Wednesday, July 17, 2013

It can only begin with the grassroots


The sounds of the string quartet Ethel are once again keeping me alive. Even if their power strip and bag of energy efficient light bulbs have gone missing, the sound of the strings in the semi-dark keeps me going.

An African-American woman comes in with bags of clothes the family she works with has sent her over with. I wonder if she had a chance to look  first. 

RL has his beginning of the week check in before he is off to see Harvey.

Karen wanders in. Has a lot on her mind, but I’m so preoccupied with survival I don’t have a lot to say. She will play awhile on the piano before Ethel takes up again. 

Each day this week a gang of kids from the Jewish Community Center (JCC)summer day camp experience in their red t-shirts are dropped off on our steps and await their parents to pick them up.

Rudolfo comes in. That same long, sad, quizzical face. Looking for la nina ( that’d be Danielle)...longing for Cuba again. So a few dollars for a cold drink.

Marc Greenburg comes in. I’ve just finished re-reading Sleeping with the mayor..the book by John Jiler about the 200 day occupation of city hall park in 1988 by homeless people. An occupation before occupy...The so-called Kochville that embarrassed and enraged Mayor Ed Koch. I will give Jiler this...none of the characters in his book re one dimensional. Despite the few things he misses, he captures the complicated  humanity of Koch and the homeless leaders. Of my predecessor Bob Davidson, who helped found the Interfaith Assembly, among so many other things...And of course of Marc himself.

I’m curious how he’s changed in 25 years. We share so much. A commitment to live on the edge. A long perspective and perseverance. A struggle with focus. (I admit to wrestling with  ADD) The difficulty of turning a vision into actual reality. And yet over 25 years the Assembly has survived. And I consider it part of my duty to keep interpreting Marc to the outside world and protecting him with  the board which (rightly) wants a stable institution.

How many times over the years have I seen amazing grassroots  ministries started by friends who were visionaries become overcome  by boards that lament the creators’ lack of business skill then release the creator and then see the whole enterprise collapse. Somewhere between vision and business there has to be a meeting ground.

While we are talking, a young man cones in. From India. A professor of English literature. A love of church architecture. He saw the church  from on board  the M11 and jumped off to look inside. I take him and Marc..who had forgotten or never knew some of the story...and give him the classic tour.

I cannot believe, he says, as his eyes well up, the openness, the acceptance, the ongoing vision and can it be? I never see this in my can it be?

I’m not sure it can be, I think. But we conclude our tour. Khalid from Punjab is happy to have visited. he seems somewhat embarrassed by being a Muslim. I explain we welcome all, and mean that. Marc shares  that he has joined the Ramadan fast in solidarity It’s a good visit. Still, Khalid seems a bit shy when I say to him Ramadan Kareem...

Marc and I try to figure out what we need to do to keep ourselves going. I'm thinking we need to commemorate the end of Kochville 25 years ago at Christmas. Talk about the learnings of two occupations, Kochville and Occupy Wall Street. And then we have to get back to basic grass roots organizing. Today, that's the only way. 

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