Friday, October 31, 2014

Fight Ebola, Not Nurses: ACT UP Demo at Bellview

ACT UP posters and a warning from London. 

Thursday, I rode up to Bellview, where members of ACT UP were speaking out against panic, calling for the city to support all health care workers and end stigmatizing the sick. 

WHAT: Demonstration Against Mandatory Quarantines and in Support of All Affected by Ebola
WHEN: Thursday, Oct 30, 5 PM 
WHERE: Rally in Front of Bellevue Hospital Center, 462 First Avenue (b/w 27th & 28th Streets)
March to Office of the Governor of the State of New York
633 Third Avenue (at 41st Street), New York, NY 10017

Join ACT UP/NY and allies as we demand the immediate end to mandatory quarantines and travel bans in the US, a guarantee that all US hospitals are sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants to receive care, support for all health workers, increased US funding to fight Ebola in West Africa and an end to stigmatizing the sick. The global response to the Ebola epidemic is woefully inadequate and we must act NOW to treat the epidemic at its source in coordination with local communities on the ground, respecting the human rights and dignity of all those affected by this disease.

ACT UP! Fight Back! Fight Ebola!
John Riley posted a message about the event.

This demonstration is urgently needed. While several African countries are being decimated by this preventable disease, the US does little. Tiny Cuba sends hundreds of medical workers, while the US government doesn't do anything proportional to this act of solidarity. Time is running out. If we don't push for sane public health policies and full funding of the fight against Ebola, the force of the epidemic may turn this from an epidemic to a pandemic just like AIDS was. HIV immigration bans were in effect in 140 countries and the virus spread to every country in the world. Had public health measures been implemented early on, 39 million wouldn't have died and 31 million living with the disease. Join us in front of Bellevue Hospital Center, 462 First Avenue (b/w 27th & 28th Streets) in Manhattan.

Throughout the day, members of ACT UP posted messages about aid worker Kaci Hickox.

“I’m not willing to stand here and let my civil rights be violated when it’s not science-based,” noted Hickox on Wednesday night in a post by Jane C. Timm. She was questioning what she sees as a politically motivated quarantine. Many were. 

ACT UP would meet at Bellview Hospital, where Dr. Craig Spencer, was in isolation.    

Elizabeth M was there passing out flyers.

In the week since the first Ebola case in New York, panic has only grown and grown.  Originally, the mayor  and governor sounded reasonable.  But the next day, the governor followed the lead of New Jersey Chris Christie, establishing quarantines on people coming from West Africa.  Kaci Hickox was one of those caught on Friday, put into an isolation tent at the airport.  She suggested her mandatory quarantine was "inhumane." By Sunday, the governor of New York was backpedaling again, offering home quarantines for those traveling from West Africa. AiDS activists immediately spoke out, noting this kind of reaction to disease speaks of panic not sound health polices based on science.   Many saw history repeating itself.
ACT UP members started posting photos of the ACT UP 'quarantine camp' street theater during Gay Prde 1987, recalling the original threats of quarantine for people with AIDS.   Peter Staley descrbed the event during the press conference at Belleview.

ACT UP  Quarantine Camp 1987, Pride Parade 1987.
Photo by Donna Binder. Source: "AIDS Demographics" by Douglas Crimp with Adam Rolston.
Aids activists across the city made their way to the demonstration.  

Ken Kidd wore an ACT UP t shirt from an ACT UP zap in Albany in 1990 when the Governor’s father was dragging his feet about the AIDS epidemic quickly turning into a pandemic. Hopefully this will not be the case with Ebola.

Hey Cuomo, Hey Christie, we need treatment, not quarantine activists chanted.

Fight Ebola, Not Nurses

Speaking out, activists noted health care workers are professionals, not vector of disease. They condemned the dumb and dumber routine Christie and Cuomo seemed to be following.  Does Christie have an MD? Listen to doctors not politicians a speaker from Medicine Sans Frontiers.

Jeremiah Johnson, of Treatment Action group suggested there was far too much fear and stigma dominating this debate.  When policies are based on ignorance, you have bad health care policies.  When fear trumps evidence, you get violations of human rights.  Sadly, today he worried we were watching history repeat itself. 

