May 17, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Adrian Tomine is best known for two bodies of work — his magazine illustration career, which includes regular work for The New Yorker, and his cartooning one, which began with a series of acclaimed, self-published mini comics.
Unlike many cartoonists who make it in larger field of art, Tomine never really transitioned from one into the other, but maintained both concurrently.
“They were more like parallel careers developing,” Tomine said, “doing a lot of low-end amateur illustration work around the same time I was doing low-end amateur comics work.
“More and more it became useful for me to think of them as two separate jobs and two separate pursuits, in addition to the distinction between sequential and single image.”
The different styles that define the work were accompanied by opposite methods of creating them.
In comics, Tomine has complete autonomy and is left to do whatever he wants.
“Illustration work, by definition, is a collaboration between myself and at least one other person, but often something of a committee, not only in terms of how I create the work physically, but mentally, in terms of how I approach it and what my priorities are become pretty different,” he said.
Tomine says that drawing for The New Yorker is one of the few illustration jobs he actively pursued, and it’s been a point of pride for him for the last 15 years.
“If you have a dream of being a magazine illustrator, that’s definitely one of the top places that you want to get work at eventually,” said Tomine.
That side of his career has finally begun to appear in his own publications. Last year’s “New York Drawings” was his first real art monograph, compiling all his work for The New Yorker, as well as other work related to New York City and his move there from the West Coast. It was also the first book of his that he didn’t design.
“I don’t think this book would exist if I had been a life-long New Yorker,” he said. “I don’t think it’s the kind of book that I would have put together. I certainly wouldn’t have used that title if I had grown up in New York.”
Tomine grew up in mostly in California, and his comics, which have a significant autobiographical segment to them, mostly take place there, except his most recent “Scenes From An Impending Marriage,” which glossed over the bi-coastal aspect of his life for simplicity.
Autobiography has always been a major part of his cartooning from the very beginning.
“Initially, it started out when I’d sit down to draw a comic, it was heavily autobiographical,” said Tomine. “At that point in my life, it was very hard for me to just invent a fictional story. I didn’t have a lot of life experience to draw on when I was 14, at least not that I could process as an artist yet.”
“So to me, that was what kick started me as a person who wrote and drew comics, which is that I discovered you could take the most mundane experience from that day and translate it into comics form and it might be interesting. Not necessarily, but it could be interesting.”
Tomine was influenced by other autobiographical writers and cartoonists who worked the field before him, like Harvey Pekar and Chester Brown. As he grew older and began working more professionally, he began to consider how much of his private life he really wanted to make public, and also whether the raw details really served his storytelling in the way he wanted it to.
“I started to become more interested in having an end result that was as good as I was capable of at that point,” Tomine said, “whether that meant drawing heavily on real experience or inventing a lot of stuff or combining the two. I felt a little more in control of what I was doing at that point and less reliant on everyday experience.”
One of the reasons for Tomine’s success in the form was that, unlike his heroes who came before him, Tomine appeared less an eccentric outsider and more an everyman who young readers could identify with.
“A lot of the best autobiographical work is so compelling and fascinating, and in some ways hindered by more grotesque elements, or a stronger focus on sexuality,” he said, “or sometimes just unintentionally the creator’s personality is such that it’s somewhat self-selecting in its readership. Those very qualities that I think have kept some of those people from being on Oprah’s Book Club are generally the qualities that really fascinate me.”
“It certainly wasn’t by design. I didn’t say I’m going to disguise my eccentric personality and create a fake everyman persona in the hopes of getting my comics in the New Yorker. I’m just not as interesting a guy as some of those other artists.”
Tomine attempted to enter into cartooning through art school training, but quickly found the climate that was not encouraging of that form of creativity.
“I was met with great consternation and hostility in the fine art program at Berkeley,” Tomine said. “At worst, my stuff was made fun of, and at best, there were a few charitable teachers who maybe thought I was trying to do a sort of Roy Lichtenstein commentary on junk culture or something like that. They were very disappointed when I just was like, ‘I’m into comic books and I want to be a cartoonist.’ It was hard for them to process. I just didn’t enjoy my first semester as an art major at all.”
