Monday, February 27, 2012

For Calliope

**Law and Order **
From the Captain’s Private Log, September 14th 2065
            Appendix A of the Charter for the Solar Harvesters Union (SHU) was agreed on by all members (H. Antolosky, M. Cotman, W. Jackson Jr., P. Jones, D. Lechnar, M. Lechnar, T. Lopez, H. Mudd, R. Nixon, M. Pirrone, P. Richman, C. Rose, D. Rubin, S. Sanchez, J. Smith, D. Styer, H. Suzuki, A. Teasel, S. Trunzo, L. W. Wojohowitz) today.
            Wages: Minimum wage of crew members will be such that, after seven years of employment on one of the member ships, the member will have earned enough to purchase one sixth of the supplies and equipment necessary to build a 12 person solar airship. (The underlying assumption is that a crew member would only save half of their wages towards a ship, so that after seven years they could buy one together with eleven other like-minded people and have a full crew.)
            The undersigned commit that, should wages fluctuate based on an individual’s experience or skills, no crew member—up to and including the captain of the ship—shall earn more than ten times the pay of the lowest paid member of the crew. (Some discussion about other means of pay—bartering, etc. They even talked about dental benefits. Do I laugh and point out there is only one ship and we are its crew? Or do I encourage them to dream? They make me feel old. So grateful for Josie and Hansuke and their wrinkles.)
            For reasons of mutual aid and to foster a sense of community, if any one ship should earn a profit above wages and maintenance of the ship, one tenth of this profit will go towards a communal pool for emergencies. Profit can be defined by each ship’s crew monthly, but all budgets will be made available for all members of the SHU to examine at an annual meeting. Ships that fail to share reasonable profits—“reasonable” defined by 75% or more of the other ships’ crew members, through individual yes/no polling—will be put on six month suspension wherein the other crews will help define “profit” at mandatory monthly meetings. After that time period, if the questionable ship still wishes to be part of the SHU, it will be reinstated as a full member if 75% of the other ships’ individual crew members agree. (This seems like an awful thing to be thinking about, but I’m glad that they are talking about ways to solve problems before they appear. Even if this particular one never happens—they talk of making a profit! Oh, the dear lambs!—it does suggest a way of handling disputes that doesn’t make me—or any future captain—the bad guy. I can support that.)
            Recruitment: If there is room for another member on a ship, any crew member can suggest a candidate, but all the other crew members must agree and the potential member will have a 6 month trial period where they will get wages but not be entitled to access the emergency funds. (I am never going to live down Roger. He seemed like a good idea at the time. Oh well. I still claimed that I got grandfathered in, and can appoint crew members to my own ship since I’m paying for The Judys upkeep and all their wages at the moment. But they are welcome to have this rule apply to any future ships that want to join us. Poor lost kittens. Josie laughed at them, which I think may have made it worse. I <3 Josie.)
            (Then they talked about food, and I agreed that we could make a rule that peanut butter could not be served more than three times a week. But they would have to come up with alternatives that were as cheap, tasty, long lasting and vegetarian or I couldn’t agree. And since we had most solemnly agreed at the very beginning that this was a consensus or it didn’t happen… we get to have peanut butter whenever the duty cook likes. Sometimes winning feels like losing.)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Why ProtestKid Occupies

Today, ProtestKid and I (along with several other local occupiers) were invited to share our motivations for participating in Occupy Wall Street with a sociology class at Marymount College in Manhattan.

(Their buildings are beautiful; I was particularly impressed with how the ballet students made even their mistakes gracefully and with a smile.)

He and I talked a bit beforehand about what questions might be asked of us, and ProtestKid spoke, but he had more thoughts to share than the limited class time allowed.

So on the way home, I suggested he write down everything that he wanted to say, and promised to post it where everyone could read it. Here, then, is why ProtestKid (Who, he likes to remind people, is only 7) Occupies:

I want to be a part of O.W.S. because I want to make this world better. I also want to protect the protesters. (Who would even want to arrest a bunch of people with a cute little kid whith them?)

Why yes, I am a very proud ProtestMom, why do you ask?

