"It feels as if the story is now old, to everyone... except those living through it."
-Diane McLean, May 20, 2015
"You have to give bad news... that's bad news"
The 58-year-old single mom had hoped against hope that what she saw in the photographs and on the news was that the building where she lived for three decades was spared, and it was the building next to theirs that had fallen. It wasn't until the next day, when she saw the smoldering rubble with her own eyes, that it was her building which had collapsed in the sudden, deadly 2nd Avenue, East Village explosion and fire that took two lives and left scores homeless.
She told me: "I was in denial, I said no, that can't be, it must be the angle or the lighting, but I knew, I'd seen that building in every angle every lighting for 35 years. The next day I went to see, and it was just knocked down, it was in rubble... it was very sad."
The next night, when Diane had to give the unspeakably tragic news to the kids, who thought their building was OK, Dr McLean mustered all of her child psychiatrist training, telling them:
Kids, I have some bad news, the firemen did everything they could for our building, more than 250 firemen came, they checked every building to make sure everybody was out, they checked everything to make sure as many people as they could find were safe.
And, they sprayed water and they had all the fire engines, and they did the top fire alarm, to save the buildings that were on fire, and save our building, but they weren't able to...and our building fell down. I was crying we were all crying, because it was sad.
It's been two months since I sat on a park bench in Tompkins Square Park and Diane McLean told me the story of how her life changed forever, in an instant.
Her kids played on the jungle gym and swings with their friends, the steady din of laughter in the distance wafted through the cool air, reminding me of when my son was that age, without a care in the world.
When we survive the unsurvivable, there is a pearl of a gift hidden within the ashes of loss, a gossamer thread which connects us all. As if to say, I have gone before you, and I have survived, and so can you.
I saw Diane on the 11 o'clock news surrounded by fire trucks and chaos, with three small children clinging to her as she talked to ABC's Jim Dolan, who is the most compassionate, old school journalist.
There was something about her. I felt compelled to find her, to tell her story so she wouldn't just disappear into the callous anonymity of the 24 hour news cycle.
I have filmed so many people who have suffered sudden loss, and I know there is great healing in telling their stories, I've always felt it was incumbent upon me to bear witness. We can overcome anything as long as there is hope.
Diane spoke with a confident resilience, belying her circumstance. I was in awe of her 'mom improvisation' skills, and I couldn't help but think that Rose, James and Annabelle were the luckiest kids in the world.
She told me: "We talked about home, what is home? You just have to think about it, you have to reassess. Home is where your heart is, and where your family is, and that's us. We have our inner home, the home of our hearts... we are going to find a lot of new homes."
This is something perhaps learned in the prisons where she had worked as a psychiatrist, or the tough neighborhoods she'd served in helping underprivileged kids. It was I who lef uplifted.
And then, she said something that touched me so deeply. My parents (both gone) worked at Walt Disney Studios in the Golden Years -- on Bambi, Pinocchio, Fantasia and Cinderella.
Friends where they were staying took them to see Cinderella, and in the film, Diane recalled, Cinderella's mother told her before she passed away, "You should have courage and kindness in your heart." By now we were both crying. She told me: "Cinderella's mom gave her really good advice. We're New Yorkers, we have courage and we have kindness to give out to other people, and we're receiving so much kindness, and with that, we can rebuild, we can do it."
A few weeks ago, Diane and her children found their 'second new home', in Bushwick. They are starting to rebuild, slowly but surely, through the 'kindness's of total strangers. To learn more, click here.
The courage and kindness of New Yorkers never ceases to amaze me.
Please follow @sandibachom on...
"Listen, everybody gets old, don't throw us away like garbage. It's not fair, you cannot have a senior citizen thrown in the street, where they gonna go, what if they don't have a family? In other words, senior citizens have no rights."
Eighty-five-year-old Adele Sarno is facing eviction this week. She goes before the housing court judge, who will decide her fate, this Thursday. She told me: "And you wanna know, Holy Thursday we're going to court, so I got a good thing with me, it's Holy Thursday, Good Friday, the next day, and Easter Sunday. See, God is with me."