Tomine switched to being an English major, which served him well, not suspecting that he was there at the end of an era.
“I didn’t know it and no one knew it at the time, but North American culture was right on this cusp of saying, ‘We are warming up to the idea of comics and illustration work as being a little more legitimate,’” he said. “We were just behind that turning point.”
Tomine spent his time cartooning after going to school, creating his own mini comics and slowly building to the career he has enjoyed for over a decade.
He says his rise from self-made comics to art books and museum appearances is the art world version of a home recording musician having a hit or an amateur videographer becoming a hot filmmaker that has already become accepted in those mediums.
“I think it’s not as outrageous as it once was” Tomine said, “but certainly if I can be objective enough and look back on my career, it is strange to me that when I sit down at my desk every day, I feel like I’m doing the exact same thing I was doing when I was 14 years old.”
“I use a lot of the same equipment that I used, and not in some beautiful professional studio that I go to like my office. I’m still just working in my bedroom. So to me, it is funny that I’m working in the same way that I have most my life — it’s just some of the work ends up being seen by a lot more people.”
March 12, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Pulling from the Balkans, the Mediterranean, the Middle East and farther, Balkan Beat Box creates music that blurs any lines between the cultures that influence it, and melts it all together into one global dance community.
Balkan Beat Box began as a studio project between Ori Kaplan and Tamir Muskat, both born in Israel, who met on a tour bus while playing in the band Firewater.
“After Ori heard some of the records I produced, he asked me to produce his solo record for the Knitting Factory,” Muskat said.
The two worked together on the 2004 album by J.U.F., which was a collaborative effort between them and Balkan punk band Gogol Bordello.
Next up was the first Balkan Beat Box album, which mixed together the ethnic music of their childhood and resulted in world dance grooves that pulled from the sounds they had grown up listening to. Kaplan and Muskat messed with the sounds enough to bring them into the modern world and make them fell alive again.
“Growing up in Israel you really get it all, from Mediterranean to eastern European,” said Muskat. “It was all there since we were kids. Later on in life, we got exposed to so much music, so it was natural to blend it in as well.”
“None of us were interested in making pure, traditional music, since it was only a part of what we liked and grew up on. Combined with the folklore music all of us liked modern music, electronica, punk rock, dub.”
Muskat credits their lives in New York City as the catalyst that pushed them even further to sculpt a new sound for the old music.
“It was a long search and it’s not over yet,” he said.
The band has recorded four albums, plus a collection of remixes, with Tomer Yosef coming onboard as permanent vocalist beginning with their second one.
Their most recent album, 2012′s “Give,” featured further experiments with instrumentation, including old analog synthesizers and children’s toys. It also heightened political content that Muskat says guided the sound that came out of those sessions, although that also worked the other way, and these changes in instrumentation have bled backward, revitalizing old material that they perform live.
“We started feeling like the album was becoming more and more about difficult issues, political, cultural,” Muskat said, “so maybe that led into using more hardcore sounds, electronics.”
“Since we work on songs in the studio, sometimes a good new sound, drum machine or whatever, will inspire us to come up with a beat that will lead into a song.”
The new album has also revitalized the band’s earlier work as they begin to present both on the stage in live shows.
“You can definitely hear the sound of ‘Give’ there now days,” said Muskat. “We rearranged old songs, remixed some of them, mainly to keep it fresh for ourselves.”
The album features one song, “Enemy in Economy,” that is a reaction to an incident that saw Yosef being detained by the TSA. The band expanded their concern from a personal and biographical account into a more wide-reaching one that lamented the experience of ordinary people trapped in the same situation.
“Tomer was suspected to be a terrorist for no reason whatsoever other than his look,” Muskat said. “Mainly the feeling I came out with is, what about people that are not artists, that don’t have a name and can’t get out of something like that in a few hours? They end up being locked away for years sometimes, definitely post 9/11.”
