Category Archives: nonfiction

Phony link murder to Occupy Wall Street action

NBC News New York reported earlier this week that the New York Police Department had linked evidence in the 2004 unsolved murder of Julliard student Sarah Fox to an Occupy Wall Street protester, reporting that the evidence “seemed to come out of nowhere.” Indeed.

Later that afternoon, the New York Times was already debunking its own article on the story – and the myriad of other media who picked it up – reporting that the link was most likely an error, with the DNA in question belonging to an NYPD lab technician who handled evidence from both cases.

Police had taken DNA evidence from a chain at the scene of a March 28th action that saw activists chain open the Beverly Road subway gates in East Brooklyn (among other stops), providing free admission to the subway for a number of commuters that morning. This action was not an Occupy Wall Street-sanctioned action, although it is believed that some OWS-affiliated activists acting independently of OWS, and with some wildcat MTA workers, were responsible for the action.

The DNA on the chain was said to have matched DNA found on Sarah Fox’s CD player, which was found near her body, in Inwood Park in 2004.

Although the scene of the MTA-action was not the scene of violence or murder, the NYPD looked for DNA there, and then used its vast database of DNA (of both criminal and non-criminal offenders) to look for a link between the MTA-action and any DNA matches in its database.

The story was picked up by numerous outlets, including the New York Post, the New York Times, the Village Voice, New York Magazine, Gawker and Gothamist; as well as CNBC, ABC News, and of course Fox News with the headline “Occupy Wall Street Murder Link.”

In its retraction, the New York Times wrote that, “The decision by investigators to search for DNA samples on the chain, which was used to hold open a subway entrance gate, illustrates how such collections have become a routine part of a wide range of criminal investigations.” This despite what many in criminal justice know about DNA: that while it can be a particularly powerful identification tool, it is still a piece of evidence and should be weighed with the context of the case in mind.

Dimitry Sheinman remains the “person of interest” in the case.

(originally aired in tv form at Occupy Public Access TV)

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GuitArmy march arrives in New York

On Saturday, July 5th, the Occupy GuitArmy left the National Gathering of the Occupy movement in Philadelphia, walking. The group’s 99 Mile March to Liberty Plaza in New York City was launched to commemorate Woody Guthrie’s 100th birthday (which was July 14th) and in celebration of the National Gathering of the Occupy movement.

The GuitArmy is a large group of occupiers, musicians, activists and allies who use their guitars, mandolins, ukuleles and other instruments to support Occupy Wall Street. The GuitArmy originally came into being for this year’s May Day, when the group, led by former Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello, marched from Bryant Park to Union Square.

With over 60 participants along the way, the group’s march culminated on Wednesday, July 11th in New York when they arrived at Liberty Plaza, greeted by hundreds of supporters in a vibrant reminder what the park was like before the violent NYPD eviction of Occupy Wall Street on November 15th.

The police instigated a conflict shortly after the GuitArmy arrived in Liberty Plaza, with an officer arresting drummer, Brandon Hunt, when he did not exit the park as quickly as the officer wanted. The police also arrested a cameraman, seemingly for filming a public action.

One protester, Mary Hath Spokane, collapsed in the park. The FDNY later claimed she had fainted. Spokane is familiar to many Occupiers as the protester who walks around dressed like Lady Liberty.

Later, the police caused more conflict when they attempted to stop distribution of food in the park. Local residents and workers frequently eat in the park, often from food carts selling food on the south side of the park and across the street on Broadway. The police backed off when the food-servers resisted their order to stop serving, avoiding a larger conflict.

The GuitArmy left Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell on July 5th after singing a rendition of Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land.” The group faced hassles from the beginning, including being denied access to water in the Quaker Compound they inhabited in Philladelphia. Occupied Stories reported that Trinity Church, in Princeton, NJ, who had originally agreed to house the Occupiers overnight during their sojourn, reneged the offer after the GutiArmy arrived because of complaints from neighbors and police visits to the property.

Four protestors were arrested during the action. Their names are Brendan Hunt (28, resisting arrest, trespassing, and disorderly conduct); Paul Talbot (30, obstruction of governmental administration); Jacob Roszak (23, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest); Gregory Adsulf (49, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest). Marsha Spencer, a NYC-resident who often knits in Zuccotti Park since the September occupation, was forced to leave the park by the NYPD, who were unable to explain to her why she was not allowed to have her folding chair in the park.

