Sunday, October 30, 2011

The tourist brochures inside people's hearts

Back at the general assembly – this one is taking place at the Whole Foods community space, believe it or not – but, aside from the politics of meeting in a space donated by the illusion of corporate generosity, it's actually kind of comfortable. Good lighting and not too warm for me, a bathroom in the back. Forty people at the beginning, and probably the most homogenous group I would say – about two-thirds of the room is white people in their 50s and older, a maximum of 10 people under 40 (probably closer to five), maybe five people of color. Someone arrives who wants to talk about Canyon Road, apparently she’s a gallery owner.

I make the proposal of the Occupy Canyon Road working group. It’s very succinct. On November 19, as the Occupy Santa Fe direct action, we want to meet at 1 pm in the municipal parking lot on the east side of Canyon Road. We will march from Canyon Road to the Plaza. The loose theme of the demo will be "Free Art, Occupy Canyon Road" -- specifics will be developed in the next few weeks, but we wanted to seek the approval of the general assembly before proceeding. The goal of the action is to confront the art market and the tourists industries, and set art free from the confines of big money – all are invited to participate – artists, gallery owners, and people who hate artists or hate gallery owners.

It's worth noting that the facilitator has implemented a different process than we’ve used so far, one that actually isn't described except as it’s proceeding. And so, the questions section comes before discussion – people want to know whether we will talk about artists who are pushed out of juried exhibits, minimum-wage workers at hotels, and the idea of using public land for artists. Sure, why not?

But, oh no – then comes the part of the process known as "concerns." And honey, there are a lot of concerns. Turns out that the women who’s a gallery owner is also the head of the Canyon Road gallery association – she gives a teary-eyed oration about how she went to school for art, and she worked so many eight-dollar-an-hour jobs just to be able to afford her rent, she barely makes ends meet. Twenty galleries on Canyon Road have closed recently – she only does it to help artists.

I stop myself from asking her about her commission, or from pointing out that obviously Canyon Road is overcrowded with galleries, so it's no surprise that 20 have closed and there isn't a single visible for-rent sign. Everyone at this meeting seems concerned about the merchants on Canyon Road. I point out that we are not targeting the merchants, but the art market – everyone is welcome to join us, including the merchants who are paying way too much money for rent -- even Gerald Peters is welcome, I say, throwing out the name of the gallery owner who moved here in the 1960s, made his money in real estate, and now literally owns a bank. But still, one comment after another not wanting to hurt small business people. Someone wants us to "bring artists" to the group. I point out that there are artists in the working group who make their living on Canyon Road, and they see the importance of challenging the art market. And, right then, as if she didn't even notice my comment or the previous one, someone else uses the exact same phrase, "bringing artists to the group."

Someone says we are a peaceful group. How is it not peaceful to march down Canyon Road? It's like it's an attack on their identity. Someone says that he supported the idea at first, but now he sees that it's divisive, how does this connect to Wall Street? It connects to Wall Street because this town is run by the art market and the tourist industries, which are subsidiaries of Wall Street. Someone says this isn’t New York or Oakland – we don't have those issues here. What issues is he talking about? The art market in Oakland is miniscule compared to Santa Fe. I point out that Santa Fe is a town of 70,000 people, or a little over 100,000 metropolitan area, and yet the art market in Santa Fe is often larger than that of LA, a city about 100 times larger. It's the second largest art market in the country, do people understand the effect of all that money in this small town?

But, my favorite: I don't think we really have that 1% here. Where is this person living? Does he not realize that we're living in a town with an art market bigger than LA, and yet the city doesn't even fund art supplies for public school students? Does he not notice that rich people have their second, third, fourth, fifth homes here, and public services are systematically defunded. I can't believe I'm talking to a roomful of people, many of whom have probably been here decades longer than me, and they're all acting like they don't understand how the power structure in Santa Fe works. A roomful of people who are supposedly trying to engage politically about how the big banks have taken control of everything, and yet they refuse to acknowledge how this process operates in their own backyard, this playground for the rich and famously fond of "openness," “energy,” and other small words signifying big colonial gestures.

