Friday, July 8, 2016

Summer 1999, hellos and goodbyes

The familiar pose through the years at a demo, at a CUNY CD in the fall of 2015 and an IMF action in the spring of 2000.
Photos by Minister Erik R. McGregor and Diane Green Lent.

Elizabeth and this writer through the years.

Standing in Dias y Flores Park and Community Garden, Brad Will walked by dressed as a flower.
Elizabeth Meixell and I were talking as the earth celebrations roared by.
Ron was around.  The whole of the city seemed to be opening up.
I had been in ACT UP and Sex Panic! but somehow this was my neighborhood, my community.
Brad would be around another seven years.
Elizabeth and Ron would be around the city till the summer of 2016 when we'd all have to say goodbye.
That summer, we planned a fundraiser all summer long at Charas El Bohio Community Services Center.
Jason Grote would put on the Pipebomb Sonata about the Riots the Lower East East Side in 1988.
And Ron would DJ.
We planned civil disobedience around the community gardens.
And parties.
Ron had a poster of Marx up in his house with a picture of George Bush, declaring, "The first time is tragedy, the second time is farse."  I remember chuckling. He was there for a good laugh through the years.

Elizabeth was there for clinic defense and dinner parties after 911 and act up and even my book reading last fall.
Ron was there whenever I came back into town for a baseball game or for my birthday.

In 2000, we drove to DC together and you talked about the dirty little secret that global capitalism was a scam. You smiled and then we listened to Joni Mitchell and things got a little sad. But we also laughed on that trip and the many others to and from DC for demos, or PSC action, or flooding wall street, or fighting for better gun laws or safer streets or wherever else the city would take us.

At Occupy, Right of Way Twenty as Plenty, and Gun Safety actions. Photo by Diane Green Lent.
Over the years, we all had kids and moved to other boroughs, wrote our books, got married, had kids, and stayed friends, running into each other at every CUNY rally.

We used to run into Elizabeth at the life café when we met there.
Then it closed and we had to look elsewhere to meet.
The church ladies performed less and less, but we'd see Elizabeth at the drag marches or dyke marches or various events.

But for a few decades there, the Church Ladies and their iconic leader Yasha Bunchuk, had a hell of a run, infusing joy and justice into the struggle for reproductive autonomy.

As you get older you are aware your friends will not always be there.
They leave town or find other places to go and live.
This is part of the loss exercise of modern living.
There openings and closings and openings.
Open door closes and closes.
There she goes.
Here is comes.
As rebel friendships echo through time.

But meeting them for the first time, knowing them, that was like tasting champagne for the very first time.

Thursday, I had a coffee and met Ron at the Strand Bookstore, our last meeting before we go our separate ways this summer, and he moves West.
We walked about the books, his first trip there in 1985 an mine in 1997. We recalled a few of our trips to Wave Hill and Bronx Botanical Garden, trips to DC for street actions during the IMF or the Bush inauguration, through writing our books in 2001, his DJing our wedding, watching terror bombings change the landscape later that fall, the war, our families growing, journeys through academe and marriage, and labor struggles which we were involved with continuing the struggle. I left for the delegate assembly and Ron went back to Queens after meeting. Seeing him, I was aware he was here but also gone, a present moment about to disappear. I thought about how he was of the moment and about to be in another. I thought of the crazy feeling of looking at New York that fall of 1999, going to the World AIDS Day demos at Rockefeller Center and then having a few beers and outlining our book, from ACT UP to the WTO. We'd meet every friday for months to complete the project. We'd bicker. We'd fight. Authors dropped out. Others arrived in force. Ron's mom slowed. Yet, we completed the story. I learned to be patient. He was more patient with me than i could possibly have imagined. It would be needed when the terror bombings of 2001 slowed the publication of our book, making the cases a part of the past instead of of the present moment. But the stories of movements continued. Ron stayed involved with fighting for CUNY contracts, for immigrant voting rights, for a public space for kids to play in Jackson Heights and so on. I featured interviews with him and Elizabeth in several of my books.

"Its the end of an era," I said to number two as we walked away. "The end of an era."

Two days later, I met with Elizabeth and Luca for a quick lunch at Columbus and 77th street on a majestic afternoon in the sun. We chatted, talked about the drag march the night before, her first pride weekend years ago, when she first met Caroline in Garrison, our friends who were gone, here, and what we were going to do now that she was leaving. Elizabeth is everyone's activists compatriot. She mentored friendships, gave interviews for my books, brought us together, cajoled, and linked us together in an email list through time. It would soon be time for us to learn to do that ourselves.

Thanks Elizabeth. Thanks Ron.

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Brooklyn, NY, United States
A long time activist and social worker, Benjamin Shepard’s scholarship is based on the ethnographic study of social services and social movements. He has worked on campaigns around public space, including community gardens, bike lanes, and public welfare issues ranging from education to AIDS services. For more info or to contact him visit: New Book Out Community Projects as Social Activism