In solidarity,
Alia (and ProtestKid)

Friday, February 17, 2012

Wherein we incite a not-riot

I didn't write about the Occupy the DOE/PEP action, and now I can't remember why. ProtestKid and I brought pumpkin bread and pretzels and got a little lost but were taken under the wing of young people with homemade signs. We followed them up a hill and there was a large mass of people... staying on the opposite side of the street of the building where the meeting was happening.

I could tell they weren't Occupiers, because they weren't shouting towards cameras or comfortable standing casually in the middle of the street. We stood outside with our signs and wondered why we weren't going inside. (The article explains that the teacher's union was trying to hold a different meeting elsewhere.)

So I said, "Why aren't we going inside? I'm going inside, I want to sit down!" and the guy who took charge of the bag of pumpkin bread said, "Yeah, let's go inside!" and then suddenly the crowd around us went, "Yeah! Let's go inside!" and we were all going inside together.

Maybe it helped that by then we had wormed ourselves closer to the folks with the Occupy banner, but it did seem odd that so many other people were happy to just stand in the cold and shout at walls that weren't listening. Once a wave of us started to cross the street, the folks who had just been standing around moved as well.

We went in, we sat in the back near the aisle so we could leave if Protest Kid got overwhelmed (he did cry a little, when he got confused and thought they were going to close *his* school. the kid gets very passionate and easily confused. me, too.) and we human mic'd for the other folks who were more comfortable sitting in the back. The woman in front of me had a sweet and resonant voice and I encouraged her to human mic more in the future. And I shared my pretzels with her.

We saw several people from OccupyAstoria, which was cool. Astoria, represent! We left around 7:30, right before the awkward moment when the cops wouldn't let people back into the meeting, so we missed that excitement. Just as well, as Protest Kid gets passionate at cops sometimes, and that can be awkward.

But we had a good time shouting and waving our green cards in the air and I hope we will do more and bigger soon.

And tomorrow is a solidarity with Greece event. (Maybe I should make spanikopita?)

Friday, February 10, 2012

Protest Mom List

Just now I was reading this extensive list for Street Medics. I was amused by how much of it, in more domestic forms, I carry with me already as a well-prepared Mom of rambunctious kids in a hard and pointy world.

I had been thinking about making a list of items I take to protests the last couple of days anyway for my own records so I don’t have to remember what worked well and what didn’t. Then I thought maybe other people would also find it helpful.

So, here’s what I (usually) carry around that has proven to be useful specifically in Protest Mom situations, from smallest to largest receptacle (I always have the purse and then I pick the backpack based on the situation):

My (small) purse:  
Smart phone
NLG hotline number
Tiny tents, 2-3 colored markers, stamps, envelopes
Very small ring-bound notebook, two black pens (precise v-point are my favorite)
Tylenol, bag of throat sweets (Mic Checking is hard on a throat), very sleek pack of cleansing wipes, tiny plastic tub with keychain that fits a tube of Neosporin and about ten bandaids (mix of flexible fabric and CVS colorful ones with antibiotic in them already—asking a crying kid which color they wants is a good way to distract them from OMG blood. Works for grown-ups, too.)
Lollipops (I don’t carry hard candies because they are choking hazards. Yes, I assume the average protestor is not going to choke. But I’m a Mom first, and I’d rather there was a handle at the end of any hard candy I hand out so I can reach in and pull it back out if necessary. …Also, who doesn’t love a lollipop?)

My pink flowery backpack:
Two bottles of water, one for me/my kid and one, factory sealed, to share with others
Finger food: (ie: sliced pumpkin/banana  bread in Ziploc bags, apples, cold baked potatoes, pretzel rods)
Depending on weather: spare hat, scarf, umbrella, sunscreen
(In our house, before we leave for our next adventure, I mumble to myself, “Water, hats, sunscreen, snacks”… as long as we have variations of those things and my wallet, we’re good to go.)

When I participated in N17 and I wasn’t sure what would happen, I took 
My Huge Red Rucksack.
It had the contents of the pink bag, plus: Several handkerchiefs in Ziploc bags, gauze bandages in small Ziploc sandwich bags, and two baby blankets.