(originally aired in tv form at Occupy Public Access TV)

 

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Make the Road New York Marches Through Bushwick For LGBTQ Pride and End Stop & Frisk

Immigrant rights group Make the Road New York and allies spent Saturday afternoon on July 14th marching through Bushwick for their seventh annual Pride and Solidarity March. This year’s march was in part a solidarity action to end the NYPD practice of Stop & Frisk. Bushwick has been one of the most affected neighborhoods of the unconstitutional practice by New York City police, having had almost 14,000 Stop & Frisks in 2011. (By comparison, Greenpoint had 2, 023, the lowest in the city. East New York led the city with 31,100.)

The crowd assembled on Grove Street, at Make The Road New York’s (MRNY) Brooklyn office. Gradually hundreds of rainbows filled the street and sidewalk – flags, balloons, barrets, banners. A jolly middle-aged man with a sign reading “NYPD / We are watching you” moved from the sidewalk out into the street with the assembling crowd.

Eventually two NYPD cars arrived. One would escort the march in front, while about eight officers walked along the sidewalk. Chants like “Sexist / Racist / Anti-gay /NYPD, go away!” and “NYPD / Keep your hands off of me!”

A large band of horns dressed in mostly green kept spirits high as we traversed the neighborhood, walking by Public School 116, then half-a-block-later an Armed Forces Career Center, then on passing Maria Hernandez Park, around to Knickerbocker Avenue, and eventually back to Grove Street.

Pedestrians along the way waved or cheered. Many took picture and movies with their phones. Many stared with blank faces.

The city has defended the Stop & Frisk program, claiming it has taken guns off the street and therefore saved lives. A recent op-ed by NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman in the Daily News wrote that this claim is “demonstrably false” and that “the city’s murder rate started dropping long before Kelly’s current tenure as commissioner, and there’s no evidence stop=and-frisk had anything to do with it.” Even if the practice did save lives, at what price to the population’s rights and dignity?

Make the Road New York has 11,000 members. The immigrant rights organization educates and provides family services.

An audio version of this story (with much brass marching band!) is available at Occupy Our Stories.

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Stopping Stop & Frisk

It was a Sunday. Father’s Day. We were tired in body after a weekend of other events, but knew that the End Stop & Frisk march was too important to let some sore muscles get in the way. Further (however incidental) in a personal way we wanted to honor our own fathers and their commitments to social justice by standing for justice and equality in our own communities on the holiday.

So we prepared our sign – which read “685,724 stop & frisks last year = 685,724 violations of the 4th amendment” on one side and “Brooklyn For Peace against Stop & Frisk” on the other – and commuted from Brooklyn, through Queens and up into Harlem: 110th &5th Avenue, where a crowd larger than we had anticipated was assembling.

The number of groups sponsoring, co-sponsoring and supporting the march were myriad: NYCLU, NAACP, the National Action Network, Occupy Wall Street, Common Cause, the ANSWER Coalition, 1199 SEIU, and many others. Before going to the march we talked about how Stop & Frisk was important principally because it involves so many other issues: criminal justice, racism, police brutality, community empowerment, the war against drugs; and also that Stop & Frisk was important tactically at this particular moment because so much headway was being made on the issue. The last two Sundays alone saw Mayor Mike Bloomberg speaking at black churches in neighborhoods (Brownsville, Flatbush) plagued by the Stop & Frisk policy; obviously the Mayor (et al.) is feeling the pressure of how hated it is.

The Mayor continues to insist that Stop & Frisk helps to limit crime, especially gun crime, as though Stop & Frisk were the only option for achieving this goal. Speaking onDemocracy Now recently, Benjamin Jealous of the NAACP said that what the Mayor isn’t saying is that “a city like Los Angeles has brought down crime in that same time period, brought down violent crime in that same time period by 59 percent without this program [Stop & Frisk], that Dallas has done so by 49 percent, Baltimore by 37 percent. This isn’t about—again, this is not about criminals. This is about a generation that’s been criminalized, targeted and brutalized by the police.”

The assembled crowd was no-less excited just because it was a planned Silent March (in the tradition started by the NAACP in 1917). People were excited to take on the issue in a big way with a big march with thousands involved – by the day’s end the estimate was 50,000 marchers. And we were mostly silent – or at least quietly chatting. (Some marchers attempted here and there to get a chant going. “No justice, no peace! / No racist police!” but they were largely ignored or shushed.)

One of the first signs we saw at 110th & 5th was a large one reading, “Don’t treat us like Palestinians!” It was obviously a macabre joke; and a good one, as it at once defied NYPD abuse along with US/Israeli abuse of another oppressed people. Along the march we also saw: “Stop and Frisk: The New Jim Crow.” And: “Jail the real criminals: the bankers & CEOs” (this from an apologetic walking bicyclist who was trying very hard not to bump a tire into anybody). And, “Stop Racist Police Brutality.” The NAACP had printed thousands of posters with victim of NYPD violence Sean Bell’s face looking patiently upon the viewer, wondering when his death would have meaning for those who took it. One white protester stood on the sidewalk facing the march, clad in prison black & white stripes, holding a sign that read, “How Bloomberg & Kelly See Blacks & Latinos.”

