Monday, June 30, 2014

Summer Days, Dialectics and Drag Marches over Time

diane greene lent

 Laugh and the world will laugh with you;
       Weep, and you weep alone.
For the sad old earth must borrow its mirth, 
        But has trouble enough of its own. 
Sing, and the hills will answer;
        Sign, it is lost on the air.
The echos bound to a joyful sound,
        But shrink from voicing care.

Rejoice, and men will seek you; 
        Grieve, and they turn and go.
They want full measure of your pleasure....

But one by one we must all file on 
        Through the narrow aisles of pain.

Solitude, Ella Wheeler Wilcox. 

mo gelber

The paradoxes of the streets are many.  Out of these crashing forces, a dialectic takes place in the changing forces of the city.   “This world contradicts itself,” notes Herbert Marcuse in Reason and Revolution.  Here, the multitude brings us into messy conversation between self and other, pain and the possible, history, progress, backward and forward steps in a moment in time

Just back in town, the New York summer was in full bloom.  People in the streets working, playing, going to Coney Island, talking, swimming, painting buildings, riding bikes, and hanging out in the streets.  The colossus pouring into the crowded streets of the city.

Number one and I rode dirt bikes in a lot where they used to park cars outside the Domino Sugar Plant.

When I was a kid in the 1970’s, we rode free through the vacant lots of the city. A generation later, we had to pay a fee to ride there, as the city evolves and transforms.   From parking lot to play space, it was still lovely.  Yet, the moment gave me pause.

Today, our world is increasingly mediated by corporations and neoliberal economic arrangements.  And the ways out feels increasingly tenuous.

One of the few mediums that still feels free is the yearly unpermitted drag march, where we’ve been celebrating since Stonewall 25, recalling the queers, drag queens, faeries, dykes, and social outsiders who make this city a rich smorgasbord of possibilities.

Here the streets are filled with wonder, open to the transformative realm of the imagination, pleasure and beauty.  As Wordsworth explains:

It is an acknowledgement of the beauty of the universe, an acknowledgement the more sincere, because not formal, but indirect; it is a task light and easy to him who looks at the world in the spirit of love: further, it is a homage paid to the native and naked dignity of man, to the grand elementary principle of pleasure, by which he knows, and feels, and lives, and moves. We have no sympathy but what is propagated by pleasure: I would not be misunderstood; but wherever we sympathize with pain, it will be found that the sympathy is produced and carried on by subtle combinations with pleasure. We have no knowledge, that is, no general principles drawn from the contemplation of particular facts, but what has been built up by pleasure, and exists in us by pleasure alone.

On the drag march, we acknowledge what has been built from pleasure. 

Every year is different for the march.  Some years, the march offers a historic lurch into another world and realty.  Other years, it’s a bridge between movements and ideas from global justice to occupy, critical mass to public space movements.  And still others it’s a sample street party of the different.   Here, the Church Ladies who help organize the event with the Radical Faeries, meet with friends from the streets, ACT UP, Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping, Yes Men and community gardeners, squatters, and village vagabonds.

I met with Luca and Elizabeth, of the Church Ladies for Choice, on Ave B before to get ready.  Luca helped me apply makeup. 

 Elizabeth is always there for the drag march.  She was there for my first drag march n 2000 and was here today.  We all used to hang out in her garden, looking at the cavalcade pass us by. 

critical mass and the drag march overlap

 I’ll never forget running into Brad Will that night as Critical Mass overlapped with the drag march, movements converging in time and space.

Pay it forward, Luca's friend noted lending me heels i could wear for the long walk from the East village to Christopher Street. 

Finishing getting ready, we slowly we walked over to the park, running into buddies along the way.  Brian’s boyfriend was wearing a Keith Harring t shirt.

He's with us too, i noted, looking at the t shirt of the fallen art star. 

Number two was there in drag along with Caroline.  JK, my eternal garden buddy, was there, as was Eric  to say hi.

We greeted Brian, from the Church Ladies, who was there.

And so were so many other buddies. 

 I loved saying hello to everyone.  Here, we touch, greet, flirt, take photos as if we are all stars, connect in space, greet each comrades from years of struggles, and feel alive, blurring space between self and other, male and female, space and time, memory and current moment, being in space, time and a moment together.

