Monday, March 25, 2013

I Want To Break Free Queen Exodus Ride

Every year around holy week, the earth starts to wake up (hopefully), spring sprouting along with Palm Sunday and Passover rituals.  I am a newcomer to Passover, only taking part over the past dozen years.  Still, its always feels like a freeing space as we tell the stories of the liberation of the Israelites from Egypt. Plus its a really great Joseph and his Technicolor Dream Coat remind us.

 This year the Exodus theme would coincide with our Queen I Want to Ride My Bicycle Ride scheduled for Sunday. The ride was in honor of Freddie Mercury and his irrepressable drive to be free.

Riding a bike in the city has always required a degree of freedom.  It has always been a way for us to feel liberation from a tied down experience in living to more mobile way of looking at the world.  Riding a bike allows one to see the nooks and crannies, the cracks and the weeds in the sidewalk, the conflicts, the stories, hopes, dreams and aspirations, as well as heartbreak of the boulevard of broken dreams, looking at the city from an immediate vantage point.

 This thinking was a principal theme of many of the talks at the Brooklyn Waterfront Research Center conference on Biking the Brooklyn Waterfront at my college where I spoke on Friday. The conference announcement opened:

“Once you learn how to ride a bike, you never forget.” Brooklyn, however did forget- for a while. After an explosion of interest in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Brooklynites forgot about bikes until later in the twentieth century and now, in the twenty-first century, bikes are ubiquitous in Brooklyn, especially in its rapidly changing waterfront neighborhoods. There are bike lanes and bike paths; bikes are seen as an answer to transportation problems and as a solution for environmental troubles. In a half-day conference sponsored by the Brooklyn Waterfront Research Center (BWRC) and the University Transportation Research Center (UTRC) speakers will examine the issues raised by the history and ubiquity of bikes in Brooklyn.

Listening to Charlie McCorkell, of Bike Habitat, talk about the boom in riding during the 1970's, I realized I was one of those people swept into the cycling wave of the era.  Along with the Rocky Horror Picture Show, Punk Rock, Harvey Milk, and Queen,  the 1970's offered a striking set of contrasts and pop culture flavor from which I am still taking part.  The overlapping environmental and cultural movements of that era inform who I am today.  They certainly helped me shape what I spoke on the panel on bikes as agents of environmental and social change.   Riding a bike in the city invites us into a dialectic between streets and people, cars and pedestrians, love and hate, war and peace, public and private space, aspirations and conflicts on the road.  What is it that comes of the public spaces of our cities?  How are we to contend with the contested nature of these spaces?

The Department of Transportation speakers at the conference rarely acknowledged the limitations of their work visa vie their inability to limit the cars or the police still blocking the two hundred miles of bike lanes they have laid out in the last six years.  Still the dreams of a city connected by bike lanes are part of the image of a sustainable, more livable city.  Hopefully, the next mayor is willing to continue this process extending bike lanes from Union Street to the Verazano Narrows Bridge.

Saturday, we continued this conversation with a series of Occupy actions.  At lunch time, I met everyone at Union Square for the Divest from TD Bank Day of Action.  

Occupy the Pipeline Photo

We marched at several branches of TD Bank, calling out the institution out for financially supporting the TransCanada Pipeline which will only speed the climate chaos we've seen in recent years.  The organizing against the Keystone Pipeline has expanded for months now.

Bottom photo Leaving Union Square photo by Stacy Lanyon

At Eighth Ave, we brought buckets of water from the Hudson.  As an observer from Occupy the Pipeline noted:

We brought the Rising Tide to TD Bank. Just for their convenience, since they pride themselves on being such a convenient bank. Didn't want to have to make them wait until the climate crisis they are helping to fund brought it to them.

tdbankaction photo by alex fradkin

Finishing the speak out at the bank, we marched to Washington Square Park, where participants joined a session on life and debt at Judson memorial.

After chatting with friends, I rode home to romp around with the gals, going to the movies and a surprise party.

