Remarks by Katia Kelly at this morning's VOG rally:
"This morning, I would like to make an important announcement on the legal front in regards to the proposed Gowanus rezoning.
As a community coalition here in Gowanus, we have always said that we will avail ourselves of all legal options as our legal strategy unfolds in the fight for Gowanus. We have already shown that when the city government disregards the law, we community members will work vigorously to hold power to account.
That's especially true when the environment and the lives of our fellow community members are at stake, as we've been reminded of all too powerfully in the wake of Hurricane Ida.
Today, I am standing here on behalf of Voice of Gowanus and Friends and Residents of Greater Gowanus. I am proud to announce that we have retained Richard Lippes, the lawyer who argued the Love Canal case, as legal counsel.
We look forward to working with Mr. Lippes and Maureen Koetz as we consider legal challenges to the city's continuing failures to abide by various laws.
We say again: it would be a grave mistake for the city council to approve the deeply flawed Gowanus rezoning."
On the way to the Sustainable Urbanism storytelling event last week, I looked for the emergency speak out about what to do about East River Park. I couldn’t find it. Those who did decided to go to city hall to occupy City Hall park for a week.
Writer and organizer Eileen Myles posted a note to facebook:
“Very out of control trying to tell you we’d like you to show up city hall park BWAY@Warren st 9-6 optimistically feeling we can get someone in media & govt to stand tall with us & say no to ESCR& save east river park. Seems they get into office & become zombies when capitalism calls. Show me I’m wrong. You, show up.”
Each day, I tracked the action downtown, reading social media posts about the gorgeous activists, looking at the poems people were sharing, biking down for an hour or two, posting what I saw.
@1000people1000trees says: call speaker Johnson and ask for an oversight hearing on the destruction of east river park.
@1000people1000trees says: stop the destruction of east river park. It seems crazy to destroy the park. So many people depend on green spaces, open spaces such as this. Its also about mental health.
Each day, someone different is there, holding space.
@graysonmay__ says #saveeastriverpark how many trees makes a forest, theatrically locked up to the tree, as if to warn the powers that be that we will not be deterred.
On Wednesday, I read some of Sunflower Soutra, a poem about a sunflower adored by Allen and Jack, in Howl.
Eileen encouraged me to read more.
I thought about Eileen and the poems and picked up my copy of Chelsea Girls, realizing the person we were doing a direct action with, who was reading a poem, or locked up to a tree, was also a literary hero of mine.
Later that afternoon, on Thursday, Corey Johnson, Sarah and Eileen confronted the speaker of the City Council, who seemed to pass the buck, noting it was not his district, that he needed a formal request from Justin Brannan and James Gennaro, to put on a hearing.
Friday, we called both councilmen, trying to get a formal request for a hearing.
I got to the park early.
“Its up to us to stop it,” said Sarah, who’s been here every day. “To block the bulldozers, to call for state oversight. All the politicos are scoundrels. Let's get to know each other and strengthen our networks from within. We’re holding a space to get to know each other.”
And we started reading more poems.
Barry Denny, who was passing out flyers, read a few.
East River Park is an integral part of New York City, he announced, beginning.
He recalled a day he met Jesus at Union Square.
Each poem was a moment for us to reflect on the struggle for the park, as a gift of awareness, something many found in the park.
Sometimes we find what is important, says Barry.
We want resiliency, says Eileen.
Here to make the point is Marielle Durant.
If de Blasio gets away with this, the trees will hate you, notes Durant.
I have a work in progress, declared Miles, who’s been Mcing.
Eileen began to read from a new poem:
What's a de Blasio?
Does it fall across the land in a tower of bipedality?
It's a saturated fog.
His matrix has become permeable.
To the politicos destroying the park, declares Marcella.
To make the mild know,
To make the air flow.
On and on we read.
Barry recalls his grandmother’s burial, pointing us toward living in harmony with the cosmos.
It's a pulsing moment.
I stood to read Walt Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” a story of tides and floods, rushing and receding, between the East River and Brooklyn and back.
Brenda Coltis offers an homage to the insects
Ants blind, buzzing.
so I pretended
I was waiting
in a Doctor’s
The trees are my friends, says the bard.
What was living there, we wonder, ratting off a list of those species that were living in the park. Some 500 are well verified, including 11 on the NY Nature Heritage list of rare animals in New York State:
A critically imperilled bumble bee.
The park was full of something new and unexpected.
We cannot live without it.
Poems are to be whispered.
Forests change to deserts.
My light’s your life.
I am you. You are me.
Peter Shapiro records a few of the speakers:
Sandy Charles speaks of East River Park.