In a stunning display of irony, one of the last eyewitnesses to what it was actually like to be an Italian-American in Little Italy after World War II is being evicted by the very repository of this rich history, The Italian American Museum. It would be laughable, were it not so tragic.
Evict her? They should hire her.
In 1945, when Adele was 16, she was crowned Queen of the Feast of San Gennaro, on Mulberry Street below her apartment and which honors, the patron saint of her father's native Naples.
As reported in the New York Times: "You're fighting a museum that purports to exhibit Italian-American culture and then proceeds to evict a living artifact," said Victor J. Papa, director of the Two Bridges Neighborhood Council, an affordable housing group that has helped Ms. Sarno in her effort to stay. "That's absolute hypocrisy."
"The lawyer with the briefcase can steal more money than the man with the gun." - Mario Puzo, The Godfather
When I saw Adele on CBS, I was compelled to meet her. I felt like Richard Dreyfus in Close Encounters. I had such empathy for her, as I'm a senior citizen, and after a bad accident, fell behind in my rent. Alone and unable to afford a lawyer, I was evicted -- Marshall, sign on the door, the whole deal -- and when I went before that housing court judge and told him, "Your Honor, it says In God We Trust over your head," through tears, he simply said "Next!" and slammed the gavel. I had no family, was living on Social Security and believe it or not, was living on $58 in food stamps. Had a friend not given me her couch, I honestly don't know where I'd be... at 70.
So, I attended a small rally in front of the museum this weekend, and when Adele showed up to thank the crowd, I asked if I could come up and interview her.
The crooked staircase (which Adele says she fell down last year and were fixed just recently because of her impending eviction) looks like something out of Alice in Wonderland, leading to the fastidiously neat apartment, filled with lots of love and a cat asleep on the bed. It was apparent that Adele is a woman of deep faith.
In 1962, when her longshoreman father, John, moved into the walkup, cold water flat at 182 Grand, he installed base board heating. Adele told me: "My dad did all this, this was nothing, no walls, my father put the bathroom, the cabinets, base board heat, my dad did all this." And for 53 years, Adele faithfully slid the rent envelope under that landlord's door. Never late.
Little Italy was different in those days, she tells me. All deals were consummated with a "handshake," she says. A spokesman for the museum told AM New York: "The Museum is expanding pending the outcome of negotiations with developers," and because the building was never landmarked, they can nearly "double the height."
According to the New York Times:
In an interview, Joseph V. Scelsa, founder and director of the museum, rejected the idea that the eviction was at odds with the institution's mission.
Little Italy, he said, "is not a community of Italian-Americans any longer." He said at some point the population that gave the area its name would disappear entirely, but that "the legacy would still remain because we have an institution that does that."
The apartment on the top floor goes for $4,700 a month. Il Palazzo, a family-owned restaurant for 30 years located on the ground floor, was shut down. Nevermind that they received 9 out of 10 stars in the New York Times.
But, in this age of poor doors and no doors, with the number of homeless at 60,000 people (up 5,000 since de Blasio took office) a night -- 23,000 of whom are children -- the people of New York City are hopping mad. They are mad at their neighborhoods being pillaged by greedy 80/20 developers. Who is this city for anymore?
I won the affordable housing lottery twice (out of 100,000 people) and, after being vetted for four months, was disqualified because of the eviction. This was 30 months ago, if it had been 36 months, it wouldn't have shown up on my perfect 750 credit report.
Adele is my hero and my sister, and we are in this fight together, "for all the senior citizen's," elderly, whatever you want to call us, who have no voice, who are disenfranchised from the shame.
As Adele says, "They got laws, you can't smoke, you can't drink, what about us?"
Perhaps, they picked the wrong two people to mess with: an 85-year-old Queen of San Gennaro and a 70-year-old woman with a camera, 5,000 Facebook friends and three million YouTube views. Adele is fighting her eviction for, "all senior citizens," and I am fighting for Adele, because nobody fought for me when I got evicted.
Is it possible that the Board of Directors of the Italian American Museum are not aware of the living connection to the past right under their...
It is said,"There are three sides to every story, yours, mine, and the truth", so I set out with my camera, in search of all three.
After 10 months of filming New York's Greatest Living Icons, the gentle carriage horses,...