Sunday, we went back to Judson where Donna Schaper talked about the countless rallies we've seen moving through Union Square, how much history has shaken our history, as people marched, pushed things forward, sometimes backward, as forces for progress clashed with reactionary ideologies, pushing us backward.  The afternoon rallies for gay marriage, being debated in the Supreme court, would continue that long tradition.

Gay Marriage USA

The Exodus theme ran through the afternoon as those of us organizing the Queen Ride and Garden Scouting Day had to scramble as one of our most dedicated dancing queens was behind bars, arrested the night before for riding without a light on his bike.

We shared text messages throughout the night and early morning, with waves of supporters going to and from jail in downtown Brooklyn.   We thought he might get out by lunchtime, rushing down by 12:30 only to find out release would not be till after 2 PM.  Went back at after 2 only to find his name not on the docket , probably not to appear till after dinner time. 

The show would go on.  With moustaches and leatherjackets, glam gear and cycles we fixed up the sound bike at ABC No Rio and rode to the Gaia Tree at Tompkins Square Park, where we welcomed everyone and danced. 

I explained the rationale for the ride.  The first single I ever bought was 'We Will Rock You, We Are the Champions' in 1978.  It was the music of my childhood, of live  aid.  And Freddie was also one of first persons  I knew to die of AIDS.  Yet, he also left his joyous music, to echo through time, reminding us we all need to be a free.  We can all write our own arias. We can sing Opera when everyone sings punk.  We can all take part in the chorus of the democracy of the streets, and the ongoing struggle against AIDS.


And the streets of New York love hearing dancing tunes, Bicycle, Under Pressure  - Love Love Love Love. Monica performed to this when she was in college.

Everyone joined us at Astor Place to dance to Killer Queen.

We zigged past Union Square down Fifth Ave,  everyone singing "We Are the Champions." It wasn't a boast explained Brian May, the song spoke to the collective "we" who are all champions.  Lifting our bikes in the airs, trucked honked, as we cascaded down the streets, enjoying the stage set of the city.

"Perfect ride moment," recalled Brennan, who drove the sound bike.  "sound system blaring We Are The Champions, bikes consuming 5th avenue, heading towards Washington Square and the arch...all eyes turn...buses honking behind us...we we slowly approach, dancing, blaring, baring...don't stop until you see the smiles on their faces..."

We rode around the park and moved West to Sheridan Square, we turned "Bohemian Rhapsody."  All of Christopher Street sang along as we performed.  "I don't want to die, I sometimes wish I'd never been born at all," I crooned from a light pole, with the people snapping shots from the streets.

" Mamma Mia let me go.... " we sang together.

The streets of New York seem to come alive in these moments, with the theater of our memories and collective experiences coming together as we sing as dance. 
BS channelling Freddy.
By Outi Pop

"Rebel, Rebel" and  "Young Americans" kept the jam going.  And "All the Young Dudes" took us back to Union Square.  "My brother is back with his Beatles and his Stones.  He never got off with that revolution stuff." 

My friend Edward and I smiled listening to the words.  

As he'd done with other rides, he'd joined us jogging from Union Square back to Christopher Street and back to Union Square, where we danced with the Hare Krishnas, joining the veggie parade... friends from Occupy to Times UP and back again.  The revolution takes countless forms.  Next week is the woman and trans ride, we announced thanking everyone for taking part.

Thank you to all the faabulous people who helped me the ride so fun. 
Dancing and back to headquarters. Outi Pop 

Joining the family for dinner in South Shore Seaport, we reveled in the time together in the empty corner of the city beneath the Brooklyn Bridge seemingly vanquished by the storm.  The waterline marked through the wall of the restaurant with chalk. 

A text noted our friend  was number 92 of 95 coming out after six pm.  "Get over here now" another text announced.  So I rode over... They were already out by the time I got to the court at Schermerhorn Street.   I was glad he didn't have to spend the night again. 

"Being in jail today made me really angry," one of the jail supporters recalled along the ride.   I was glad his exocus could begin that evening.

"Wow, y'all looked amazing!!" my friend Jennifer chimed in after the action. "Had the timing worked I would have loved the moment when 20 Freddies walked into the courtroom. The judge hated cyclists in just regular clothes..."