One sign compared current NYPD Commissioner with Bull Connor.

Along the way we overheard a group of black gentlemen ahead of us joke that, “You’d think the good people of 5th Avenue would invite us up for snacks and a drink,” which left me laughing for a block or so.

Seeing so many NYPD along the march’s route, I couldn’t help but smile and wonder how tantalizing such a crowd was to them and how desperate they were to start frisking everyone in sight. I Tweeted comedian Jamie Kilstein (of Citizen Radio, who I just assumed would be at the march, although I had no idea) that he could probably come up with a better joke than I. Hopefully he does.
Towards the end of the march – the final destination was Mayor Mike’s house on 78th Street – we saw a group of young students with similar signs taped to their backs. One read, “I am: a high school student. I want: to not be bullied by authority.” I didn’t ask him what he thought of soda sizes.

(originally published at we’ll die when we’re dead)

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speaking, truth and power

It was recently suggested to me that the expression “speak truth to power” is a bankrupt expression, or, if not bankrupt entirely, a misleading testament to what is intended, required, and occurs in such an activity.  The argument for its bankruptcy, in brief, is that the expression implies that to address or correct the repressive, negative aspects of power what is required is that the reality of power’s actions and policies be revealed to them, that prior to such a revelation power is unaware of the negative, controlling, or repressive consequences of their practices, and that speaking the truth to power will facilitate awareness and in doing so will change their practices.  The argument contends that this is an absurd assumption for a number of reasons, though primarily because power is already aware of its actions’ consequences and this awareness does not and will not result in a change in the policies and practices.  This analysis intends to explore the phrase in light of Foucault’s interest in these concepts.  What will be more closely examined are the concepts ‘speaking,’ ‘truth,’ and ‘power’ as discussed by Foucault, as well as how putting speaking truth to power into practice might operate and if it might be of any merit.

I would like to begin by examining the concept of power, and consequently knowledge, for Foucault.  Foucault makes significant efforts to dissect and identify the many modes by which power can be understood.  It is important that power not be understood as merely one side of a binary.  This reduction is far too limited in scope and an inaccurate representation of the nature of power and how it operates.  Foucault says:

 

One should not assume a massive and primal condition of domination, a binary structure with ‘dominators’ on one side and ‘dominated’ on the other, but rather a multiform production of relations of domination which are partially susceptible of integration into overall strategies.[1]

 

Power is not located within a single site, it is not as readily found in the Sovereign today as it may have been at one time.  Despite the insistence of many to locate power purely in terms of Government or State, Foucault insists that “relations of power… extend beyond the limits of the State….”[2]  Instead, power is an elaborate conglomeration of relationships, a diffuse multiplicity of forces at work upon one another and with a myriad of localities and means by which it operates.  Foucault goes so far as to say that “power is ‘always already there’, that one is never ‘outside’ it, that there are no ‘margins’ for those who break with the system to gambol in.”[3]  The image here, of an existence, a frolicking even, without the controlling effects of the influence of power, is an image made possible in a conception of power in such a dominating/dominated binary.  In such a binary it seems possible for one to simply step outside of the struggle, to remove oneself from the attention of the dominating power in order to avoid domination.  Or, alternatively, it is a conception in which the alternative to being dominated is to simply work to locate oneself in the realm of the dominating.  However, for Foucault, power is much more subtle and ever-present, it is at work throughout the dynamics of our knowledges.

Throughout his work Foucault explicated how power, far from being solely negative and restrictive, far from being the entity whose primary object was to say “no,” was perhaps more aptly described as being the entity that defines both what activities and knowledges receive a “no” or are otherwise governed, controlled or ignored, as well as when and what we might say “yes” to.  Elsewhere Foucault writes, “The notion of repression is quite inadequate for capturing what is precisely the productive aspect of power…  [It] is a wholly negative, narrow, skeletal conception of power.”[4]  Part of the argument being made is that if such a narrow conception of power proved to be an accurate representation, power would be much more easily confronted.  Power, as such, would be met directly, it would be known by name, easily identified and located, and it would be hard to imagine that any given incarnation of power would be around, in such a way, for long.  Foucault points out, however, that power, while perhaps desiring or even disseminating this wholly negative conception (so that it may be misrecognized, unknown, and remain hidden), is not so easily recognized precisely because its positive, productive effects are so engrained within our societies as to be often unrecognizable as effects of power.  Foucault writes:

