, it is a conversation about activism, media, and ways to tell stories.  And sometimes, it is just a bull session.   

It started when Christine invited us to her house to have beers after waiting outside of Pitt Street all day for Mark and William and the others arrested during our musical street blockade earlier in the day in Times Square.  Some of us ending up sleeping there before going out the next day to make sure everyone was released.

After that we kept going to Christine's after meetings or street actions.  I remember leaving a Reverend Billy Reclaim the Streets action against one of the luxury condos rising on Houston Street.  We all met at Christine's for dinner.  Brad Will was playing his guitar for hours, singing about the police.  Those memories were part of what we would remember him by six years later when he was killed. 

Over the years, our monthly, bi monthly sessions have helped those plugging and dropping out of activism stay in touch as friends, even when they did not want to attend a rally or meeting.   Friends and colleagues have moved in and out of the salon through  a dozen plus years of direct action.  Through the salon, we've taken a break from global justice days to community  garden street parties, anti war rallies and Critical Mass bike rides, Yes men zaps and Occupy encampments.  Hopefully the salon keeps a few of us in touch and connected.

Through those dark days after the war broke out in Iraq, Bush was re elected and we all watched our world of activism severely curtailed, the salon offered an island away from the storm going on around us.

These days, members of the original salons drop by for the holiday get togethers, in between vacation travels.  Sometimes, Larry will show up and give a monologue. 

Other years, the salon inspired us to take action.  In 2010, for example we were kvetching about a bike or hearing at city hall attended by Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowotz, in which he barged in, sang a song at the testimony and left. 

"What an ass!" some complained.

"What should we do about it?" Monica wondered.  "We gotta do something."

So the next week, we brought the Borough President a bicycle and a holiday card.  I carried a sign declaring  "Marty is out of touch with Brooklyn."

On other nights, the salon is just about conversation, around the winter solstice.

Over the years, we've met at Life Cafe and Kate's Joint, both now shuttered East Village haunts.  Other salons we meet on people's roofs or the Blarney Stone. 

This year we met at Sophié's on East Fifth Street after Wendy's Green Map Party.

Beka and Jason, Emily and Ron and Zack were all there.  Beka and Jason had brought their child, born earlier this year, the new baby charming everyone

Emily made it early.  "I sat for about fifteen minutes on my own.  I'm a big person."

And gradually more and more people rolled in.

Andrew dropped by, making the same jokes he makes every year about me being in four different places at once.  Its good that some things never change.

Christine and Daniel showed up and bought everyone a pitcher, settling in on a side corner.  The salon would not work without them.

Billy showed up, toned down, from his alter ego.... but still kvetching about publicity

Steve sauntered in, looking cool as ever.

Zack was hanging out, but the noise was a little much for him.   Since we've been kicked out of the life cafe, this has been a little harder to hear.  There are very few convivial spaces to hang out in the Lower East Side, he points out.

Ron was there, amicable as ever.

Chuck showed up, smiling, buying everyone another pint.  A former high school teacher, he's helped keep the conviviality of the whole affair strong for years now, connecting our activism now with what he did in the 1960's and late 1990's.  One night for the salon at the Blarney Stone, Chuck showed up from Zuccotti where he had been sleeping for some ten days.

Around ten thirty, the Times Up! crew showed up, Barbara making a grand entrance with her bike.  Keegan, Barbara  and Peter stopping to chat, discuss, check out the  juke box, what so and so said at the previous week's ride. 

Leslie was there talking about Occupy Sandy and the subway lights.

Some years, friends drop by after their arrests at Zuccotti.  I remember leaving jail to meet Monica and the rest of the crowd after being in jail all day for an aids CD. 

In other ways, the last solon of the year is a review of worked and did not work with activism.  Its a time to remember those who we lost,  friends who have died - Tom last year, Spencer  and Michael Cardon this year.

These are the friends who've been there while I've been in between jobs, friends, movements, between the ebb and flow of movements and our lives... between unplanned pregnancies, breakups, movement's rising and crashing and organizing fueling us in between those years.

While we have movement heroes and ebbing and flowing into and out of the salon, discussions about what works and what doesn't.  But Steve has largely turned his NYU art and activism lunches into that. The solon is more a convergence of friends and acquaintances, those who drop into activism and fade out, but do not always want to lose touch.  These ties are what keep so many of us going, coping with a big nasty world, as our dreams  for movements are smashed by terrorist bombings and wars, bulldozers  and burnout, yet we keep going, writing, telling stories, planning zaps, gossiping, and organizing and the like.  It is a time to remember, we've enjoyed just trying and what other choice do we have about living?  It is also a time to lament what did not work.  What obstacles we've encountered.  What churches have been burned, police arrests we're endured, and media coverage we've enjoyed or seen neglecting our work.  These are spaces where rebel friendships thrive, our fights gain steam, beers flow, and bike rides converge.  And the solstice feels more real than ever.  It is really a time in between one world, piece of history, and another. 

None of any of this is easy.  But it could not be more worthwhile.   Most everyone left some time after midnight, when Keegan, Barbara, Peter and I stayed on dancing into the night.

And I rode home.  The familiar changes in our lives and the seasons forcing us to grapple with the constant flux of living. 

The next day, I watched Dodi successfully test for her Brown belt in Karate.  Dodi's coach said he'd been with her since she was five years old and look how fars she's come.  Hopefully, this a way for her to walk tall in a world full of insanity and violence.
Dodi after her brown belt test.
Photo by Caroline Shepard
Karate test and victory celebration.

At the solon, a few of us talked about seeing her  first demo, world earth day a decade ago  and his ensuing ten year birthday.

The day before Christmas we all went hiking along the Delaware river.  The geese were still there on this warm December, not quite ready to fly home for the winter, perhaps not needing to, now that the earth is warm.  The girls did not want to go for the hike but then loved it once we left.
Christmas even hike. Photo by Caroline Shepard
Christmas day banjo jam! Photo by Jennifer Shepard

White Christmas. Photo by Jennifer Shepard

Between hikes and belt tests and solons, they are all part of rituals of my life and a changing world.  They tell us who we are and what kind of a world we live in.  I'm  glad to have all of them in my life.  
Sunrise UK!


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