"How terribly strange to be 70", the song goes. Even stranger, to be 70, and homeless.
Truth be known, most of us are hanging by a thread, keeping up appearances. We're all just one bad thing away... one illness, one firing, one SUV coming out of nowhere and mowing you...
Click here to watch the TEDTalk that inspired this post.
"You know, there's a philosopher who says, "As you live your life, it appears to be anarchy and chaos, and random events, non-related events, smashing into each other and causing this situation or that situation, and...
"Welcome to the 13th Annual No Pants Subway Ride. This is for participants only, if you didn't come here to take off your pants... you're in the wrong place."
With military precision, instructions were meted out, through a megaphone, to the ebullient crowd of several hundred, assembled at Foley Square, one of several meeting places in this global event, now in 60 cities around the world, for the hour-long flash, or rather flasher, mob.
As a drone camera swooped over hundreds eager to drop trou, the rules were explained, numbered groups assembled by birth month, they were to board a designated subway train. Ours, led by Zach, #NPSR veteran and investment banker, was to board the fifth car of the 6 Train, go to 59th Street and then the N or R, back down to Union Square. The drill was. Once on the car, complete anonymity and straight faces are adhered to, as one person begins taking off their pants in front of the unsuspecting strap hangers, and then go about texting or reading a paper.
Because of my fairly discreet camera, I was allowed to observe, but mum was the word as one after another, pantless people propagated the subway system.
The brainchild of the annual event, Improv Everywhere, replete with mission statement...
The No Pants Subway Ride is an annual event staged by Improv Everywhere every January in New York City. The mission started as a small prank with seven guys and has grown into an international celebration of silliness, with dozens of cities around the world participating each year. The idea behind No Pants is simple: Random passengers board a subway car at separate stops in the middle of winter without pants. The participants do not behave as if they know each other, and they all wear winter coats, hats, scarves, and gloves. The only unusual thing is their lack of pants.
There was unbridled joy and acceptance and, not unlike Santacon, or a clothed person in a nudist colony, after awhile if you're wearing pants, you feel like the interloper.
The whole "action" only takes about an hour once it get underway. They asked at Foley Square for everyone to sit down if they had never done No Pants Subway Ride before, last ones standing had done it for all 13 years. Then they asked who came from the furthest away and one guy was from Liverpool, one from India and then someone yelled, "Uranus" garnering giggles at the double entendre...which, along with puns, were plentiful all day.
They asked who was the oldest, and I raised my hand, as I'm in my 70th year, but alas, I was not "participating," there was a 72-year-old... and perhaps if I start Pilates now, it will be on my bucket list next year. When asked who was the youngest, a couple of babies were held up, but the pregnant woman won hands down.
The best part was the faces of the riders on the train. One guy who was mesmerized by a couple of gorgeous girls in skimpy shorts: "Do you think any of them are single?" he said in a deadly serious tone.
It was at once inspiring and depressing, some pretty great derriere's out there. Note to self: "Join Weight Watchers and start working out!" There was a family from Japan, mother, father and baby in diaper, a couple of super star Victoria's Secret moms with kids clinging on to their legs which went on forever. There were guys in business suits wearing boxer shorts reading the Wall Street Journal, tattooed ladies, and my favorite, at the end: a guy in tightie whities. "You win," I yelled as he bounded up the subway stairs, disappearing into the crowd of Hare Krishna drummers at Union Square and then, just like Keyser Soze, as quickly as they appeared, they were...
New York, is a city of magic this time of year, but never more so than on a snowy day, the week before Christmas. So I decided to go out with my camera,...
Last week, I decided to go out into the city during the snow storm and pretend I was a tourist. I went to all the places tourists go: Rockefeller Center to see the tree, Central Park when the new snow fell on the Bethesda Fountain angel. There was a man there from South America it was only the second time he'd ever seen snow.
When I got to Rockefeller Center ice rink, there was a couple in the middle of the empty rink, I realized he was proposing to her. The whole day, the light show at Saks Fifth Avenue and Grand Central Station, Tiffany's, St Regis, the Maxfield Parrish at the Ol King Cole Bar...
