Action Creates Hope

GenesisCampaign

The other day a high school classmate reached out to me on Facebook and asked if I had any advice for getting involved in local political organizing. He admitted that he had talked himself out of getting involved in any himself because he feared feeling disheartened if a particular action didn’t succeed.

I could relate. For much of my mid-20s and early 30s, I felt similarly, worried that if the small actions I took part in didn’t lead to overthrowing the entire oppressive system there was no point. I was hiding from my own brokenhearted burnout from activism and idealism during the Bush years and I wrongly believed that keeping activism at arms’ length would help. This is a position Rebecca Solnit describes as “naive cynicism” in her new book, Call Them by Their True Names. It was only after reading Solnit’s Hope in the Dark in the summer of 2016 that I started to let go of my naive cynicism, just before the very same book became the unofficial handbook of the resistance.

Then “the election” happened and I threw myself into activism and organizing at a pace I hadn’t maintained since my late teens and early twenties, repeating Solnit’s phrase “hope is action” to myself. Over the past two years, I have found particular hope in focusing on hyper local issues where the efforts and attention of me and my neighbors can make a real, tangible difference in the lives of people most affected by this administration’s policies. For me personally, that has meant focusing on supporting immigrant families and activists, and working to elect or reelect progressive, local politicians that will fight for a more expansive, inclusive New York city and state.    Continue reading

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When Politics Goes Low, Get Local

Canvassing for Carlos

Canvassing in a nor’easter on campaign launch day.

Two weeks ago I worked my way through a crowd gathered on the sidewalk spilling out of Tacos Matamoros, and slipped into the packed taqueria. Music was blaring, margaritas were being served and sipped, and everyone’s attention was glued to the TVs. Usually playing international soccer matches, they were now tuned to New York 1. I looked around, and waved at a table full of friends here, a group of friends over there, some nervously optimistic, some confidently eating tacos, others wringing their hands and wiping back tears.

Forty percent of the votes in and he’s got an 8 percent lead.

Fifty percent in, the lead still holds. 70, 88, finally 90 percent and someone yells, “The New York Times called it!” A minute later, New York 1 does as well, 95% reporting and Carlos Menchaca at 48% of the votes wins the Democratic Primary for New York City Council in District 38.

Chants and cheers and sobs erupt.

“Carlos! Carlos! Carlos!”

“Si se puede!”

“Aqui estamos y no nos vamos!”

Carlos was hoisted into a chair, nearly hitting the low ceiling of the restaurant and then, standing on a table, proceeded to thank every group, campaign staff member and volunteer, and community member who had helped. As I hugged my neighbors and jubilant tears streaked down my cheeks I was filled with a sense of gratification and relief. This sense of elation and a political victory have felt long out of reach since long before the 2016 elections.

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Stick together against hate

 

activist stickers by aurora lady

“Blue lives matter” read the bubble letters scrawled on a light post in my neighborhood, taunting me on my morning commute.

“Are you f*ing kidding me? In this neighborhood?” I said out loud. To me, this was hate speech. I dug around my bag, trying to find something, anything to cover it up. From my bag’s front pocket I dug out a Grady’s cold brew sticker. Good enough. I peeled the back off and slapped it over the hateful eyesore. Done. “Coffee not assholes,” I mumbled and caught the train.

My neighborhood is one of the most diverse in the United States and is largely Latinx and Chinese immigrants. There is a mural in Spanish, painted on a wall just up the block, outlining your rights if you are stopped by the police.

But I got to thinking: what if I had at the ready, a durable sticker with eye catching design that helped spread a message that reflected my values: pro-immigrant, pro-LGBTQ rights, feminist, and pro-social and racial justice. Since the US election in November there has been a documented rise in hate speech and incidents, especially those targeting people perceived as Muslim or immigrants.

activist stickers

In New York anti-Muslim graffiti was found at the Fort Hamilton Subway stop, there was a widely documented incident of a woman being physically harassed and threatened for wearing a headscarf near 23rd street in Manhattan, and hateful phrases were written in Adam Yauch Park in Brooklyn Heights. These incidents set off protests, a wave of bystander intervention training, and ongoing neighborhood organizing, all of which is crucial. We must stand up and use our voices in every way we can to oppose hateful speech and actions.

activist sticker LA

Right now have to take matters into our own hands to counter hateful graffiti or messages and create a positive, inclusive environment. Stickers are easy to carry, fun to share, and simple and quick to put up. And who better to help create catchy, activist messages than my friend, feminist illustrator, and girl pop visionary extraordinaire Aurora Lady?

