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 350.org. 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. 

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