Randy Wicker, who joined  the Mattachine society n 1958 and never stopped supporting us, was there to document and make news.

Reverend Billy was there with Savitri and Lena and other friends from the choir. Billy, Andy from the Yes Men and I posed for a shot!

Soon enough everyone circled up welcoming the spirits from the East, West, South,  North, Fire and Water.  “God knows the water is rising,” noted two faeries.   And we celebrated a bit of freedom and freakdom.  

bottom shot by mo gelber
And we marched into the Western sun. Chanting along the way:
“We’re here, we’re queer.  We’re faaaabulous.  Don’t fuck wth us!”
“10% is not enough, recruit, recruit, recruit!!!”
“We’re here, we’re queer, we’re coming to eat your children!!!”
And of course the obligatory.
“We don’t want to marry.  We just wanna fuck!”

Brian and i lead everyone in the Mary Tyler Moore theme song.
mo gelber

Who can turn the world on with her smile? 
Who can take a nothing day, and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile? 
Well it's you girl, and you should know it 
With each glance and every little movement you show it 

Love is all around, no need to waste it 
You can have a town, why don't you take it 
You're gonna make it after all 
You're gonna make it after all 

I ran into Michael Warner, the luminary queer theorist, taking a few blurry shots of warner’s lovely blue wig, thanking him for letting me quote some emails of his back n the SexPanic! days in my book Queer Politics and Political Performance,  and chatting about Stephen Gendin and Sean Strub’s wonderful memoir, Body Counts

The book  includes a long overdue set of recollections of Gendin’s adventurous life and times, while taking on the stigma of H I V / aids, the scourge of hiv criminalization laws, and the ways HIV can be thought about in relation trauma. The discussion of violence, sex and trauma is needed, painful, and potent.  

Heros of Strub's memoir  Body Counts, include
from top to bottom Stephen 
Gendin, Strub seen wth Vito Russo, and so many other heroes.   

Strub’s memoir is easily the most important book to come out about aids in years.  Anticipating a movement’s push back against criminalization, the story opens a forceful new chapter in a story of ADS activism Strub links with New York cultural history, and stories from John Lennon’s assassination to Vito Russo’s activism, ACT UP to a politics of survival. It is also a story about the cast of characters we see blurring through the streets at the drag march and the agenda act up would take on the following Sunday.  These moments run through my mind as i walk the drag march, chatting, looking about.

Reginald Brown

ACT UP, Fight back! Stonewall Was a Riot! Reginald and I chanted, talking about act up and the ways the movement has evolved.  When ACT UP s a sexual freedom, ant corporate movement it gains vitality.

ACT UP writes: For NY Pride on Sun June 29, ACT UP will march down 5th Ave and Christopher St. handing out thousands of Fuck Smarter safe sex kits and flyers denouncing Big Pharma company Gilead as the bloodsucking corporate vampires they are.

act up on sunday Owsspag Apollo

Currently, Gilead has priced their Hepatitis C cure at $1000/pill, and the cure requires taking a pill/day for 84 days. That's $84,000 for a pill regimen that costs less than $200 to make total. Why does one pill cost so much? Greed. What allows Gilead to charge so much? A government that supports the rights of corporations like Gilead over the basic human rights of its own citizens.

Our theme this year is Bloodsucking Gilead. ACT UP members will be dressed as vampires carrying bags of money and pricey pills to symbolize the way Gilead bankrupts LGBT Americans for profit.

Reginald took several lovely shots.  We talked about his life, activism, hanging out, the politics of prevention and friendship. 
photos by Reginald Brown

Chatting,e ran into Michael Tikili, who I hung out and got arrested with a couple of days before my dad died, last spring.  That seems like a long time ago now.

This is what makes hanging in such spaces so wonderful. You see people from worlds of New York and activism and culture as we share and build new worlds.

Donald Gallagher, our friend from the Faeries and Church of Stop Shopping, mic checked to tell everyone  on Christopher street a story.  Linking his narrative with the story of Stonewall, he recalled his decades as part of the queer public sphere, including the last twenty as a Radical Faerie.  

