Monday, February 25, 2013

Between Songs: Hellos to Connie, Goodbyes to Judith, Michele and the Living Theater

It was a lovely week of theater and friends.  Some of us met to hear the stories of a long lost pop singer, who never quite made it.  In between, we said goodbye to a few friends and embraced some new ones. 

Brennan invited us to the Rattlestick Theater deep in the West Village to see my old Vassar buddy Howard Fishman sang about Connie Converse and her world of music, in between a struggle just to find a space where her voice could just fit in.  She never seemed to find that space.  Instead Fishman recalled, she sent goodbye notes and drove off in her VW bug never to be seen from again. We've all felt like we couldn't fit in at some point in our lives, Fishman confessed in his final soliloquy. 

Sometimes setbacks are just too much.  Dad and I talked about those we've known who've suffered Alzheimer's after setback after setback, tragedy and loss.  A mother loses a son to suicide; a newly watches her husband do himself in after two days of marriage.  Sometimes the pain is just too much. And the mind, the body can't shake it.  My students who work in emergency rooms, in hospitals, in hospices, and clinics.  We talk about this.  Yet how we shake out the pain? People take different approaches.  I try to ride and dance, to sing and listen to as much music as I can.  Still buzzing about all the dancing at the living theater, from a week prior, I enjoyed talking Judith Malina on Friday. 

Cars were parked in the bike lane on my way over the theater.

"Don't forget about the person you've never met," she explained to me. Don't forget the person out there suffering she implored me. 

Probably the most lovely octogenarian I've never met, we talked about the living theater, dancing, the police, invisible and ways the whole of life is a stage.   I told how much I had loved dancing in her theater and watching her in her plays such as Maudie and Jane, with Monica Hunken.   "She is a wonderful actress," she told me, referring to Hunken.  Her theater is closing and she is moving away.I thanked Malina for helping New York have a revolutionary space where marching bands collide with disaster relieve efforts, stories, plays, jail support, and revolutionary theater.

The next morning, Dodi and I went to Kensington Stables, greeting horses and new friends.

Throughout the day, I romped around the city, seeing buddies, napping, going on bike rides, and walking through the community gardens for a goodbye walk in honor of  Neil Smith. A brilliant critical geographer, Smith's writing helped me see New York's neighborhoods and their conflicts, in a richer, global context I had never imagined when I first started thinking about these neighborhoods fifteen years ago.  Smith helped us see a dialectic in the streets, parks, and riots of the East Village.  This was the same dialectic Donna Schaper talked about the next day with a comma rather than a period at Judson. There are other ways of looking at things than with periods and absolutely.

Early Saturday, my friend Malav dropped an email reminding us the walking tour was still on:
This is a friendly reminder that we are kicking off our radical walking tour of the Lower East Side in memory of Neil's tours this afternoon. We'll begin at 2:30pm at Astor Place; make a stop at Vazacs’s Horseshoe Bar (108 Avenue B, a favorite stop on many of Neil's tours) around 5pm; and finally, we will move to Bluestockings at 7pm for a salon and cozy gathering, where we will read some of Neil's field notes and share our Neil-inflected stories and memories. 
We are meeting rain or shine, and hope to see you there!
Radical Walking Tour of the Lower East Side... in memory of Neil Smith and his walking tours
Saturday, February 23, 2013
Rain or shine!

2:30 pm — Meet at the Astor Place Cube at the intersection of Astor Place/8th Street/Lafayette Street - across from the Astor Place 6 Train, Close to the N/R 8th Street stop. 
5:00 pm — Vazacs’s Horseshoe Bar, 108 Avenue B (at E. 7th Street). 

7:00 pm — Join us at Bluestockings Bookstore for a Neil Smith Salon with friends, students & comrades of Neil, 172 Allen Street (between Stanton and Rivington). 

