Sunday, October 20, 2013

Honk, Art and Street Stories: Parades, Parties and Protests

We drew pictures, looked at the streets, and felt the sounds echoing through them, listenning to art all week long.  Just walking through the streets of the city, we see stories screaming from the spray paint, the light emanating from the sidewalk.

Last week, we painted stencils for children lost, while the NYPD obsessed about Banksy.

In response to our actions, one observer noted:

Another example comes from the Netherlands. There, in the 1970s, the rising number of children killed in traffic crashes – in 1971, 450 children died on the streets and roads -- led to amass protest movement pressuring the government to create protected bicycle infrastructure and reduce the dominance of cars. The movement was called "Stop de Kindermoord," or "Stop the Child Murder," taking its name from an article by journalist Vic Langenhoff, whose own child was killed in a road crash.

Photo courtesy of Right of Way.
Over the past several years, many have suggested that perhaps the United States might consider its own "Stop de Kindermoord" campaign. Here, unintended injuries are the leading cause of death for children, and motor vehicle traumas take by far the heaviest toll. Unintentional pedestrian injury is the fifth-leading cause of injury-related death for children in the U.S. between the ages of 5 and 19.
In New York City last weekend, Right of Way, a group of safety activists, took to the streets to bring home that point. Eight children under the age of eight have been killed by drivers in the five boroughs so far this year. The group rode bikes over a 50-mile route to visit the places where each one died, marking the spots by stenciling the children’s names and ages on the pavement. In five of the eight cases, the drivers were not charged with any offense.

Right of Way Stencils. Bottom photo by Barbara Ross
Images of police in bike lanes on Jay Street. 

The whole week, I was taken by the ways the contours of city take shape through images of the clash of bodies in streets, bikes on the sidewalk, paint on street walls, marching bands in green spaces, cats in community gardens, and sounds in space.

The Honk Festival was in town, with marching bands converging into town from Brazil to Boston.

Wednesday, I rode my bike into the city, catching Perhaps Contraption jamming in the park.
A few of us had been at De Colores Community Garden earlier, enjoying chatting, hanging in the gardens, and marching as we have many times before.

Friday night I saw PerhapsContraption jamming again on the closing night gala of the Honk. I love seeing the new bands, such as this, bring elements of new wave aesthetics, among their own new ingredients to the cavalcade of sound which is Honk and movement it represents.  The floor of the Gowanus Ballroom, deep in my neighborhood in Brooklyn, shook as we danced, pogoing in space, with buddies from Friends of Brad Will, Times Up! The RMO, and so many others.

Presented together with Gowanus Open Studios and Gowanus Ballroom.

Doors are at 8pm.
Show starts at 9pm

Admission: $10


- Os Siderais
- Environmental Encroachment
- Perhaps Contraption
- PitchBlak Brass Band
- Veveritse Brass Band 
- Dja-rara

HONK NYC!’s Friday night blowout begins with a surprise and ends in the cavernous gallery spaces of Gowanus Ballroom. The party starts with sets by visiting bands Os Siderais, Environmental Encroachment and Perhaps Contraption. Three Brooklyn-based bands round out the night. Hitting at the midnight hour will be PitchBlak Brass Band, the hottest hip-hop brass outfit in town. Inspired by the Romany Gypsy music of the Balkans, Veveritse, an irresistible party band, follows. Dja-rara brings it home.

I loved the hair cuts of Perhaps Contraption, their Frank Zappa and jazz standard covers, and the ways they invited other musicians to perform with them, as the carnival of up and down, of sound, echoed through the room. 

Bs on the roof during magic hour, a couple before leaving for HONK!

These images of music in procession are part of the many colors of the city, the spectacles which are the subject to Sarah Sparkles’ wonderful homage to a culture of resistance, Parades, Parties and Protests: Creative Resistance Culture.

Sarah and her faaaabulous book. 

I first met Sarah at the night of fire, one of the renegade street parties in the spring of 2006 before we moved to California.  We talked about books and stories and this movement, joining at drag marches and other events through the years. She participated in Roving Garden Parades, hung out, and wrote stories.  And she always greeted with a smile, remaining open to new ways communities blur distinctions and come together. 

Night of Fire from Images from Parades Parties Protests by Sarah Sparkles.

 The rationale for her book was a world gone made.  In the shadow of 9/11 an alternate culture took shape in the streets and warehouses, gardens and protests over a decade in New York City.

“Against this nebulous backdrop of a democratic society in decline, a dynamic culture of hope and renewal was born as millions of people participated in protests that responded creatively to the turmoil of the times,” Sparkles writes (p, 7).  This was a subculture born of decades of underground street organizing and culture jamming.  “Despite extreme restrictions places on venues, public spaces and media outlets, the innovative culture of resistance that emerged inspired me to write a bold chronicle that pays tribute to this pivotal moment in history… These movements embrace creativity as vital life force energy, uphold the sanctity of freedom of expression and assembly, champion the need for collective social spaces, and call for a humane to replace exploitive capitalist systems… In the face of an  of an ever changing landscape, I embarked on a decade-long exploration of inspirational cultural happenings; public processions around New York City, multimedia events that combined  art and activism, all night dance parties in warehouses, and pilgrimages to  festivals in remote parts of the country.  These alternative gatherings fostered a platform for art  that is therapeutic and cathartic, being developed  in  communities that are under constant threat of extinction.  At a time when many alternative voices were shut out of the mass media, these dynamic grassroots events became a driving force for disseminating information and cultivating an uplifting transformative culture.  In the face of adversity, people from around the world came together, daring to create the world they dreamed to live in.  This is their story.