 

What makes power hold good, what makes it accepted, is simply the fact that it doesn’t only weigh on us as a force that says no, but that it traverses and produces things, it induces pleasure, forms knowledge, produces discourse.  It needs to be considered as a productive network which runs through the whole social body.[5]

 

It is not just that power is much more fluid than the rigid negative conception often held, it is that its fluidity is shape-shifting and present throughout society in numerous and often in relatively beneficial forms.  Furthermore, many of the localities in which power is at play are considered integral and essential for ‘proper’ or ‘moral’ governance and functioning of society.  It is difficult to imagine proposing doing away with such institutions as penitentiaries, hospitals (medical and psychiatric), and a standardized educational system, and yet, for Foucault, it is sites such as these that serve as primary examples of the ways in which power operates.  He spells it out explicitly in Power/Knowledge when he writes, “To put it very simply, psychiatric internment, the mental normalization of individuals, and penal institutions … are undoubtedly essential to the general functioning of the wheels of power.”[6]

In returning to the question at hand, that of the viability of “speaking truth to power,” it seems that thus far it is becoming an increasingly difficult activity, at least inasmuch as there is not a single, or simply recognized location from which power operates and to which “truth” could be spoken.  But the outlook grows steadily bleaker in that it is not merely that power is multifarious, but that the mechanisms by which it operates, the wheels by which it functions, are located within, and deployed by, the construction(s) of truth itself.  Consider the following illuminating description of truth for Foucault:

 

Truth isn’t outside power, or lacking in power… Truth is a thing of this world: it is produced only by virtue of multiple forms of constraint.  And it induces regular effects of power.  Each society has its regime of truth, its ‘general politics’ of truth: that is, the types of discourse which it accepts and makes function as true; the mechanisms and instances which enable one to distinguish true and false statements, the means by which each is sanctioned; the techniques and procedures accorded value in the acquisition of truth; the status of those who are charged with saying what counts as true.[7]

 

Truth and power coexist in a symbiotic relationship, and as such are not so simply divided into two separate entities, for power not only constructs and deploys truth, but it is also involved by simply organizing statements and speakers into hierarchies, into more accepted truths, less accepted truths, and their opposites, the outright falsities or the misleading.  This returns us to the power/knowledge dynamic, where it is not so simple as to say that power dictates knowledge, but that these two are entwined, that fields of knowledge allow for operations of power, and power is located within and by means of the development of a given knowledge’s discourses.  Foucault hypothesizes that “’Truth’ is linked in a circular relation with systems of power which produce and sustain it, and to effects of power which it induces and which extend it.”[8]  In other words, power produces and sustains truth by means of fields of knowledge which power recognizes and creates the space for, as well as approves for content, and which truths thereby, in their status as such, reinforce and provide further means by which power might direct and control.

To “speak truth to power,” appears to be a contradictory or outright meaningless exercise, for to do so implies an opposition of truth to power, and, as was just discussed, such an opposition does not exist.  Truth is wrapped within power and power is extended by truth.  To be considered true is to have power’s blessing, to be true is to be knighted as such and once so knighted, these truths serve and protect the power that created them. The expression to speak truth to power, it seems, is indeed a bankrupt one.  Power not only already knows the truth, as the argument contended; it is connected to it and manufactures it, developing an ongoing and reciprocal relationship.

I would argue, however, that despite appearances otherwise, Foucault’s writing and viewpoint does allow for the phrase to retain its commonly held meaning and intent.  It is not that there is no alternative truth to speak; it is only that a particular speech, in content and standpoint, is not validated and promoted by power.  As Foucault writes, “There is a battle ‘for truth’, or at least ‘around truth’—it being understood once again that by truth… [I mean] ‘the ensemble of rules according to which the true and false are separated and specific effects of power attached to the true.”[9]  For Foucault there is an ongoing war to both speak and be recognized as valid, as well as a struggle to more explicitly understand, to expose, and then, perhaps, to resist, the means by which truth has been constructed and accepted thus far.

