Monday, January 30, 2017

David's Friend, Romeo and Juliet and the Refugee Crisis, Love Knows No Borders, Even When Sourge is laid upon your hate, #MuslimBan #GetSairaHome

Images from the St Louis, 1939, David's Friend, Romeo and Juliet, and
cuny-doctoral-student Saira Rafiee, who was denied entry into the US.

Image may contain: 6 people, crowd, outdoor and text

Panorama: Thousands at protest in Battery Park, NYC right now.
Where be these enemies?  Capulet! Montague!
See, what a scourge is laid upon your hate,
That heaven finds means to kill your joys with love.
And I for winking at your discords too.
Have lost a brace of kinship: all are punish’d.

Last Scene, Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare.

Throughout my life somebody has always tried to set the boundaries of who and what I will be allowed to be [...]. What is common to these boundary lines is that their most destructive power lies in what I can be persuaded to do to myself - the walls of fear, shame, and guilt I can be encouraged to build in my own mind. [...] I am to hide myself, and hate myself, and never risk exposing what might be true about my life. I have learned through great sorrow that all systems of oppression feed on public silence and private terrorization… Dorothy Allison (1995:116-117)

I spent the weekend thinking about the ways people come together and are then torn apart, the way we connect with each other and fate, or history, or bigotry, or bias intervenes.
After an inauguration weekend of politics, I had planned  to spend the weekend with my kids and family, going to see some theater, etc, David’s Friend by Nora Burns on Saturday, Church and Romeo and Juliet on Sunday at the Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural & Educational Center.
That was all the plan, before we found out about Trump’s executive order banning Muslims and Refugees from entering the country. You don’t want to spend every day reacting. But sometimes you have to.

We are a country of immigrants.  Everyone says it.  And its sad that we have to remind ourselves about this. But we are. We came here because of religious persecution.  My family came after the abuses during the English Civil War. Thank goodness no one would have turned us back.

Caroline’s dad Al came over for dinner on Saturday and he recalled a similar story, without a happy ending:
“My uncle and his family were on board the St Louis on the way to the US during World War II.  And they were turned back. And they perished in Auschwitz.” 

Saturday, I started hearing about the people mobilizing on their way to JKF to fight the ban, as immigrants, CUNY students, members of extended families were being separated, unable to pass through security at JFK.

I was on my way to see mom. The story only grew at the day moved. More and more people going to JFK.  Cleve Jones was posting about people going to the airport, to do the same thing in San Francisco.  This is the most important thing anyone can do in San Francisco, he implored everyone.
The texts continued all day long.

Over dinner we heard about a judge in Brooklyn hearing the case in Cadmen Plaza. By 9 PM, I rode by as Judge Ann M Donnelly issued a stay. People with signs were smiling. Several told me about the decision.

The ACLU has released this statement:
A federal judge tonight granted the American Civil Liberties Union’s request for a nationwide temporary injunction that will block the deportation of all people stranded in U.S. airports under President Trump’s new Muslim ban. The ACLU and other legal organizations filed a lawsuit on behalf of individuals subject to President Trump's Muslim ban. The lead plaintiffs have been detained by the U.S. government and threatened with deportation even though they have valid visas to enter the United States.

We all have to support the ACLU now, the people’s lawyers.

“There are still checks and balances,” smiled the gentlemen introducing the evening’s performance of David’s Friend, a show at La Mama on 74A East 4th Street, 3rd floor. 
The room applauded.

I was there with my friend Jay Blotcher, both shocked and aching 
as we reflected the events of the day.

To me, aching is the only suitable reaction by thoughtful and 
principled people; only the clueless or cold-blooded can walk 
with head held high during these shameful days,” he lamented.

Yet, the reactions, the activism was inspiring.

“How exciting that the country reacted so powerfully this 
weekend to the immigration bans,”Blotcher continued.
 “Such defiance and fury and solidarity.”

We were at the theater to see:

“David’s Friend” A story of love, loss and disco in 1980s New York City Written and performed by Nora Burns. A comic memoir about 1980s Manhattan. The Club at La MaMa, 74A East 4th Street, 3rd floor,

— A powerful new comic memoir about the electrifying joy and intoxicating madness of New York City in the 1980s will take the stage at The Club at La MaMa from January 27 through February 5, created by and starring veteran downtown performer Nora Burns. DAVID’S FRIEND is an achingly funny coming-of-age story about love and loss at the center of the universe: New York City. It’s a true-life epic about Nora and David, best friends who met as teenagers and moved to Manhattan, where they immersed themselves in the zeitgeist: a speed-of light journey through sex, drugs, disco, love and heartbreak. DAVID’S FRIEND is the outrageous and riotous saga of an era when rents were cheap, sex was waiting around every corner, and friendship was the most important thing of all.