“...Our relationship changes when we become intimate with a space, especially one we share lovingly with a community of people. Strangers become friends and extended family. People take care of each other. You become more aware of the nature we are a part of, the trees plants and Bees 🐝 all the other creatures we are sharing this loving space with. To feel the loss of even a tree, let alone hundreds. The Dis-Ease this creates. The disconnect and disease that city planners and mindless politicians bring to the table. Not respecting Mother Nature, or the people that rely on this sacred space for our healing and growth. We say No to this dangerous plan.
“Katherine talks truth to power in City Hall Park. Katherine covers a lot of ground. Once we start connecting the dots, we see a system set up this way for a reason. The people at the greatest risk aren’t taken into consideration in any decision making. Creating Community, and coming from a place of mutual aid is the way we can work together…”
“@tarajeanparis dropped some wisdom. Seeing so many young people hanging out in the park. I wonder if they understand what is at stake, with the destruction about to happen. Tara connected ❤️heart and 🐝soul to this. No matter what the political spin and bullshit is being pushed.”
On we walked about it all week long, between theater performances and meetings at the Magician, Athena and Paul and Elissa and Andrew talking with yours truly, conspiring for Saturday. Elissa laid out the plan for Saturday:
“Saturday, October 9, noon - 2:00 PM (pre-action huddle 11:00 AM at the Labyrinth) We’ll show up at every entrance with hard hats and caution tape, to stage a mock “shutdown” from 10th st down to Corlears Hook. This fake closure is a way to tell people about the very real planned demolition. We’ll let everyone through while flyering and having conversations. 11:00 AM: gather at the Labryinth [north of the tennis courts betw Houston & Delancey entrances] 40°42'59.5"N 73°58'29.5"W
“Parks closed.... unless you do something about it…” we told those trying to get the park.
Some stayed to talk.
Others kept on walking.
Leaving East River Park, I joined Tim and Al and Penel.
It's all a living theater.
Well, it felt like that at the Jalopy Theater, where Jenny Romaine performed at the
Boxcutter Manic Monthly Mischief,
Collective Effervescence everywhere.
“Boxcutter is so excited to return to LIVE monthly shows at the Jalopy Theater with our new "Manic Monthly Mischief" series. This month, we will welcome you back to the pre-post-post modern anti-consumerist existentialist world of "BING BONG: A strange Ritual for You and Your Loved Ones." Featuring tinfoil hats, group ESP, and a performance of "A Page from Woodie Guthrie's Notebook." Your spiritual practice will never be the same.
AND, Boxcutter Collective is so excited to be sharing the stage with the inimitable Jenny Romaine and the fabulous Elana June Margolis and their newest creation, "Pickle Soup & Other Tales for the Curious." "Pickle Soup" brings audiences into the deep to meet Brina Pearl & Fanny Stella, two pickles trapped in a jar at the bottom of the ocean. This special Sukes Remix will feature musical anemone Eleonor Weill, Fanny Stella pickle Romaine, and Superstar Elana June Margolis in a caper about the mysteries of time, transformation, and keeping connected to community (even when in jar-antine). What is the speed of change? Will *this* ever end and if so, when will *it* be over? Is there a way to foment and ferment without all the stink?"
I wondered about the stink on the way to the Gowanus.
Sunday, we visited the corner of 5th and 2nd Ave in Brooklyn.
Welcome to the last dead end where you can access the Gowanus, says Nora, greeting everyone, pointing out a secret space across from a garden and a waterfront.
The invitation was simple:
Rain ☔️ or shine today in Gowanus. Water is what this place is about. Come walk, observe, and map with me and @sjj.nyc today and catch the rest of the amazing series in the coming weeks! #landuse #socialpractice #publicart @socialpracticecuny @andrea_haenggi @rachelcoleslaw @interferencearchive @shoestringpressny @_jlu_ @martinbisibc @jung_lucas ………………………………This series of four encounters involve transforming an ecologically disturbed and contested public space through different kinds of “use.” Documentation produced by participants during / through each of the encounters will be integrated into a land use intervention library.
After Nora greeted everyone, we circled up,
the afternoon before the city moved forward to demap the space,
taking in the light on the water, the wild flowers, the fish jumping, the smell after the rain.
“This is my spot,” says Nora.
“There are tides here.
There are teenagers.
There are alternate uses.
And rules that are graffitied over.
Simone talked about the water and the memories she could capture there.
She’s lived near water her whole life.
Josh says it's a place to skip rocks and observe flowers.
Miranda noted the bees.
Seeing the contrast between the built environment and the water.
You feel the tranquility.
What gets cultivated at the salt lot or in the garden?
Compost on one end, water on the other.
Walk and pay attention to the water and land, living and the dead here, suggests Nora.
The landscape is in flux,
Trees coming down.