“We wrote a song about it, that was it, but think about these men and women who are profiled every day for the color of their skin, their accent, whatever it is. Maybe they don’t have a way to explain themselves so well, or the money for a good lawyer. That’s where it really gets to be sad.”
That song is not unusual in the band’s concerns and Muskat says politics has formed much of their music from the moment they embarked on the project in 2006. There was no way they could avoid it.
“Living in that part of the globe makes it into your DNA, you don’t think about it, it’s second nature,” he said. “We obviously got more and more aware over time, growing up and all, but Balkan Beat Box started with that tone of lyrics from the first album.”
“We don’t always write about those issues, politics, but ‘Give’ definitely was the pick of that, probably because the world becomes so violent and messed up.”
The political focus of “Give” was propelled by recent global protests, like the Arab Spring in the Middle East and the wide ranging Occupy movement. All these uprisings energized the band and moved them to add their voice to the worldwide chorus and do what they could to create awareness for the issues being addressed in those movements. Muskat sees it as part of their duty as artists.
“On this last album, we were clearer then ever with our opinions, regarding the use of power and violence by governments, calling people to get out and stand for what they think is right and good for them,” he said. “It’s so easy to sit and see life passing by, dictated by people that are motivated by money and power, slowly killing this planet. Don’t get me started.”
During the same period, the three core band members became fathers for the first time. This not only accentuated their political concerns, but highlighted the reasons they were required to address them in their music. Global horrors suddenly became more personal.
“Being fathers, you start to see the world from a different angle,” Muskat said. “What can you do to make this place better for that kid of yours?”
As the band moves forward, Muskat says that their only real plan is no plan at all. Since they have a precedent of embracing no one style, they feel no obligation to stick to any formula. The band will, as always, keep the journey loose, which will allow them to do what they love most musically — explore and mix things up with their own musical alchemy.
“We are over that genres thing,” Muskat said. “We are very much interested in new discoveries, mashing things up till you can’t pinpoint them anymore, and feel very comfortable doing lots of things, till it clicks and feels like BBB to us.”
“What is it? No one really knows. It’s a feeling, a pulse, and I feel like we are super lucky to share it as a group and agree on these moments.”
February 15, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Spirit Family Reunion recalls the revival spirit of bands like The Carter Family and others, but with a secular presentation and a rowdy energy as reminiscent of a punk band than as a gospel band.
Band members include Nick Panken on vocals and acoustic guitar; Maggie Carson on vocals and five-string banjo; Stephen Weinheimer on vocals, bass drum, washboard and tambourine; Mat Davidson on fiddle and accordion; Ken Woodward on vocals and bass, and Peter Pezzimenti on vocals and drums.
The band has garnered a huge following, thanks to their energy and musical prowess, especially as witnessed through venues like “NPR Tiny Desk” and an appearance last year at the Newport Folk Festival.
Banjoist Carson began playing her instrument at the end of high school in New York City, at age 18, inspired by visits to her grandparents in Woods Hole.
“There was a pretty strong folk music scene out there when I was growing up,” she said. “Our neighbors had a hootenanny every year. That was my favorite day of the year, and there were always more banjo players than any guitarists or fiddlers or anything like that, so I wanted to make that day every day. Those were my role models, the people that played banjos over there.”
After high school, Carson was approached by two of her former school-mates, Panken and Weinheimer, who were looking for a banjo player for a band. At the same time, they recruited Davidson after catching his performance in Brooklyn.
“I think anybody who sees Mat play is drawn to him, so they asked him to come join us,” Carson said.
These were the core members of the first shows played as Spirit Family Reunion.
“There were all these other people there,” said Carson, “and musically, it was kind of like the changes were simple. We didn’t really practice, it was kind of sloppy, but there was definitely something good there. Every show there was a different line-up.”
Drummer Pezzimenti and bassist Woodward joined soon after, which upped the already noticeable energy of the band.