One of the more optimistic points that can be drawn from the conclusion that a battle for and around the conceptualizing of truth is ongoing, is that it makes revolution and resistance possible.  But for Foucault it does not merely make them possible, for to the same extent that he shows power to be multifarious and dispersed throughout the social body, so too does he multiply the opportunities for resistance.  He writes:

 

I would say that the State consists in the codification of a whole number of power relations which render its functioning possible, and that Revolution is a different type of codification of the same relations.  This implies that there are many different kinds of revolution, roughly speaking as many kinds as there are possible subversive recodifications of power relations.[10]

 

In every power relation, on the level of his microphysics of power, there exists the potential for a “subversive recodification.”  Power’s codification is power’s formulation of truth.  It is power’s effects, its naming, classifying, cataloging, normalizing, approving and disapproving, an acceptance of a narrative and narrator or a marginalization or a silencing, of object(s) within its given purview.  As such, in every instance of this there is inherent a potential to re-inscribe alternative meaning, to usurp the given categories and discourses and re-employ them, to re-create them as an act of resistance.  In a transcribed conversation between Foucault and Deleuze an example of this is touched on.  Deleuze comments on Foucault’s organizing the “information group for prisons” where prisoners were given the opportunity to speak of their experiences.  Foucault responds, “And when the prisoners began to speak, they possessed an individual theory of prisons, the penal system, and justice.  It is this form of discourse which ultimately matters, a discourse against power, the counter-discourse of prisoners and those we call delinquents….”[11]  Elsewhere Foucault will speak of this as a reverse discourse, or a discourse that appropriates the language or mechanisms of power and reemploys them toward alternative and revolutionary ends.

Speaking the truth to power may be seen as speech activity that proclaims, or (re)claims, and insists upon the validity of an alternate perspective, discourse or truth.  Engaging in this activity, speaking out against power and power’s truths, is indeed a resistance, and doing so does place one in opposition to power’s mechanisms and effects.  More importantly, it ought be remembered that given the diffuse, widespread, positive and productive (and consequently, welcomed as socially necessary) nature of power, to put oneself in opposition to it is to be, at least seemingly, in opposition to formidable and powerful opponent(s).  This is an important aspect of this discussion to remember, and one that is considered further in the collection of Foucault’s later lectures titled Fearless Speech.  What is central to this discussion, however, is not the dangers and consequences involved for the individual speaking, but that the speaking occurs in opposition to power, that it is an act of resistance, and that it be viably considered an alternative truth.  Returning to Foucault and Deleuze, the following quote illustrates much that is at work in this activity and is worth quoting at length:

 

Each struggle develops around a particular source of power… And if pointing out these sources—denouncing and speaking out—is to be a part of the struggle, it is not because they were previously unknown. Rather, it is because to speak on this subject, to force the institutionalized networks of information to listen, to produce names, to point the finger of accusation, to find targets, is the first step in the reversal of power and the initiation of new struggles against existing forms of power.  If the discourse of inmates or prison doctors constitutes a form of struggle, it is because they confiscate, at least temporarily, the power to speak on prison conditions…[12]

 

For Foucault it can be easily seen that such speech activity, the work of individuals speaking their individual truths to the powers that would otherwise restrict and dictate the narrative of their experience, is oppositional, is resistant or revolutionary and is, at least locally true.  Furthermore, given power’s ubiquitous presence, and that the widely accepted truths are power’s truths, it can be argued that alternative truths are not known by power.  While in the previously discussed binary of dominating/dominated it would likely be that power is aware of the truth both of and in their domination, here it is a much more difficult task to parse the forces at work, the intents of those forces, and the scope of awareness accompanying the applied force.  The parsing of power’s forces is not necessarily an archeology where we discover hidden truths, but a re-examination of what was previously believed or understood to be true, and a comparison of this with what actions are actually committed.  Perhaps it is only that some power relations require reminding of their original intent, or a redirection toward what may have otherwise been the noblest of intentions gone the well paved path to hell.  As such, the ‘speaking’ of truths, the calling out of misaligned behaviors with supposed intents, is exactly what needs to happen for there to be an awareness of a necessary redirection of course.

“Speaking truth to power” may be an expression that today is overused or misunderstood, but this does not discount its ability to be useful in discussion of power relations and in practice as a form of resistance to mechanisms of power.  What is obvious is that for the expression to be considered valid in a Foucauldian sense, a degree of qualification is required.  It must be understood with the accompanying features inherent in such speech activity (c.f. Fearless Speech); it must be heavily examined and explicated in respect to Foucault’s definitions of truth (especially with respect to the ideas of local or regional truths); and it ought to be considered in view of his conception of power and its relationship to both truth, knowledge, as well as the individual speaker’s own place within that relationship.  For speaking the truth to power to make sense as a practice, it must be understood that truth is by and large a construct or a tool, and that as such there may indeed be truths in opposition to or in conflict with one another.  To throw up one’s hands at this point, despairing about the nihilism of relativism, is to give in too easily and to discredit the discussion at hand unfairly.  That truth is man made, that it cannot be found etched in stone by the hand of goD, is merely to begin to better understand the nature of truth, so that one might better address it when it comes time to speak.

