Politics: September 2007 Archives

drum corps section

the vanguard

past the Stonewall site

the campaign theme

not as bad as it looks

the curious gather on the sidewalks

We're saying the First Amendment isn't just for the homos.

It was a fabulous party. First, it was safe (no assaults and no arrests), but it was really fun, it was beautiful, it broadcast the issue, and on top of another event earlier this week, it looks like that issue now has real momentum.

Last night's Parade Without A Permit, put together by The Radical Homosexual Agenda [RHA] and its allies, was the second in what is likely to be a continuing series.

Progressing through streets filled with surprised and delighted diners and party goers enjoying the warm evening air of a Saturday in autumn, somewhere between 150 and 200 colorful and energetic activists broadcast the word about City Council Speaker Christine Quinn's support of new NYPD rules restricting free assembly. The group started inside Washington Square Park, accompanied by signs and outrunners with informative pink paper flyers and led by banners and a snappy percussion section. The party wound its way through the West Village, Quinn's own district, for more than two and a half hours before dispersing from Pier 45 at Christopher Street.

Surprisingly the "unpermitted" assembly, was neither broken up nor even seriously provoked by the police. In fact the few uniformed people visible last night performed the kind of martial duties which groups like ACT UP have historically assigned to themselves, halting vehicle traffic for the protest's passage across streets and then, most remarkable of all, letting it take most of the width of Eighth Avenue all the way to 15th Street. At that point the parade turned left and then left again to head back into the Village. The police disappeared at about the same time.

Did the NYPD get the word from Quinn's office to see that nothing untoward would happen to the queers and their friends, or was the Department's low-key handling of the event just part of its historical and notorious pattern of arbitrary enforcement of the law? Also, "good cop" one day, "bad cop" the next, was something we experienced throughout the years of ACT UP's biggest actions. You never knew when you were safe, and you don't today, especially if no one is watching.

One of the most striking images of the evening was presented early on, when the ragtag (I mean that in the very best sense) procession passed the site of Stonewall Inn, where the modern homosexual movement began.

The pictures above and on Flickr and on other sites show the diversity of the protesters, in age, gender, sexuality, race and mobility, one of the most satisfactory elements of a evening of empowerment.

Not only is the First Amendment, and freedom from an arbitrary police force in general, not just for homos, these rights must not be secured only for a queer elite and "decent citizens" of other descriptions. Reflecting today on what was accomplished last night, Andy Podell, a member of RHA, warns:

We have used our position as relatively-privileged queer activists to advocate for freedom of assembly and against police harrassement of queers and activists. At some point our rallying cry of last night, "We don't need a permit", becomes a little easy and self-indulgent. We don't need a permit because at this time a city councilperson doesn't want to fuck with us because we're queer and have connections and it would be bad publicity for her.

Like the well-connected SRLP [Silvia Rivera Law Project], the intervention of Quinn in getting the charges dropped against Wed's night's arrestees does not mean that the NYPD will stop harrassing trans people or people of color or queers. I'd like to see the RHA up the ante in connecting with people who get picked on by Quinn or the NYPD outside of the eye of the queer media (it might not even be queers).

It's probably just a (very minor) fantasy of my own, and it will probably stay that way, but for the next parade I'd love to see a pink and black fife player added to the excellent drum corps: For me it's the original Revolution image, but this second one might just be led by queers - of every description.

I've put more images of the evening on Flickr.

Sylvia at New York City Hall, with the community she helped create, in an undated photo

"Hell hath no fury like a drag queen scorned" [Sylvia Rivera, 1995].

At the Sylvia Rivera Law Project's after-party following its fifth anniversary celebration and fundraising event Wednesday night, two members of the community were violently arrested and others were pepper sprayed by police without warning or cause.

I'm betting the cops were frightened.

The Project, named for the fierce and indomitable queer and trans rights pioneer, provides free legal services, advocacy and other support for low-income people of color who are transgender, gender non-conforming, or intersex. For details on the incident and continuing updates, see the SLRP site.