I would like to recommend these wonderful objects to those who may not be familiar with them: they are usually cotton. They are big enough you can sit on one but small enough that they are extremely portable. They are sturdy enough they can swaddle a wriggling baby in them and hold it still, but-- assuming you have a sharp knife--you can cut it into strips for emergency dressings. And they come in soothing colors.

…I’ll add/modify to this list as and when I go. I’m not a trained street medic and I don’t think I’m a fast enough runner to be one. But I’m an excellent Mom, and these are the things I’ve found useful out there. Hope you’ll find the list helpful, too…

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Hedges' non-violent streak

I am still working on how I feel about property destruction, as someone who aspires to acquire and possess property... but I know that I love and support those who are trying to make a better world for everyone, not just hold onto the privileges they have with gnarled and twisted fingers.

Since I haven't been hanging out in radical politics for any amount of time at all, I only learned of Chris Hedges when he got interviewed talking (and tearing up) about Occupy Wall Street in late September. I totally understood those tears-- here were people sacrificing their comfort and resisting (for my babies!) when no one else was. Hell yes!

I was surprised (and a little confused) then, by his piece here, where he wrote:

There are no excuses left. Either you join the revolt taking place on Wall Street and in the financial districts of other cities across the country or you stand on the wrong side of history. Either you obstruct...the plundering by the criminal class on Wall Street and accelerated destruction of the ecosystem that sustains the human species, or become the passive enabler of a monstrous evil. Either you taste, feel and smell the intoxication of freedom and revolt or sink into the miasma of despair and apathy. Either you are a rebel or a slave.

That is very... black and white thinking, frankly, and my therapist wouldn't approve. Very with us or against us. Very now or never. Generally, in most of my interactions with people occupying parks and streets and houses and minds, they are encouraging of the rest of us to join them, but I haven't heard much judgment against those who haven't yet (er, outside of a general frustration with police and their brutality). 

(Not to mention my hackles rise when anyone uses the word "slave" in that way. Much like "sheeple" it is only used by people who think that they have progressed past everyone else in special snowflake understanding. I want to bitch slap them with the metaphorical copy of Atlas Shrugged they keep in their back pockets. Er. In a non-violent, peaceful way. *cough*. #lapsedQuaker)

So anyway, very us vs. them and very NOW NOW NOW...

One of the best people I spoke to, the morning of the failed "clean up" of Liberty Square by Brookfield, was a poet. My fear and frustration and mild panic tumbled out of me and he smiled and told me to be patient. 

How sweet, how perfect, how unusual in my fast food world, squeeze in homework, dash around making tiny tents and maybe get some sleep life. How wonderful to be told that we had time to get it right from someone who was not selling me anything.

So Hedges has won the Pulitzer Prize, so fucking what. We are both sharing the same planet and he has no right to judge where I am on the road to radical action, y'know? I'm just here, doing the best, most loving thing I can do in the moments that I have to do them. Gr.

...I think I maybe got a little flack for not loving Hedges unconditionally (I save that love for my kids, my husband, my siblings, and for OWS), but I mostly liked what else I heard about him...

...and then he wrote this piece attacking Oakland and the "diversity of tactics" that the OWS marches I've participated in have announced and I don't feel so alone in my discomfort with the words that fall from his keyboard anymore.

I've been thinking a lot about pacifism and violence on a personal level (I'm not ready yet to meditate upon state violence because, you know, playdates and diapers and shit) as any loyal reader will see from my angstier poems and posts here...  but I think this response to Hedges' piece best illuminates my gut feeling of wrongness best:

It is typical flaccid liberal double-think; the fault lies not with the ruling class for establishing and directing a police state, nor with the police themselves for acting like thugs and fascists—no, the fault lies solely with protesters who defied authority and therefore brought down the violence of the state. “Look what you made them do.” This is the thinking of the beaten wife, the mindset of the victim. We are not victims of brutality on behalf of the State, but survivors of it.

Sure, there's a little sense of betrayal; sure, Hedges pushes the "naughty children you should be ashamed of yourselves" button with pitch-perfect accuracy. He's an excellent writer, all power to the rhetorical.