Mark Milano talked about his experience at the hospital when he first tested positive for HIV in 1985.  Hospital workers wore masks and put up hazardous materials signs on the door to his room, which he tore down. Milano suggested we should be throwing parades for people such as Spencer and Hickox, supporting their efforts, as they literally put their lives on the line to fight this thing before it grows.  Yet, mandatory quarantines discourage such efforts. Fear and ignorance do not stop epidemics they further them.

Jim Fouratt spoke about the dangers of panic.  

Marcelo Maia photo

Thank you Nurses, Thank you Doctors everyone chanted.  Get well, Dr. Spencer. We love you. 

The group signed a get well card for the good doctor and left. 

And, we made our way up to the Cuomo’s office.  Along the way Jim Fouratt and I talked about the ways this always translates into scapegoating. Stigma has long been part of the reaction to disease.  Recall the “Hs” – including Homosexuals and Haitians – originally blamed for the spread of HIV. Walking, we recalled some of the heroes of the long struggle, reveling in the street procession, connecting this with Gramsci, Sylvia Rivera, and Jim’s tales of Gay Liberation Front, Mattachine and countless battles in between.  

As the sun was gong down, i thought about something Eric Rofes said to me years ago.  Sometmes we are most alive in such moments, in the middle of battle, our  life really starting after work when we go to the demonstration moving through the streets, feeling the electric energy of the city around us.  

And ACT UP made their message known through the streets as the sun went down, watching a new chapter unfold in the story of a global disease, which began in 1976, we’ve been fighting ever since.  Hopefully, we won’t have another pandemic. 


What: Protest and March Calling on Cuomo and Christie to End the Mandatory Ebola Quarantine and Support West African Nations
When: Thursday, 5pm (EST), October 30, 2014
Where: Meet Across The Street From Bellevue Hospital Center, 462 First Avenue at 27th St., New York City
Historic NYC AIDS Activist Group Marches On Cuomo's Office To Demand He Show Support For West African Nations
Thursday, October 30, at 5PM (EST), The AIDS activist group ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) will rally and march from Bellevue Hospital to the governor’s office to demand that Governors Cuomo and Christie stop promoting panic-based health policies and start supporting West African nations fighting Ebola.
Last week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo joined New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to announce a new policy at JFK and Newark International Airports to order immediate mandatory 21-day quarantine of any person who acknowledges having been in proximity to people with Ebola.  Such policies will do nothing to protect the American public and serve as a major deterrent to the recruitment of desperately needed healthcare workers to help stop the deadly outbreak that has killed over 4500 individuals in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea. Already, Kaci Hickox, a volunteer nurse from Doctors Without Borders, was inhumanely confined for days in New Jersey, even after testing negative for the disease.
Cuomo and Christie’s mandatory quarantine policies go against evidence-based public health practices which are grounded in science. They contribute to the ongoing misperception of how Ebola is transmitted.  Activists say that the policy is contributing to growing stigma of the disease and unwarranted public hysteria.
For local AIDS activists, the calls for quarantine hark back to an ugly time in NYC history.  Longtime AIDS activist Mark Milano said, “In the early days of the AIDS epidemic, government officials mistakenly called for the quarantine of people with HIV, a measure that contradicted the science of how HIV is transmitted and spread misinformation to the public.  Now, with Ebola, we’re seeing Governors Cuomo and Christie do the same thing.”
ACT UP activists demand that Cuomo and Christie avoid enacting fear-based policies that will only hinder our ability to fight the spread of Ebola in West Africa.  ACT UP member Annette Gaudino said, “Governor Cuomo should be supporting NY-state health workers who go to West Africa to fight the disease, rather than spreading misinformation about transmission risks by mandating quarantines.”
ACT UP Against Ebola
ACT UP Against Ebola Protest

ACT UP activists plan to rally across the street from Bellevue Hospital at 5pm and then march to Gov Cuomo’s office at 633 Third Avenue (at 41st Street) in Manhattan. They will be joined by local group Health GAP.  At Bellevue Hospital, activists will drop off Get Well cards showing support and appreciation for Dr. Spencer’s courage.
Contact: Brandon Cuicchi; 646.284.2948; media@actupny
Founded in 1987, ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), is a diverse, non-partisan group of individuals united in anger and committed to direct action to end the AIDS crisis. ACT UP meets every Monday night in New York City at the LGBT Community Center, 208 West 13th Street off 7th Ave.
Later in the day, Mark Milano posted on Facebook.  Looks like our protest worked!