Probably 20 people speak, and there are more on the stack – it's obvious that we won't have consensus so I say I'm withdrawing this proposal. Don’t you want to hear friendly amendments, the facilitator asks. What do you think, I ask the two people from the working group meeting who are also here tonight.

The first supposedly friendly amendment is about talking to the gallery owners and artists on Canyon Road first. Right – maybe we can make a Christmas card list too. Someone says she doesn't feel comfortable attacking the art market or the tourist industry – is this really a friendly amendment? I'm not even sure how we get to the point of withdrawing the proposal without hearing the other fascinating ideas, I just know that when the facilitator says the proposal is withdrawn for further discussion, I say this is just a personal statement, but I can't imagine ever bringing back any proposal about Canyon Road to this group. Up until this moment, I've succeeded at remaining neutral in demeanor, but walking back to my chair I can't help shaking my head and waving my hands and sighing loudly. The woman next to me says don't take it as an affront to your ego. This isn't about my ego, I say – it's about realizing that this group will never be interested in doing the type of activism that means something to me.

At the very beginning, right after making the proposal, I felt like I sounded so clear. Sipowicz even gave me a look that I think meant: you are on. But, I'm in a room full of hippie disengagement masquerading as truth-telling, oh Santa Fe! There's so much talk in national news about Occupy Wall Street lacking demands, the absence of a coherent strategy, and actually I and many others believe that the lack of demands is a strength. As soon as you make demands of an unjust system, you become part of that system.

And yet here in Santa Fe, there's not just the absence of a coherent strategy, but the absence of any confrontational stance whatsoever. This is my moment of truth, and the good thing is that I'm able to express it so clearly right away. When someone comes up to me and says I'm sorry things didn't go the way you wanted them to, I say actually this isn't about me, but about the fact that this group is only interested in some kind of New Age version of "let's all get along" handholding. When someone says we should work on the proposal more, and bring it back to the group, I say we already made it as nonconfrontational as possible, there isn't anywhere else to go.

Oh, how I want to engage with the world in a way that gives me hope. Oh, how I want to connect with people in a collective process of critical challenge to the status quo. Oh, how I want to be involved in something that matters to me, something other than people spouting empty rhetoric about how "this movement is going to get bigger.” Whenever someone says that, I want them to look around the room – can't you see that there are 50 people here? 50 people at an activist meeting – I haven’t been to activist meeting with 50 people regularly in attendance in over a decade, since helping to organize a Matthew Shepard political funeral in New York in 1998, and then trying to start a radical queer direct action group afterwards, a group that started with several hundred but within a few months it was down to 20 and then it was over. Here we have 30, 40, 50, even 60 people sometimes in this tiny town. Three times a week. It's amazing, really.

Except, it's not amazing. I'm not sure this is an activist group, really. There is a process, a process with which I’m engaged. Sometimes there are even conversations that means something. But overall – right now it feels like nothing. Sipowicz says to me afterwards: it seems like the group is about redefining Santa Fe as a peaceful community, and that’s something I can get behind, but I want to know that ahead of time – I want people to say that.

Of course, Santa Fe is already defined as a peaceful community – what we need is a group that will unmask the violence. The art market in Santa Fe – and, Santa Fe, by extension – is built on colonial exploitation of Native artists, cultures, identities, symbolism, land. And now it's expanded to incorporate 1960s high-art minimalism, pop art, collage, cartoon art, even a little bit of graffiti art here and there -- whatever sells. Santa Fe as we see it today was built by East Coast socialites fleeing conformity, looking for something "different" to spice up their pot, to stimulate their creative juices. Followed by West Coast real estate speculators and Texas oil money. Santa Fe of the tourist brochures, and the tourist brochures inside people's hearts.

After the meeting, I'm so wired that I walk further than usual in one direction, turn around to go back home and then walk further than usual in the other direction, and when I get home I'm still so wired that I can't imagine how I'm going to fall asleep. "This movement is going to get bigger," these idiots keep saying – I guess this is what a mass movement is like, take all the meaning out of it and then everyone will belong.

And, with more people (after yesterday's march)…

Thursday, October 27, 2011


A visit to the campsite can go either way – sometimes I feel like I'm invading other peoples’ space, especially when it's a bunch of straight guys sitting around the campfire who look over, and then look back. The younger ones usually do that; the older ones are friendlier. Like the one who just said hi to me, asked me my name. That's all I need, and then I feel better, more welcome.