But I am really not interested in blaming the victim.

Oakland didn't ask for it. Neither did Occupy Wall Street. Neither did my children who are inheriting a complex world with ever-growing income disparity and ever-shrinking time to deal with the next environmental crisis.

Hedges, please stop blaming the victim(s). And please stop encouraging us to be victims.

Instead, ask how you can support us as we empower ourselves. (And maybe tone down the pontificating a little. We're doing the best we can in an intense situation. Here, have some pumpkin bread and chill the hell out.)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Going There

(Ok, this is about writing and art, not OWS. But I think it's relevant and you might enjoy reading it and it's just been gathering dust on my hard drive for months at this point. And I wanted to share my brilliance because I have an unimaginably large but delicate ego that needs constant feeding. So anyway:)

So, I asked myself this evening, “Self, why are you doing this? Why are you getting so worked up about Art and its workings and how to work it?”

It’s not that I talk to myself out of misplaced megalomania. I know exactly where my megalomania is, thank you. (Right here, next to me, purring…)

No, I like to think that it focuses me, this whole talking to myself thing. I am a captive audience, and sometimes it is useful having an audience when facing the daunting monolith of Art. And this whole writing-publishing-making-selling/out Art-Thing is really complicated for me, especially as I haven’t been able to define art, let alone why I did it and why I want to keep doing it and what makes it work (for me).

Why am I trying to make Art?

Is it the human animal’s selfish, terrified response to its own cold mortality and the desire to somehow live forever in song or story or graffiti? (“Look on my artistic works, ye literati, and despair!”)

Is it the need to share a fragment of what is going on in one’s own head with someone else? To communicate something more than the distant location of ripening fruit, to manage interpersonal power imbalances and spread cultural survival memes using symbols that are inherently both priceless and have no specified value?  (“I’ll show you my epiphany if you show me yours.”)

Do I want validation from my betters, do I want eyeballs from my peers, do I want money from, well, everyone? Especially Hollywood? (“Fame and fortune, fortune and fame!”)

Flail. Tremble. Retreat. Remember. Repeat.

Back in my first year at college when I lived a rich and quirky virtual life on Lambda Moo (which was sort of a free, text-based Second Life), I think my favorite hobby was collecting souls. I was neither an agent for Heaven nor Hell, and I never bought anything. But if someone was willing to give me their electric soul, I would care for it respectfully. I added their user name to my list with the same sense of sacred trust that the wrinkled but purposeful museum curator has when he dusts the exhibit cases in the older rooms with the dark wood paneling and hand-lettered notes. 

In the here and now, I love it when people trust me with their imagination and time; I think it is probably the closest reality equivalent to a swappable soul. Both situations give me the same good feeling of being part of a community that respects and encourages my cleverness, anyway. 

For all that starving artists are caricatured as living lives of lonely isolation, it seems to me that the most interesting art comes from communities: Warhol wasn’t painting in a vacuum, the Inklings nurtured the creators of both Middle Earth and Narnia, the Algonquin Round Table is as fabled as King Arthur’s. 

I’ve been part of many online communities, and the hosts are often asked how they did it by people who would like to copy their success in a repeatable, lucrative way. I think the Why is just as interesting as the How. Why are people drawn to like-minded souls, and why do we invest our time and eyeballs and even money to participate in healthy, happy communities of invisible friends?

I don’t know. Maybe we are all lonely artists, starving for something more than ripe fruit. I don’t know what the big Want is or where it came from. But the little wants are easier to confront, somehow, after I acknowledge I write in the shadow of the big one.

Why do I want an audience? Why not make Art just for myself and not worry about the ways and means of publication?

I know my creative impulse is not satisfied by writing my words and putting them away in a drawer. I honor Emily Dickinson, even though no one knew about her poetry until she was dead. Her words are not less without her. 

But with her living presence, might they have been more? She gave the future everything but herself.

For myself, I want to imagine a thousand futures and worlds and ever-afters. I want to get swept up into the hero’s epic journey. But I don’t want to be lonely; I want to go with friends. 

