Thursday, April 27, 2017

Reflecting on the 1992 Riots in Los Angeles

“[T]he designers of malls and pseudo-public space attack the crowd by homogenizing it… They set up architectural and semiotic barriers to filter out ‘undesirables’. They enclose the mass that remains, directing its circulation with behaviorist ferocity… lured by visual stimuli of all kinds…”
Mike Davis, City of Quartz, Excavating the Future of Los Angeles, 1990, p. (226).
            My new novel includes a chapter about Los Angeles 1992 when an art show called helter skelter and riot broke out, waking up the world.  Exposing the dirty little secret of the lingering problem of racism in the USA, the riot reminded us all there was more to do.  And many spent the next quarter century doing the work. Back in 1992, it was jarring. 

           All spring long, we followed the case of the police officers who beat up Rodney King.  Everyone had always told us don’t drive through South Central.  With the riots, South Central came to us. It screamed this is not ok.  A city divided will burn.  This racism is a cancer that will eat away at the body of the city. We all saw videos of the man lying face down on the pavement.  There were only a few more weeks to go in school. We’d been studying Viet Nam in Brodie’s US history class, reflecting on people being left behind.  Things were getting odd with the trial, which had been moved to Semi Valley away where King was beaten. The day of the verdict, a palpable disgust filled the air.  But instead of sitting with it, people acted up, as they had in 1965 in Watts.  It was beautiful and horrible to watch the smoke rise in the distance after the city began to blaze.
The headlines from the April 30, 1992 page-one headline of the L.A. Times declared: “All 4 in King Beating Acquitted, Violence Follows Verdicts; Guards Called Out.” The headline was accompanied by photos of relieved baby-faced police officers hugging one another to the left and rioters against a backdrop of flames to the right. The night before, we’d watched 5 o’clock news commentators attempting to grasp the significance of the unrest erupting across the city. Our experience of these riots and the other uprisings of the era—the Fall of the Wall, etc.—was filtered through cloudy media lenses.   But the image of the fires and smoke rising from downtown felt very real.  This could not remain a divided city.  If the city was going to ignore the poverty and desolation.  Over the next few days, riots spread throughout the city, including to Beverly Hills where Grant and his sister watched armed police seem to take over.
“There are riots cops down the streets, here in Beverly Hills,” Grant reflected in awe. The infection below the surface of the city had exploded for everyone to see.  The inequality, that everyone seemed to ignore, was not to lay dormant.
On  campus, we hit the streets.   “It’s been 400 years baby! 400 years!!!” noted a fellow student, who was African American,  as he sang and chanted with the others, out in the street. The cathartic plea during the post-verdict street actions during the riots in Los Angeles in 1992 spoke to a collective hope for something else, possibly we could find our way together. The expression seemed to be a cathartic release.  Looking out there, we saw that a cancer at the center of Los Angeles that could not be ignored, without more riots.  There had to be an alternative to the state-programmed default of gang life, drugs, violence, and prisons,  But we did not know what it could be.  But there had to be more than a warfare state characterized by mass incarceration, HIV/AIDS, police corruption and brutality, and widespread loss.  There was something telling about being moved to take the streets, even if one could put words around what that desire means.   After students were ripped out of their cars, the campus was quarantined. When the policemen accused of beating Rodney King were tried in a suburban court by ten white people, one Hispanic and one Filipino woman—and no black jurors—the ensuing acquittals invoked a stinging sense of betrayal. Only 13 years before, in 1979, the San Francisco White Night Riots occurred, when a jury that lacked a single gay juror gave former policeman Dan White a slap on the wrist for the murders of Mayor George Moscone and Councilman Harvey Milk. Citizens in 1979 and 1992, in San Francisco and L.A., had maintained faith that criminal justice would do the right thing.  

After the LA riots America's shadow reared her ugly head.  I wasn't prepared for what I saw, with people tearing each other out of cars, beating each other, flames erupting through the streets.  History felt alive as it had never felt in my life.  I had always seen civil disruptions as things that happened somewhere else – in Prague 1989, in Chicago in 1968, not on my campus, not in 1992.  But the world was changing.  People were acting up.  Darby might have been gone, but another cohort were hitting the streets.  It all felt alive. Something was changing in the world and in me.   

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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

"We need shelter now!" 40toNoneDay Rally to End LGBTQ Youth Homelessness. #40tononeday

"We need shelter now!" homeless advocates chanted at City Hall, as part of a rally to end LGBT homelessness. VOCAL organized the rally, situating the problem. 

"Housing for the 40%!  We won't stop till we have beds!"

 On this #40toNoneDay we are doing the work to ensure that New York City ends LGBTQ youth homelessness!

Represent 40% of youth experiencing homelessness.


-NYC must adopt the amendment of the NY Runaway Homeless - Youth Act to house young people until they are 25 years old
- Demand more housing for 21-24 year olds! 