The day was so intoxicating, the city I love so all dressed up for Christmas -- well, there's just no place like it in the world. And the best news, it was absolutely free.
And then I remembered my friend Kenny Vance's beautiful version of "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas," one of my favorite songs and there you have it, my great Christmas Video Caper was...
Sandra was at the very first Santa "Con".
"There were about 80 of us, we met at Katz's Deli. It was 1999 I think. We all dressed up in Santa suits, it was originally an alternative, a "con" or parody on Christmas."
It was a secret, clandestine, affair with only one goal... to have fun. An irreverent group of costumers and downtown artists channeling a creative camaraderie, roamed the lower east side of New York City in the days before cell phones and Twitter.
"There was a girl named Ducky, she had a clipboard, she would shout, "Santa's on the move" and the next destination was announced. "We were welcomed everywhere. We had a song book with naughty lyrics to Christmas songs. We would go to every bar on St Mark's, they would all come out on the street and invite us in. The owners couldn't wait to have us back, it was their best take of the year."
"The first year, we went to Billy's Strip club and all the Santa's stripped for money and we gave all of it to the girls who worked there."
With the gentrification and advent of cell phones, things began to change, but when Time Out discovered us... next thing you know there were 10,000 Santa's. The name and the meaning changed. When I told Sandra, Santacon is now known as a Santa Convention, she was mortified.
This year there is a flurry of Santa Haters, trying to shut the whole thing down. Good luck. Banning liquor or asking bartenders not to serve bad Santa's is like trying to empty the ocean, one bucket at a time. Even Police Commissioner Ray Kelley says, "It's what makes New York, New York". I was interviewed on ABC News, defending my experience of Santacon, which is, hands down, my favorite day of the year.
Saturday will be my fifth year... but you never forget your first Santacon! Although I'm a sober Santa, I fear the prohibitionists are protesting in vain. It's like trying to ban booze at St Patrick's Day.
Once you get past the initial embarrassment of walking out of your apartment in a Santa Claus suit for the first time, and you get a "Hi Santa!" from a similarly clad New Yorker, the day gets progressively more magical.
There are only four things needed to participate in the annual, global, spontaneous Santarchy!
1. A Santa Claus suit (elves, rain deer, Chanukah bushes, Christmas trees. Sketchy Santas and gingerbread cookies welcome).
2. Download the Santa Carols Songbook with randy lyrics from the website.
3. Program the Hashtags #Santacon #NYCSantacon on your phone.
4. Leave all embarrassment and self respect at home.
You've probably seen hoards of us on subway platforms, a thousand singing "We Are The Champions" in Grand Central Station, Washington Square and 10,000 in Central Park and Times Square. If you can suspend your judgements, it's a pretty thrilling experience.
It's all very hush, hush and secret meeting locations. Renegade off shoots making up their own routes or... just go out into the city and join anyone else in a Santa suit and see where it takes you! This is not a day for those of us with OCD.
Of the many benefits of donning the red suit, you'll laugh for eight hours straight, it's a great calorie burner, giggling and schlepping all over town and... with the release of all those endorphins, it's impossible to be depressed while wearing a red suit.
I will be there with my SantaCam if you can't make it, but you might want to consider it for your bucket...
Back when New York was cool, we ate chickpeas, charred and rare steaks and smoked Marlboro's at Max's Kansas City, before it became a deli and CBGBs became a clothing store. We voted for Miss Subways on the graffiti covered A Train, we sat on the jumpseat in Checker Cabs, and...
There was Lou.
In his motorcycle jacket and shades, he oozed an illusive and unattainable coolness. He wrote dangerous songs about whores, pimps and heroin, a poet of the streets, with his driving guitar and that unmistakable whiskey and Pall Mall voice, every kid who picked up a guitar, wanted to be him.
Yesterday, as I turned the corner onto the reflecting pool and stand of trees in the shadow of the Julliard School of Music, I came upon a remarkable site.
Wafting through the canyons of culture that comprise Lincoln Center, echoed Lou Reed's haunting voice, at once abrasive, yet achingly beautiful. As I walked through the people standing in the trees, just standing there, I was reminded of the angels in Wings of Desire. The love was palpable.