To capture the messages we want to help spread we came up with a few phrases: “NYC loves Immigrants,” “LA loves immigrants,” “LGBTQ rights are human rights,” and “Act against hate.” Simple and effective.

activist sticker aurora lady LGBTQ

Great designers have a way of taking your idea and creating a product that is far better than you imagined from it. I was thrilled when I saw the stickers Aurora designed. I had them printed by the pros at StickerMule on weatherproof, matte vinyl that will look as good on your laptop (mine already has an NYC loves immigrants sticker on it) as it will out in the world.

I hope you will join me and help me get the these messages out into the world. You can purchase the stickers from my brand new Etsy shop. Even better, all proceeds after production costs and shipping will be donated to Trans Lifeline, the Arab American Association of New York, and Atlas DIY (a group in my neighborhood working to support immigrant youth). Join the movement to #sticktogetheragainsthate!

activist stickers

Bystander intervention and de-escalation zine: stick together against hate!

nycimmigrantmarch

“So do you really choose to wear this thing? I mean does the Quran dictate that you must?” His insistent voice made its way through my headphones. I reluctantly I looked up from the book I was diligently reading on my late morning commute. A middle aged, white man, standing unsteadily, leaned close over two seated, young women wearing headscarves. The power dynamics were hard to ignore. I hit pause on my iPhone and took off my headphones. He kept on talking to the women, who looked at each other nervously, and kept trying to politely brush him off, saying, “It’s okay, we like it, it’s part of our  culture.”

Sitting up straighter I looked steadily across the train car at the two women and said, “Do you want to have a conversation with this man?” They looked at me and shrugged, “No, it’s okay, we’re fine.” I smiled and nodded and said, “Okay, just wanted to make sure.” He kept talking to them, gesturing wildly.

I turned to him, “Excuse me sir, not everyone wants to talk to strangers on the subway. I like to be alone on my ride, which is why I am wearing headphones. I think these women would just like to continue their conversation with each other.”

He looked at me, as if he was surprised I noticed. I kept my gaze towards him steady. He moved away down the car and exited the at the next station.

After he left the women turned to me and said, “Thank you so much.”

I smiled, “Not a problem, I’m sorry that he was bothering you.”

When they got off at Jay Street Metrotech they waved and smiled and I waved back.

Ever since that day I’ve been so glad that I spoke up.

The above is an example of bystander intervention and verbal de-escalation that I engaged in last year. Since the election I have been horrified at the uptick of racist, homophobic, misogynist, and transphobic harassments and incidents that have transpired the around the country and right here in New York City. It’s angering and it’s maddening, but we have a power to stop these incidents when we see them by standing up and speaking out. Specifically, we can task ourselves with learning techniques and strategies to intervene safely while staying calm and centered as best we can.

youalwayshavetherighttosayno

I recently attended two trainings on bystander intervention and verbal de-escalation hosted by NYC Bluestockings books and the Arab American Association of New York. They were led social worker Rachel Levy, who has undertaken a huge task post-election to train people on how to go from being bystanders to “upstanders” – people equipped to stand up when they witness hate, violence, or bigotry, and use verbal techniques to de-escalate a situation. I got the idea for this zine before I attended the training, but my experience with these trainings reinforced why practicing these techniques is so vital to standing up against hate and creating the kind of inclusive, peaceful communities we want to live in.

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Brooklyn Indie Guide: My bonnes addresses and favorite places in one app!

One of my favorite parts of living in Brooklyn is showing it off to visitors. While the idea of “Brooklyn” conjures up all sorts of images and ideas, one of the best parts of being a resident is being a great host to guests who are curious to learn more about the many diverse neighborhoods and cultures that make up this famous borough.

