All week, people planning, planning to vote, to get out the vote, to protect the vote, to create new stories for our waning democracy.
Watching the looming Trump Parade, wondering
On Friday, Babs and I make plans to travel to Pennsylvania for election day, looking at the trees, talking in Tompkins Square Park.
In front of the Grace Gallery, JK was holding court on Ave C, people sharing stories. Passers by, anyone, on the street, everyone was invited.
I know Armond from the gardens.
When I arrived, he was sharing a story about his days in New Orleans five decades prior.
“Over the last few days, I have been reflecting on my life, when I was young and dumb, not realizing that I would one day be an old man reflecting.
It was almost impossible to think about.
“Tell us about your first love,” asks JK.
Armond turned back to those days in New Orleans.
“That was the era of a lot of change.
Peace and love mixed together.
In high school, I dated this beatnik.
I had a huge crush on her, huge.
But Catholic indoctrination got in the way.
Designed to make you afraid of life.
I was indoctrinated to be afraid.
I self-sabotaged. And it’s a pattern.
Its like watching a horror movie.
And that new judge, Amy, the woman is right out of this.
The Catholic brainwashing.”
“So how did it go?” I ask.
“You are making these patterns. They follow you into adulthood.
You think you’re recovered. This self-defeating thinking comes back.
I must have been out of my mind, going back to these patterns.
The nuns get a hold of you
My dad was a reactionary nut case.
Destroying his life and this sensitive child, me?
“What do you believe in?
“Maybe there is a new story…” I suggest.
“She helped me realize what life could be.
Beauty, sensuality, love.”
Armond finished his story.
I tell everyone about going to New Orleans as a kid, getting high and walking all night, falling in love with everyone, the people in the street, the jazz musicians, meeting friends at Big Daddy’s, before returning home, growing up, going DC the day before, stopping at the Walt Whitman rest stop, looking for a new story.”
JK chimes in:
“When Ludmilla and I drove to Reverend Billy’s wedding, we were assigned to read a poem at the Walt Whitman rest stop.”
At this point, several of us are telling stories.
The circles widen.
“My mother was born in 1933,” says JK’s neighbor, telling a story about growing up in the Dominican Republic. “Ten kids. We washed out clothes in the river,” she says.
“I don’t know how I’m going to save the world. We have to compost everything.”
“Including us,” says JK.
“We have to learn.
I go see the moon.”
Sit outside with neighbors in the candle light.
Joan walks by.
Talks about a day as a nurse at Planned Parenthood,
When they clinic turned into a carwash.
Somehow the conversation turns to blackouts and where we go.
“In the last blackout, I rode from 210th street past neighborhood after neighborhood.”
Gradually JK turns to stories of her first love.
We lay in the grass drinking Jack Daniels all night long, all summer long.
And then he left.
All that year I had him on my mind.
I took the train.
I showed up the next spring at his school.
Crawled in his bedroom and left the next day.”
“Why does it hurt so much?” I wonder, telling everyone about my dream the night before.
“The Ditch Digger visited me in my dream, the three of us, eating, drinking, separating, one day here, another there, together, apart…petty jealousy… invitations… estrangements… on and on and on. And today, the Ditch Digger called me to say hello that he was in town.”
“In the dream, we are laid bare to ourselves,” says JK.
I ride back to Brooklyn to visit the Ditch Digger for baseball and chats through the weekend.
The power of the dispossessed can prevail, says Ron, calling from San Francisco.
Like Marx and the dialectic, in a more meaningful way, Marshall helped us feel it.
Says Ron recalling his old teacher Marshall Berman.
He walked into class in a purple tie die shirt, and said guess what the personal is political.
We weave together the music, the lyrical street life.
It’s a power that people can move.
We need to create a new story.
Beyond the inevitable.
That’s the life force that makes us prevail.
There are more people in the streets than ever.
The plane is gliding, not crashing. But the engines are off.
The economic fallout is reverberating. But it doesn’t fall in one instant.
Whole sectors are disappearing.
Transforming the becoming into the better.
We are organizing, struggling, learning from the disposed.