“Having bass and drums makes people want to dance, and really pushes the songs into a much more spirited place, a much more energetic place,” Carson said. “Pete and Ken bring their influences and passions. It’s so much fun to watch both of them play. It’s inspiring. I look at them play and I feel electricity.”
Rhythm is a huge component in the band’s fury, and Carson points to spoons and washboard player Weinheimer as being a real driving force in that realm.
“Stephen played in punk bands in high school, and I think he would say that’s his musical training,” she said. “It’s funny, when we were in the studio, we had a mic on him, and we would go into the control room and turn off everybody else and just listen to what he was doing, and it was insane just being able to hear him. It was so fun. And the lack of patterns, I don’t know if you could learn that from a teacher.”
The band’s early days were also filled with busking performances in subways and farmers markets that leant them a scrappy spontaneity, as well as access to and connection with crowds, thanks to their acoustic instruments, which freed them to play anywhere they wanted, at anytime.
“It’s so much fun playing and living in the city,” said Carson. “When we started out and didn’t have a van yet, it was just as simple as not having to travel around in our car with our instruments. We could make music anywhere, whether or not you have electricity.”
“It’s amazing to see all the different kinds of people that are drawn to it, that will stand and listen and give you a dollar or something, which is another wonderful thing about playing music in the city or doing anything in the city. I think it’s just trying to be as honest as you can with what you’re doing, and if you get to that place with people, it will touch them also.”
The band is looking strictly forward, formulating songs for a future record and continuing to perform in their own gospel-style party format. It’s important to them to bring the same raucous feelings that you could find in a spiritual revival meeting, while still keeping it non-specific and inclusive, a communion of people through sound.
“That’s pretty much what we try to do, part of it, or at least something that happens in doing what we do,” Carson said. “I never went to any church or synagogue, or any kind of religious place, on any kind of regular basis, but it’s the feeling I would imagine from what I have seen.”
“I think music is spiritual. I think being able to connect with people when you play, or you connect with them when they’re listening or dancing, there’s that connection and something profound and joyful and spiritual about it. It’s not about one deity for me.”
And that connection between band and audience usually results in the kind of intimacy that creates a rollicking scene, more often than not.
“The set that we’ll play does depend on the feeling in the room and the feeling that the audience is giving back, and it’s often a party,” Carson said.
December 7, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Gathering up cartoonist Adrian Tomine’s illustration work for the New Yorker – there are a few comics, but this is mostly an examination of covers and spots for accompanying articles – the handsome art book “New Yorker Drawings” often get to the root of Tomine’s world view as applicable to New York City and the urban experience together. So much of his work acknowledges that people are all in it together, and yet each individual is his or her own universe within the multiverse we call a city.
Tomine’s illustration depicts a world where our personal perceptions are both separate from and integral to our shared ones. His work often incorporates two people, many of whom are either not acknowledging the central shared point between them, or clandestinely offering attentions to another person even as that other person is absorbed in his or her own moment.
These are quiet portraits of a jarring existence, and the components gather to present New York City as an organism as complex as any human.
In the most mesmerizing section of the book, Tomine’s sketches of the city are presented with his handwritten observations of the person he draw. He makes note of the physical indications of mood and interest, and then speculates on the internal. One sweaty guy is either deep in thought or staring at his expensive shoes.
Tomine suspects one girl of knowing that he was drawing her by the way she abruptly leaves the subway train. Much like so many of the people depicted in his drawings, these are interactions without interacting, and that is so much of urban life.
December 7, 2012 § Leave a Comment
In technical terms, photos capture a moment. That’s the motto, right? “Preserve your special moments.”
But each moment is squashed between the past and the future, and both sides are wide webs that stretch out through reality. How much had to happen prior to the moment in order to lead to it? Personal, cultural, historical, all winding together by pure chance and arithmetic. And how much spirals away from the moment captured?