My camera glided past one elderly woman swaying to the music, eyes closed and smiling, a mother holding her infant. All different kinds of people, young, old, children intently listening... and all there for the love of Lou. Spontaneously dancing, as if no one was watching, as if they were a thousand miles away... smiling, one would mouth the words, "And the colored girls go...do do do do do do do do do" ..."Take a walk on the wild side."
"I'm a musician and I love Lou Reed he's been a major influence to me and the background music to a lot of my life." a young man played a mean air sax solo on a long stemmed red rose to "Walk on the Wild Side"
One couple waltzed into the open plaza and began dancing with such abandon for 17 minutes. "Sister Ray" as a completely oblivious young man shredded his air guitar ...transported. Another danced over to the speakers and embraced them as if Lou were actually inside. "He was my best friend. We had breakfast every morning no matter where we were in the world."
I can't put into words the beauty of the moment, I'm so glad I had my camera. I do hope he knew how much he was beloved and the effect his music had on people, I like to think he did. He lived and loved fiercely, as the crushingly honest farewell his wife Laurie Anderson shared with us.
One amazing quote from such a quotable guy:
"On the road to adulthood there was a detour called 'The Guitar Highway' in which a lot of people get on, The Guitar Highway, they don't come back."
I, for one, am so grateful he found the...
-- Paul Simon
My grandmother, Catherine Mackenzie McCrae Higgins, was born in Canada. She said, "aboat" and, "eh?", put two syllables in "film" and invariably told the same story every year,...
I spent all day schlepping around New York in search of the latter day mountebank with a spray can and stencil, known as Banksy. The mysterious artists' paintings command thousands, but every day in October, his palette, the concrete canyons of New York......
Without my Social Security check arriving on the third Wednesday of the month, I would probably be dead... and I certainly wouldn't have been able to finance my first documentary.
This is a cautionary tale, about being "one bad thing...
I came to Zuccotti Park on a crisp October day, 714 days ago. My camera was an eyewitness to history, while I... fell in love.
There were a handful of tattooed and body-pierced young people and a few old hippies, like me. Everybody seemed to have always been there, although it was 17 days into the global, leaderless movement known as Occupy Wall Street. There were hand written signs which said "Kitchen", "First Aid" and "Library" and people scrawling on cardboard boxes, "We Are the 99%" and "Banks Got Bailed Out, We Got Sold Out." It reminded me a bit of The Speaker's Corner in Hyde Park.
A remarkable feeling of peace and belonging washed over me. "This is my second revolution" I would say. As I returned, day after day, and it grew, I would see familiar faces, the Sax Man and Loren with the blue hair, they were rag tag soldiers in this revolution. Kids singing protest songs from my generation reading the lyrics to "This Land Is Your Land" off their iPhones. "How did you communicate with each other?" they asked me.
Good question. We had public radio and underground newspapers, we showed up and we marched and we were beaten and jailed. But what was so amazing about OWS, was this idea of the 99%. We could all identify with that.
We were all Howard Beale, we were "Mad as hell and not going to take it anymore." And as our numbers grew, we were everyman. We were old Granny's For Peace and Vietnam Veterans's For Peace, and ILGWU, iron workers, doctors with signs "Medicare For All" and students with $100k in debt and former Wall Streeters who were mad too. We grew and grew. Rock stars and folk singers, Ben AND Jerry came and scooped ice cream. There was Joan Baez, Crosby and Nash, my old pal Jackson Browne, hell, I even wound up in Rolling Stone, a picture of me filming Tom Morello!
"What do they want?" people would ask me. I'd say. "As far as I'm concerned, we already won, we changed the language." In those early days, nobody every heard of Occupy Wall Street and the 99 percent and a few short weeks later...everybody was talking about us.
It was noble and grand, we were changing the world... and we had so much fun, we tweeted and hashtagged and I wound up pepper sprayed and in the emergency room twice falling over barricades. My camera is banged up like a combat photographer's in a war zone. Eventually it got to be like a B&H convention, every single kind of camera and microphone, iPhone steadicam rigs.