“….he discovered both the thinking of Marx and the transcendental power of modernist literature. Unlike many of his generation, he never chose one over the other. He wrote about philosophy, politics, and urbanism with the same intense yearning for literary elegance that he hoped to bring to progressive politics; his best-known work, All That Is Solid Melts Into Air, combined the analytical rigor of dialectical materialism with the lyrical spryness of Leaves of Grass. A study of the often destructive effects of capitalism and modernization on the life of cities, All That Is Solid put Berman on the map as an urbanist, but his body of work addresses a much larger project. He often called himself a Marxist humanist… his thoughts on freedom, alienation, and community are filtered through an exuberant appreciation of culture, from William Blake to Cyndi Lauper. To make a lasting impact, he believed, the left had to combine the wisdom of Das Kapitalwith an all-out attempt to recapture American culture through music, art, and poetry….to understand that distinctly urban art forms like graffiti and street corner free-style rap were ways for communities stripped of their comfort and autonomy to retake city space, even as their poverty deepened….To be modern,” Berman wrote, “is to experience personal and social life as a maelstrom…” Modernization was a process that tilted the world off-axis, forcing people to hold on, but also giving them a new perspective.”
For two decades now, Ron and I have talked about that feeling, hoping, yearning, from the Lower East Side to San Francisco.
All day Saturday, I made
Get out the Vote Calls to Georgia. Lots of good energy out there. "Keep up the crusade!" said one man. Another elder said she was 90 and she'd voted. "Gotta get Trump out of there," said another voter. Others said it wasn't my business who they were voting for. Others said they are sick of hearing from us. And a few who said "I'm not gonna vote for any of them. They are not worth a shit!"
After calls, I rode to Washington Square Park where Laurie Anderson reminded us to scream, to read poems, to speak out for decency, to be artists and to vote.
Poem after poem.
Julian Schnabel said we’ve had enough of the lying.
We’ve had enough of the of the disrespecting women.
You and your blind posse have to go, he said directly to the president.
We’ve had enough.
Please, please, please vote.
Be safe, take care.”
Protest with your vote.
Dream with your vote.
I find myself strangely moved to hear the speeches and poems, the artists, the elegant friends.
Jay and Yanna and Elissa
Who told the story of her day.
After kickoff speeches, poems, a group scream inspired by the work of Yoko Ono and a rousing reading from Bill T. Jones, Yana and I carried the banner for bands, from the Africa Center on 110th to the Met, and from the main library steps to Washington Square.
At the library, Masha Gessen named the power of people assembling in the streets, our free if imperfect press and the phenomenon of people lining up in huge numbers to vote as ways we yet distinguish ourselves from autocratic regimes (they also called out the shaming of non-voters in the piece Salman Rushdie wrote for the occasion, which made me happy, because I don't think shame is a great organizing tactic in this instance). Folks from Gays Against Guns and my friend
were there and joined the perambulations downtown.
boogeying there respectively).
Along the route, people smiled, toddlers bopped, a woman danced with her cane, and folks brandished their 'I Voted' stickers. Many took flyers with info on how to vote. A photographer on rollerskates did the whole route with us, swooping through the crowd with skills that called Carroll Spinney to mind.
Bread, yes, but roses too.”
The lines to the voting booths stretched around the block on Jay Street, around Tillary to Flatbush, up to Myrtle.
Tried again Sunday, no way.
Make a plan for Monday.
And read a message from Leslie Cagan, who reminded us to prepare for the worse, organize, beat back the attack on democracy.
She suggests we:
“Protect The Results - preparing for a post-election mobilization should it be needed
With the election days away it makes sense that people are gearing up their voter turnout and voter protection efforts. At the same time, plans are being put into place to quickly move into public, nonviolent action if Trump interferes with or undermines the vote counting process and the results.The Protect the Results coalition is organizing a nationwide, decentralized mobilization with a clear demand: all the votes must be counted and there must be a peaceful transition of power. To date, organizers in more than 300 locations around the country have pledged to convene protests to defend democracy - and this number is sure to rise in the coming days. Planning and organizing is underway so we’re ready to have people in the streets as early as Wednesday, Nov. 4 - the day after the election - if necessary. This is a tentative date and mechanisms to quickly get the word out with final dates and times are being developed. What we do in the aftermath of the election can be as important as what we’re doing before the election!
☛ If you live in NYC, I encourage you to register by clicking here: http://bit.ly/protestnyc
☛ If you live anywhere else, please look at the map with information about actions around the country by clicking here: ttps://protecttheresults.com…”
Finally Monday, we vote.
Took us two hours, but we did it.
It seemed everyone in Brooklyn was there.
My old Yoga teacher behind us, waiting, socially distancing, ready to go.
Fighting for our democracy, one vote at a time.
Count every vote.
Now its time to make sure, to vote, get out of the vote, and make sure every vote it counted.