Brooklyn Indie Guide map

Map in the Brooklyn Indie Guide

Over the past six months I’ve been working on a very special project: The Brooklyn Indie Guide, a handy iPhone or Android app that highlights fifty of my favorite places around Brooklyn! This guide is part of the Indie Guides series, created by my friends Anne and Gary, who are based in Paris, France. These guides are available in French and English and focus on local culture and highlight independent, alternative, underground, and often overlooked or quirky places in cities around the world that other guide books rarely cover. Cities featured in other guides include Athens, Istanbul, Paris (which is free!), Montreal (which is also free!), Rotterdam and Tokyo, among others, and new guides are being released each month!

I was thrilled at the opportunity to share my favorite places in Brooklyn with a wider audience. I’ve been living in Sunset Park, Brooklyn for 13 of the 14 years I’ve been in New York City and watched the borough transform from a pretty awesome place that seemed a little out of the way to mainstream culture (and to many New Yorkers) to globally synonymous with “trend.” Some of the places in this guide are new additions to the borough, but many have been here much longer than I have.

Before I made the decision to move to New York City from Maine I worried about missing out on nature, space and a self-directed pace of life. One of my mentors reassured me, “You can live however you want in New York City.” As real estate prices have risen this goal has become a bit harder to achieve, but my hope with this guide was to highlight some of the many ways one can live in, and visit, Brooklyn.

The guides are all divided into five categories: Eat, Drink, Culture, Shop, and Go Out. Each of these categories features ten locations. In the guide you can search by category, tags, or on a map (and see what’s closest to you on the map!). In selecting each location I made an effort not only to pick places I, or my friends, love, but destinations that will take a visitor all around Brooklyn to interesting and vibrant neighborhoods that they may not otherwise visit, or enable them see another side of heavily touristed areas.

Listing in Brooklyn Indie Guide

The guide features everything from a neighborhood heavy metal bar, a feminist art gallery, an old-school Brooklyn clam bar, my favorite spot for pizza, a few hole-in-the-wall DIY rock clubs, a shop for vintage inspired punk-hipster beach wear, where to drink great cocktails, or coffee, and where to find the best oysters. There’s also plenty of record and book shops, performance venues, and dive bars to keep you busy. The app even includes a playlist, which is pretty darn cool if you ask me!

In a sense this project has been incubating since 2011, when I first met Indie Guides creators Anne and Gary at a show I played with our mutual friend Michel at Spike Hill (a sorely missed venue and bar in the heart of Williamsburg). They were impressed by a 4 page (!) list of things to check out in Brooklyn I had compiled for Michel. When they got the idea for the guides the other year they reached out to see if I’d like to write the Brooklyn guide and of course I agreed. I’m so pleased with the result, of my suggestions all wrapped up in an easily navigable interface, with a lot of cute illustrations to match! You can download the version for iPhone or Android version (in English or French) from the Indie Guides site!

Goodbye to All of You (who want to go)

Sunset Park at winter twilight is a surreal and magical place

I composed this post while I was walking home through the silent, Brooklyn, evening during a mid-winter snowstorm. I love the times when NYC is quiet and feels like it’s taking a rare, much needed pause. I just had drinks at my favorite local bar with K., the kind of place that is dim and mellow, with chatty bar tenders and perfect Manhattans every night of the week except Friday and Saturday evenings, when it seems to be taken over by obnoxious hordes. We were talking about the difficulty and constant hustle of establishing ones self and building a satisfying professional life in New York City. Somedays it feels particularly out of reach. The economy is markedly improved in recent years, because of that, more and more people want to come to live here. I always maintained that creative, smart people had a better chance to find work here than elsewhere because there were simply more opportunities available. However, there’s also a lot more competition.

New York will always draw the young, the not-so-young, the creative and ambitious. That’s part of what makes it an exciting place to be. But now with the “brand” of Brooklyn being synonymous with global cool, silicon alley rivaling silicon valley for tech innovation, and shows like Girls broadcasting an unrealistic version of what it means to be a twenty-something in Brooklyn the NYC cool factor is having a real cultural moment. I feel like it’s really putting a lot of pressure, financial and otherwise, on opportunities like jobs, social events and housing for people in my age range.