 



[1] Michel Foucault, Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings (PK), ed. Colin Gordon (New York: Pantheon Books, 1980) 142

[2] Foucault, PK, 122

[3] Foucault, PK, 141

[4] Foucault, PK, 119

[5] Foucault, PK, 119

[6] Foucault, PK, 116

[7] Foucault, PK, 131

[8] Foucault, PK, 133

[9] Foucault, PK, 132

[10] Foucault, PK, 122—3

[11] Michel Foucault, “Intellectuals and Power: a conversation between Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze,” in Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews by Michel Foucault (LCMP), ed. Donald F. Bouchard, trans. Donald F. Bouchard and Sherry Simon (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1980), 209.

[12] Foucault, LCMP, 214

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greenpoint, elsewhere

‘Greenpoint’ is arguably now a term for rock climbers. According to climbing blogPlanet Mountain the term means ‘climbing a sport route with the holds but using trad[itional] gear such as nuts and camming devices.’

Famous climber Kurt Albert developed the practice of painting a red X on spots in his climbs that he did not need to step or grab onto, finally painting a final X when he completed his ascent. This introduced the term ‘redpoint’ to the climbing world – of which I personally haven’t climbed anything but stairs and walls in years.

Several message boards featured the usual eye-rolling at naming anything. One postpointed out that ‘It’s actually called real rock climbing.’

Greenpoint’s name was, as the story goes, coined by Dutch sailors in the days of New Amsterdam. Sailors traversing their way up the East River would spy the jut of vegetated marshy land where Freeman and Green streets now end and exclaim ‘Green Pernt!’ before having a refreshing dip in Newtown Creek.

Of course, the area also used to be called Cherry Point and who knows why?

The OED contains no entry for ‘greenpoint.’ Nor does any other dictionary searched – aside from the Urban one, which cites the Brooklyn neighborhood.

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#OccupyBroadway


Occupy Broadway began sometime after 6pm on Friday evening in the plaza near the TKTS booth in Times Square. A group of five people singing songs with guitars and percussion. A banner with ‘Occupy Broadway.’ People in makeup so that you can’t tell if they are going to perform later, or on break from whatever theater they work at; or both.

Someone says that there are performers on 50th street, but a trip up found nothing, until a group of drummers emerged from uptown walking south towards the plaza.

From 6:30-10:30 Pulse, a group of drummers with an occasional a vuvuzela, played while two fellows waved flags over them: one the US flag, the other a Revolution Generation blue flag.

Occasionally one severely underdressed drummer from Pulse (it was cold, he had only a tshirt) would lead the group of 50 to 100 people in a Mic Check, often instructing us on how the people’s mic worked, before excoriating everyone to have a good time and take the energy they created with us, wherever we went.

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Mural of a Whistleblower: An Interview with street artist BAMN

 

In the summer of 2011, a large mural of Bradley Manning appeared in my neighborhood in Brooklyn, NY. Straddling the nexus between Williamsburg and Greenpoint, the image had “Hero” written above the smiling face of the world’s most famous whistleblower, who had supposedly leaked hundreds of thousands of secret U.S. documents to Julian Assange and Wikileaks.

Through a bit of research, I tracked down the artist of the mural, sort of. The artist chooses to be known as ‘bamn,’ and aside from street art, the only outreach is a flickr account and, finally, an email address.

Bamn agreed to an email interview, which took place over several emails and weeks.

JC: When did you paint the mural? How long did it take?
BAMN: I did this mural early June 2011 with a paint roller. It didn’t take more than thirty minutes. I had to work fast because I didn’t really have permission.

JC: Why did you choose that particular spot for the mural?
BAMN: There was a suggestion from a friend who works nearby that something should go on the wall. I didn’t ask for permission, but I figured that if I was questioned my friend could back-up my “story”. What amazes me is that the owners haven’t removed it.

JC: The mural is kind of shocking, given that Manning is the most public figure in a long time to possibly be tried for treason. I was very surprised the first time I saw it. Was this your intention?
BAMN: What’s shocking to me is that whistle-blowing is considered treason. I support Manning and Wikileaks wholeheartedly, but the mural was painted for the public. My only intention is to spark dialogue.

JC: What has been the reaction to the mural? How long until “Traitor” was written over it? I found this guy on the web who was not a fan.
BAMN: Reactions to the mural have been overwhelmingly positive. Every time I pass that wall I see people posing and taking pictures.