The best Thanksgiving of my life was in the park, replete with "Occu Pies" and a stronger sense of family than I've felt at many family gatherings. It was November after the raid, when the NYPD swooped in like storm troupers and demolished everything in site. They threw 5,000 cataloged books in the dumpster and smashed them. Thank you Norman Siegel who just won the case against the city for the books. Patti Smith had just anonymously donated a tent, a beautiful blue tent with colorful letters, "People's Library."
There was a picture I saw on YouTube, I will never forget, of Ray Kelly, hands clasped behind his back pacing back and forth. November 15. That night, mayors of several cities had simultaneous raids on Occupy encampments. I watched the livestream of Occupy LA and it was the most terrifying thing I'd ever seen in my life, they just swooped like the monkeys in the Wizard of Oz, wearing black, came out of nowhere.
And the ubiquitous Live Streamers, Tim Poole and Matt. Always there, the only true form of journalism there is, live and unedited. The term "Citizen Journalist" came out of OWS. It's where I learned, it was empowering, all you needed was a camera, and iPhone and a Twitter account.
I captured some really historic stuff, memories for life. One night I was on Facebook and saw that Pete Seeger was marching down Broadway at midnight about to 'occupy' Columbus Circle. I tore up there and by the time I got there he, Arlo Guthrie, Tom Chapin, David Amram and hundreds more were perched on the statue of Columbus. It was so dark you couldn't see anything. All of a sudden, someone shown a big light on them as they sang, "This Little Light of Mine." It was magic and there wasn't a dry eye in the place.
After the raid, it was getting really dangerous down there. Every time there would be an action the cops would show up in draconian force, hundreds of them, with those scary little white hand cuff bracelets dangling. And when you saw the cavalry show up, the equestrian unit on horseback, you knew it was going to get ugly. I was trampled a couple of times and hey, I'm a senior citizen.
The NYPD unit,TARU would show up with little video cameras. The Technical Assistance Response Unit. It was their job to shoot actions when there would be arrests, to get their side of the story. But what they didn't count on, was every police action, they'd yell, "Cameras" and it was a shoot out. Them shooting us shooting them. Everybody trying to keep everybody honest.
The real unsung heros were the National Lawyers Guild, the NLG, with fluorescent green hats. When there was an arrest, they would rush in and yell, "What's your name?" everybody had the NLG phone number written on their arms with magic markers. They would come to where you were taken and follow you through the arraignment...for FREE! We all took care of each other in a magnificent way. We were all there for the same reason and we were bonded by this vision..."We are unstoppable, another world is possible."
There have been a thousand unforgettable memories, a lifetime's worth. Demonstrating at David Koch's Southampton home where he was holding a $50K/plate fund raiser for Mitt Romney, they had a huge sign, "Mitt Romney Has A Koch Problem", the day Crosby and Nash showed up in Zuccotti Park, I waited an hour getting my camera just the right angle and when they came out, they faced the other direction! Being on the stage with Joan Baez was a keeper for this old folkie. #N17 where we marched over the Brooklyn Bridge and the bat signal was projected on the Verizon building and the court houses. It was delicious.
But I gotta say one of the best was, I got a tip off at midnight, it was December after the raid on Zuccotti Park, that Law & Order SVU had built a fake Zuccotti Park in Foley Square, when I got there, just a production assistant was guarding the set. It had a kitchen and a People's Library and signs and it was really elaborate. But the occupiers were NOT amused. They started arriving and, although I'm sure the producers would have thought differently, a good natured 'occupation' occurred. "We are a movement not a tv plot' was written on the signs.
So we were rascals and obstreperous at times, I'm sure some intended to get arrested and some by accident. I am proud to know them all, all my "OccuPals"... I was proud of every minute I spent at Occupy Wall Street. What I learned is that you can change the world by empowering the people. "Power to the People" John Lennon said, and wouldn't he be right on the front lines?
"Mic check! Mic check!" We changed the language, we changed the world... one hashtag at a time. On Martin Luther King's birthday two years ago, Patti Smith quoted her great song, which has become my anthem...
"And the people have the power, to redeem the work of fools." It's up to...
On February 21, 2012, Pussy Riot, the Russian feminist punk rock band, festooned in primary colored ski masks called, 'balaclavas' stormed the security guards at Moscow's Cathedral of Christ the Savior and staged a guerrilla, anti Putin performance lasting... a matter of seconds.