Parades, Parties and Protests paints an important picture of a lost, underground, unofficial people’s history of the Bloomberg years in New York  City.  

The story highlights the creativity of the anti war movement born after in the streets of New York, in the public commons of this city, after the bomgings.  Contrary to the stories of the corporate media, our grief was never a cry for war.

"We mourn our dead. We stand for Peace"
9/11 Memorial at Union Square, September, 2001, Photo by Sarah Sparkles

The Glamericans bringing a little color, some spectacular glamour to a movement for peace.
The story highlights countless pieces of lost history, of activism, which came and went in time.
Activism is rarely embraced by history.  So we have to write it for ourselves.  Early in the book, there is a funny picture inside of myself and my buddy Kate Crane from 2002 at City Hall Park, with Recycle This, a short lived direct action group pushing back again cuts to the city recycling program. Years later, such slaps at models of sustainable urbanism seem like part of our distant past. Photo by Sarah Sparkles.

“Parades, Parties and Protests highlights beauty amidst dark times, delving into creative forms of protest that embody the power of art and community to heal, transform and propel society into the future,” Sparkles concludes.”Over the last decade I have found joy and liberation in urban gardens, gritty warehouse parties, roving street festivals, and national gatherings in remote deserts and forests.  During an era marked by corruption and strife, these were cherished moments that made life worth living and ultimately give me hope for better times to come,” (p.107).  Thank you for this story of our people Sarah!

Images from Parades Parties Protests by Sarah Sparkles.

This is the history we help add a line to with every gesture of care, every color in the streets, dance ride Times Up! Organizes, every street parade the marching bands lead us through, as the line between real life and carnival blur, while spectators and  participants create an alternate story of New York City.
These gestures are just a few of the pictures we see of this ever more mutable city.\

I used to always draw pictures when my parents dragged me to church.  So do my kids. We drew pictures, looking at the stained glass at Judson memorial.

Its part of makes growing up wonderful, to connect art with light, living with something larger.
Of course, part of this process is recognizing there are larger social forces than ourselves.   As Kate Barnhart and I described on Friday at the service learning day at Poly.

Kate B and this author at ACT UP 25 Demo.
Photo by Tim S. 

“Ben Shepard and I spoke to 5th and 6th graders at Poly Prep about LGBT Youth homelessness and New Alternatives today,” wrote Kate Barnhart Pretty amazed by the wisdom of these 10 yr olds who responded to my trick question about what a homeless person looks like by telling me that there's no special look, that anyone could be homeless! Go, tweens! — with Benjamin Heim Shepard.”

“Today, many of the clients she met as teenagers are now 30 and beyond . ..”

Kate builds on a generation of activism, dating back to Sylvia Rivera and Bob Koher and their work with STAR, ACT UP, Gay Liberation Front, and the Fed Up Queers.

Top Sylvia and Marsha P Johnson, of STAR, middle, Sylvia Rivera & Arthur Bell at 1970 New York University Gay Activist Alliance protest. Photo by Diane Daives.  Bottom
Kristen Parkerphotograph of Kate with with gay liberation icons Sylvia Rivera and Bob Kohler, in addition to Julia, Jesse, Dedre, Calypso, Mariah.

After Judson, we went to visit Elizabeth, aka Sister Mary Cunnilingis, whom I have known since the late 1990s in New York when we all met a Dix at Six after hours of AIDS activism and street antics.  Welcoming us in, she showed us Church Lady gear and memorabilia.

Detail of our friend Elizabeth's shrine to Sister Mary Cunnilingus by barry hoggard

We shared stories about activism, friendship, harm reduction and a generation of reproductive rights activism. 

“There are people I would walk across the street to avoid, but not until there is a cure,” explained Elizabeth, paraphrasing ACT UP icon Andy Velez.  “But until there is a cure, I am going to work with them.”
But it’s the friends, the images of a city of friends, which still inspires me, I explained to Elizabeth as we gossiped.

“That’s always been your approach,” she followed, recalling the stories of decades of her reproductive rights activism.

“The circle, it has no end, that’s how long I want to be your friend,”  number two later sketched.

I still love the Church Ladies, Parades Protests, bikes and marching bands who help transform the city into a living, breathing work of art. I feel honored to have been part of this world , community, and culture of resistance.  This is a space where kids grow, friendships endure and we feel a part of everything.  For me its about the lines between friends and art, streets and stories... this gives life the sparkle, color, and care I care about the most.

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