Tonight’s salon celebrates the life of Neil Smith (1954-2012), renowned radical geographer, condemner of the capitalist city, powerful agitator for the small and large cause, and gentle teacher, friend, comrade to many. We honor his memory by exploring Neil’s more curious and ruminative side by reading from his field notes, stories, and ephemera. Notebooks will be uncreased, words will be interpreted, mystique will be revealed – many dating back to Neil’s first days in the United States. 

It poured on the way over to the tour. I rode past the Elizabeth Street Sculpture garden.

edenpictures' photostream

Photos by Michael Natale,

And the lovely rain drops sparkled in the streets and memories.  It made it all the richer for the large group on hand at the Astor Place Cube.  Throughout our tour, a few talked about the Smith's revolution walking tours during his seminars.   I recalled garden heroes including my friend Francoise Cachelin, a veteran of the French resistance, who saw the radical potential of a community garden. We talked about crickets, resistance, reclaiming streets, gardens saved, unsaved, new gardens, and those vacant lots we need to turn into new community gardens.

 My first garden tour in 1999, with reclaim the streets.
Our final stop was ave a where we created our own garden photo by Michael Natale,
Francoise Cachelin

Sunday, we ran through the streets, to Judson, from West Village to East.

Josh played tunes and danced at Living Theater...

 helping us send off the Living Theater and the Michele Hardstey, the legendary singer, drum player, and organizer who formed Rude Mechanical all those years ago in 2004, played with Hungry March Band, and commuted between Brooklyn and Western Mass while performing with Apocalypse Five and Dime and Occupying Wall Street.  She reminded me that Bartelby the Scrivener would have been an occupier, helping connect the OWS library with a distinct kind of s struggle, with deep roots. She brought her ukulele to salons on the roof at Christine over the summers and helped connect music and politics, singing Billy Holiday songs while romping around New York from her days in Reclaim the Streets. She'll be spending more time away from town now.  But we're glad she graced us with her music and its connections with cultural resistance over the years.

Jim Eigo wrote about a dialog between generations of activists we've seen in the last few months of AIDS activism with the loss of Spencer Cox and the nomination of How to Survive a Plague, a film about his activism, for an academy award.  

Friends dropped by to watch the awards, while AIDS activists chimed in from a live blog.
I didn't imagine How to Survive would win. Friends dropped by as we watched the Oscars.  Others live blogged as they waited and posted  pressing readings of this history.  Waves of appreciation rolled through me watching "Silence = Death" roll across the screen. 

Friends dropped by and the words 'Silence=Death' flashed across the screen before Ben Affleck announced the  winner. 

Finding Searching for Sugerman, another amazing story about a musician lost and found, won, unlike Colleen Converse.

After it was done, Babs walked out to sing "Memories."  Jay Blotcher reminded us: "Thank you Barbra for making us all stop for a minute to count our blessings and to take stock of the richness of our lives... and to think about those who have left us."  The music in the movies still move me.

So do the stories and what they mean to us.  "It was never about the Oscar" noted Greg Gonsalves. " What was amazing about these past few months is how we all came together again, first around the filming of How to Survive a Plague, then the film's release, through the agony of Spencer's death. We've suffered so much loss, but no one could have predicted that this family writ large was still out there, this band of activists from coast to coast, that has survived to support each other once again."

Thanks so Michel, Judith, Fancoise, Connie Converse, Spencer and all the heroes and unsung heroes out there through the years. Towards the end of the night, someone posted an Adele song capturing the sentiment of the night.  It felt good to think of her and all of them.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Valentines Parties and Climate Rallies: Building Community and Fighting What is Wrong with It All

Much of my life as an organizer, as a person for that matter, vacillates between the imperative of building community and fighting against oppressive, war loving, pollution belching, misogyny supporting, homophobic, racist, planet warming systems.  Movements need both - the joy of building something better and the rage  against what is unjust.  This last week, we did both, organizing the Times Up! Valentines Party at the Living Theater and joining caravans of organizers to take part in the largest climate rally in US history in  Washington, DC. 

Times Up! signs at ABC No Rio and the Living Theater. 