“My best friend David died of AIDS in 1993,” says playwright Nora Burns. “I spent a long time mourning him and this unfinished friendship. I wrote DAVID’S FRIEND to celebrate one of the most important relationships of my life, as well as the time and place in which it happened: New York City in the eighties. This show is my loving tribute to David, to thank him for making me who I am today. I tried to make sure it’s as fun, funny and full of life as he was.”

Nora tells the story meeting her friend at a tea dance in 1979. The two ended up staying up all night, going home together, watching the sunset and striking off a friendship that would last the next 14 years, best friends, really best friends, best friends who write each other love letters tweaking in the back of clubs, best friends who dance on speakers together, who share years together.
Watching the one act, I was struck by the raw feelings I still have thinking about my years as club kid, some three decades prior, expanding my ideas about borders between people, the ways we let go of hangups when we dance together, the friends who came and went, and the losses, as the AIDS carnage ensued.

Friendships extend beyond borders.  The action was in our minds, my dad explained, describing his relationship with his very queer best friend, who subsequently passed of AIDS himself in 1990.
It was the wild minds, the experimental minds, the innovative minds who we lost, early on, my friend Sarah Schulman used to say.

It was also those blurry relationships, where love crosses over borders, between straight lines, into something richer, that changed things.

That was my relationship with Dad and his friend who came to live with us, before he died.  I wrote about him in Rebel Friendships, my most recent book; and found myself thinking about the hole in my heart as Nora recalled her friendship with David. No they were not lovers. But their love knew no borders. In 1980, they moved from Boston to New York, where they quickly found a pace as club kids, skipping lines into Studio 54, Danceteria, and the Limelight, rubbing shoulders with Anthony Haden-Guest, dancing with Grace Jones, and doing as much blow as they possibly could.
Listening, I thought about my best friends in clubland, whose stories are just dripping out of my old notebooks, the notes we passed to each other, high on ecstasy, the sunrise drives home.  But perfect summers rarely last.

These were kids who found a space for themselves, between categories, sharing pleasure, laughs, cheap apartments, and bit of growing up together, as tea dance became a death watch. David would not last very long into the next decade.
Yet, Nora has to stop and wonder why, 24 years after he passed, that his memory still clings to her, after kids and growing.  Still, the incompleteness of the loss, that sudden disappearance, still lingers through the years.

Its not only a friendship but a part of her life, a part of a feeling that she can’t get back again.
David’s Friend is the most important of memoirs of friendship, and all its messy, boundariless contours, that extend through time.

Finishing the show, I found myself talking with David Weissman, the director of the Cockettes and We Were Here.  We talked about San Francisco and friends and memories of a space from a long time ago. He told me about his days hanging out with Cleve Jones in 1979.  “I was with Cleve when Harvey was inaugurated.” 

I recalled my time there sixteen years later and the feelings that linger.
There are certain gems you never quite shake.  When you are much older they still remind you of everything you could have been or wanted to have been or were at your best. That’s what these friends are about, that’s what David’s Friend reminds us. Hopefully there are more friendships stories like this. Of course, the bittersweet part is, he died in his mid-thirties, well before his time.  Love knows no borders. But without healthcare or treatment, just living can be a trick. So we are left with memories and separation.

So we all shared stories. Later that night, I found myself at home where I just sat for an hour thinking about the show and this crazy history we're living in., and then the rallies, lots and lots to reflect on. aching. 

It was hard to sleep.

Everyone knows any of us could be next in this purge.

AIDS seemed to seep into all of us for a while there.

Its still around and so is the bias that helped fuel it.

These days, I think about Spain a lot, the Spanish civil war and the brown shirts, who did so much damage.

When you walk around Spain you still find burial sites where people were slaughtered and old ladies who look sad, in these ageless downs. One wonders if their families were in those mass graves.

I hope those days are not coming. But there were hints in the street in DC last week, military everywhere.

I can imagine marshal law at some point.

Tt all grows from prejudice, from bias.

There is love which extends across borders and disputes and hopes.

And then there are the conflicts which tear it apart.

Watching Romeo and Juliet, I found myself thinking of the unfounded hate that seeped between the families, the Capulets and Montagues.

“What a Sourge is laid upon your hate.”

Pox on all sides involved in tarnishing this love, laments Shakespeare.
The story ends with the families suffering into truth, just as  this country doesn’t seem to be able to. We can’t learn from our history, if we don’t look at it. We fail to again and again. Everyone knows that this cannot end well.

Watching the show, I thought of getting out into the streets to find a few of the openings and they were all there. Thousands and thousands filled the streets after the show.  The uprising seems to be growing every day.  The fed don’t want to support California and its sanctuary cities. So California says it won’t pay federal taxes.  New York could do the same. The pressure is on.