When will the savagery stop? How long will we have to put up with this stupidity and this thuggery?

Especially in a city as dynamic and sophisticated as this one is, no one should have to fear assault and arrest by the police simply because of who she or he may be.

I don't expect most members of the NYPD to understand New York, since their ranks are drawn from a fairly-narrow pool of communities, each of which tends to fear the heterogeneity and eccentricities which are the lifeblood of this metropolis, and because increasingly neither officers nor their bosses even live inside the city they patrol and monitor.

Incidentally, in spite of what some people may think and say, including officials who should know better, the police are not supposed to "control" us or our "situations". The police are public servants, entrusted and paid to keep us safe, not to tell us what we may or may not do.

I cannot imagine why sad stories like this one, and especially the even more dramatic and deadly episodes of police violence which litter our recent history, would not be an incredible embarrassment to the force itself, to the politicians to whom its leaders must report, and ultimately to every New Yorker. Who is responsible for making the NYPD look so damn stupid? Do they want us to be like Los Angeles, a city with a police force better known for its ruthlessness than for its skills?

There's no way to assign the precise proportions of the blame various people share for the continuing shame of this Police Department, but our mayors, commissioners and chiefs, and at least one council member and speaker, would all have long rap sheets if we were to try for a real accounting.

But each time there's another incident of brutality I think about how little we actually pay the police we send into the streets. I'm not suggesting we reward incompetence, unnecessary violence or arbitrary enforcement more generously, but rather that we should generate greater competence, more appropriate physical restraint and responsible enforcement by attracting better people with better pay, and then training and educating them better. With as many billionaires as we harbor in these boroughs we can certainly afford a truly professional force, at every level.

Also, this isn't about throwing money at NYPD executives. It hasn't served the officers on the beat or the citizens who rely on them to have those who occupy the top desk jobs in the Department routinely negotiate the terms of their own compensation at the expense of rookies and the lower ranks.

It's probably unreasonable to hope that anything might change in the hottest real estate markets in the city, but can I at least dream that a pay scale proportionate to a demand for real professionalism (and appropriate to the extraordinary physical risks) might mean that most of our neighborhoods at least could be watched over by officers who actually live in those neighborhoods - and who wouldn't be parking their SUVs and Pickups on our sidewalks?

[some of the points made above originated with Barry in a conversation today; image from Miami Dade College]

the RHA visits Speaker Quinn at the Stonewall Democratic Club open meeting

Yesterday the junta in Burma invoked a colonial-era section of the nation's criminal code under which the government can use police or military force against any group of people who have not been granted a permit to assemble. The rule's threshold is any assembly of more than five. Burma and the world is once again witness to the open violence with which undemocratic authority will inevitably try to maintain itself. At this hour fourteen people are known to have been killed by soldiers and police.

Back in New York people are starting to make connections. Tim Doody is a member of the Radical Homosexual Agenda [RHA] and a constituent of Council Member Christine Quinn, who this year promulgated a New York City rule making illegal any "unpermitted" assembly of 50 or more people. Responding to news of Burma's emergency proclamation restricting citizen assembly, or what most of the media is referring to as Burma's "curfew", today Doody asked,

Does Speaker Quinn really believe the difference between a junta and a democracy is 45 people?

Last night members of the RHA attended an open meeting of the Stonewall Democratic Club, held in the LGBT Community Center, where Speaker Quinn had been asked to speak. The RHA held up two banners on the sides of the room calling attention to the First Amendment issue of arbitrarily-formulated Parade Rules which will inevitably be arbitrarily enforced. When the Q&A session was closed, and the host had not called on anyone who might have asked the Club's distinguished visitor about the elephant in the room, one of the guests who was not a member of the RHA asked that the question be solicited, adding that it would reflect very badly on the people in the room if the signs displayed so prominently went unexplained.

Quinn now graciously sought out a raised hand and the question came from the floor, 'Would you explain to the constituency in this room your support of and your role in the promulgation of the unconstitutional, so-called Police 'Parade Rules'?"