In About-Face, Maine Judge Lifts Ebola Quarantine on Nurse

Monday, October 27, 2014

Falls Days and Rocky Horror Pictures

Madness Takes its toll from Rocky Horror to ACT UP's quarantine from Gay Pride 1987.

My mom never had a problem with my older brother and i  attending the Rocky Horror Picture Show in the early 1980’s in Dallas Texas.  John and I started attending the show in the Spring of 1982 or ’83.  By then, the show was almost a decade into its run at the Highland Park Shopping Center, then the longest continuous run of the show of the cult movie in the United States.    Still, Mom’s childhood friend, a child psychologist who happened to be gay himself, questioned whether it was appropriate to have her kids exposed to such representations of gay culture.  I thought it was.  But Rocky Horror was more than that: it was lens into a different world, something connecting the Cockettes with Gay Liberation, punk rock with science fiction. It was a way for legions of kids to break through  a forth wall and become active agents, rather than passive spectators.  Through the crowd participation, we all became a part of the show.  It took some fifteen years for one man to leave the theater where we used to go at midnight through those spring afternoons.  Some of us never really left or it never left us.  

My first year in college, we debated the merits of Rocky Horror vs One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, MiloŇ° Forman’s critical view of the workings of a psych ward as a lens for the modern world. Cuckoo inspired Rob to apply for graduate school in psychiatry, a persuit he’d later drop. So what was it about Rocky Horror that could possibly compare, asked Rob.

I held my ground, explaining that the movie offerred a campy sensibility that opened a new way of seeing and being; it showed us there was another life out there beyond the realms of everything anyone of us had ever imagined, openning up a way of living. That was my experience sitting there in the Highland Park Shopping Center almost a decade earlier. And it remained that way.

Much of that was on my mind this year when we watched a scene in the teen hit The Perks of Being a Wallflower, with my kids, one of whom is now almost as old as I was when I first  went to the midnight show.   The film includes a scene of several kids from rural Pennsylvania escaping their restricted worlds to take part in the show, seeing there are countercultures out there, that they can see, touch, and be part of, even while struggling with madness and eros, connection and separation, existentialism and camp, homophobia and violence.  Much of the same sentiment takes place in the scenes from the 1980 film Fame where similar high school students take in the show in a vastly different New York City.  That was the city I first came to know in the 1970’s.

By now the city is different, but we are still drawn to the idea that we can create spaces of our own imagination, places for freedom, and sustainable future in this often heartbreaking space.  My kids are almost as old as I was when I first started going to those midnight shows at the Highland Park Shopping Center. Throughout the fall, we explored the streets of the city, bike riding  through old vacant lots, connecting an eternal wanderlust with both an ever expanding geography of mind, space here in Brooklyn, linked within this global city, running to and from Manhattan, over the bridges and back. 

Increasingly I see Brooklyn as a space where difference finds space between bike rides, bridges, brownfelds, parties, communities of resistance, and community gardens, created by and for the people of this space.  Here we meet and dance with marching bands and drag queens, talking Marxism at the Commons, and dancing all night as I did Friday night.  Here, people sweat and shake as heterotopias takes shape nightly.  For Foucault, these are spaces of otherness, between spaces. At least that’s what it felt like to me this October through our adventures between Brooklyn and the outer boroughs of New York City.

Friday we went to see Rocky Horror.  As Jeff Stark wrote in this week’s nonsense:

The Culture Whore

Speak to most of New York’s queers, queens, nightlife weirdos, and luminescent creators, and you’ll find a common source of inspiration: The Rocky Horror Picture Show. So many of us discovered Rocky Horror at a young age and were transfixed and transformed. Rocky Horror helped us learn not only to be strange, but to revel in our strangeness, to celebrate it, to let it burst out of us in all its ecstatic glory.

