Monday, May 24, 2021

On Biodiversity Day in the Gowanus, Goodbye Donna S #nogowanusrezone #CleanFuturesAct

Biodiversity Day on the Gowanus with Voices of the Gowanus and the Church of Stop Shopping.
This blogger by Ken Schles

@laurashindigs and @kenschles say #nofrackgowanus

"Fossil Free Day of Action...Let’s stop fossil fuel power plants for good. Join us in NYC for our May 21 Day of Action! After years of battles against fracked gas, the New York state legislature is considering a bill that would stop all new fossil fuel power plants. This bill, the Clean Futures Act (A6761/S5939), would prohibit the state from issuing permits to any new or expanded power plant that runs on fossil fuels. This landmark legislation would stop three fracked gas projects in their tracks—Danskammer, NRG’s Astoria Gas Turbines, and the Gowanus Repowering Project—and send a clear signal that New York is going renewable, and kicking greedy polluters out of our state. But the legislative session ends in less than a month. If we’re going to stop the Danskammer, Gowanus and Astoria plants with this bill, we need to pass it this year. It’s our people power versus polluters, and we need to up the pressure on our electeds! Join us for actions on May 21st to ban new fossil fuel power plants! There will be a rally outside the Gowanus power plant in the morning. ... Bring a mask; masks and physical distancing will be required. Gowanus Plant Rally 11:30am 699 Columbia Street, Brooklyn, NY Let’s show the governor and the legislature that we’re ready for a renewable future, free from polluting power plants that poison our communities."

photos by Katia Kelly

Walking to Judson Memorial today, the sun shone. The city felt alive.  The kids had been out skating all week, going to the beach, meeting in the parks, listening to music; classes ended in this odd pandemic year. Barely Disfigured opened. people out again. We were on our way to Judson for Donna's last service there. Last service after 15 years. She was there when I first started coming, back in 2006. Our teenager was not even born when she started preaching there in 2005. And I found a home there, for community building and activism and arts and singing and gossiping. A decade later, I ran into Donna in Paris during the COP21 Climate Conference, where she preached about the theology of sustainability and we all walked around the city. I read her book about grassroots gardening before I came to Judson. I didn't know it was the same Donnna Schaper, who I saw in church every week, who wrote the book.

Donna was there for Moral Mondays events, for all the New Sanctuary actions for Jean and Ravi, checking in with Immigration Customs and Enforcement, during prayers and concerns after Hurricane Sandy, all those Sundays when the kids were growing up, or when Dad dropped by to see her, week after week, month after month, year after year of sermons about the folly of our desires and hopes and vanities. Engage your enemies; open yourself to new ideas; reject dogmas or ideological rigidity - these were just a few of the themes she preached about week in and week out, bringing a bit of her no-nonsense Chicago Divinity School training to the conversation, a space we all shared, looking forward and backward.

Ravi Ragbir read the First Ancient Testimony from Jeremiah 29:4-9.  Donna was with when he was detained by ICE, when the police pulled him away and members of the congregation, joined by anarchists blocking the police cars from taking him away.    “… seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare."

We'll be ok when our city is ok and vice versa.

Today was going to be Schaper's last at Judson The teenager was there with me, singing along.

"Fare- well," said Donna. "The journey cost me all I had, everything I had... And a hundred percent in return." Fare and well, Schaper explained, riffing on the fares we pay, the ways we imagine wellness.

"Find inner and outer peace," said Schaper. where they both are, challenging issues with sustainability smart tactics.... It’s a circle, outer peace and inner peace... plant gardens and live in them... It’s a circle and a cycle.. we are a church that fares well.

Bill Talen and I saw her speak at Judson.

He's the one who brought me there, before I knew it was a church. 

Steve told to come to services there.

And she preached over the years.

With a round of applause it was over.

And we left.

The teenager walked out to meet friends at Generation Records.

I was off to celebrate Biodiversity Day on the Gowanus with Rev Billy and Savitri and my friends from Voices of the Gowanus, talking about what was wonderful and horrible and spectacular about this waterway under Union Street Bride.

Hello Gowanus, Billy and his daughter say as they cross over on the way to school.

What do you love about the neighborhood, I asked.

Its flowers or fabled oysters or its secret places,

Spots where kids sneak off to look at the water,

To smoke something or write a poem.

Or find the treasures in the seaweed that Susanne showed Leonard.

Every neighborhood needs spaces such as this.

They are where we find ourselves in the city.

Before its zoned away, let’s celebrate biodiversity day in advance of a city land grab.

Since a rezoning was proposed in this neighborhood, we have organized, gotten the word out about our environmental concerns about building housing along a flood plane where the EPA worried about toxic coal tar still under the surface.

We don’t want another love canal here.

We’ve fought to get a temporary restraining order and made sure the world knows the stake of big developers taking control of a space.

