Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Condom Arrests and Naked Bike Rides, Occupy Gezi and Battles Over Public Space

World Naked Bike New York heads to Occupy Gezi solidarity protest at Zuccotti

Photo by US journalist Jenna Pope

Saturday the news headlines talked about public space in Taksim Square in the heart of Istanbul, where activists have been camping out in the latest round of Occupy Protests – from Tahrir Square to Zuccotti Park to Taksim. Public space for retail politics, where people meet, talk, hang out, nap, play music, and share common cause, this space has the power to ignite movements and spark ideological clashes about the limits of democratic social discourse.   Perhaps this is why those in power are increasing threatened by these spaces, seeking to shut them down. 

Photos by US journalist Jenna Pope

The article concluded with a burst of ideas linking the notion of open public space with a cosmopolitan political identity. 

Scenes from Occupy Gezi Ralf Christensen

It certainly is about control vs freedom.  This idea has been a central part of a conversation about space dating back decades.  And its part of why those Occupying Taksim are enduring water cannons as we speak. 

When Mayor Giuliani planned a quality of life crusade to clean up and sanitize Times Square and New York, many of us recognized the politics of his  ‘quality of life’ as a code word to class cleansing, used to justify pushing the poor from public view, criminalizing homelessness and poverty, while vilifying social and sexual outsiders.   Erdogan seems to have borrowed a page from Giuliani’s book.

“Its about who walks through public space – a white girl with a baby stroller or a black gay boy in a sweat suit on roller skates,” explained a friend in a SexPanic meeting in the fall of 1997. “The reactions to the two bodies are vastly different.”

Over the past few days, many o these conflicts have arisen anew in New York as we battled the use of Condom as Evidence Arrests, took part in Naked Bike Rides, and Occupy Gezi Solidarity Actions, among other contests over public space in the naked city. 

Friday, before the Skin Ride, I was interviewed by the Daily News:

I tried to add the point that in New York today, we are still coping with a class based battle over public space, with those on the margins, sex workers, the poor, the homeless facing inordinate harassment and jail time. Thursday, I  had attended the no condoms as evidence rally at City Hall.   

What: A press conference and rally calling for an end to the confiscation and introduction of condoms as evidence of prostitution-related offenses

• Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice
• Office of Kings County District Attorney Charles Hynes
... • New York Assemblymembers Walter T. Mosley III, Francisco Moya
• New York City Council Members Jessica Lappin, Stephen Levin, Daniel Dromm, Jimmy Van Bramer
• Ellen Meyers, widow of Judge Gustin Reichbach
• Michael Polenberg, Vice President of Government Affairs, Safe Horizon
• Suzanne Seltzer, New York Anti-Trafficking Network
• Individuals affected by this practice
• Human Rights Watch, Lambda Legal, Make the Road New York, New York City Anti-Violence Project, New York Civil Liberties Union, Red Umbrella Project, Streetwise and Safe (SAS), Urban Justice Center.

Background: Legislation that would prohibit police from confiscating and prosecutors from introducing possession of condoms as evidence of intent to engage in prostitution-related offenses is currently pending before the New York State legislature (AB2736/SB1379) (Clark/Montgomery), and a resolution in support of the state bills is now before the City Council (Res. 0710-2011) (Lappin). Last year Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice, who will assume leadership of the District Attorneys Association of New York State next month, became the first to issue a policy that her office would no longer introduce possession of condoms as evidence in any prostitution-related cases, including sex trafficking cases. Recently, Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes instructed the New York City Police Department to stop collecting condoms as evidence in prostitution cases. Anti-trafficking advocates, civil and human rights groups, LGBT organizations, immigrants’ rights groups and advocates for the rights of individuals in the sex trades are calling on the NYPD to comply with DA Hynes’ request, and on city and state lawmakers to pass legislation to ensure that all New Yorkers can protect themselves by carrying condoms.

When my students heard about this policy they were shocked.  Yet, the policy is not knew.  It is part of a long pattern.