As Gallagher explained n Queer Politics and Political Performance:

For Gallagher, the riots were an “amusing” affair, he says with a laugh, “because I never went to the bar. It was not my scene at all.” But for him, the most important part of the event was the abundance, the defiance that followed:
One of the most fun moments was like a week or so later with one of the zaps. You just called people up on the telephone and had them just show up somewhere. And it was one time we showed up by Macy’s. And completely stopped Broadway and 6th Avenue. It was only, like, 40 or 50 people. But it was enough to just close the whole thing down.

When I asked Gallagher why they shut down Macy’s, he exclaimed. “To show that we’re not going to put up with this any more!” And he came close to breaking into a gospel song: “No more. No more. Un uh. No more. No more.” I asked if he’d heard about the Stonewall chorus sing-along kick-line. “We are the Stonewall Girls. We wear our hair in curls. I forget. I think it’s something like we wear no underwear,” he replied. “We are very debonair” was the lyric he was looking for. “Yes, that’s it. I’m also a Radical Faerie and we have our own version.”

Only now, decades into the group, was he ready to take on a Faerie name, Subtle, he explained, leading the crowd in somewhere over the rainbow.

The whole street sang.  

We danced and romped about, playing in the street, greeting friends dropping by. 

 The band played, down by the riverside.  

Gonna lay down my sword and shield
Down by the riverside
Down by the riverside
Down by the riverside
Gonna lay down my sword and shield
Down by the riverside
Ain't gonna study war no more.
I ain't gonna study war no more,
I ain't gonna study war no more,
Study war no more.
I ain't gonna study war no more,
I ain't gonna study war no more,
Study war no more.

And the DJ Judy, who’d brought the public space party soundbike, spun tunes.

Where we danced.

Some of us eventually went inside…

And the evening proceeded, as we got lost, watched the city change.  

On Ave B, I stood looking at images of the building which had been there, crumbled and watched a garden  born of the rubble.

Along the way home, i found myself again on the way in between the multitude.

As history continues to inflict itself on us over and over again




The International Working Women’s Day Coalition has called a protest today in Union Square, 5-6:30, to denounce today’s Supreme Court 5-4 decision giving for-profit corporations the right to deny women workers the right to choose contraceptives of their choice. 

“We oppose today’s Supreme Court decision that says corporate rights trump women’s and workers’ rights,” said Sue Davis, one of the spokeswomen for the IWWD Coalition. “As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted in her minority dissent, the decision is an outrageous overextension of the court’s power to rule that for-profit corporations’ rights include ‘religious liberty.’ ”

Ginsburg noted in her dissent, which was joined by Justices Breyer,  Kagan, and Sotomayor: “Accommodations to religious beliefs or observances … must not significantly impinge on the interests of third parties.” Clarifying that, she wrote, “Again, the Court forgets that religious organizations exist to serve a community of believers. For-profit corporations do not fit that bill.” Finally she asserts: “No tradition, and no prior decision under [Religious Freedom Restoration Act], allows a religious-based exemption when the accommodation would be harmful to others — here, the very persons the contraceptive coverage requirement was designed to protect.”

The court’s finding in this case has been termed “unprecedented” and “an exercise in judicial activism.” But it is in line with the Citizens United decision of 2010 and this year’s ruling allowing prayer in public government meetings.  

“The major reason coverage for contraceptives is even an issue is that the Affordable Care Act is based on the for-profit health care system,” noted Monica Morehead, a leader in the IWWD Coalition. “If health care were based on a single-payer system, this would not be a problem. This decision exposes why health care should be provided across the board so that all people have equal access to care. We know this decision will fall the heaviest on poor working women, disproportionately women of color, immigrants, youth, lesbians and transwomen, as well as women living in rural areas. That’s why we oppose it.”

The full gamut of women’s, civil rights and reproductive justice organizations have been invited to today’s speakout. All those opposed to the role of corporations in workers’ personal lives are welcome.

The International Working Women’s Day Coalition is made up of women’s, workers’, immigrant, civil rights, LGBTQ organizations all united in the global fight for justice and equality for all women. For more information, visit Coalition.