That night, the music video, appeared on YouTube "Punk Prayer - Mother of God, Chase Putin Away!"
Their arrest for 'hooliganism' and subsequent incarceration, followed by harsh sentencing, of two years hard labor in a gulag, penal colony, sparking an international outrage, against oppression and cry for freedom of speech, and First Amendment constitutionality in this country. Of the three young women arrested, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina remain in prison, both mothers. Yekaterina Samutsevichthe was arrested and released on a technicality. All three became instant heroins as #FreePussyRiot was tweeted to millions by the likes of Madonna, Sting and Yoko Ono.
But across the pond, a bigger issue is brewing.
I spent a year filming Occupy Wall Street and was aware that the NYPD were arbitrarily arresting protestors who were wearing Anonymous (Guy Fawkes) masks...I was disturbed by this effectively trumped up ploy, so when three women protesting the sentencing of Pussy Riot, showed up at the Russian Consulate a year ago, and were arrested citing an arcane statute , the 1845 "Anti-Mask Law", it sounded like something out of the Gangs of New York.
A friend and somewhat of a New York historian, found this fascinating tidbit about the derivation of the law...
The obscure statute, which dates back to uprisings in 1845, when the price of wheat dipped:
After [landowner Stephen Van Rensselaer IV] moved to evict tenants, disgruntled farmers disguised themselves as "Indians," dressed in "calico gowns and leather masks" and attacked agents of the landlords. The court papers said the tactics adopted by these rebel groups ranged from "tarring and feathering" to murder, including a sheriff
It all boils down to economics and ironically, what they were fighting for at OWS. This is the actual wording of the law.
Penal § 240.35 Loitering. 4. Being masked or in any manner disguised by unusual or unnatural attire or facial alteration, loiters, remains or congregates in a public place with other persons so masked or disguised, or knowingly permits or aids persons so masked or disguised to congregate in a public place; except that such conduct is not unlawful when it occurs in connection with a masquerade party or like entertainment if, when such entertainment is held in a city which has promulgated regulations in connection with such affairs, permission is first obtained from the police or other appropriate authorities...
This Saturday, at the one-year anniversary of Pussy Riot's incarceration, in solidarity, Esther Robinson and Rebekah Schiller, arrested a year earlier, showed up at the Russian Consulate prepared! Donning their "balaclavas', their attorney, Norman Siegel, by their side, and a letter of injunction challenging the constitutionality of the draconian' 1845 Anti-Mask Law.
"As we notified the Office of the Corporation Counsel on Friday, August 2, 2013 our clients have authorized us to file suit on their behalf in the United States District Court in Manhattan to challenge New York Penal Law 240.35(4) as unconstitutional as applied to seek a preliminary injunction to halt its enforcement at the planned demonstration on August 17, 2013 in support of the punk rock band known as Pussy Riot..."
Has not Putin already tipped his hand as to his intentions for the 2014 Olympics and enforcement of the "Law against homosexual propaganda" with the Imprisonment of Pussy Riot? And what might be the correlation between the Anti-Mask Law on the books since 1845? A similarly archaic law.
I asked Esther Robinson, the reluctant revolutionary, what correlation she saw...
"I think they are actually all related. Fascism starts with curbing free speech protections and attacking/silencing those at the margins -- both through violence and through rule-of-law.
Gays, Artists and protesters are like canaries in the coal mine -- violence and laws aimed at curbing their activities are signs of growing unchecked power.
Obviously drawing attention to both is crucial. I think, though, that American's have grown complacent and like to believe these abuses are primarily happening in other countries. Where possible I think it's always important to show that these abuses are on a continuum-- and that our country is part of the problem as well...and those of us who can must fight back."
It was pointed out by a friend that Coke sponsored the 1936 Olympics, as they are sponsoring the 2014. I don't think the Putin government nor the sponsors of the Olympics, has any idea the level to which social activism has matured.
So, get your hashtags out, and, let the games...
In careless disregard for millions of paying customers held hostage by Time Warner Cable's recent blackout of CBS and Showtime programming, the two media giants are duking it out in a corporate donnybrook over transmission fees, effectively depriving New York, Los Angeles and Dallas markets of their favorite programs... and...