I walked to the rally from 42nd street, reveling in how few signs of public sexual culture there are left in New York.  One peep show on 8th Ave, but that  was all I saw on my sunny walk downtown.   The City of New York has maintained an all out assault on public sexuality and the use of condoms as evidence is an extension of this process.  It allows the New York police department to stop, frisk and hassle sexual outsiders, homeless people, glbt youth- anyone who does not fit the profile of consumer citizenship outlined by Bloomberg.

The problem with the policy is it is clearly against the law.  As my friend Louis Equality Flores points out:

The use of condoms as evidence violates the U.S. Supreme Court case Griswold v. Connecticut, which legalized the use of prophylactics (birth control). Why isn't Planned Parenthood or NOW joining in this coalition ? What the NYPD is doing is not criminalizing the use of prophylactics ; in reality the police are recriminalizing their use. The impact of the police policy has implications for women's reproductive freedoms, too. The NYPD are taking us back to a per-Griswold era. How can the police and Commish Kelly just unilaterally opt-out of a Supreme Court ruling ?

There is an easy answer to that one - the NYPD does not care.  The Department regularly ignores policies created by other departments of government, from the Department of Transportation (rules prohibiting cars from parking in bike lanes) to the Department of Health (possession of syringes and now condoms). 

Walking into the press conference, I saw many of the usual suspects.  My friends ACT UP veteran Jim Eigo and Louis Equality Flores carried a banner with a picture of a condom asking why Chris Quinn allowed this practice to go on.  But as soon as they opened the banner, a few others asked the activists to take down the banner because it would offend Chris Quinn.

Flores and Eigo

Listening to the commotion, I chimed in in support of the banner and the first amendment right of Eigo and Flores to carry it.  “Christ Quinn is bad news,” I explained to the annoyed press conference organizers.   Yet, they kept insisting Quinn would not appreciate us making this point and that this was their press conference.   Fortunately, neither Eigo, nor Flores left.   I took a picture of Eigo and Flores and their unobtrusive banner, noting I would post this in my blog.  As SexPanic! and Radical Homosexual Agenda and other anti- assimilationist activists have long argued, a post-identitarian politics helps us move away from supporting conservative politicos just because they fit into a neat identity category. 

RHA rally for freedom of assembly despite parade permit rule supported by Chris Quinn.
Photos by James Wagner

Healthgap and Queerocracy’s Michael Tikil later took up the banner.

Few wanted to engage in a conversation about Quinn, who has repeated offered a blank check to the NYPD and the executive branch of government, while turning a blind eye to increasingly intrusive government policies.

“Was asked to leave City Hall steps by Make the Road, bc I'm holding up NYPD condom banner that is critical of @ChrisCQuinn at presser,” noted Flores later that day on facebook.  In all my talking with people in the community, not everybody gets it that Speaker Christine Quinn takes credit for mobilizing the NYPD in the wake of the spree of violent hate crimes. She has that power and authority, which she likes to claim. But note how she does nothing to demobilize the police on issues like the police use of condoms as evidence in the prosecution of LGBT New Yorkers…. I wonder how many of our community groups are co-opted by slush funds, that they are prevented from truly targeting power-holders or decision-makers, because their funding would be cut in an act of vindictive retribution by Speaker Quinn ?”

The rally was amazing, with story after story about the need for public health to trump policing and not the other way around.  My friend Robin later joined us. 

 Even the Brooklyn District Attorney has asked the NYPD to stop the practice, noting it will not use condoms as evidence.  Others  suggested that the various departments of New York’s city’s government, such as the Department of Health, Transportation, and Police, could not work at cross purposes.   They need to support each other and the right of people to live democratically.

After all, healthy public space demands freedom of association, of autonomous movement.  Yet, the push to criminalize such basic acts of walking in public with condoms or carry banners with contrarian political positions, reduce this capacity.  

Top - a scene from a recent gay marriage protest, middle- Walter Armstrong wearing an sign declaring Legalize Butt Fucking with ACT UP.  And finally nude sunbathers in the West Side Piers in Manhattan.