There was nothing new or revealing in her response, and I myself still honestly have no idea why she got herself into a law-and-order posture so contrary to anything she ever stood for. Her argument remains rather circular and her logic vague or obsfucatory, but in this venue there was no way to carry on a discussion or venture an appeal to reason, something thus far lacking in her defense of the police rules.

She never lost her composure and she even offered to "come back here [the Stonewall Democratic Club or the LGBT Center?] any time" to specifically discuss the issue. There were two real surprises, I think, each possibly suggesting a chink in the blue wall to which she seems to have attached herself. One was the fact that at least twice she said that the assembly rules were "an ongoing conversation", and the other was an interesting throwaway line something to the effect, "If in the future legislation is produced . . . .", suggesting that the Council might still get involved in the issue and hold open public hearings, as it surely ought to.

In the meantime the conversation will continue on the only stage the powerless have available to them: that constructed on free assembly and speech. On Saturday at 7 o'clock, a second "Parade Without A Permit", a joyous party celebrating those fundamental rights, will assemble at the fountain in Washington Square Park and progress through the West Village, the streets of the Speaker's own district.

[the small sign on the right reads, "1st Amendment not for sale"]


The Radical Homosexual Agenda [RHA] logo incorporates the group's Regulation Pink Gasmaskģ, which has been donned by members since 2006 while they pursue their perilous mission fighting the American mainstream - an environment which they argue, and few would dispute, is presently toxic for queers.

They're back. The RHA loves a parade - for a good cause. Even if they may be more sensitive than some folks about the Lesbian author of the outrage against which they've been protesting, being queers themselves, the RHA has been fighting for all of America on this one.

Five months ago this young, spirited New York civil rights group stepped off from City Hall Park on a sunny afternoon in a colorful un-permitted parade of fellow citizens (both homosexual and otherwise engaged) to protest New York City's new and totally-unconstitutional police rule restricting freedom of assembly and speech. On Saturday, in another "Parade Without a Permit", they take their costumes, props and merry bands, bicycles and carts and strong legs on a more ambitious, a more public tour. This time the neighborhood will be the dense residential and commercial blocks of the West Village, the district represented by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. Quinn is the main target of the RHA's anger because of her prominent role in the promulgation, without review, discussion or vote, of draconian rules which cede dangerous arbitrary power to the police.

This hot new band of activists and its growing numbers of allies will together be doing their best to broadcast that Quinn's position as an out queer with a progressive, largely queer constituency on which she has built her career up to now is totally at odds with her position on a principle of law so fundamental to the political life of a free society. The RHA and its friends have other serious complaints about our ambitious Speaker's positions and agenda, but this issue trumps everything else: The right to speak and to demonstrate about any subject is on the line in this city today.

The parade assembles in Washington Square Park at 7 pm this Saturday, September 29, at the edge of the central fountain. The event is absolutely not envisioned as an arrest scenario by any of its organizers, so everyone is encouraged to join the serious merriment.

For more information, see the RHA's new, James Wentzy-built website. I have it on good authority that there will be no speeches on Saturday, so maybe a visit to the site is an even better idea than it would be prior to most demos; everyone should be ready with a good sound bite at these things.

NEWS FLASH: It's just been confirmed that the Stonewall Veterans are going to be a part of this parade, front and center. Now I'm thinking, pink-and-black-draped pedicab chariots conveying our noble ur-rebels through the streets past the sites which were the scenes of their triumphs almost forty years ago. Take that, all you soft, smug folk who ever imagined you could even be the cuttings of the giants who opened the doors you pass through so easily today.

[image from the RHA]

hanging out in a park and free bike repair station on 7th Avenue at Charles yesterday

Park(ing) Day, it's about serious greenstreets

See Jim Dwyer's column for a word picture of the larger footprint of New York's part in the event, organized by the Trust for Public Land.

Another piece in the NYTimes reported:

The city’s Transportation Department does not know the total number of parking spaces in the city, but according to Transportation Alternatives, an advocacy group, 45 percent of public land in Manhattan is dedicated to moving and storing cars.
That's a pretty impressive figure, especially since the total area of "public land" would include Central Park and every other square foot of park and sidewalk.