... Except if they do

Moments like this never fail… by Dzine

Lately I found myself discouraging my peers who casts doubts on living in NYC from moving out. “I spent time in 24 different US cities last year!” I tell them, “I loved them all, they are all interesting places full of creative, smart people doing cool things, but I don’t want to live in any of them! I want to live here!” I say.

“Look at the access you have to culture, public transit, great food, innovative projects, and you don’t have to own a car!” I’ll argue.

“Feel the lack of social pressure!” I’ll implore, “You can be exactly who you want to be here!”

But tonight I had a change of heart. I realized I wasn’t so much trying to convince them to stay as to convince myself that I have made the right decision. It’s as if I’m worried I’ll be left clinging to a relationship that’s run its course out of nostalgia of how things used to be when the object of my affection, and all of my friends, have moved on. What I realized is that I need to feel confident enough about my decision to dig my heels in here and stay and let others go through their own discovery process with what they need in a place to live and what they need in life.

I wrote this past fall about the backlash many artists and writers have felt against the city because they moved here to pursue their artistic dreams and felt that the reality fell short of their romantic notions. I start to wonder why I stayed and stayed devoted to the the idea that one can build a creative life here or anywhere. And then I realized this:

My romantic notions of my New York City life lasted about 3 weeks. I moved here in late August of 2001 to start college. On September 11th, I realized with a sinking feeling how little I knew about world politics, NYC, or what my life would look for feel like after that day. I realized quickly that the city owed me nothing and any attempt I might have to control my experience here would be in vain. It was in that moment I knew I could throw in the towel and go back to the life I had in Portland, Oregon or Portland, Maine or stay and tough it out. I knew if I stayed I was making a long term commitment to the city. I decided to stay.

I’ve stayed in NYC through loneliness, depress, recession, my saturn returns (if you believe in that stuff), and long enough to build up a career and now, begin pursuing a different direction. I’ve earned two degrees, become fluent in a second language, started to learn to code, played in bands, written a book, become a confident NYC cyclist, planned and then abandoned plans to move to Paris or LA, and most of all, eeked out a somewhat stable life for myself working in the arts, culture and education field, while nurturing friendships, hopes, dreams and plans.

Our rock'n'roll lifestyle to do list

NYC rock’n’roll life style to do list at my band practice space

In high school a teacher told me, “You can live however you want in New York City,” when I confessed to her my dream to study and live here. Since then I’ve taken her advice to heart. But living how you want in NYC often means doing so on the city’s terms. And that can be a tough proposition. So, if you find you can’t live how you want here, there’s no harm and no foul. There’s a place out there for you. It’s waiting. Go. there are so many places to be be cultured, innovative and interesting. To launch new businesses and make new art. And no matter what, New York City’s frenetic rhythm continues, whether it’s the current barometer of cultural cool or not, and honestly, whether you or I are here at all.  But I plan to be here. You are always welcome to come back to visit.

Writerly love for New York City

New York you do not disappoint take 2

Every New York-based publication I’ve picked up lately has had an article about young people, mostly writers or artists or other privileged creative types, packing up their bags and saying “Good riddance” to New York City. Many of them are inspired by the new anthology edited by Sari Barton, Goodbye to All That: On Loving and Leaving New York. The publisher must have had some great PR work because big articles about this “trend” heavily reference the book and have appeared quite notably in New York Magazine and the New York Times. The articles all mention that Joan Didion’s iconic essay “Goodbye to All That” inspired much of the writing (as well as the title) and Didion’s essay is certainly among my favorites ever written about being young and creative in New York City. However, reading all of these articles I felt a kernel of annoyance welling up in me. Of course I don’t begrudge anyone’s decision to leave the city, but I realized that I’ve been through an opposite thought process this past year, and wanted to give the city a little writerly love.