When I arrived Carl Siciliano, of the Ali Forney center, was speaking.  He described the process of youth becoming homeless and the fear they live with as they spend more and more time on the street.  Its a  fear that grips at them.  Everyone deserves a place to stay.  We need shelter now, he concluded, leading the chant. 

"This is our last chance to get them before we they become chronically homeless.  We can't let that happen," noted Kate Barnhart, the director of New Alternatives for LGBT Youth.  "There's a lot of trauma out there.  We have to have safe places."

Kate Barnart above and
Jawanza James Williams, of VOCAL and Queerocracy, below. 
"Denying people food and shelter when it is so easily available is structural violence," explained Amber, situating the struggle over housing historically. "Its safer to live in the subway than the shelter.  The city is literally punishing homelessness!"
"One lLGBT homeless person is too much. I think the 40 percent number is too low. it's much higher. but even if that is the number, it is an epidemic," explained Jewel!
As she was speaking one of the youth behind her passed out. Andrew Velez, of ACT UP, pointed out that this is part of the everyday struggle here.  The mayor has two homes.  He could use one of them to house LGBT youth. This problem has gone on too long, Velez continued!

Monday, April 24, 2017


Videos courtesy of ACT UP/NY: - Activists stage memorial - Lyosha Gorshkov of RUSA LGBT - Yelena Goltsman of RUSA LGBT - Milk Queen from Rupaul’s Drag Race - Rabbi David Dunn Bauer of Beit Simchat Torah

April 24, 2017 – New York, NY – Over the weekend, Russian-speaking LGBT activists and their allies protested and staged a memorial for the LGBT people tortured and murdered over the past month in Chechnya as part of anti-gay persecutions there.

About 60 activists chanted and held a rally outside the Russian Consulate in New York City.  The event was organized by RUSA LGBT, a US-based LGBT network for Russian-speaking LGBTQ individuals, their friends, supporters and loved ones.

Lyosha Gorshkov of RUSA LGBT said, “We are here to support our compatriots, our Russian-speaking LGBT community in Chechnya, and also we are here to demand human rights for everybody.”

RUSA LGBT was joined by activists from ACT UP/NY (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), Human Rights First, Rise and Resist, and Caribbean Equality Project as well as religious leaders from Beit Simchat Torah.  Activists chanted slogans like, “Queer Chechens under attack! What do we do? ACT UP! Fight Back” and “Kadyrov, you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide” in reference to Chechnya’s current leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, who despite denying reports of purges has made many public statements dehumanizing gay Chechens.

Still, many activists found hope in Saturday’s memorial and show of solidarity. "The most important thing, happening today, is your presence, and your support! It is more valuable than money," said Yelena Goltsman of RUSA LGBT.

After the rally, many activists left flowers and signs asking that US visas be granted to LGBT Chechens on the doorstep of the Russian Consulate.


Sunday, April 23, 2017

Rise up before the Oceans Do! Science Not Silence!: A #MarchforScience for the Ages

Some NYU students brought graphs and charts to the march for science!  

Erik R. McGregor  too

The Mermaids fight back at the March for Science. Images from:
Earth Celebrations-Ecological and Social Change through the Arts

Scenes from the New York and Washington Marches for Science
from Politico.

It was one of the most fun marches in ages.  In an era when a modern version of Soviet Lysenkoism, in which ideology trumps inconvenient facts and evidence, the science march could not have felt more important or relevant. The of the inauguration, I remember walking through the tear gas and hearing that the administration was ripping down language about climate change off the White House website.  It would only be a few weeks later we would hear the administration wrecking ball had its eye on the Nixon era Environmental Protection Agency, created after Rachel Carson’s silent spring and the modern environmental movement.

Environmental protections are a result of a people based science movement, which saw pollution as a problem that could be remedied with policy solutions and regulations.  We saw clean air and water, as well as protections for the climate as solutions for a sustainable planet. The Paris Climate Accord of December 2015 was the result of these efforts to counter climate denial with a workable acknowledgement that climate science is real; protections are essential for the planet.  This accord only happened because activists organized People’s Climate Marches around the world.  They pushed; scientists presented evidence, and people responded.

Yet the Lysenkoists were rarely far behind, there to politicize data, trumping ideology over evidence.  In no area was this worse than the climate, where denialists suggested the consensus around the planet that climate change is real, was simply an opinion.  But Lysnkoism is everywhere -impacting areas of public health and sex education, where politicians advocate for abstinence-based sex education which increases rates of std’s and pregnancies rather than slowing them down.  

American drug policies have a problem – they’ve been driven by fear rather than facts for over a century. Although there had been notable gains over the past eight years towards more evidence-based drug policy, many worry that we may be heading in the wrong direction under the Trump administration. That’s why on April 22nd, drug policy researchers and advocates are taking to the streets of D.C. for the national March for Science, wielding facts and compassion in the face of ignorance and hatred.

In the face of an alarming trend toward discrediting scientific consensus and restricting scientific discovery, can we afford not to speak out in its defense?