It took about a month for someone to build up the courage to write “traitor” across the mural. Then, according to my friend who works nearby, within an hour some random guy* put black tape over the word “traitor.” Then the next day my friend fixed the mural with paint. I expected dialogue, but never did I imagine it to be so immediate and literal.

As for that blogger, I don’t pay attention to people who can’t formulate an intelligent argument.

JC: Your name, BAMN, is I assume from Malcolm X’s phrase “by any means necessary” (via Sartre). What are you hoping to accomplish that will be done by any means? Is the Manning mural one of those means?
BAMN: This world needs a makeover, and I intend to facilitate and encourage that change by any means necessary. I may not have the same power of speech that brother Malcolm did, but I do have an understanding of the visual language. This mural was accomplished with all means available at the time: done on a temporary construction wall, with a paint roller, leftover paint, and without a sketch or permission.

JC: BAMN, of course, includes more than freedom of speech issues. What are the most important issues you see in New York? In the U.S.?
BAMN: For NY: preservation of communities, end to police brutality & corruption, facilitation of local business.

For the US: withdrawal from all foreign conflicts, diversity of political parties, separation of business and politics

I always say, “follow the money.” All major issues are class issues.

JC: The Guardian (UK) recently released a reader’s poll for who should win the Nobel Peace Prize. The readers chose Bradley Manning. What do you think of that?
BAMN: I was not aware of the reader’s poll. I would hope that Bradley Manning gets the prize. I don’t think we would’ve known about Julian Assange or Wikileaks if it wasn’t for Manning.

Manning is a beacon of hope and has set the standard for courage. He had the odds stacked against him and everything to lose, but he still chose to go with what he felt was right.

JC: The rapidly gentrifying – or already gentrified – neighborhoods of Williamsburg and Greenpoint are considered to be very liberal and politically conscious. Do you think that this is so? Has this been your experience in these neighborhoods? Or in New York City as a whole?
BAMN: Liberal, yes. Politically conscious, not so much. I think this is the case with NYC as whole. A politically conscious person understands gentrification, and works against it. Most of the change that Liberals partake in revolves around consumerism and only effects them personally.

I think New Yorkers are more informed than most people in this country, but that isn’t saying much. Even with the internet there’s a huge disconnect with what’s going on around the world. However, I believe that’s changing. Just look at the Occupy movements. People are hungry for real change. [Editor: An “Occupy Wall St” tag was spray-painted next to the Manning mural sometime on October 20th.]

JC: Do you see yourself reflected in the popular culture of the country? If so, where? If not, where is the potential for that?

BAMN: Yes and no. Street art is popular right now, but the views I have aren’t as popular. I think people with similar sentiments are peppered throughout the world and congregate on the internet. Hijacking pop culture vehicles, like street art, is a good way to get not-so-popular messages across.

JC: How long have you been an artist? How long have you been doing street art?
BAMN: I’ve been arting around for about a decade now. The street art is a new thing. My first street work was with the Poster Boy movement about a year ago.

JC: Do you use a name like BAMN because you want to remain anonymous? If so, why? You don’t think the artist must be a public figure?
BAMN: Isn’t that the beauty of Graffiti? To hide in plain view.

* Some Guy, Andrew, confirmed, telling me he “saw the mural every day on my commute and was appalled when I saw the Traitor label. That night I started covering the white letters in ‘Traitor’ with black electric tape, which matched the pain color of the mural.”

Postscript:
On November 18th, the White House responded to the We the People: Your Voice in Government’s citizen-created “Free PFC Bradley Manning, the accused Wikileaks whistleblower” petition by saying “the White House declines to comment on the specific case raised in this petition.”

In response, the Bradley Manning Support Network noted that “supporters had surpassed the signature threshold required by the rules on the new White House online initiative” to receive a comment from the White House.

The White House has also not addressed the request from the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture for an unmonitored meeting with Manning.

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#N17: Life in the Day

 

Morning
There were maybe two hundred people at Liberty Park when we arrived at 7, and several hundred amassing at the Red Cube across Broadway. We found a Starbucks to take care of business and returned to the Cube. Found our third friend in the crowd, which took some twenty minutes of shuffling in the dense crowd – a theme for the day.

A 7am Resist Austerity! march was scheduled from Zucotti to the NYSE. Two large contingents left, behind a black flag and a green flag. Black left first. The green coiled around the Cube and then we too left, down Cedar St.

At Pine and Nassau we sat down in the intersection until we realized that we were sitting in the intersection. Not wanting to be arrested we moved to the sidewalk. Some people stayed and were arrested.