This interplay has been a part of my life for many years now.  I'm proud of most every action of care and fun, of joy and justice I've taken part in, even when these gestures sometimes feel useless.  Ten years ago, on Feb 15th, 2003, we spoke out to the world and history to say we did not want to support another war. It was the largest day of protest in world history, with actions in cities around the globe. Two million people marching in England alone.  The Guardian suggests the action marked a generation.  While some saw this action as useless as the war plans raged forward.  Others saw as a way to steak an alternate route through history, a way to make a mark a different path forward.  "The article concludes that when the governments around the world ignored the populations people then stopped being active ..." noted Marinta Sitrin on facebook.   "But history is not so linear. I believe it was the beginning of what we see now with Occupy, the M15, Greece and the massive assembly movements. They are absolutely linked to 2.15 - it was part of a break with representative democracy and the current path now to create real democracy." 

Much of this thinking was on our mind as we planned for the Times Up! Valentines Party.  Monday night we held a prop making party at ABC No Rio.  

Scenes of cars and graffiti at ABC No Rio.

Better than talking or planning, these sessions involve paint, props, and colors.  I had to dig through the basement at ABC to find banner materials, making my way through seasons of old gardens and cycling banners along the way.  

Painting banners and hanging em to dry in the basement at ABC. 

 Thursday, we rode materials over to the Living Theater from the Times Up! space in Williamsburg.

Bringing supplies over the bridge. 

After we dropped everything off at the Living Theater and ABC, I joined by the One Billion  Rising Flashmob at Washington Square. The event was billed as a moment to: "Demand an end to violence against women and girls worldwide. Events are happening across the city and across the world! The statistics are astounding: 1 in 3 women will experience violence in her lifetime. That adds up to ONE BILLION women worldwide. It is time to say 'enough.' Join V-day's One Billion Rising campaign."

One Billion Rising... Diane Green Lent. 

My experience at the flashmob, was it didn't feel like that.  What I saw there lots and lots of women speaking out against violence.  The crowd was diverse  I was glad they were out there, speaking out beyond the usual shrill critique. And most importantly, it was a way to engage with multiple publics - including the general public, media, and younger girls  - speaking about ways women can fight back.  For now, external critiques of these efforts feel like sniping. And the activists look like they are ready to push back against systems of silence. 

That night, Times Up! organized a pre party Valentines bike ride though downtown.

We met at ABC No Rio, romping about, before riding up to join the gang at the Gaia tree in the center of Tompkins Square Park.

Peter showed up with a sign on his bike declaring Love Lane, in homage of our fight for better bikelanes where we can ride safely, connect in public space, and even dance.

The Beatles Why Don't We Do It in the Road blared from the sound system as we left the park. "Play that one again!!!!!!" a street vagabond screamed at the corner of 9th and Ave A, with Joe Strummer looming across the street.  

The ride took us through the streets of the streets of the Village, from the East Side to the West, where we danced and made our way back to the party. 

It would be our last party at Living Theater where we have had so many good times, struggles, shows, performances.

Scenes from the Times Up! Valentines Party at the Living Theater. 
Photos by Brennan Cavanaugh
New York Bike Dance takes Gershwin. 

Monica vamped it up in the dressing room, recalling her days performing with Judith Malina.

''Judith, tell me everything..."
Monica recalling years of plays with Judith Malina. 

I recalled marching bands from Italy performing there, a fundraiser after the Haiti earthquake, so many of Monica's shows and Times Up! dance parties where we celebrated, fought, imagined, hoped, dreamed, and reveled in a bit of an in between space in the Village.  This was always a space where dreams and art, activism and drama, met in a place which seemed outside the present moment, "a secret rendezvous between history and the present," Walter Benjamin put it.   Here, like minded dreamers who've dropped into the Village from parts unknown for years, have met, schemed, dreamed, and narrated a different kind of space, a performance in living which challenged hierarchies, embraced the eros of anarchism, and the pleasure of the revolution of everyday life. 

JC passed out a sequined cape for us to wear. 