I do notice cross-class and cross-race (and intergenerational) contact that I don't usually see in Santa Fe. Still, I hear people talking about "problems with homeless people," although it seems to me that some of the people staying in the campsite might be homeless. There's a bit of secrecy I sense from many people there, like they don't want to let you in unless you're staying there. Which could be helpful for safety, harmful for organizing.

But I need to say something about the cops. I can't believe people are still saying the cops are “part of the 99%,” even after 17 different police departments coordinated their efforts to shut down the Occupy Oakland encampment, using stun grenades, rubber bullets, tear gas, and other forms of vicious intimidation. That same night, at the Occupy Santa Fe campsite, people were telling me that the cops were with us, because in Albany they refused to shut down the Occupy site. Probably so they could harass, intimidate, and arrest people of color in another neighborhood. There's this rhetoric in Occupy spaces about an awakening, which sounds awfully Christian to me. What about those of us who were already awake, as much as we've tried to get some restful sleep over the years? And, if this is an awakening, shouldn’t people start by waking up to systemic police violence?

In Oakland, people got shot in the face, ended up with broken bones – an Iraq War veteran is in the hospital with a fractured skull, placed in a coma by hospital staff in order to reduce brain swelling, and the supposedly progressive mayor of Oakland praises the police for their restraint (from out of town, of course).

And still, protesters take back the Occupy Oakland site one day later, call for a general strike on November 2 – that would be the first general strike in Oakland since 1946. Something is happening. I still don't know what it is exactly, but it's something.

Look at these gorgeous leaves in my backyard!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

If only the racket were that fragile

Oh, no – another email from someone anxious about a potential Occupy Canyon Road protest – this person is worried because her parents can barely make rent on their gallery. But, hello – your parents can join the protest! I'm so sick of people's ridiculous concerns about interrupting business on Canyon Road – all by email, of course. Maybe I have to stop sending out the meeting announcements, someone else might not be so irritated by someone saying their parents would be "super bummed if we followed through on this.”

What is “this,” anyway? There isn't even a plan – I'm not even sure that the group as a whole has any interest. But, I will say that if we’ve only had one brainstorming meeting, and people who signed up to participate in the action already feel this threatened, well then maybe it’s an even better idea than I originally thought.

I don't think that the fact that you have a stake in something means you also can't be critical. If you're paying $30,000 in rent as a gallery owner, and you make $28,000, shouldn’t you recognize the hypocrisy of the whole scam? If you've been trying to get your art into Canyon Road galleries for years, only to face rejection after rejection because you're not painting the right kind of Southwest landscape or scavenging the right kind of Kachina dolls or producing the definitive austere ‘60s minimalism – shouldn't you recognize the viciousness? Or, even if you are a doyenne of the art market, one of those rare artists actually making a living, shouldn’t you still remain critical of the rarefied, exoticized, vapid and consumer-crazed crap that passes as critical or artistic engagement? Even if you love all the art on Canyon Road, or all the art in Santa Fe, or the fact that the whole thing brings millions and millions of dollars into the hands of rich people in this town every year, even if you love all that – shouldn’t you also want to create a culture where making art isn’t the same thing as making a 1000-dollar donut, or where selling art isn't the same thing as selling a new car. Or, where artists can support themselves without having to commodify every gesture, worrying that some small flamboyant, celebratory, and confrontational protest for a few hours on Canyon Road might just pop the whole art bubble. If only the racket were that fragile.

But okay, back to the campsite. It's raining out, and nothing could be better in Santa Fe than rain – at least as far as I'm concerned. At the campsite, it's mostly the straight male drifter crowd – the younger ones this time. Kind of like a party that I'm not invited to, except for the organizer-types that I know, on the side. The organizer-types seem a little too excited about this movement, as they're calling it, but then suddenly they’re talking about occupying Canyon Road also. Really, I say, because I keep getting emails from people who are worried about interrupting business. But no – these organizers are ready, and I'm glad I came down here in the soft wet air, so rare for Santa Fe.