And how can a photograph with only one person visible in it comment on everyone else in the world? If a photo is defined by its empty space, by the lack of people crowded in the borders, what is it saying to us and about us?
There’s a photograph that’s out of New York City that has garnered grim attention and manages to offer little hope at all in the wider scope of the humanity. You might not have seen the photo — you might have chosen to not look — but you might be aware that the New York Post ran an image of Queens resident Ki-Suck Han moments after he had been pushed into the path of an oncoming subway train.
He is alone. No one is trying to help. It’s just him and the train.
I’m unclear that there was any chance for anyone, including photographer R. Umar Abbasi, to have saved the poor man on the rails. According to his account, no one bothered and he used his flash in an attempt to warn the driver. I’ve been in the New York subways millions of times. They are fast. Really fast. From what I see in the photo, there was no hope for Han. And it’s very easy to judge someone who was there when you weren’t.
Abbasi also stated that when Han’s body was pulled from the rails after being struck, the emergency responders were mobbed with bystanders taking video and photos with their cell phones. Abbasi claims to have tried to push the crowd back.
The situation has further been muddied by the perpetrator’s claim that Han attacked him, which has been corroborated by at least one witness who described Han getting agitated by his murderer. Han’s wife has said that Han left home, drunk, following an argument with her. So it was a heated incident, to be sure.
It’s a hard tightrope to walk. In terms of immediacy, being a news photographer in a huge urban area like New York City isn’t much different from being a war correspondent. Anything can happen at any moment in that arena, some of them ugly, and part of the mission of a photojournalist there is to capture the reality of living in that city. History is littered with instances of capturing horrible, grim moments in war that sometimes the photographers themselves are helpless to fix and sometimes they choose not to.
The New York Post running the photo is an entirely different issue from the photographer taking it, though.
Newspapers do run photos of disasters and accidents, of course, but I think sometimes the sensational nature of an event gets the adrenaline of an editor flowing past reason. I think back to the New York papers that ran photos of people diving out of the Twin Towers on 9-11 as a similar situation. Photos like these may have some public worth at some point, but I’m not quite sure they do the day after the incident.
But, if true, Abbasi’s testimony points to the terrible truth about humanity that his photo captures. It’s one that we’ve all seen in action and, if only to have it rubbed in our faces again until we do something to change it, there is unfortunately a good reason to have to look at poor Ki-Suck Han moments before his death and think about the people who waited to flock to him only after the spectacle.
August 1, 2012 § Leave a Comment
I don’t know what TV shows Tripp Palin is allowed to watch, but considering the tiny tot’s use of a gay slur on his mother’s reality TV show (really, haven’t America’s White Trash Family been handed enough welfare in the form of television and publishing contracts?), the Muppets probably aren’t on the list.
In a show of decency that is uncharacteristic for American organizations in the public eye, the Muppets took a stand this week. They looked Chick-Fil-A in the eye and told them that because of the company’s efforts against gay marriage, not only were they pulling out of any marketing deals with the company, but they were handing over any funds received through those partnerships to the Gay Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
Well, OK, it wasn’t Miss Piggy or even Animal who did the pulling, though it exhibits the sort of sudden explosiveness that is characteristic with either of them. And it wasn’t the Muppets exactly. It was the Fraggles and, more to the point, the Jim Henson Company, the human creators behind the stars, and it displays not only tolerance and compassion, but also bravery in the face of the fascist right that is slowly overtaking our nation’s psyche.
Acknowledgment and toleration of difference coming from the Muppets shouldn’t be a surprise, as it’s been center to their thematic existence and presentation from their inception on Sesame Street to the most recent film. Chick-Fil-A and the controlling fanatics they serve do not want difference, do not want anything that veers from their strict program of adherence to ultimate authority. They want to lay siege to difference and starve it out, let it wither and die and proclaim a victory for the moral police of the universal order. They actually care about what you do in your bedroom.
The Muppets are just one singular volley in a culture war that is igniting further, and many of us are not taking it quietly.
