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Monday, November 19, 2012

He said: Don't look back


11/17

Gypsies in the house


When I arrive at the church, Saturday’s Pledge Day for Sweatshop Free Upper West Side is just wrapping up. One of the organizers tells me that six new businesses have been added to coalition now passing 75. The goal is 100 by the end of the year. Workers have been out door to door explaining the campaign, developing support. Hope introduces me to Miriam, the wife of the late Jim Drake. Jim was an organizer’s organizer, knew the work intuitively and trained a generation of organizers. I met him back when West-Park was a founding member of the Industrial Ares Foundation (IAF) organization Westsiders Together. We were also the first home of WEST. 

I’m happy that Miriam has recognized the fact that SSFUWS utilizes classic community organizing practices building a truly community based campaign with an organization’s structure involving workers with and without papers, union members, faith community people, politicians, residents and small business owners. And that after a year, our small business owners are leaders in the wisdom of guaranteeing workers basic (and legal!) rights. The connection back to Alinsky’s principles (see Sol Alinsky, Rules for Radicals) is clear. It’s good to make a connection back to Jim and his legacy of justice. 

I share with hope the outcome of the Presbytery vote, 64-34 against dividing the Presbytery into 4 borough based sub units. Tellingly the vote mirrored the results of a straw poll taken at the end of a study day months ago. Somehow, the questions raised by that  day remained and were never really answered. Despite its creative features, it felt like an effort of the white and wealthy Manhattan churches to separate from the poorer outer borough churches of people of color and to create a mission driven by the churches with money and smaller churches in colonial client relationships as opposed to colleague brother and sister ministries. Tough to explain to Sarah, but not disconnected from our recent election and the move in the country away from a commitment to the common good and and towards making the poor and marginalized more dependent on charity.  That part came through.

Alivewire’s Scott wants to come upstairs and see what’s happened in their closeout.  He’s taken their theatrical kitchen set and turned it into a more functional actual working kitchen for us. Prep and serving stations, bar, ready to roll. They’ll be leaving this for us. It’s been  good having them in the house. 

Late in the afternoon, we’ve got an issue. Alivewire’s moveout is continuing, production people from Shades of Gray and Dzieci are arriving. The place  is buzzing with activity.  And Teddy has had to call 911 on Rachelle. Something about all this activity excited her and she kept interjecting herself into the middle of everyone’s work. (Just trying to help, she would say.) Teddy asked her gently to leave and when she wouldn’t and launched into a verbal attack,  instead of losing his temper,  called 911. (Steven, setting up the bar, confirmed the story. Teddy did the right thing, he said. Given their own disagreements, that meant a lot. By now, Rachelle in her billowing hat and layers of clothes was in full Tennessee Williams mode...I have never been treated this way...I am a professional woman...

The police arrive and question me. They talk to Rachelle. She is slowly being persuaded to leave.  My time is running short. Barely enough  time to race home and change before Makbet. She follows me up the street. Telling me she’s cancelling the holiday party she was going to hold to raise so, so much money for your church... and what are you going to do about that man?!!! I keep walking, saying we can talk about that but I can’t have that conversation right now....and finally I’m free, but I am haunted by the difference between her understanding of the world...a world where she plans wonderful parties that everyone attends and raises money and does wonderful things to help so many people and carries herself with the bearing of the privileged while just having moved off the street into Capital Hall. The reality of which she couldn’t bear to accept. 

Even some well respected professional people in my circle are prone to dramatic exaggeration and completely different understandings of what happens in any given circumstance. Thing is, they believe the exaggerations. And it wears me out...

The first floor is a wonderful cacophony of activity. Audiences for two two productions crowding into the halls. A gypsy band is playing fiddle and accordion and violin and singing and passing around bottles of wine.  I pull Hope and her friend June with her into the chapel. Now turned into a gypsy encampment. Matt, as the head gypsy passing out shots of vodka. One by one we are pulled into our seats. And gypsies pass around doing divinations.

He takes my hand. I can feel your hand. I know your back.....has troubles....I see two big hands ....one supporting you, one pushing you forward. Then he looks piercingly into my eyes...Don’t look back. Only forward. Don’t look back. And those words pierce.

And then the lights come down and like a story, a tale told, a ritual around a campfire, Makbet  begins... in flickering light, scene to scene, characters shifting passing the visible sign of each character-- a hat, glasses, a scarf---  to keep clear who’s who...chanting, passing in and out of witches’ circles...something wicked this way comes...tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.... bottles passing, apples passing ... until the end....when the lights come on....and bread, challah, which most of us associate with communion or shabbat passes....

In this chapel we have taken this journey together...Matt talks with Hope about their upcoming residency...their Fools’ Mass and later Ragnarok.... and their commitment  to performing in homeless shelters, AIDS residences, supportive housing and SRO’s.....ritual, service, worship, action....inseparable... well, welcome..

I say goodbye to my friends Beppe and Liljana.  Walk out with Hope and  June. Walking up Amsterdam, the words come back...Don’t look back....









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