The cape made several rounds.
Pics and cape by JC Augustin
"All the boys in Times Up! usually end up with their shirts off..." someone chimed in, recalling the last few Valentines Parties. 

Many of us were happy to oblige.

We danced, vamped for the camera, and jumped on top of each other.

Photos by Brennan Cavanaugh

Jennifer and Josh shook in on the bar.

Scenes from the Times Up! Valentines Party at the Living Theater.
Photos by Brennan Cavanaugh

And I grinned.

We took photos of each other... first there were two, then three, then four, then five, then six, then seven, then eight. 

We danced when we were leaving, ushered out by Monica who had a show at the theater the next night.

And we took the sound bike back to ABC...  loitered in the streets.

And finally around 4 AM we rode back to Brooklyn, asleep by 5.

Music echoed through my mind as I dropped the kids off at school the next day, a quiet day for reading, writing, and meeting another former Occupier leaving town.  A group of us arrived at 60 Wall Street and he was already gone.  The dreams of our lives bring us here.  Sometimes we can stay. And sometimes, the spirit of the road calls us back, leaving those who remain to remember.

I remembered the streets of New York ten years prior as we romped through barricades, bodies, lines of police, and propaganda to speak out against the war.

That weekend, we would journey back to DC for another rally, another cry against history and the lunge of our modern lives toward oblivion. 

Earlier in the week, members of the Sierra Club engaged in civil disobedience at the White House for the first time in their history.

Forward on Climate Rally...This will be the biggest climate rally in World History so far. More than 10,000 concerned Americans have already RSVP'd to the event. Following the most dramatic two years for climate change and related extreme weather events, and the re-election of Barack Obama, there has never been more positive momentum for pressuring our government to take long overdue action on climate change. THE MOST IMPORTANT THING OUR GOVERNMENT CAN DO IS ABANDON THE KEYSTONE XL PIPELINE PROJECT. We will relay this message from the streets to the White House, with the largest climate march in history and a bevvy of well-known speakers on the subject including Bill McKibben, founder of Please plan to be a part of history, and part of the plan to save our future, this President's Day weekend.... Many activists are coming from around the Nation, some are finding overnight lodging because they are coming from so far away. We are fortunate to live close enough to the center of the action that we can be a part of history rather cheaply and easily.

None of our kids were born when we were going to DC for those early 2000 demos.  But they were with us this time, after a night in Princeton, laughing on the road, chuckling away to the recording of Monty Python and the Holy Grail we listened to as way made our way through the Sunday morning drive.

Hanging with the girls and my favorite trees as time passes in Princeton. 

Winds ripped at us as walked along the mall to get to the rally. 
Those DC blocks are long.
But we stuck it out. 

Marching to the Washington Monument for the rally and the march, it felt good to march, to speak out, and talk with some college kids from Missouri, old timers from Boston, and Occupiers from NYC, who were on hand.  The Occupy Puppetry Guild was there, dressed as Fossil Fuels, vamping it up with very very needed street theater.  

The Fossil Fools at F17 Climate Forward.
Minister Erik R. McGregor
By two thirty or so, we rallied on the White House.  Finishing the rally, we strolled over to the Smithsonian, Museum of American History, where we got warm and perused a few of the exhibits, thinking about what the day had been, wondering if these gestures are ever worth it.

Walking through official history of presidents and first ladies, I wondered if other stories could find a space here.

I mean I love Lady Bird Johnson and her highway beautification programs from the Great Society.

But there is more to this picture of the rascals on parade in our capital.

But in a nook in between presidents, the curators had deemed to acknowledge that everything was not always as official history tells us with their stories of presidents, elections, and such.  The Air and Space Museum, the stories of military history, of wars seen here seem to use history to justify the ever expanding empire and its military industrial complex, there were those who opposed, resisted, and fought official history.

Placards on the wall at the Smithsonian and in the trash outside.
Re "homosexual rights" they might need some fact checkers.
No gay civil rights protests till the 1960's here. 