The usually ridiculous Mayor Tom Menino, of Boston, who is kind of like a big-sized Muppet, has apparently stepped up to the plate and pledged that Chick-Fil-A will be prevented from opening any franchises in his city and has informed the company of his intention.
Fiscal conservatives — or am I speaking to an empty auditorium by evoking that term? — the latest reports say that being gay-friendly pays big time. In one year’s time following its passing of gay marriage, New York City has made $259 million from spending related to the ceremony, everything from license fees to hotel rooms to all sorts of wedding-related spending. If North Adams wants to make some quick money, I think it knows what it needs to do: Provincetown West, anyone?
The Boy Scouts famously don’t want that kind of business, even though their numbers are dwindling. Like the Catholic priesthood, they don’t want to modernize in any way that would save them. Worse yet, not only are they not getting new people involved, but older ones are disavowing them. It’s been reported that a large number of Eagle Scouts have been returning their badges out of protest towards the organization’s policies about gay involvement.
Let’s consider all this as we celebrate the achievement of astronaut Sally Ride following her death from cancer. We also acknowledge the existence of her widow. Ride was not only the first woman astronaut, but the first lesbian one. Sally Ride’s long-term partner is not eligible for the federal benefits like the spouses of straight astronauts.
Mitt Romney will seize an opportunity just like any presidential candidate would to pay tribute to her as among “the greatest pioneers,” although he wouldn’t allow that this brave and intelligent woman should have the same legal rights as anyone in American straight culture.
A lot of you out there feel the same way, and I think you ought to be ashamed.
This fact about Ride was quietly and respectfully revealed by NASA in their released obituary and has been vigorously defended by her family, particularly sister Bear Ride, also gay, and quoted as saying in response to opponents of gay marriage, “Who cares about them, really? There are those who are stubbornly ignorant, and if they want to continue in that, God bless them, but probably best not to talk to my family.”
What a lot of people are waking up to realize is that the issue of gay rights is not one that is only of concern to gay people. Look around you. Our friends are gay, our sons and daughters are gay, our aunts and uncles and cousins, our co-workers, even our parents and our heroes.
At what point will you decide it’s not OK to look those people in the eye and tell them that even though you supposedly love them, they don’t deserve the same legal rights you have? It had better be soon, because you are currently on the losing side of a revolution.
April 13, 2012 § 1 Comment
By the time you read this, I will be in Florida, usually renowned for its sun, astronauts and amusing human-sized mice, but now looked at as ground zero of American racism. Why it seems like only yesterday that people were warned against visiting the state because it was the carjacking capital of the country, with a particular focus on foreign victims. Goodness knows it’s probably the rape capitol of the country, given the number of drunken college students that descend upon it each year, though that’s admittedly speculation on my part. Florida is not the only state with a stand your ground law, but it is the one getting the most publicity mileage out of the fact that having one is a great way to up your state’s murder numbers while keeping the crime rate from rising — triple the murders in Florida since passing it. I’ve read plenty of articles warning you not to go to anyone’s property to ask for directions in Florida — they can shoot you and, in this climate, you might as well believe they will.
I have two teenage sons who will no doubt walk around the area of Florida we will be in, but I feel confident of their safety. For one, no hoodies — in fact, one of my sons dresses in suits and ties most of the time, so I’d say he has an advantage over many other teenagers on the Florida sidewalks. The other advantage, of course, is that my sons are white.
The proclamations have died down since Obama was elected, but every now and then, I do hear mumbles that we live in a post-racist America. The killing of Trayvon Martin — merely one incident among too many others, including the horrifying slaughter of Iranian housewife Shaima Alawadi in California, reminding that hate is not centered on one ethnicity — shows we may just be proclaiming victory too soon.
And racism is revealed in lighter ways— witness the reporting of the racist outcry by younger fans of The Hunger Games at the realization that that two popular characters are black— apparently obvious to anyone who paid attention to the book, but young racists of lesser reading retention couldn’t ignore the fact in the film.