I want to make Art in front of others because if you trust me with a piece of your mind, then we will both go there and back again. We will live-- for a brief but shining moment—forever. 


Can't Buy My Voice (Protest Lyrics)

A friend and I wrote this last year; it was for a day with two protests, one standing up for Unions in the face of Scott Walker's insanity held near City Hall, and then later in the day a rally for Planned Parenthood at Foley Square. She and I carried a big red "PLUTOCRACY" umbrella  (because we felt this was an "umbrella issue") and wore signs that read No Money/ No Voice at the first rally, and No Money/ No Choice at the second.

After the fallout with Komen, it seemed like a relevant time to dust this off and post it. I think it could use some more verses; feel free to share ideas in the comments or forward to musical friends.

Anyway, to the tune of "Can't Buy Me Love"

Can’t buy my voice
The Constitution tells me so
Can’t buy me choice
It’s not for sale, no
The fat cats buy their diamond rings, while our belts are getting tight.
Banks get away with everything, they think bailouts are their right.
They all care too much for money, now we have to stand and fight.

Stand up and fight, everybody tell them No.
Stand up and fight, shout no no no, Nooooo!

You can vote for the right wing, if you are satisfied
With dirty air and politics, my friend you must decide.
I just care about the right thing, and I’ll stand and fight…

Sunday, February 5, 2012

friends and allies

I arrived to the Guerrilla Potluck late—had to wait for the pumpkin bread to cool—but nobody seemed to mind and many were really excited to get some hot food on such a chilly night. I like it when I am surrounded by people who are smiling at me.

Unfortunately, since I was late I missed the early police-negotiation stage. We weren’t allowed anywhere near the Waldorf Astoria, where HRC was honoring Goldman Sachs. (Imagine every time I type “Goldman Sachs” a Greek chorus hisses and spits.) The protest milled around on the traffic island for a bit, but a cop told us we needed to cross the street and none of us felt like arguing much.

The police had cordoned off a space for us to protest on the opposite side of Park Avenue. Because I’m sure the folks we were trying to get to hear us could totally do that over the traffic noise. Really. Ha ha.

That was frustrating. Not that I wanted to shove posters in stretch limo-riding people's faces. But what’s the good of a protest if they can’t hear us? It’s the sound of one hand clapping.

So what I experienced, after the pumpkin bread distribution, was:

Many chants. The ones I remember are: “Feed the needy, not the greedy”  “Who’s in bed with Goldman Sachs? HRC!” “Hey hey HRC, Where is the equality?” “HRC your time is near/ Fake inclusion won’t work here” “Everybody pays their tax/ Everyone but Goldman Sachs”

…I was there because of the Goldman Sachs connection, but had no other reason not to support HRC before I went. Got chatting with a Radical Fairy (a group of activists I had never heard of, but I looked them up and there they are), and he told me that HRC removed “transgender” from legislation they were trying to get passed.

Dude, you don’t throw some of your marginalized constituents under the bus just so your slightly less marginalized people get a bone thrown to them. Where’s the solidarity?

As I said to that guy, that’s the nice thing about Occupy, it’s really streamlining my budget. So many non-profits who won’t be getting my $10 any more.

I handed out a couple of tiny tents, which were also greeted with smiles. How can you not love a tiny tent? One person suggested I put a tent on a car, and I stopped and thought about it, but after my tongue caught up with my gut instinct I said, "No. I'm just an ally..." What I tried to get across was that I didn't want my message to get privileged over people whose lives are negatively affected by HRC and what it does and doesn't do. But I don't think that's what came out of my mouth. Frustrating not to be able to articulate my gut into nuanced language. This is why I prefer to be a human mic in these situations. Tell me your words and I will shout them, but please don't expect me to be able to speak my own. That's what writing is for.

 Because we were on the sidewalk, there were also a line of parked cars between us and the traffic. Being short, I often had difficulty seeing over the cars so I wandered towards one side to see and be seen more clearly. I have understood that we aren’t to block the sidewalk during peaceful/non-aggressive protests, so I positioned myself on 6 inches of curb, my back to a huge potted plant, and on the other side of the plant was a good 6 to 8 feet of open space.