In between 1960's gay rights and anti-war placards, stood displayed a simple sign from April 2000 when those of us in the then nascent Global Justice Movement, we converged on Washington for the IMF World Bank Protests.  We'd be back later on for inauguration protests, driving with ron, for anti-war rallies, driving with Steve, with Housing Works and ACT UP and Queerocracy.  Here was a bit of our history.  Still, so many of those demos changed history, one zap at a time, very little else seems to really work.
While, sometimes feels futile, still we march.  And get surprised by what we hear.  

Back to life. 

That night, Bill McKibben would write:Today was the day. Finally, powerfully, decisively -- the movement to stop climate change has come together. This was the biggest climate change rally in US history. By ourcount, 50,000 people gathered by the Washington Monument and then marched past the White House, demanding that President Obama block the Keystone XL pipeline and move forward toward climate action

Back in the hotel, we chilled in DC, watched news reports, read stories and relaxed. Monday, we woke up to reports from papers around the world, including the New York TImes declaring: "Obama Faces Risks on Pipeline Decision." The paper, for once, seemed to be echoing our argument. 

Writing from Canada, my friend Mike Hudema notes:

The fact is that the government and industry plan to triple oil sands production in the next seven years. The resulting emissions will cancel out every other effort in Canada to reduce climate pollution. Emissions related to the Keystone XL pipeline alone would add pollution equivalent to 4.6 million cars. (And that’s only counting Canadian emissions, not downstream emissions from refining and burning the oil).

That morning, we romped around a bit before making our way back to Brooklyn. Walking through the Library of Congress, one gets the picture of US history as an ever expanding drive toward conquest, with stories of Cortez and the decimation of the Aztecs, the Indians, Civil Wars and still more suppression, as the US links its history and culture with classical empires and histories from Greece to Rome.

Yet, in the ground floor Library offered an exhibit titled: Down to Earth Herblock and the Photographers Observe the Environment.  Completing a weekend of climate activism, it seemed strangely prescient.  As the catalog explained:

Environmental issues affect everyone on planet Earth—the quality of the water and food we consume, the air we breathe, and the parks we enjoy. The Library of Congress actively acquires works of art relating to major social, political, and scientific matters and is a particularly rich resource of editorial cartoons and photography recording issues concerning the environment. The images selected for Down to Earth are among the Library’s most compelling compositions because their creators intended to provoke reaction and inspire change.
Although the visual techniques used in photography and cartooning differ, both types of media are well suited to addressing such themes as the spread of toxins, water pollution, oil drilling, global warming, deforestation, exploitation of wetlands, and overconsumption. Sam Kittner’s photographs vividly document the outrage of demonstrators in Louisiana over toxic waste dumping. Other images are more subtle—Olaf Otto Becker’s beautiful image of a blue river in Greenland actually shows the effects of global warming and acid rain. Herblock’s cartoons rely on humor, irony, and sarcasm to comment on pending legislation and competing interests.
The inspiration for Down to Earth comes from Herbert L. Block (1909–2001), commonly called Herblock, and his long-standing support for protecting the environment. A four-time Pulitzer Prize winner and chief editorial cartoonist at the Washington Post, Herblock produced cartoons about the environment throughout his seventy-two-year career. In 2002, the Herb Block Foundation donated more than 14,000 editorial cartoons—his life’s work—to the Library of Congress.

Herblock's cartoons seemed to illustrate why we were doing what we were doing in the climate rally.

The image, Sam Kittner's LA Toxics March  from November 1988, highlighted a quarter century of environmental activism, which is still going strong, preventing wrongs before they take place, holding back frack when it can, and reminding the world there are costs to our expansion and that there are other ways to live. 

''Don't be so cynical dad" they scolded me.

Walking through the exhibits they were ready to find something else, a different path to explore.

And we drove home, as life changes, the leaves change, the kids grow older.  Looking at trees in the distance, singing "big yellow taxi" and katie perry on the road. Listening to Joni sing California. "Reading the news and it sure looks bad / They won't give peace a chance /

Its always good coming home. It feels good to try and sometimes be part of history, if for just a fleeting moment in time.