With this in mind, Brooklyn art collective and living magazine the Culture Whore will celebrate Halloween with Rocky Horror Shows Shows Shows, a queer deconstruction and celebration of everyone’s favorite transsexual fantasy.

The Culture Whore will transform Williamsburg DIY party spot the Ivy House into Brooklyn’s very own Frankenstein Place. A coterie of performers amassed from New York’s queer underground will present their own twisted versions of beloved Rocky Horror songs: drag sensations Merrie Cherry, Charlene, Untitled Queen, Lucy Balls, Lady Simon, Chris of Hur, Manifestany Squirtz, Rify Royalty, Crimson Kitty, and 2013 Mr(s) Williamsburg winner Macy Rodman; mystifying performance artists Boywolf, Mark Dommu, Gabe Gonzalez, Carolyn Gilliam, and Chris Tyler; and enigmatic, rising-star rapper Bunny Michael.

A trio of DJs -- William Francis, David Sokolowski, and JX Cannon -- will be giving deep house, hip hop, nu disco, electropsych, rhythm+bass, and ballroom beats, to keep you dancing well past sunrise. Performance group Descent will be building installations to create a sensually strange version of Frank N’ Furter’s castle. They’ll be aided through visuals by Keo. A cast of unconventional conventionists from the planet Transsexual will be joining in for the Time Warp -- #GIANT rapper Will Sheridan, art renegades Mike and Claire, design duo Tilly and William, underground couture goddess Domonique Echeverria, Krobottom, Molly Rhinestones, Neocamp, Cher Noble, Ariele Max, Ben Lindsay, Cerrari Farias, Cloudz by Ty, Gerard Garvey, James Nichols, Andy Pandy, Sloan Morgan, Sparklez, Walker Seydell, and 2014 Mr(s) Williamsburg winner Aja.

The Culture Whore is an art collective and living magazine known throughout New York City for it’s immersive, community-gathering art parties where creation and hedonism are celebrated.

Babs and Hunka Munka joned me at the Culture Whore, where we danced and sang along to the ever expanding science fiction double feature of our lives.

My comrades from bike lane clown days to the bike block present.
Photos by Barbara Ross
i left the house as Brad for the ride through Brooklyn, quickly dropping the garb once we got inside. 

"You don't see this much sweat, these collections of bodies these days in Manhattan, not like this," i noted to Monica. "Today, things are hotter n Brooklyn. Theres still room around the edges."

We took pics, danced, and waved our arms as the lights shown over at the Frankenstein place, and the evening passed into the morning in Brooklyn.  The next day we visited Jack and Peter, who we'd partied with, at Petit Versailles Community Garden. 

Throughout the month, we romped between Brooklyn and the Bronx, riding up to Queens for remediation mudball and back, between communities of resistance at Weeksvlle and nearby community gardens, where we enjoy the gumbo of our every evolving city.

Mudball Fall 
We rode to the Mudball, biking from the East Village to Queens

photos by Laura Razzano
Later that weekend, number one and i explored vacant lots and brownfields around the Gowanus. 

Trip to Weeksville

The fun of being in Brooklyn is discovering the many cultures and communities of resistance found here.  The borough was home for the burgeoning Abolitionist Movement.  

 it was also a space for countercultures and pockets of resistance, such as Weeksville.

Romps from Phoenix Community Garden to Green Oasis.  

We left our adventure adventure at Weeksville for a stroll to the Pheonix Community Garden Gumbo Festival.  As the facebook page for the garden explains: "The Phoenix Garden in Brooklyn is 1/2 acre of green goodness in the Ocean Hill/Brownsville section of Brooklyn. Phoenix gardeners have changed a formerly vacant lot into a pastoral space where community members come together to make their garden grow. The garden is open to all members of the community."

One of my friends from the Lower East Side Collective was there to share food and gumbo from this new garden. 

Everyone welcomed us and we shared recipes and tips for gardening and gumbo cooking. Both are really the same.  Bring friends,spices, and mix. Share a few stories of how you do it.  Listen to theirs.  You always start with a roux. 

