Saturday, September 8, 2012

Some day she'll get back to the East Side


Today there’s smoke pouring  out of the manhole at 888th and Amsterdam. OK, so what’s going on here?

Jeremy G’s crew has arrived and is starting to check things out to start work on their production. 

Glen and I go to the backyard to talk about his new ideas. He has a new script to look at, Mrs. Murphy’s Porch, by Wystie Edwards, whose Disappeared reading I went to with Glen. Porch has already been produced and reviewed and would be a good project. Glen also has ideas for Mc Alpin Hall as a production space. It’s only about an hour long so Glen shows me a Youtube of another play, Storm in the Barn, adapted by Eric Coble from the Graphic novel by Matt Phelan. The video grabs me, especially with its dust bowl era feel and music by Black Prairie (yup,Portland.)The play was a great success at the Oregon Children’s Theatre. ( ) This would be a major undertaking. So we begin to reframe, talking about a series of talk backs that could focus on issues raised by the play. We could have different guests, chaplains, grieving parents, talk about finding life in the midst of tragic loss...The ideas are all there. It’s all good. Making it real, making it work, that’s the challenge. 

As I’m walking out with Glen, Sarah from NMASS has arrived. We’ve been looking fo ra time to have a conversation, get to know one another better. I listen to her story from Korean immigrant roots. Her father in the  tradition of Korean small businessmen in Queens’ little Korea. Sarah tells me her journey from an anti-imperialist group rooted in Korean identity to a broadening understanding of the world, the struggle we’re all in. I share with her some of my stories, of Central America, Israel-Palestine, farmworkers, my blue collar Pittsburgh heritage. She laughs when I talk about a day when people could go from high school to the mills and have a good middle class life with medical benefits, vacations, education for your children. We actually had that once, back in the day. 

She’s been working to organize a workers’ center in  Queens. Initially with Korean workers but reaching out to others. We talk about organizing. My experience has been the importance of recognizing the difference between the role of organizer and the role of  leader. I speak of my appreciation for the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) and its  respect for the profession of organizing. As opposed to other organizing groups who just burn their people out. She agrees with me on the burnout part .But she pushes me pretty hard on the organizing principle. Is professionalization of organizing a good thing? Don’t leaders have to be organizers too? I like being pushed. 

And as always, the conversation comes round to the importance of relationships. Solidarity work can be abusive. Part of the beauty of the original naivete of OWS was its insistence on the necessity of finding a better way to live and be. When the value of people is lost, we have already lost. And also that I always want the value of my relationships, and West-Park’s  relationships, that I bring to any given cause honored and  respected.

It’s been good sitting in the yard, talking. Getting late. It’s been a quiet day on the steps. As I walk Sarah out, Rachelle is waiting for me. She is effervescent, complimentary,all that. We chat and then I tell her that  her stuff’s got to go. Can’t keep her cart and growing accumulation in the sanctuary.

You’re beginning to sound like Teddy, she says.

No, I’m beginning to sound like me. The sanctuary can’t be a storage facility....

But I had it all neat and someone...

Its not about neat, it’s about no.

And so she begins to tell me her story. A doctor. A professor. The onset of a disease that seems to strike people from Germany. Given less than three years to live. Gave all her things away to hose who would  need them. And that was 30 years ago. Sooner or later, someday she’ll get back to the East Side....

I tell her again, the stuff has to go.

Do you know why I dress like this, she says, like a bag lady? I learned that from Patty Hearst’s grandmother.  And I hear the whole story of Rachelle and Patty Hearst’s grandmother. It’ s how a lady like myself stays safe i the city....

I repeat again that her stuff has to go. We’ll find her someone to help her. Yes =, but not that Teddy....he’s a ...a...Jekyll and Hyde...I know he tries so to help but.....She will never get over that night on the steps when Teddy punched the heroin addict. 

I’m done for the day....

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