NOTES: I found the wonderful Barbara Ross photograph [earlier credited on the flickr site to Mike Pidell, who is actually in the photo instead] at the top of this entry while looking for pictures of yesterday's events. The unremarkable image of the sign is mine. Finally, before I was told that the photo had mistakenly been credited to Pidell, while I was searching for a way I could link to him I located this delightful five-minute bike clown video from last year, "Bike Lane Liberation".

[with thanks to Tim Doody, image by Barbara Ross from flickr]


the Realpolitiker's very favorite Tracht

UPDATE: For concerned citizens of the world who might find the information useful, I've learned that Kissinger is expected to speak at the Parade Gala Benefit Banquet scheduled for 7 o'clock tonight, Friday, at the New York Hilton & Towers, 1335 Sixth Avenue, between 53rd and 54th Streets.

Would somebody please tell the folks behind New York's German American Steuben Parade that having Henry Kissinger as a grand marshal is not cool at all. The kind of war crimes for which this man is wanted by governments in a number countries all over the world may be very American these days, but that doesn't mean any ethnic group should be proud to be associated with their author, even if it has a tenuous relationship with the land of his birth.

I'm an American of unmixed German ancestry going back generations, I've studied U.S. and German history, and I've studied and lived here and in Deutschland, so I might be given some leave to say that I suspect the folks living in what the chairman of Saturday's event calls the "alte Heimat" would not be so thick as some of their cousins over here seem to be. German Germans also generally know their history pretty well - for significant historical and moral reasons.

The big event is scheduled for this Saturday. I have to be in Greenpoint that afternoon, or I'd be there physically to remind him that not all of us have forgotten what he's done. The parade starts at noon, and runs uptown on Fifth Avenue, starting at 63 Street and ending at 86 Street. I'm not sure how these thing work, that is, I don't know where a so-called Grand Marshal might best be spotted, but there is a reviewing stand somewhere along the route of the march.


[David Levine image from The Corsair]


I'm going to end up skimming the features and skipping the "news" pages altogether. Is anybody else noticing this stuff?

It's looking like the NYTimes is out of control. This is the way one of the paper's teasers read on today's print front page:

In Iraq, the report from General Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker to Congress was viewed favorably because it portrayed the situation accurately [my italics]. While many said they preferred a quick withdrawal of troops, several seemed to accept that sectarian violence would keep American forces in Iraq for some time to come.
Inside the paper, on page A10, the article itself made it clear that the glowing opinion of the account given by the pair Maureen Dowd calls the "Surge Twins" was actually one held by the very few Iraqis the reporter either bothered to or was able to ask (perhaps in telephone interviews):
More than 20 Iraqis of different sects and ethnicities said in interviews across the country that they viewed the report favorably because it ¬ó or, at least the parts shown on television in Iraq ¬ó portrayed the situation accurately.
Does this sound like objective reporting? Most readers probably never made it to the tenth page, and so were left [deliberately?] with an impression of this historical encounter that had been created by a totally misleading marketing blurb/preview.

[image of 1888 Puck cartoon from answers.com]


It's the eleventh of September again. Yes, it happens once a year. But I'm not interested in adding to the revanchisme stoked by every mention of the terrible events which occurred in my city six years ago. I am interested in the fact that even if we wanted to we would be unable to read a list of the names of the hundreds of thousands of people we have killed in the name of our own dead (many of whom were from countries other than the U.S.).

Moreover, the continuing shame of our concentration camps at Guantanamo and elsewhere in the world doesn't seem to be worthy of the attention of many who actually do oppose the war in Iraq.

We are letting ourselves be ridden by fools, fanatics, politicians and arms suppliers - and those who profit from the evil mischief done in our name. The killing could stop, the camps could be closed and the terror could be defused, but not if we refuse to look at the world outside - and continue to let others exploit us.