But as spaces with different flavors, mixing together, these spaces are always under threat.  As Curbed reports:

Few, if any, real estate battles are as lopsided as the ones that pit community garden operators against developers intent on building on the land. In 2010, in response to an outcry over disappearing gardens, the city attempted to create some guidelines that would offer them a little bit of protection, but since landowners can't actually be prevented from claiming the land they own, the guidelines don't really do much. Indeed, in the past couple years we've seen theCrow Hill Community Garden in Crown Heights, the Boardwalk Community Garden in Coney Island, and the Children's Magical Garden on the Lower East Side fall prey to developers, despite vocal objections and, in some cases, futile lawsuits from the community. 

On the Lower East Side, the two-year-old Siempre Verde Garden faces a threat from the Department of Housing Preservation and Development and William Gottlieb Real Estate, who want to use the site for a five-story, 16-unit building that would include three units of affordable housing. At a recent Community Board 3 meeting, the board, with the support of the community, voted to reject the developers' application and transfer the garden to the Park Department, making it permanent. However, the Community Board's role is purely advisory, so Gottlieb and the city will almost certainly get their way in the end.

The Roger That Garden in Crown Heights was acquired by developer Steve Billings of TYC Realty last November for next to nothing. Billings proceeded to put up a fence around it and mock the gardeners' fundraising efforts by telling them that they could keep the site for $500,000, and later upping that number to $1 million. The community has responded by painting some murals, so this one isn't looking too good.

The fight over the Maple Street Community Garden in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens is an interesting one, as the plot's (ostensible) owners, brothers Michael and Joseph Makhani, have a history of fraudulent real estate dealings including filing false deeds. The brothers Makhani showed up at the garden with no warning last month and started ripping it apart. Garden volunteers summoned the police, who forced the Makhanis to leave after they failed to produce proper documentation saying that they owned the site. Since then, it appears that everything has been quiet, but that was only four weeks ago.

The LaGuardia Corner Gardens is one of three sites (the other two are LaGuardia Park and Mercer Playground) that New York University is fighting for control of so that it can follow through with its huge expansion. Unfortunately for the Greenwich Village residents fighting to keep the garden, NYU has used underhanded tactics in the past to ensure that the three sites were never officially designated as parkland, and last week an appellate court ruled in the university's favor. That's not the end of the lawsuits, so the garden remains for the time being, but this one is looking like a losing battle, too.

Most every weekend, we romp about going to some other secret garden or hidden hub, where we create our own communities of resistance and care, fighting to defend these spaces as we use these spaces, hang out, and connect with others along the way. 

These is a space where marching bands play and musicians collide.  The Honk Festival brought bands from around the world to our city, as cavalcades of marching brass bands romped between Manhattan, Brooklyn and in between, as wrecking crews bring tides of new buildings, remaking our city. And we enjoyed romping in between.

While the kids carved pumpkins, the grownups outlined short sighted policy solutions. The real epidemic is one of stupidity, someone posted on facebook as debates about quarantines and surveillance raged. 

We took in citizen four, the dazzling film about Edward Snowden as lines between news and espionage thriller blurred.  Brooklyn was pulsing. 

All the while, fear looms and the media rushes up to Belleview as quarantines, panic and the familiar mechanisms of moral panic take hold.  Madness takes its toll.

Robert Reich writes:
After Kaci Hickox, an epidemiologist who was working to help treat Ebola patients in Sierra Leone, arrived at Newark Liberty Airport Friday afternoon, she was placed under mandatory quarantine in an isolation tent in a Newark hospital – with no shower, no flushable toilet, and unable to see her lawyer or anyone else -- pursuant to an order by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and New York’s Andrew Cuomo that all healthcare workers who have treated Ebola patients be quarantined for 21 days. Christie describes her as "obviously ill” and “hopes she recovers quickly." But Hickox is not sick and has no symptoms of the disease.  This knee-jerk suppression of civil liberties is nuts. More Americans are killed by stray bullets every day than have been killed by Ebola, yet we don’t even require a background check for the purchase of a handgun because the NRA says it would infringe on individual liberties. And we don’t have a Surgeon General to deal with Ebola because the NRA is outraged that the President’s nominee for Surgeon General is in favor of such checks. Go figure.