We need healthy public spaces where ideas and voices find expression in the messiness of the streets, where we can talk, ride bikes, cruises free of harassment, hang out and build common cause.  The politics of the use of condoms as evidence smack of a class cleansing which feels both sinister and counterproductive.  There is a prohibitionist rhetoric which feels counter intuitive.   Unlike prohibition, today we attempt to build our arguments around science and data, not simply class and race based animosity, but that’s where I may be wrong.

Like the crack down on public sexual culture in Times Square, the attacks on sex workers, or social outsiders represented by the use of condoms as evidence by the NYPD has its roots in deep seated puritanical thinking.  The roots of anti-pleasure ideology stretch far and wide. From Aquinas to Calvin, Cotton Mather to Comstock, a Puritanical streak permeates US politics. The Puritans famously condemned those who deviated from their religious doctrine and emphasis on work rather than play, torturing religious non-conformists. Yet, there were those who fought back. While we hear a great deal about the Tea Party these days, in the 1794 Whisky Rebellion Pennsylvania whisky makers tar and feathered tax collectors who sought to tax whisky sales.

Much of this sentiment may seems to be taking shape in the rapid ascent of the Occupy Gezi movement and solidarity actions taking place around the world, including Zuccotti Park.  Countless activists in Turkey have been holding up beer bottles in Taksim Square as part of the rebellion against a proposed law prohibiting the consumption of alcohol in public spaces in Turkey. 

Toasts throughout Turkey commence with the words: “Cheers, Tayyip!”

While the law has not been approved, the NY Times reports that Prime Minister Erdogan has gone as far as to accuse Mustafa Kernal Ataturk, the founder of modern secular republic of Turkey, of being a drunkard. 

Saturday’s Occupy Gezi action in Zuccotti was perhaps more spirited than the previous week.

There I ran into friends from Times Up!, Occupy the Pipeline, and even my union.  We all compared notes.   We talked about the lack of police, given the State Department’s rhetoric calling for a  support for the right to protest.  Certainly this was not the case of the Occupy movement, which was violently shut down by the state in the US.  But for a brief moment drums could be heard once again in Zuccotti.   Conversations were everywhere. 

A young women stood up starting a mic check calling for the mall proposed for Taksim Square and the crackdown on activists to stop.  We need our public spaces, she declared.  We demand that the park remain a park.  The attempts to demolish the cultural center must stop.  Those who support violent suppression should be removed from their posts.  Use of tear gas should be prohibited around the country.

“Around the globe,” a man screamed.

“Around the globe, she followed.  Detained protesters should be released.  The restrictions  on the right to protest, to meet in public spaces should end.  We should honor the right of people to the streets. 

The Saturday action in Zuccotti was being held in solidarity with Occupy Gezi.   

Solidarity with Occupy Gezi Parki #OccupyGeziNYC #AKNYGREECE #OWS

Updated on Saturday

To The Member of the Press, International Human Rights Organizations, and the People of New York City, We are artists, students, intellectuals and citizens of New York City. Together with supporters of Occupy Wall Street, we are here in Zuccotti Park to show solidarity with our friends and brothers and sisters who are occupying Gezi Parki in Istanbul. This is a peaceful event. Our goal is to attract public attention to the protests in Istanbul Gezi Parki and the consequent police brutality of the Erdogan/AKP government! Since Monday, May 27th, citizens of Istanbul from all backgrounds have been staging a peaceful resistance in Gezi Park, the city's largest public park, protecting it and its trees from a large gentrification project to transform a public park into a shopping center. The demolition of the park should be understood as another incident of the government’s ongoing appropriation and privatization of public resources. Since the peaceful occupation started three days ago, The Turkish police have repeatedly intervened, with each intervention more violent than the last. The riot police set fire to the occupier’s tents, and used tear gas relentlessly, causing serious injuries. Finally on May 31st, the police attacks included rubber bullets, in addition to physically beating and ultimately killing of at least one protester. Today, hundreds of thousands of people in Istanbul are resisting the AKP government’s neoliberal policies and the brutal attacks on the protestors continue. This is not the first time protests have been met with state sanctions violence. Most recently, the Turkish police used unreasonable force to disperse May Day protestors again attacking a group of peaceful demonstrators in Istanbul’s Taksim Square. The Erdogan government’s excessive force and the use of tear gas and rubber bullets against peaceful protestors is unacceptable, it breaches international human rights criteria and must be stopped. We are calling on the international community to support the Turkish protestors’ right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression. We demand an independent and impartial investigation into the allegations of excessive and unnecessary use of force, to ensure that any law enforcement officials responsible for arbitrary or abusive use of force are prosecuted. #occupyGeziNYC