The crowd is larger than we had anticipated. Lots of young people, but middle aged and older people, as well. Sidewalks are crowded. People trying to get to work are mostly understanding, though frustrated. One humorous woman says, “You guys are about freedom of speech, right? How about, Get the fuck out of the way!” A calm gentleman nearby kindly tells her, “There’s no work today.”

Chants of “All day! All week! Occupy Wall Street!” And “We are the 99%!”

We are filling the streets and sidewalks. Police line up behind the barricades, some holding their batons. We sing “Happy Anniversary” to Occupy Wall Street and some police laugh. We sing “The Star Spangled Banner.”

The Philadelphia cop, Ray Lewis, is arrested and everyone cheers him.

Of course there are cameras everywhere. Some people climb up to the ledges of the buildings for better views. I think about how school had tried to train everything going on here out of me. There are two helicopters high overhead. We wave. People watch the street from windows in the buildings above. One floor seems to be a gym, or else a very relaxed office. The calm gentlemen calls to them that “There’s no work today.” I imagine Alexander Hamilton inside the offices we are surrounding, cringing at the sound of the Great Beast.

Gothamist reports that Occupy Wall Street has closed four intersections around the NYSE.

A strange young man, stocky and with large headphones on, shoves his way through the crowded sidewalk seemingly intent on disrupting as many people as possible. He gets shoved back by one protester before a cop steps onto the sidewalk and grabs the boy’s shoulder, telling him to calm down. They let him leave the way he came. Someone reminds everyone that even if someone shoves you never to shove them back.

The police are allowing people to walk on the streets amidst them. There are many people on their way to work. Protesters often call out to clear the way for a pedestrian coming through.

To our backs is a large window looking into a very elegant restaurant. The juxtapositions on display are endless, so after the first joke is cracked no one bothers to make another.

The four corners of the intersection begin speaking with each other, Mic Check’ing. Attempts to get four rounds of Mic Check going seem impossible, but the failure is good natured and Mic Checks break out all over the place.

Eventually we march back to Zuccotti, where people mill around the park while others break off for who knows where. We decide to find Excedrin and food.

Afternoon
At Union Square there are thousands of students who are on strike for the day. Also lots of labor people. The OWS Library is on display, all 30 tattered books. It’s a good thing manuscripts don’t burn, as they say.

The Union Square group breaks off into several marches. We join one that heads south on Broadway and then west on 15th Street. Police allow the crowd to take the streets. The march continues along 15th. Lots of pedestrians cheering and joyful. Police on every street corner. At 6th Avenue the march heads north, which is confusing to us as we thought the aim was Foley Square, south.

As we walk south we meet other pedestrians along the way heading to Foley Square. Some you can tell are going, others ask for directions. Washington Square Park is mostly empty. Somewhere along Broadway, around Soho, we catch up with a march in-progress – or else just a bunch of us who were heading to Foley. In any case the police believe it is a march and try to direct it here and there.

Evening
At Foley there are thousands of people. We are trying to meet three other people there, but cannot find them. The rally at Foley and walk over the Brooklyn Bridge are permitted events. Cops are everywhere.

Music from the MCs on stage. Hip-hop songs. A capella songs from OWS groups. Some children pump the crowd as the march out of Foley begins.

The crowd is 32,000 (according to police) so of course it takes forever to get things going. Feet are cold to numbness and anxious to march.

The march along Broadway is early enough that there are still many people working as we pass. Bank employees record us with their phones. Some smiles. For the most part the crowd is full of good-natured people happy to be there, which is infectious.

At City Hall Park we wait to meet a fifth friend who is in the back half of the crowd. Someone rushes up to us and Mic Checks that the police have stopped the back half of the demonstration at Chambers St. People head over and shout “Let them through! Let them through!” They are let through. Huge cheering.

The march over the bridge is wonderful and freezing. Many car horns honking in solidarity. The crowd breaks into smaller groups on the cold trip across the bridge, various chants going. On the Brooklyn Side police are congratulated for not having on riot gear.

Groups returning from the Brooklyn side remind everyone, “We are unstoppable! Another world is possible!” Shining onto the hideous Verizon building: “Occupy earth.” “We are winning.”

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November 17th on 16th

Tomorrow is November 17th. How many thousands of us will come out with Occupy Wall St? How many children and mothers and elderly will I see and remember to scold myself for ever being afraid of a cop? What Unions will join? How many students? And dayshift people? Homeless and teachers, religious folks. Signs that will make me laugh.

Since the world that is trying to be created will be new to us, it might be strange to even try to imagine its form. But we can imagine its meaning. We can imagine standing over the river. Will we be able to see Greenpoint?

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