Sunday, November 15, 2015

Paris to New York, Beirut to Kenya: Reflections

Message from Washington Square Park. Photo by Dodi Shepard
Singing the Marseillaise in Cassablanca, scenes from Paris. 

Friday night we heard the news. We frantically texted our Brooklyn neighbors living in Paris for the year. Everyone was at home and ok. 

Sitting in Paris, Greg Smithsimon wrote:
We're all at home. The streets where attacks happened are ones Molly runs down whenever she's running. I've only ever been to the cafe at Bataclan once, exactly a week ago, to meet a colleague at the cafe there. Una's on social media; a friend of hers said he was at Stade de France but is ok. Her school canceled Saturday classes. Nobody is out on the street in front of our house, which normally looks like Times Square on a Friday night. Sirens every few minutes. But at least we're fine.
The night went on in all its banalities.   Arriving back home a few hours later, I checked the news, read reports of my friends safe in Paris, and found emotions wrapping themselves around me. We’re back here again?

All Friday, I was thinking about our last trip to Paris.  More than a city, this is a symbol of humanity.  The last time we were in Paris, I was aware of all the things Paris maintained long after we lost them in New York after 9/11 – open streets, animated publics, and a pulsing sexy, street life.   Paris welcomes it, while we seem to be weary of it, outlawing marching bands, live music, open containers and public sexual culture. 

I posted the following note.

 I  am so sad to hear this.
When I think of Paris, I think of openness... of street life, of a vibrant public. 
Please keep that Paris. Please stay open and free.
Liberte - Egalite - Fraternite.

Message from Washington Square Park. Photo by Dodi Shepard

Saturday, people talked about what happened during our class at the  Institute for the Radical Imagination. 

Stanley Aronowitz talked about this as a blow against Empire.
Others in class talked about this a reflection of disenfranchised desperately wanting to get a place at the table of global finance.

I rode by Union Square where all the vigils popped up after 911 but it was fenced up for the holiday market.

Now its Paris’ turn, after 911, it all feels familiar - the vigils, denunciations, calls for solidarity, tearful renditions of imagine.  Vengeance and a search for something else.  It all feels like a familiar choreography of grief.

We sang, “This Little Light of Mine” at Judson today, hoping for a little light in a world that looks dark.

“I don’t believe in god but I miss him,” noted Micah Bucey, quoting William Barnes, feeling down and out, thinking about our world.

“Just because you don’t say god doesn’t mean he isn’t there,” noted Al Carmine. But the loneliness we feel, thinking about the incoherence and pain we endure at the hand of this abusing god, its hard to fathom.

We walked about Washington Square Park, looking at the chalked graffiti, outlining solidarity with Paris and the world.

Message from Washington Square Park. Photo by Dodi Shepard

But its dismal to imagine the permawar has new reason to extend into the future.  We know that  vengeance is going to create more violence.   We saw it the last round.  But the world is messy.   And we made a lot of this mess. 

As my friend Peter Staley, of ACT UP, posted:

The U.S. should get most of the blame for ISIS. We broke Iraq on false premises. Does that mean we walk away completely now? ISIS won't go away on its own, and what we've seen with the downing of the Russian plane, the bombings in Beirut, and the worst terror in Europe since 2004, is likely going to become a new normal soon. I feel an ethical pull to help an international response, rather than pulling back to defending only our own borders, and saying "sorry for creating this mess, but we're done here."
Given how badly we've fucked things up, I have to respect those that argue we should avoid the region completely -- that our further interventions will only fuel the flames. But I'm deeply uneasy with that stance. Please don't paint me and Roger Cohen with the same brush you'd paint Trump and Cruz. This is not about revenge. ISIS is obviously becoming a worldwide scourge. We should join an effort to reverse this trend.