I rushed out to join my friends in the street, to feel a part of things for a second. Love hadn’t conquered all in Romeo and Juliet. David died. And families were being torn apart, separated at JFK.

“Whats going on in this country,” my cab driver asked.  “I left Pakistan to get away from this kind of thing.”

“Well the world hated us under Bush, loved us under Obama, and they hate us again.”

“This is not America.”

“I know.”

So we hit the streets and did the only thing we knew.  We walked together, striking a chord for love in a world fanning hate.

People carried images of Ann Frank, with song lyrics, defending the constitution and religious freedom.

I found one that declared: We are all Muslim, carrying that one.

My friend Elissa walked with a sign declaring: "
 "Daughter of an Iraqi-Jewish refugee, saved by Muslim friend. I stand with all."

“No hate, no fear, refugees welcome here!” people chanted.

“This is what America looks like,” others screamed, downtown full of black, brown, and white bodies.

“Never again,” read another. We hope not.

Riding the subway home, I talked with a friend from Occupy.

“I’m just scared the other shoe will drop,” I confessed. “Any of us could be next.”

“My too,” confessed a man sitting by us.

“Next it could be any of us.”

I thought about the end of Romeo and Juliet when the families put their animosities, but not after tremendous losses, their beloved kids gone forever. They are all “poor sacrifices for our enmity.”
These are all poor sacrifices for our hate.


In a true show of force, thousands of people descended upon JFK calling for the release of dozens of refugees and immigrants who were being detained, questioned, and refused entry to the United States.

Due to the collective efforts of advocacy groups and organizers in New York, the Federal Court for the Eastern District of New York has now issued a temporary stay halting President Donald Trump’s executive order.

The signing of President Trump's executive order has affected thousands – refugees seeking asylum and protection who have already been approved for visas, mothers and fathers barred from reuniting with their families, legal permanent residents being denied the ability to return to school or work, and refugees fleeing persecution being forced to return to their countries to death and violence.


Let's make it clear that we don't just want a temporary halt, we want human rights and dignity for refugees and immigrants and we want a reversal of these inhumane executive orders NOW.

JOIN US ON SUNDAY, JANUARY 29TH at Battery Park to march to 26 Federal Plaza.

We have a permit to rally and march.

WHERE: Battery Park (West Side of Castle Clinton National Monument in Battery Park near Statue of Liberty Viewpoint) ***4, 5, 1 trains not stopping there so please make alternate plans. Castle is the meeting location**



Contact (English & Spanish): Daniel Altschuler, Make the Road New York: (917) 494-5922,

Thanu Yakupitiyage, New York Immigration Coalition, (413) 687-5160,

30,000 New Yorkers March to End Refugee & Muslim Ban

Vow to Fight Trump's Hateful Policies Every Step of the Way

New York, NY (Sunday, January 29) - At least 30,000 New Yorkers - including immigrants, refugees, Muslims and allies - gathered in Battery Park City across from the Statue of Liberty to demand that Trump rescind his recent executive orders and end all hateful policies.

You can see photos here.
They then marched to Foley Square, wearing colorful butterfly wings and signs reading, "no ban, no wall" and "here to stay." The march comes the day after massive protests -- organized by Make the Road New York and the New York Immigration Coalition, among others -- rocked JFK airport and Cadman Plaza, demanding release of refugees who were being held at the airport under Trump's "Muslim ban."
Last night, in response to a lawsuit brought by the ACLU on behalf of the refugees who had been held, federal judge Donnelly in Brooklyn issued a stay on Trump's Muslim ban. This means that those who would've been allowed into the US before the ban are, for the time being, not subject to deportation, though they can still be detained and refused entry.
More than ten people are still detained at JFK airport. Marchers today demanded their release and an end to this vicious and unjust practice, and called uncompromisingly for justice for all who are impacted by Trump's policies. Protests are spreading across the country. There are actions organized by Make the Road Connecticut and Make the Road New Jersey happening in the next 48 hours, among many others. 

Elected officials in attendance today included US Representatives Nydia Velázquez, Joe Crowley, Carolyn Maloney, Adriano Espalliat and Jerry Nadler, who were also the very first elected officials to join us at JFK airport yesterday to advocate for the release of the refugees. US Representative Jeffries was also on the scene today, as were Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer, Corey Booker, NYC Comptroller Scott Crowley, NYC Public Advocate Tish James and several NYC councilmembers and NYS elected officials. 

Javier Valdés, Co-Executive Director of Make the Road New York, 
said: "Today thousands of people from Make the Road New York's community - including our immigrant members and members of our aliados (allies) network - came together with other New Yorkers to make it crystal clear that we will fight Trump's anti-Muslim and anti-refugee policies every step of the way. The energy is spreading, and protests are occurring across the country. Our sister organizations, Make the Road New Jersey and Make the Road Connecticut are getting ready to take action in their states, as are many, many others. Our message is clear: We will not let Trump separate families and attack our communities."