We are calling for a real Environmental Impact Assessmentof the project.

This isn’t my first rezoning battle with rev Billy.

I first started organizing with Billy and company when the city wanted to zone away the rough edges from Times Square, leaving a neighborhood as bland as a dentist’s office.

No strippers not peace, we chanted.

And then we organized against the Williamsburg Rezoning in 2004 when the city planned to put towers up along with waterfront without adding infrastructure.’

We don’t want your stinking towers, we want space to grow our flowers, we chanted.

And here we are today, without rezonings happening across the city, with developers taking over neighborhoods and public spaces from Govs Island to East River Park to Elizabeth Street Garden the Gowanus.

We want a real environmental impact assessment before anything moves forward.

We want open meetings … hearings we can all take part in, instead of being muted.

Lets talk about what this neighborhood means

Lets hear it.

Lets sing about it.

Dressed as a mermaid, @norasays (Nora Alameida) explained:

"Even though the Gowanus canal has become synonymous w/ industrial pollution and sewage...and these large dredging boats are a (loud) and very visual reminder of the mess that people can make of the environment, today is biodiversity day and we’re actually standing above what used to be a natural creek than ran through a fertile marshland.


Gowanus was a sacred place to the Canarsee (it’s named for their chief, Gauwane) because of the diversity of species of animals and plants that thrived here: birds, bivalves like clams and oysters, grasses, mosses and algae, small mammals, and fish.  


And Gowanus was one of the first places in Brooklyn to be colonized by European settlers for the same reason.


The Gowanus that we see today is marked by the short sighted plans of the powerful who (historically and still) engage in urban planning decision-making that benefits the few at the expense of the many…


And yet when I walk around Gowanus, especially knowing this history, I see life everywhere. People making things, moss in the sidewalk cracks. Earlier this week, I walked to see the sunset on 2nd avenue where it dead ends at the canal and a couple warned me about a pair of mean Geese who were protective of 4 little goslings. And I saw them again, the Geese family, just yesterday hanging out down by the flushing tunnel.

This isn’t the marshland that it used to be (and it never will be) but I like to notice the tide and the way it changes, and I like to remember when I am biking up 3rd avenue that below the road is land that used to be a sacred marsh. I like to notice the plants that still grow here, beside the warehouses where people are right now making candles and coffins and music. Or starting up their food truck or opening up the restaurant where they work for lunch or roasting coffee beans or building furniture. Or hanging out with their friends on the banks of the canal after school next to a weed that is also a kind of wild carrot. I like the dandelions and the “invasive” tree of heaven that was brought here from China that is growing crooked and sure of itself next to the bridge where we’re standing now.


I like in fall when the plants are drying to take a seed pod and open it and scatter its contents in a small and forgotten patch of soil. I like the ducks at sunset although I worry about them after the rain because of the sewage overflow. And I like worrying about the people in canoes going under the bridges with the dredgers on the weekends, because I know what’s in the water and that if you are near it too long, the oil and gasoline that washes in with stormwater and floats on the surface will make you light headed.


And I worry most of all about what will happen, not because I’m afraid of “change” which is inevitable and part of the bones of this City, but that we’re trying to plan too much for the wrong reasons. I worry that we ignore what Gowanus was and is and could be if it wasn’t only about the next city council race talking points. I worry about that fracked gas plant and what will happen the next time this whole place is underwater. And I worry that we’ll forget what this land, which was stolen from the Carnarsee, is and that we’ll settle for something because we think it’s the best we can get from a broken machine--this plan--that doesn’t notice any of the things that we notice and that erases all of the things that are still particular to this place and the community of people and plants and animals that live here. That lived here. 


So thank you for being here. Thank you for paying attention. Thank you for celebrating with us."


And we all started improvising about what comes next, a public hearing on June 3 at Old Stone House.


Billy and Savitri and the choir reminded us of the flowers.

We talked about the water and the light...

What’s your favorite flower, asks Savitri.

Lilacs with fragrant violet, pink, or white blossoms


“…there is always something beyond dominating systems...” says Talen, referring to John Berger’s sentiment, echoed by Susan Sontag and Edward Said.


Wearing a t-shirt declaring "Build friendships, not warships," Calista leads the choir singing, "Agua es vita." 


Donald in red sings along.


Martin reminds us:

“Las Aguas de Gowanas Non Say Venden.”


Some things are not for sale.


On and on we talked all afternoon, before sneaking off to hear jazz,

on a gorgeous Sunday, with the world in constant flux.


There is another city out there.

We can see it, if we take our time to talk with our neighbors, finding those secret places, those neighborhood societies where we grow.


June 3rd is the public hearing for the Gowanus Rezoning at the old Stone House.

Be there at three.

Farewell Donna. 

A few snapshots from @Norasays:

Some sick jazz at Cubana Cafe on Smith Street.



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