Mom and I had dinner tonight, talking about her trips to the Middle East five decades ago.
When did we have a good relationship with the Middle East I asked.
She could not remember a time.
But each decade we intervene, propping up the Shah of Iran, taking sides in the Iran Iraq War, propelling the Taliban a decade later, breaking up Iraq and opening the door for ISIS – it is an ugly history of unintended consequences.
The French have no brighter history, although they had the good sense to stay out of Iraq, but its history of Algeria always leaves it open to blowback.
But I also feel moved to hear people singing the Marseillaise throughout New York.  Its much the same feeling watching the movies.

 Singing the Marseillaise in Cassablanca,
Paris is a sister city for us, rude and loud and metropolitan. 
I got home to see a vigil for France down the street from us,  a solidarity with the world from Brooklyn to Kenya, to Beirut and Paris. A policeman was on our street, sending cars away from the streets.
“Everything ok?” I asked.
“They are having a memorial for Paris. Thanks for asking.”

Right now, I’m heartbroken, thinking of Kenya, of Beirut, of Paris, thinking of the pain.  As a New Yorker, I know terror is global.   No solutions, but lots and lots of heartbreak.
Lots of prayers for the dead, hoping we can find another route then permawar.

Nicky Paraiso  
do not be afraid .. fear is the goal of any terrorist .. remember the Patriot act .. together we can walk the streets of any city ..aware and alive ..This is New York City Washington Square in solidarity a couple of blocks from my apartmemt
5:30 PM

Tomorrow at 5:30 PMBrooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams will hold an interfaith vigil with members of Brooklyn’s French community and concerned Brooklynites in response to yesterday’s terror attacks in Paris, which have claimed at least 125 lives and have injured hundreds more throughout the city. The event will begin in Carroll Park, a popular community hub in Carroll Gardens, where participants will light candles for peace and hear words of solidarity from local leaders. The gathering will lead into a candlelight walk toward an interfaith service at St. Agnes Roman Catholic Church, which regularly offers mass in French. Borough President Adams and others, including Assembly Member Jo Anne Simon and Council Member Brad Lander, will express their solidarity with the people of Paris, as well as address safety concerns in and around Brooklyn.

***PLEASE NOTE: At approximately 6:00 PM, Borough President Adams and others will hold a candlelight walk from Carroll Park to St. Agnes Roman Catholic Church for the interfaith service, where members of the media are welcome. The path of the walk will head north on Smith Street from Carroll Park, then east on Sackett Street to St. Agnes Roman Catholic Church.***

(DNAinfo/Nikhita Venugopal)

you never think it will happen to you. It was just a friday night at a rock show. the atmosphere was so happy and everyone was dancing and smiling. and then when the men came through the front entrance and began the shooting, we naiively believed it was all part of the show. It wasn't just a terrorist attack, it was a massacre. Dozens of people were shot right infront of me. Pools of blood filled the floor. Cries of grown men who held their girlfriends dead bodies pierced the small music venue. Futures demolished, families heartbroken. in an instant. Shocked and alone, I pretended to be dead for over an hour, lying among people who could see their loved ones motionless.. Holding my breath, trying to not move, not cry - not giving those men the fear they longed to see. I was incredibly lucky to survive. But so many didn't. The people who had been there for the exact same reasons as I - to have a fun friday night were innocent. This world is cruel. And acts like this are suppose to highlight the depravity of humans and the images of those men circuling us like vultures will haunt me for the rest of my life. The way they meticoulsy aimed at shot people around the standing area i was in the centre of without any consideration for human life. It didn't feel real. i expected any moment for someone to say it was just a nightmare. But being a survivor of this horror lets me able to shed light on the heroes. To the man who reassured me and put his life on line to try and cover my brain whilst i whimpered, to the couple whose last words of love kept me believing the good in the world, to the police who succeded in rescuing hundreds of people, to the complete strangers who picked me up from the road and consoled me during the 45 minutes I truly believed the boy i loved was dead, to the injured man who i had mistaken for him and then on my recognition that he was not Amaury, held me and told me everything was going to be fine despite being all alone and scared himself, to the woman who opened her doors to the survivors, to the friend who offered me shelter and went out to buy new clothes so i wouldnt have to wear this blood stained top, to all of you who have sent caring messages of support - you make me believe this world has the potential to be better. to never let this happen again. but most of this is to the 80 people who were murdered inside that venue, who weren't as lucky, who didnt get to wake up today and to all the pain that their friends and families are going through. I am so sorry. There's nothing that will fix the pain. I feel priviledged to be there for their last breaths. And truly beliving that I would join them, I promise that their last thoughts were not on the animals who caused all this. It was thinking of the people they loved. As i lay down in the blood of strangers and waiting for my bullet to end my mere 22 years, I envisioned every face that I have ever loved and whispered I love you. over and over again. reflecting on the highlights of my life. Wishing that those i love knew just how much, wishing that they knew that no matter what happened to me, to keep belieivng in the good in people. to not let those men win. Last night, the lives of many were forever changed and it is up to us to be better people. to live lives that the innocent victims of this tragedy dreamt about but sadly will now never be able to fulfil. RIP angels. You will never be forgotten.