Finishing the rally, I jumped on my bike to meet Joe for the HotPants Ride, aka the World Naked Bike Ride, we were organizing for later that afternoon. Our call for the action was simple:

In solidarity with World Naked Bike Ride, wear your hottest, fiercest hot pants on this clothing optional extravaganza through the streets of New York.

Climate change is real (Thanks Obama!) and it ain't getting any cooler out here. Get comfortable in our future climate and show some skin.

We love Short shorts! Mask up, pants down! As comfortable as you please.

Reclaim your body! Reclaim your streets! Reclaim your planet! Ride your bike! The Hot Pants Ride is a safer space for all bodies to ride free of harassment or pollutants in the physical or mental environment. To participate each rider is asked to respect that the liberation of bodies requires freedom, autonomy, and justice for all. This begins with joy and commitment to self-determination. And of course bikes!!!

What: An afternoon of fun, free community, and direct action, including a clothing-optional bike ride. We celebrate our bodies, celebrate cycling in NYC!

Saturday June 8th, 2013

Gather 4:30 PM Ride at 6:15 pm Where: Grand Ferry Park on the Brooklyn Waterfront. Consent teach-in, bike-rights training, body-painting, & community! Clothing-optional, consent-mandatory!

Riders from across the city chimed in that they would join us for the ride.  And join us they did.  
Keegan and this writer by Sheryl Yvette

Riding up Broadway, I was going to call Keegan about the sound bike, when he screamed hello from fish truck he was riding in.  We made plans, talking at lights.  I would see him later that night.  He’s been a part of several of the last few WNBRs.  Over the years Joe and I have gone from organizing the ride with Times Up! and a crew of naked riders, through collaboration with the OWS Bike Coalition to work with his bike cargo collective, who were helping organize the after party for the event this year to be held in a collective house of Occupy veterans living in Bed Stuy.  The ride is never simple and making sure it is fun and celebratory without being creepy, or male dominated is never simple.  The politics of self expression is never simple.  And this year would be no different.  We debated consent, pushed photographers to ask for permission before taking shots and still they hoarded in – attracted and revolted at our celebration of bodies in space.  Every year we need more volunteers than we have.  But the ride and the expression of freedom it represents is still important and fun. 

Joe and I played text tag all afternoon, finally arriving at Grand Ferry Park at 5 PM, well before the ride was to begin.

Too early and anxious, I left for a bike ride, dropping by the Times Up! space in Brooklyn a few blocks away to hang and horse around with my buddies before the ride began.

After a full write up in the Daily News the day earlier, the park was teeming with people and police when I arrived a second time.  Unlike the previous year when the ride had gone under the raider, this year, it was fully in the consciousness of the city and by  extension the police who promised to escort (control) the ride. But still we organized, held our consent teach in, painted slogans on bodies, and hit the road.

Enjoy the freedom highs of careening up and down the Williamsburg Bridge with hundreds of fellow semi clad cyclists, through traffic past the police,, through cheering bodies, and wonderment. 

The music and the chants hit a crescendo riding down Broadway with more and more naked cyclists… past Zuccotti Park… where we had not planned to ride, but the amoeba like structure of the ride proceeded… with the leader the body of the movement of bikes, not the front or back.

“Dig your body, ride your bike”  we screamed.

“Whose streets, our streets!”

The critical mass scooter cops soon joined, telling Keegan to turn off the sound bike, zipping up the bike lanes, telling us not to ride in the left lanes, they were  blocking.

We gotta get back to Brooklyn where things make sense, a few riders chimed in. 

The ride was breaking apart with the police scolding us at every turn.