[fabric color swatch, otherwise unrelated to Guantanamo, from froggtoggs]

a very rewarding friendship (Blessed Teresa greeting friend Charles Keating)

On this tenth anniversary of the demise of Mother Teresa, the acclaimed world-champion of suffering and death [whose lifer inmates were refused even aspirin, but who died only after availing herself of the very finest and most expensive medical treatment available in the West], I can no longer stay silent.

I've written at some length about the mutha before, and I was going to ignore the outrageous outpouring of memorials which have attended this happy date until just now, when I came upon an editorial in today's NYTimes with the oddly-equivocal headline, "A Saint of Darkness". This is ostensibly a secular journal, but it's a sappy paean and it ends with an extraordinary reference to the grotesque Catholic cult figure's supposed struggles against religious disbelief. These gilded lines would almost certainly embarrass even the National Catholic Reporter:

Mother Teresa, sick with longing for a sense of the divine, kept faith with the sick of Calcutta. And now, dead for 10 years, she is poised to reach those who can at last recognize, in her, something of their own doubting, conflicted selves.

And now, as we're told by the Church, her agent, she herself belongs to the gods.

But not so fast. There is another, less fictive take on this wretched creature than that so successfully hyped around the Western world. The Times editorial board itself may be of more than one mind on the subject of the "just-say-no-to-drugs-and-yes-to-Jesus nunnery fund-raiser and baptism zealot. On this same holy day, on the opposite page from the editorial they also publish an OP-ED piece by Chitrita Banerji, "Poor Calcutta", which delivers a very different slant on the story of the woman with the current Vatican title, "Blessed Teresa of Calcutta". Banerji is speaking first for the dignity of her hometown Calcutta [I share her love for that magnificent city], which she argues the scary nun and her fanatical acolytes have savaged in the public mind, but her defense requires some bluntness about the fundamental error of the campaign. Here are two excerpts:

[The worldwide condemnation of Calcutta over other cities] was an instance of spin in which the news media colluded — voluntarily or not — with a religious figure who was as shrewd as any fund-raising politician, as is evident from the global expansion of her organization. For Calcutta natives like me, however, Mother Teresa’s charity also evoked the colonial past — she felt she knew what was best for the third world masses, whether it was condemning abortion or offering to convert those who were on the verge of death.

. . . .

[Banerji writes that she had hoped that after the nun's death the balance of perception might be restored to her beloved city] Ten years and one beatification later, however, the relentless hagiography of the Catholic Church and the peculiar tunnel vision of the news media continue to equate Calcutta with the twinned entities of destitution and succor publicized by Mother Teresa. With cultish fervor, her organization, the Missionaries of Charity, promotes her as an icon of mercy. Meanwhile, countless unheralded local organizations work for the needy without the glamour of a Nobel Prize or of impending sainthood.

Once again, on the true nature of Mother Superior Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity: No medical care was given to any of the people to whom members of her oder "ministered"; the Mother had a creepy lust for suffering; even by its founder's own admission she was only interested in racking up the maximum numbers of "souls" for the next life; to that end any friendship, any kind of transaction was appropriate; and finally, the earthly Church she represented was not the compassionate institution imagined by many of her patrons, but rather one whose elements would be unrecognizable to even the most conservative of Catholics.

This sounds like they would want to create hell everywhere on earth; it would hardly seem to be a good advertisement for their regime in heaven, but what do I know about the attraction of marketing, fads, bandwagons or cults?

[image from zatma.org]

(but right, even laudable, if I paid women for quickies)

The Republicans have trashed and now unceremoniously sacked one of their very own worthy gentlemen for soliciting consensual, uncompensated sex with another person. Senator Craig was forced to resign only days after his sensational misstep (with another man) was reported in the media.

A year ago another model Republican, Representative Mark Foley, was hounded out of office for a peccadillo even less "awful" than that committed by the married-with-three-children Senator from Idaho. Foley, an unmarried man, sent suggestive emails and sexually explicit instant messages to young adult men who had formerly served or were at the time serving as Congressional pages.