I was really surprised to have a cop approach me (Me!) and ask me (nicely) to move. I was genuinely confused. There was a gentleman (er, dressed like a big baby with a plastic doll) to my immediate right, so it wasn’t like I was drifting away to foment dissent elsewhere. Apparently, he wanted us to stay in the area of sidewalk that the metal barricades had delineated. Since there was no metal barricade at my back, I was not in the area that we were allowed to protest in.

Just as I was about to possibly escalate the situation, someone behind me started chatting about the bread and I was complimented right out of that conversation. When I was done, the cop had drifted away and was talking with other cops who I hope were saying that it wasn’t worth it, let the crazy loud people shout themselves hoarse. Clearly we weren’t going to stop the dinner from happening.

Later, I tried to cross Park Avenue to get to where the post-protest/chill-out area was. Specifically, I chose that moment because someone else was going, and I’m shy. Besides, there were a lot of cops and y’know, solidarity and shit. Another guy decided to come with us, so the three of us went to the corner and proceeded to cross. Third person had long legs and strode out in front of us. I didn’t have anything with me but my pink floral backpack, but the first person had some white balloons and other protest paraphernalia.

Third person made it to the traffic island in the middle of the avenue before the light started to change; a cop approached the two of us and honestly without thinking I just headed for behind him. New Yorker instinct took over, get out of the way of the cop. But then he turned to include both of us and told both of us to cross the street on the other side.

The light was changing, so I would have to either sprint past him (baaad idea, said New Yorker instinct) or stop traffic if I really wanted to argue the point. I don't want to cause that kind of scene, and the first person who I was supposed to be walking in solidarity with was saying, "Come on," and encouraging me to cross the way the cop wanted. In the end, I followed her because she was the one who wanted to cross and if my goal really was solidarity, then I should stick with her.

However, I can’t get over that interaction with the police. It’s a public street, a public sidewalk, and we were headed for the “privately owned public space” that was on the corner diagonally from where we started. Two streets had to be crossed, and technically it didn’t matter which street we crossed first.

But… I felt quite upset about it. I was kind of brittle and high-pitched the rest of the evening, and when I got home I cried. I hate confrontation. I hate it when the cops make it clear that if I wasn’t in obvious solidarity with protestors (like the first guy with the long legs who got passed without raising the cop’s attention and later apologized for not waiting for us—he didn’t “look” like he was a protestor, so he got through), my freedom of movement would not have been curtailed.

I don’t have a snappy ending for this post. I’m sorry. I’m upset. I don’t like that the cops are getting in the way of me protesting the vampire squid that it is Goldman Sachs. I don’t like that I’m interacting with cops, not representatives. Not anyone who will listen who has any power to stop injustice and selfishness.

Banks got bailed out, we got sold out, and the main stream media keeps claiming that Occupy is over. You know what? It’s cold, we have jobs, we have to spend time finding new places to meet and talk and learn from each other. Why should we spend hours outside the Waldorf Astoria when they can’t and won't and shan't hear us? 

One gentleman made it into the building with a livestreamer and did speak briefly, but I'm not sure who heard him or what he said.

The only time they heard me was when three of us left the protest for the subway together. We walked east to Lexington, and then north—and suddenly we were behind the Waldorf Astoria, and there was a small group of smokers huddling for velvet and sequined warmth and no police separating us from each other.

Then the three of us shouted.

I know the shivering smokers heard us, because the woman in the sparkly dress curled her lip.

I wish I had a radical fairy to out-sequin her at that moment, but all we had were our lungs. We danced away and underground, though, and no cops stopped us. And hey, I made some new friends who will cross streets with me. I think that’s a win.

Friday, February 3, 2012

One Mother of a Revolution

I will disapprove of you staying out late
I'll stay up on the couch, waiting until you're safe

I will wonder if you're hanging out with the right kind of activists
I'll feed all your friends

I will cringe when you are awkward in public
I will be so damn proud of every step you take.

I will stand with you as long as I have feet
I danced in the street with you