Regardless, I’m in my late 40s and racism is ingrained in the experience of my generation. My experience tells me it is more common among white people than most want to believe, or care to admit for political purposes.
I am about as Southern as it gets. Off the boat Southern. A good 300 years of heritage in Virginia and Georgia. I am of the first generation on either side of my family to move out of the south and stay out on purpose. There are plenty of reasons I did this, and one of them is certainly the institutional racism that infects the culture down there, so much so that racist notions were casually brought up by teachers in my high school to African American students during class time and no one, not even the African American students, batted an eye. If a teacher asks you “Why do black people like grapes so much?” in a Georgia class room, it’s really not that unusual.
What was unusual — at least to me— was that when I moved up to New York City, I found that the racism was not only prevalent, but actually more hostile. People I knew casually spouted out racist dialogues that I tried my best to separate myself from. In a store I worked in during my college age years, it was standard practice that when a young, African American male walked into the store, you followed him to make sure he didn’t steal. In the several years I worked in that store, I never saw one of those kids pull out a gun— that honor would belong to the white guy who worked in the toy department, threatening an African American customer to get out of the store. Twenty-five years later and I’m still unclear as to whether the customer actually did anything.
Singer-songwriter Randy Newman wrote a song called “Rednecks,” which, among other things, pointed out that when northerners boasted that African Americans were free up here, they were actually “free to be put in the cage” in places like Harlem, Roxbury, etc.
When I lived in New York City, between the Jones Beach murder and the riots in Crown Heights in Brooklyn— the neighborhood I lived in— I knew that racism was something the north needed to work on as well. I’ve heard racial slurs come out of the mouths of New Yorkers that I never heard come out of my racist grandmother in Georgia. And it continues. Last November, in White Plains, N.Y., 68-year-old African American and former Marine Kenneth Chamberlain was Tasered and shot to death in his own home by police when his medical alert pendant went off. It was a false alarm and the pendant recorded the entire event, including Chamberlain pleading for his life with police.
So, northern states, try not to be smug when you look at Florida. Know that you, too, have the potential for such horrible acts— and your reality has, again and again, proven that your citizens can sink just as low as anyone south of the Mason-Dixon line.
November 29, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Ten years ago, Americans were horrified by the attack on New York City by Muslim extremists. Now, the mayor of New York is using tactics against free speech that’s like a page out of the Middle East Muslim Extremist Dictator’s Handbook, but fewer Americans seem angry about that.
On early Tuesday morning, Mayor Bloomberg didn’t just shut down the Occupy encampment in Zuccotti Park. He also created an unconstitutional press blackout that kept news helicopters from the relevant air space and resulted in two Associated Press reporters, a New York Times reporter, a television reporter from New Zealand and an NPR reporter being arrested, as well as a city council member.
A freelance radio journalist was also arrested — after identifying herself, a police officer knocked her recorder out of her hand before cuffing her. In addition, a New York Post reporter was put in a choke hold by police. Manhattan borough president Scott Stringer demanded an investigation, telling the Associated Press, “Zuccotti Park is not Tiananmen Square.”
Controlling the information flow of Occupy has been a major priority for police and arresting journalists is just part of that. As general procedure, when descending upon encampments, police have been taking out the media tents first in their raids. This prevents protesters from live-tweeting, blogging or Facebook posting updates — that is, getting the word out.
The police never seem to understand that nearly everyone in the crowd is enabled by cell phone to video or photograph whatever thuggishness unfolds despite their efforts to suppress it.
This is exactly the same tactic used in Iran and it didn’t work there either. The hactivist group Anonymous had to intervene to allow those fighting their oppressive government access to communication. It’s disheartening to see the same thing happen here with less outrage from American citizens.
If there’s anything more alarming than the systematic attempt to control the free flow of information, it’s the institutional use of violence against the protesters. The national media has proved gormless in reporting systematic police brutality spanning our country, but that hasn’t hidden the evidence.