This time last year I was convinced I needed to get out of New York City. I felt done with it and, further more, done with the high cost of living, terrible weather, and the fact that it smells like garbage most of the time. A year ago I was convinced that at present I would be packing my bags and my cat and heading out to sunny Los Angeles.

Before I tell you about my change of heart about New York, let’s review the facts: The New York City is expensive and only seems to be getting more so. Rents are insane, it’s difficult to find a decent place to live, and daily life often feels like one hassle after another. Everything feels intensely competitive, it really does smell like garbage most of the time, extreme injustice and inequality gets thrown in your face almost every second, and commuting on the over burdened subway system sucks.

When I moved here to go to college I told myself I would leave soon after. I kept giving myself “one more year in New York” until I decamped to Portland, Oregon or Paris. That “one more year” became “three more years” became “I’m not going to leave.” I realized that the community I’d cultivated here couldn’t be picked up and moved to another place and that New York offered the kind of opportunities I wanted to find.

This year I felt like I spent almost as much time out of New York as in it. I traveled all around the Midwest, Texas and the West and East Coasts. I made multiple trip to Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit and Portland, Oregon. I was charmed by places I’d never been to before, like Omaha, Cincinnati, and Tulsa. I found that with the growth in appreciation for things that are handmade and locally produced wherever I went to I was never too far from cold brew iced coffee, artisanal cocktails, and farm-to-table meals.  I met inspiring people who are pursuing creative and entrepreneurial projects and working to help others in their towns and cities do the same. I think on the Grow book tours alone I visited 24 different cities, and visited even more when I factor in other work and family travel. So I feel like I got a pretty good sense of the country in a pretty short period of time. And what all that travel showed me is that while I think it’s crucial to get out of the city and that so many places have wonderful things to offer, New York is the only place I want to come back to. It’s the place I want to call home.

New York you do not disappoint take 1

There’s a huge number of smart, talented, driven and creative people living here and those are the types of people who I want to be around. Those are the people I want to meet and learn from and have as my friends. As I work to transition my career from arts nonprofits to creative startups I realized that it’s much easier to do this in a city that is a center of both cultural organizations and a huge, quickly growing number of startup businesses. I also realized that, as much as I complain about it, New York has a great infrastructure in terms of public transportation and is getting progressively more and more bikeable.

Is it hard to “make it” as a writer and creative here? Sure it is, but where is it not? Does one need to live in NYC to write, play music, make art or launch the next cool start up? No, of course not, but I find that is I want to find people who are doing these things, there’s a great concentration of them in NYC. On a typical day here I can write in a bustling coffee shop, ride my bike across a bridge that is an architectural icon, visit a world class museum, browse a farmers market, learn to code, go to a punk rock exercise class, head to band practice and then a dance party that puts an emphasis on fake blood and homemade costumes. This is the way I want to live my life.

Beyond all of this is the feeling that I can be exactly who I am in New York City. The city is vast and diverse and as such, there’s far less pressure to cave into social norms, or to live life according on anyone’s schedule except my own.

I also know that New York City owes me nothing. What I’m able to do here is directly related to what I’m willing to put in. The city does not owe me a living and I fear that those who quit the city with a feeling of “Good riddance!” deep down felt like somehow they were owed something simply because they were young, smart, privileged and wanted to make their way here.

Working job #2. Sunset is a reward for the hustle.

Of course, leaving a city is a highly personal decision. I think New York has something for everyone if you are willing to look for it, but it won’t offer it up without a fight. Whether you stay somewhere depends on your personal goals. For example, I know a suburban or rural lifestyle with a car, dog, yard, house and children is absolutely not for me.

Of course, New York is changing and not always for the better. Is the city better off because of the plethora of glassy luxury condos and Duane Reades that have sprouted up over the past few years? I’d say not really, but I also think that New York has a grittiness that difficult to tame. Does the level of inequality here drive me crazy? Absolutely. But living in New York is messy, complicated, intense and frustrating. It’s also exhilarating, rewarding and completely absorbing. I’m a high energy intense person who loves a good challenge and need a city that matches these qualities in me. So hello to all of this. This is one writer who is happy she’s stayed.