Steve Choi, Executive Director of the New York Immigration Coalition, said: "This weekend, we saw thousands of New Yorkers come out to protect immigrants and refugees in an outpouring of both love and anger at the fear-mongering and hate wrought by President Trump's executive orders. And we're starting to win. Less than 48 hours after the orders were signed, our efforts and those across the country helped stop the order in court - and forced the White House to allow American legal permanent residents from those countries to come back home. This is just the start. We're ready to mobilize this mass movement - immigrants and allies, Muslims and Jews, New Yorkers of all stripes - to show the White House what our New York and our country really stand for: dignity, justice, and inclusion."
Donna Lieberman, Executive Director, New York Civil Liberties Union, said:
"The United States is not a country that should stand for religious discrimination and for putting the lives of vulnerable children at risk during the greatest refugee crisis since World War II. President Trump's ban on the entry of people from Muslim countries and suspension of the entire U.S. refugee program goes against everything this country represents from the very day it was founded. We are proud of the work of the ACLU in stopping parts of Trump's order and our lawyers for working with those whose loved ones are detained or at risk. With the support of mass protests around the country, we will never stop defending our values and our Constitution."
Fahd Ahmed, Executive Director of Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), said:
"We now have confirmations that Customs and Border Protection has been violating the Judge's stay order. Department of Homeland Security issued a statement in clear defiance of the judge's order, and they are putting people on planes back for deportation. At least 5 people were scheduled to be put on a plane for 1:30pm. This isn't a matter of "bad policy", but rather an administration and their aligned forces that are committed to an ideological agenda of white supremacy, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and bigotry."
Mohammad Khan, Campaign Manager, MPower Change, said:
"This moment calls for us to be consistent and persistent in our outrage and demand that the Administration abide by the constitution and uphold fundamental values of inclusion and respect. MPower Change is committed to a type of organizing that keeps our voices loud and feet in the streets."

Jackie Vimo, policy analyst at National Immigration Law Center, said: "We continue to receive reports that agents are threatening to put refugees and others on planes and out of this country. This blatant disregard for a federal order is simply unacceptable. At a minimum, all agents should comply with the order immediately. But the truth is that DHS's messaging continues to instill fear in the community. We should demand nothing less than that the government rescind this heinous executive order. It has caused irreparable harm already, and we will not stop fighting until the government protects the rights of our clients and those like them.The National Immigration Law Center, with our partners, will continue to fight. No Ban. No Wall."

Bill Lipton, Working Families Party State Director, said: "The Working Families Party stands side by side with our brothers and sisters who are refugees, Muslims and immigrants. In New York and across the country we will stand up to resist Trump's hate. Yesterday 14 million people watched WFP's livestream of the demonstrations, and our support is growing every day. We will not stop until we win opportunity and equality for all who are in the US, no matter how recently they arrived."
Jennifer Friedman, Director of Immigration at The Bronx Defenders, said:
"The administration's actions are extreme, dehumanizing, and urgently require a response from all people of conscience in this city and across the nation," said Jennifer Friedman, Director of the Immigration Practice at The Bronx Defenders. "Our presence on the streets makes a difference. We must make clear that we will not tolerate anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant bigotry in our name."
Shelby Chestnut, Director of Community Organizing and Public Advocacy at the New York City Anti-Violence Project, said: "The New York City Anti-Violence stands in solidarity w immigrant and Muslim communities around New York City as we move into the second day of protests following Trumps Executive Order banning refugees and Muslims from seven countries entering the US. We know that LGBTQ peoples safety and rights are deeply connected to the safety and rights of all immigrant communities in New York City and we must stand together during this difficult times."

Sonia Guiñansaca, operations manager at Culture Strike, said: "Artists across the country are demanding the reverse of the executive order. This attack on refugee and Muslim communities impacts our most vulnerable communities and spreads a culture of terror and fear. We urge fellow artists, culture makers and art institutions to continue to put pressure and help end the unjust targeting and separation of families."
Amaha Kassa, Executive Director, African Communities Together, said:
"The Muslim ban and the refugee freeze are inhumane, unconstitutional disasters. African immigrants and refugees have been hit hard by the executive orders, and we will keep hitting back hard to reverse them."
Tara Raghuveer, NPNA Deputy Director, said: "Yesterday was a powerful victory. Regardless of where they come from - whether as a refugee or as an undocumented young person - everyone deserves to live with dignity, protected from harm. We oppose Trump's unjust, un-American, and discriminatory steps to disgrace our history, beliefs, and values. We will resist Trump's actions until justice is served."


A few photos from a turbulent weekend. 

Protesters remind us, love thy neighbor

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