Saturday, June 1, 2013

The day began on the steps of City Hall


I ride the subway back uptown with my colleague Alistair.
What do we want? Housing.When do we want it? Now
We’ve been on the steps of city hall following last night’s sleepover in City Hall Park, in a sense a ritual act (in the sense that Bill Tripp has educating us about) commemorating and celebrating the occupation 25 years ago. City Hall Park....and the steps of City Hall....transformed into ritual space. 

We were there to join the emerging coalition calling for a new housing policy for New York City that could preserve a space for the middle class here.The Coalition to End Homelessness Now. Part of that coalition is Habitat for Humanity, known for their hands on approach, rebuilding houses one at a time....Thankfully Habitat’s Matt Dunbar is open enough to say that at the current rate it would take 5500 years for Habitat to build enough houses. Yes, 5500 years, Policy change is needed. And so they created the Hammer  and Pen campaign including a long scroll to collect signatures of citizens demanding policy change. Today we will roll those scrolls down the steps of City Hall and ask mayoral candidates to sign
Rolling out the scroll
on. We will learn that today there are over 55000 in the city’s shelter system including 23000 children.

Long time sympathetic council member Sal Abanese,who was there 25 years ago to talk with the homeless occupation, is first to sign. Followed by Republican George Mc Donald has  spent his entire public  career seeking legitimate solutions in a classic Republican (think Eisenhower) way. Then finally council speaker Christine Quinn. Who after she signs, draws all the press attention. She is of course, the presumed front runner. She should be the progressive’s favorite with the real potential to be the city’ first woman, not to mention lesbian mayor. But just below the surface, she is a classic New York City Irish take no prisoners politician. She will do what she needs to do to get what she wants.

I spot our own council member Gale Brewer, now running for Manhattan Borough President. Clearly a friend of Homeless Activists. And get her invited to sign as well. I wish I were wearing my collar. Dressed as a normal person, I’m just a body. Alistair, who spent the night bit went home for his collar,  and I agree, it was a good event....

Back at West-Park, Stephen tells me there is the smell of death in the sanctuary. He’s right. And that fills me with dread. When Danielle arrives, we’ll both don masks and enter the pigeon tower, the forbidden zone, to investigate. God knows, I’d love to just send her by herself, but I can’t allow that. So we go together. And find nothing. So we’ll investigate the whole sanctuary. And then together sweep the steps. And I’ll take care of dumping the decomposing dead mouse. (This is true urban ministry.)
He assessment was that the storm soaked the pigeon guan and the sun baked to foulness. We throw open the windows and burn scented candles all day.

Stephen will be tied up in meetings with Martin for hours seeking the elusive solution. 

A man from a theatre company come wanting to check out space. Seems his production takes place while most of the audience is sleeping...OK, then....

I hear a noise and find Edward Green on the steps with a ton of cardboard. Edward, you have to go. I say. You can’t be here. He eyes me, angrily, OK,  you made your point. I’m going. Taking my stuff with me. 

I come back later. He’s still there. Still glowering. I already told you I’m going. I already have a father, he’s older than you. (Maybe, maybe not...)
Edward is still on a wanted poster at Capital Hall. And persona non grata here. He’s the living challenge to my policy of unqualified acceptance. (But not the only one...)

In the sanctuary, a  woman is quietly praying...

Stephen comes in after his  hours of conversation. The dream is still alive. Still possible....but.....

My friend John Scotland arrives from Brigantine, New Jersey. Fighting his own battle with a Presbytery to keep his soup kitchen alive. His laughter speaks of cynicism, reality, determination and faith. But tonight’s agenda will only include his Red Sox vs. our Yankees at Yankee Stadium.(Another ritual space...) Stephen of course, shares his Red Sox tattoo. The first time I hear Boston sucks, I know that we are moving past the marathon attacks.....

Later, after the Yankees hold on to win, I’ll return. Stephen is staffing the Collegiate School alumni event. After I explain to someone that it’s a legitimate party, not some after hours affair, it's time to head home.

                                                                      * * * * 

I wish my #OWS friends could have read Jiler's Sleeping with the  mayor...25 years ago, the homeless occupiers of City Hall Park, kochville,  tried to create a community of radical acceptance, radical democracy, perhaps even sustainability.  They faced just what #OWS did long ago. And their failures, as well las their successes, were important lessons. 

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