My friend Joani and my daughter marched went to the march together.  We carried a sign from the movie Nacho Libre, when the protagonist, a Mexican wrester, declares: “I believe in Science!” rather than god or ideology.  There is always someone there to remind us that we can do more, we can bring light into darkness.  It’s a heroic moment.

Marching at Central Park, we encountered NYU students with charts of standard deviation, a man with a sign declaring: "building ionic bonds not walls", women quoting Neil deGresse Tyson, nurses fighting fracking, lesbian mermaids, Sandy survivors warning that climate change is real, regular people defending vaccines, and kids pleading for the future of the planet. 

The signs were heartening and real.  Referring to the 1960’s and 1970’s anti-war group, science for the people, I made a sign riffing on the old chant:

‘What do you want?
science for the people, evidence based
How do you want it?
Peer Reviewed.”

We need a science which supports regular people to solve problems.  We need scientists to be able to develop solutions, instead of making weapons. Hopefully the administration understands, “we have no planet b.” This is the only one we have.  And we need to protect her.  Science based policy is the best way to do so.

Several members of ACT UP were there to remind the world that knowledge equals power, silence equals death. Evidence based practice is the best way to halt the spread of HIV/AIDS.

In between marching, we ran to the park to hug a few trees.  It is earth day, after all.  But every day is a day to hug a tree.

Thank goodness the earth day actions will continue for the next week, culminating in the National People’s Climate March next Saturday and the local Tree Hugger Ride, in defense of trees in danger from developers, next Sunday.  Please join us.

Help support March for Science NYC by making a tax-deductible contribution here


March for Science NYC is a New York based nonprofit that is focused on building bridges between New York's Scientific and nonscientific communities. We are marching to show support for publicly funded science and scientists. Here, we believe that when you love something as much as we love science, you celebrate it! We are honored to be hosting this march event for our entire community.

In true celebratory fashion, we want our march to feel more like a parade in which you – the amazing and diverse residents of our community – will be showcased as marching science advocates! We invite groups - anyone from official organizations, and school clubs to scout troops, dance squads, book clubs, and sports teams - to register as Marching Science Advocates and march proudly with your own banner telling the world that YOU LOVE & SUPPORT SCIENCE!

We will be continually updating our website and social media with specific times, locations, and details on all the fun as we get closer to the event date. Please register as an individual or group to receive the most up to date information from us via email.


Thanks to our amazing community for patiently waiting as we have worked to create a safe, comfortable, and fun march for all science enthusiasts!!


Thanks to our amazing community for patiently waiting as we have worked to create a safe, comfortable, and fun march for all science enthusiasts!!

In the name of Science, here we go:
Our march will kick off with a rally on Central Park West at 62nd St at 10:30 am. The rally is expected to last one hour. Once the rally is over, it will be time for all New Yorkers to proudly march together showing their love and support for science!

From: Zoë Wong-Weissman - <> [Add to Address Book]
To: Benjamin Shepard <>
Subject: Scientists are pissed (and rightly so)
Date: Apr 20, 2017 3:31 PM
Right now the backbone of international climate action to stop climate disaster is at stake. Trump will announce whether he’ll pull us of the Paris climate agreement before the end of May.
Although far from perfect, this agreement is based on what science proves: we need to keep fossil fuels in the ground to avoid complete climate catastrophe. And it’s linked to an effort across the current Administration to defund the scientific programs that track climate change.
That’s one reason scientists are pissed, and rightly so. They will march on April 22 to the National Mall in Washington DC and at marches across the country to stand up for truth and scientific fact. Expect teach-ins, lines of people in lab coats and equation-laden blackboards. You can join the scientific community in DC or at a satellite march near you here:
There will be climate teach-ins at many marches, and our dear friend Bill McKibben just finished filming a great video with climate scientist Katherine Hayhoe and former EPA Environmental Justice lead Mustafa Ali to spread the climate science truth. Find resources and videos for hosting a teach-in here:
And then on April 29, 100 days after inauguration, workers, students, environmental groups, mothers, frontline communities, and climate scientists will all converge at the National Mall in Washington DC and across the USA. In DC, we will surround the White House – a sort of citizen’s arrest of the buffoon inside. There will be a moment of silence, and then tremendous noise.
The first Peoples Climate March paved the way for the Paris climate deal. This march will be responsible for defending it. Over 800 organizations have endorsed, from the NAACP to the nation’s largest labor unions. There are more than 250 sister marches across the country. Over 300 buses are coming to D.C., some from as far away as North Dakota.
The following week, May 3-13th, we will continue the momentum here in New York with events that are part of the Global Divestment Mobilization. We will build the moral momentum for a post fossil fuel world and keep clearing the way for ambitious climate action by pushing New York to divest from the fossil fuel industry.
With enough people in the streets, every politician who’s not a Trumpist will understand where the center of gravity lies. We have huge power in numbers.
The next weeks are going to be extraordinary. Science, truth, and justice are all on the line – let’s defend them with everything we’ve got.

Hugging a few trees along the way at the March for Science!
Hug a tree on earth day and every day!

Images from the march for science and a walk back to the east village.