I'm in Paris for the month helping with arts and action preparations for Dec 12 and other climate justice mobilizations here, helping to set up and support an arts space in Montreuil, on the edge of Paris.
CLIMATE COP & MOBILIZATION: The French Gov't announced the COP Climate Summit will happen (Reuters). The French group Attac said today:
We reject in advance any restriction on the right to protest and fight against this decaying world, in favour of the alternatives that peoples of the South and the North put forward together. From November 29 to December 12 in Paris on the occasion of the COP 21 and with our citizens' mobilizations , we will show that another world is possible, necessary and urgent.
LOVE WILL WIN: I emailed to check on a few new local friends I have made in my last week and half here. One email response: "We are under shock (we know all these bars, restaurants, stadiums, concert halls, this is where we go, where we have fun, my family, my friends and I, where my daughter is meeting her friends, where I was supposed to go to a concert yesterday, and the list goes on and on..).
We are strong and we know that love will win."
ALTARS: My fellow organizer from 350 Duncan writes from Paris, "There’s blood, sawdust and circles of white chalk marking the location of bullet casings on the corner of my street in Paris this morning. Less than 12 hours after a group of people walked up to the corner and started shooting people at random there, groups of onlookers are gathered in the street, leaving flowers, candles and taking pictures." More at: (…/133…/paris-november-14-2015)
IT'S GOOD TO PLAY MUSIC ON A DAY LIKE TODAY" I was up all night checking on friends and following horrible news updates. An artist I've been working had a friend hurt--the only one I know connected to the injured or killed. Friends from the inflatable art group Tools for Action slept at the artspace--there was still violence near their lodgings in Paris The community hosting our art making, Jardin D'Alice had an opening of their new home/community space, where we are being hosted in our art-making space with their friends and community. People celebrated the new space, a kind of defiance of the horrible night before. An amazing band with big brass section layed, people danced, drank local beer from the just-finished bar, while art making for the climate justice actions continued in the back artspace.
A group of us went to brainstorm and draw ideas about how we would address the attacks the night before in our resistance at the Climate COP. I drew the back view of a man in a suit pointing a gun at the earth on the left, with the words "War, Injustice, Climate Chaos" on his back. He was in front of a mirror and his reflection was the front of man with the word "Terror, Fundamentalism" pointing a gun at a crowd on the left side that said "Paris, Beirut." Later, one of the musicians from the band said to me, 'It's good to play music on a day like today."
DON'T BACK DOWN: It's too familiar to see our movements pushed down by the complex back and forth of fundamentalist's waging of attacks on civilians and global capital waging attacks on everyone and the planet. I was in Scotland as part of anti-G8 global justice and climate mobilizations in 2005, when the London bombing went off, shutting down our political breathing space and ability to engage. Or in 2001, when parts of the global justice movement, feeling the fear and repression of Sept. 11 in the air, cancelled a massive direct action mobilization against the IMF and World Bank in DC planned for the following month. Our global justice movements never recovered momentum. There's too much at stake for climate justice movements to back down even an inch, though of course we need to re-think HOW to most strategically mobilize and take direct action at this moment.

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