A third Republican luminary, Senator David Vitter, admitted early in July to regularly soliciting the services of a female prostitute. There has been no investigation and no movement to oust Vitter from his elected position or party responsibilities, and in fact on his return to the senate floor later in the month Vitter was greeted with a standing ovation by his Republican peers.

Why is there such a difference in the way their colleagues treated these three members of Congress? Craig and Foley happened to be of what their former friends would call the homosexual "persuasion" but Vitter seems to be fixated on the role of lusty heterosexual.

Oh, there is the thing about the toilet venue of Craig's ruinous flirtation (Americans are obsessed with potties - all potties) and also the extraordinarily-significant fact that should Vitter resign his seat it would be filled by a Democrat named by the Democratic governor of Louisiana. Unfortunately for Craig the Governor of Idaho is a Republican. Foley's was an interesting case: It suggests that here the Republicans' sincere bigotry might have gotten the better of them since their hand-picked candidate to replace the homo failed to make it in the election which followed his resignation. Of course it could also have been the product of an excessive self-confidence, one which wouldn't have survived the last year of spiraling Republican disasters.

Of course I'm not going to contrast any of this with the Democrat's treatment of Jerry Studds and Barney Frank [neither lost his job], the Republican attitude toward Presidential sex, or toward Congressional corruption involving real crimes with real victims. And while I'm not speaking of real victims, I'm not going to speak about the real, countless, world-wide victims of the first eight and one half years of this Republican administration.

"Hypocrisy" is far too mild a word for this stuff.

[image by Tom Toles via Washington Post]

National Guardsmen firing into demonstrators during the 1894 Chicago Pullman strike* [contemporary Harpers Weekly drawing]

[Exactly five years ago today (I see now that it was almost to the minute) I did a post, "the real meaning of Labor Day". I think it's time to do it again. My own brief text was augmented with quotes from the site of Jim Lehrer's PBS show, NewsHour, a page which had appeared the year before. This year I've added an image.]

It's not the barbeque, and it's certainly not the traffic. It was born as an attempt to appease the working people of America. [Remember the Pullman strike in history class?] Unfortunately it seems to have worked too well.

The observance of Labor Day began over 100 years ago. Conceived by America's labor unions as a testament to their cause, the legislation sanctioning the holiday was shepherded through Congress amid labor unrest and signed by President Grover Cleveland as a reluctant election-year compromise.
Soon after, when the entire nation became thoroughly frightened by the bugbear of socialism and communism, the movement was de-radicalized. The real Left was gradually marginalized and almost totally eliminated from American culture and society. The workers' movement itself became middle class, before it acquired the material benefits and political power which that adjustment should have delivered. And there it languishes.
In 1898, Samuel Gompers, head of the American Federation of Labor, called it "the day for which the toilers in past centuries looked forward, when their rights and their wrongs would be discussed...that the workers of our day may not only lay down their tools of labor for a holiday, but upon which they may touch shoulders in marching phalanx and feel the stronger for it."

Almost a century since Gompers spoke those words, though, Labor Day is seen as the last long weekend of summer rather than a day for political organizing. In 1995, less than 15 percent of American workers belonged to unions, down from a high in the 1950's of nearly 50 percent, though nearly all have benefited from the victories of the Labor movement.

Happy Labor Day, but don't forget.

I haven't been able to find a really good compact summary of the strike anywhere on line, although there is this setting of the broader context in a discussion from Howard Zinn. I would definitely welcome any other suggestions. I can however offer information on some of the numbers involved in the physical conflict itself, quoted here from the Kansas Heritage Group:

The total forces of the strikebreakers both government and private were [against 100,000 strikers]: 1,936 federal troops, 4,000 national guardsmen, about 5,000 extra deputy marshals, 250 extra deputy sheriffs, and the 3,000 policemen in Chicago for a total of 14,186 strikebreakers. In addition to these figures there were also twelve people shot and killed, and 71 people who were arrested and sentenced on the federal indictment.
No picnic.

[image from Wikimedia Commons}

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