Eventually, moving east through the West Village we lost the scooters,reconnected with other riders by text, and roding back to Brooklyn and deep into the night, listening to hip hop, dancing as we  finished the best Workl Naked Bike Ride in years. 

Run Shayo in New York chimed in after the ride: "More ASS less GAS"- A Naked bike protest event this weekend was a blast. about a 100 of us- naked and semi naked bikers- showed off bare bottoms to promote more bikes and happy liberated multi cultural living. Only one clash with an angry police officer, we rode through downtown Manhattan and back to Brooklyn later, to celebrate an after dance party.”

Steven Menendez posted ”this One of the most FUN and Liberating days of my life! Feeling blessed! “

The following day, we joined the Times UP! Peace Parade on wheels at Figment NYC 2013- (http://newyork.figmentproject.org/) - a participatory art event that challenges artists and our communities to find new ways to create, share, think, and dream.  There we enjoyed a day in the sun, riding through the city free of cars, playing in the park, meeting friends. 

Through Naked Bike Rides, Rallies and solidarity actions, we come together as bodies in space, sharing our lives, dreams,  heartbreaks and ambitions.  With each gathering we hope to see and be part of something larger than ourselves.  As the New York Times chimed in Saturday:

Perhaps the same thing will happen with the crisis of wire tapping turning the USA into the land of big brother.  Today, more than ever we need our public spaces where we can imagine a different more authentic form of democratic living. 

As I finish writing this entry it appears the temporary autonomous zone taking shape in the park in Gezi is  beginning to be no more, with a raid just like those which swept away the Occupations in North America.   The situation is getting grim in Istanbul,” noted Human Rights activist Cleve Jones. 

US journalist Jenna Pope writes:

I will admit, this was the first time I have ever seriously feared for my life during a protest. I was in a very bad spot when I was hit with the water cannon - because of the construction that they had started, there was a fence up that made it hard for me to get away. Going around one way would have put me directly in the line of fire of the water cannon and tear gas, so I went the other way, but that put me right in the middle of a tear gas canister that had just been launched. I couldn't see anything because the smoke was so thick, so I was blindly trying to get out of there. When I finally found a way out, I had to walk through more tear gas until I could get to a safe area.

Jenna Pope writes:

"#OccupyGezi Report Last Minute
Memet C. Kılıç
Update from Turkey - EVERYBODY PLEASE READ:

What's happening in Istanbul right now is PM Tayyip Erdogan's new game plan; this whole set up show is as follows:
There are a few people at Taksim square who fight against the police by throwing molotov cocktails at the police;and the police who have been brutally attacking thousands of protesters with pepper gas, orange gas, water cannons, plastic bullets and huge riot vehicles called TOMAs, now can NOT stop these few people with the molotov cocktails. It seem like TOMAs are not able to aim at these few targets whereas they already proved to aim at the protesters on the first couple of days of the protests. Meanwhile the Turkish media, which was 100% silent and never broadcast one single scene of police beating up the protesters, doctors, kids, people trying to help the protesters, and throwing tear gas through houses, and killing innocent people now decides to broadcast this Taksim show.
The protesters HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH THESE AGENT PROVOCATEURS WHO HAVE BEEN THROWING MOLOTOV COCKTAILS AT THE POLICE. THEY ARE TAYYIP ERDOGAN'S ORGANIZED GROUP OF PEOPLE, THIS WHOLE SHOW IS A PROVACATION BY THE GOVERNMENT !!! Tayyip Erdogan is simply trying to show the protesters as people who are attacking the police and that they are not for peace. The actual protesters are for peace and keep protesting with only their Turkish flags, slogans, and songs."

The live stream of the raid is terrifying.  As Peter Shapiro notes:
Turkey has deployed riot police at Taksim Square in Istanbul, the focus of the ongoing anti-government protest in the country. Hundreds of security troops have arrived at the scene early morning

Public space opens our hopes and exposes our greatest disappointments.  I hope Occupy Gezi can make it. 
In response to the massive police attacks today in Taksim, Occupygezinyc is calling an emergency protest for noon at the Turkish consulate in NYC, 825 3rd Avenue at 51st

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