The footage is all over YouTube, Facebook and Twitter — and don’t forget all the live feeds of events — and the scenes look like something out of China or the Middle East with police beating kids and gassing citizens. You’ll have more luck finding outrage about this on Alec Baldwin’s twitter feed than most official sources.
Do an online search for “police brutality” and include Boston, New York, Oakland, Denver, Berkeley, Portland, Riverside, San Diego, Washington D.C. or Atlanta and you’ll find a rich collection of videos, photos and firsthand accounts at the unnecessary excessive force being utilized across the country just to shut people up.
It’s officially an epidemic that has been downplayed in the national media. You’d hope that the spate of journalist arrests that displayed excessive force might change the narrative in the reporting, but that remains to be seen.
One thing seems certain to watchers of the protests — for such violence to be used to bring down the encampments must mean authorities are scared that the protesters’ message is getting out.
Stomping down the tents won’t help — in its brief existence, the Occupy movement has added supporters on the street each time police club them down.
Systematic violence endorsed by the government against dissent is everyone’s problem. The Tea Party of Rochester, N.Y. recognized this when it came out in support of that city’s Occupy movement and its right to protest.
A precedent has been set and it was handed down by the millionaire mayor of New York City.
Bloomberg is the 12th richest man in America, a media mogul and a Wall Street favorite who actually changed the laws in order to get elected for a third term. Isn’t that exactly what the protesters are screaming about, the unfair influence of the rich?
Whether you agree with the protesters’ financial message or not, the men behind the curtain and their disdain for the rights of ordinary Americans on the left or right and the reasons for them have never been more in plain sight — and they’re embracing the tactics of governments that we traditionally think of as our enemies.
As the ante continues to be upped every time a protester is clubbed down, the time is coming when everyone might have to pick their side. It won’t be right or left, or even rich or poor. It’s going to be power or people. Time to figure out where you stand.
October 25, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Local painters Joshua Field and Melissa Lillie have taken their technical talents to Wall Street in order to dress the occupiers in custom T-shirts that get their message out.
The idea started small, with Field deciding to make some Tshirts for protesters and somehow get them down to Wall Street. He based the designs on actual signs that he had seen being used in the Wall Street protests.
“I’d been planning to screen print a few T-shirts locally for Occupy Wall Street after learning that the protesters’ cardboard signs had been largely ruined by the rain,” Field said. Field raised money to purchase T-shirts and other materials on the website Indiegogo, and also noted that a gallery in Brooklyn had planned to do a screen printing and sign-making project at the same time. The idea of making shirts there stuck in his head, but the process began here.
“Melissa and I scrambled to make a first batch of T-shirts to take down to the event, thinking that we might make a few more when we got there,” said Field.
“When we finally got to the protest site, the line to get shirts printed by Brooklynite Gallery was already down theblock and Bushwick Print Lab had also joined in the printing effort, so we jumped in and started printing shirts.”
Helping to pick up the slack for the other printers, Field and Lillie did their printing for free and quickly ran out of shirts to give out. Some donations helped them get more and they managed to produce several hundred before night fell. The next day, they had a training session in order to get some help with the effort.
“We recruited some additional protesters at the park, as well as people who were waiting in line to get a shirt,” Field said, “including a 13-year old girl who had done some printing at school and wanted to give it a whirl! She had a blast.” The next two days saw the effort churn out about 1,200 prints and collect 33 volunteers, most of whom take to the printing lab when they get out of work or school.
“They are some of the friendliest, hardest working folks I’ve had the pleasure to meet,” said Field. “It is amazing to work with a group of people, who, rather than sitting on their duffs and complaining, roll up their sleeves and get their hand dirty for something that they believe in.”
Thanks to the volunteer staff headed by Lisa Guido, Field and Lillie have been able to ensure that the printing lab is running almost every day of the week, although they haven’t backed away from the operations. The two artists still take part in the printing and have now set their sights beyond lower Manhattan.
“We are working on setting up kits to send to other Occupy cities, so that they can set up print labs as well,” Field said.