I make YouTube videos. I like the immediacy, interactivity and honesty, and the fact that it stays up there forever, giving historical context... documenting what it was like to live in New York at this particular time in music and politics and anything else my camera discovers. And, I love the idea that 1,671,751 people have actually watched them!
Michael Moore dubbed us Citizen Journalists. We document breaking news on our iPhones and Canon 5Ds. We're there on the front lines of history, before the mainstream media gets there, and for years after they've won their Pulitzers, our work resides in blogs, on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
Our bodies and our cameras are bruised and dented from being thrown against barricades, or tripping over our own damned feet running backwards down Fifth Avenue. We've risked and incurred serious injuries, spent an inordinate amount of time in emergency rooms... and we still can't get our NYPD press passes.
When headlines are on the newsstands, I like to go out and ask people what they think, like what did Gov Elliot Spitzer get for $4,300, or when Occupy Wall Street protestors shut down the Law & Order SVU "Mockupy" set, or when I lost my health insurance, or when Pete Seeger gave a surprise midnight concert at Columbus Circle.
For the most part I get 'thanks for posting', 'so glad you were there because I couldn't be', but recently, a disturbing, and escalating trend of bigotry, racism and hatred, spewing from the anonymity of the internet. As I started covering more events like Occupy Wall Street, Gay Pride, Marriage Equality, repeal of DOMA, and most egregiously, the Trayvon Martin verdict protests, I noticed an alarming spate of pretty scary, flat out racist comments being posted on my channel, unnerving, not only because of their anonymity of ignorance, but because of my complete transparency.
YouTube, as is Twitter, are populated by 'Internet trolls'...
Hateful, racist, sexist, immature, misspelled, questionable, comments made by internet trolls mainly consisting of an age group of 7-13, written on a site known as YouTube. In short, its where immature coward kids go to gain confidence by writing hateful messages they'll never have the guts to say in their lifetime. -Urban Dictionary
The secret language of Twitter are hashtags, signified by a # before the name. The hashtag before three letters, #OWS was the beginning of a movement. Occupy Wall Street was a hashtag revolution, IMHO. Internet trolls reply to certain trends with bile in total anonymity with 2 followers and an Avatar with no photo. But YouTube commenters are more sinister and frightening. It is the temperature of the country. The 'analytics' on each of my videos tells the complete story. Every state in the union, 58% men, most hits, not surprisingly in New York, California and Florida.
Two weeks ago, I filmed the NYC Justice For Trayvon Martin March Demanding DOJ Civil Case @ PROTEST of ZIMMERMAN Verdict which was a spontaneous march, snaking through the streets of New York. It was a joyful event in its diversity, very different in its inclusion and cross section of Americans, than any other demonstration I'd filmed.
But when I posted the video that night. These, no holes barred racist, bigoted, bad grammar and just place dumb, comments started appearing. I was quite upset in the beginning, when I read the first few. I couldn't sleep. But the next morning, when I went in and saw 60 of them, now there are 95, like cockroaches. I decided to keep them there...
There is a consistency of the rhetoric. Most often memed by the proselytizers of Hate Talk Radio, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, Laura Ingraham and that ilk. They can really say anything they want with no repercussions. They are anonymous haters, and there are a lot of them and they gain strength with numbers.
I can't post the Trayvon march comments here, but you're welcome to view them yourselves.
Social media, and YouTube in particular, is valuable tool. It is a completely democratic temperature of the people... both sides, whether you like it or not. Like live streaming, it's possibly the only real, unfiltered truth there is.
Last week, there was another vigil in New York City with Trayvon's mother and luminaries like Jay Z and his wife were there along with elected officials and leaders from the black community, there was a message of hope. These three young boys told me from their experience what racism is. They told me what they hear everyday, the words of almost a hundred anonymous haters and a few on this video too...I think the value of seeing this is, for the first time, since Obama's speech, we have a glimpse into this world, a world known all to well to those of color, and there in lies a healing moment.
Maybe the tragedy of this child's death is starting the dialogue about race on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. And, just maybe, we can start a new hashtags... #Hope #Healing