Back at home, I get a phone call from the person who sent me the earlier email – now that I'm in a good mood, I actually enjoy explaining the ideas behind this potential action to her. Apparently she thought it was happening this Friday. Well, no – first we have to plan it. I guess the important distinction is this: we support individual artists, what we want to critique is the art market. Which seemed clear to me from the beginning, but Santa Fe is not exactly a town reveling in the confrontational spirit, oh my…

Aspen Vista! (Thanks, Nadine…)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

"Treasure, now that the hunt is over" -- yes, another sand tray…

How the process comes together, and how I come apart

No one posted where today's general assembly is scheduled to take place, just that it will be near the Railyard, so that's where I head – and, sure enough, that's where everyone is. The campsite is bustling; there's a circle of maybe 10 people in the grass – maybe for facilitation? Where is the meeting taking place, I ask. In the amphitheater over by the red rocks – oh, I never realized this was an amphitheater, but sure enough it's a circle with a tiered place to sit. Chris jokes that this will surely enable hierarchy. I can't decide what to do about names – now that I'm learning them, should I use them? It's liberating to write about this activism that's supposed to be entirely public, but still I'm so used to the relative secrecy of organizing in the past. And, I don't want to expand potential drama, just document and comprehend – for now. I guess I will use names sparingly, testing it out.

We sit down and the sun is setting, right behind the facilitator’s head – oh, it's gorgeous. A facilitator I haven't seen before, Rebecca– she emphasizes the excitement, which I appreciate. I can't believe there are close to 60 people, once again. Most of the meeting ends up involving intricate discussions of minutiae, and by the middle of the meeting half of the people attending have left. It's not that these discussions aren’t important, just that by the time we get to talking about the week’s direct action, no one seems to care. Shouldn’t that come first, when people still have energy?

It's impressive how the process come together, and how it comes apart. There are several extremely drunken Native guys who keep wanting to talk, slurring their words and struggling to form sentences. The fact that the meeting is predominantly white makes this all the more uncomfortable. This one guy struggles to say: take… care… of…our earth – or something like that – it's actually painful to watch, but people applaud, as if the fact that it's a Native guy speaking delivers some form of necessary authenticity.

At one point, a white-haired white woman I would guess is in her sixties -- someone who used to be a reporter for the Washington Post – makes a statement about manners at the campsite, a mixture of practical advice and guru speak. She did put herself on the agenda ahead of time, but it's not clear who she is speaking for. One person attempts to get clarification, but none is really provided. The meeting moves on – one of the facilitators have left, and now that it's dark it's hard for the remaining one to see when people raise their hands. Towards the end of the meeting, the cops show up – turns out they want to close the camp tonight, because of the fires going on after 10 pm the previous night – or, that's what they say, anyway. Tomorrow it will be something else.

Consensus is reached not to light fires tonight. I make a proposal to announce the police harassment on the Facebook site right away, so that people know that the campsite needs support. It seems like most people are in agreement, but the facilitator doesn't call for consensus; maybe everyone's too tired to notice? After the meeting, someone tells me they will make a post about the cops on the Facebook page, and asks around for a phone to use, but I notice the next day that no post is made. Makes me curious about how official posts are made on the site – certain people have access and certain people don’t, but it's something we haven't discussed yet.

How the process comes together, and how I come apart: when I get home, I'm so tired that it hurts, angry that I'm still awake, hating myself for going to the meeting – why am I such a mess? Because this is what happens to me; it's how fragile I am; I know this, but it doesn't make me hate my predicament less. Why am I in so much pain? Maybe because I went to Aspen Vista with Nadine yesterday – a beautiful drive, but a drive always hurts my body. A gorgeous walk in the even higher altitude that maybe drained me too much? And then, to get to the meeting, I went from a busy day, doing errands with Justin, right over there without even a few minutes of recovery. I wanted to be there.

Here's what I realize, in this horrible draining exhaustion: I hate being in Santa Fe, there's nothing here for me. When I go to these meetings, I actually feel like I'm back in the life that I want. But then I'm so drained that I hate myself for going. Is there any potential for balance? I don't know what to say, except that direct action organizing used to be the center of my life, and I miss that center. I miss making friends this way, creating relationships and a relationship to the world through political engagement with other people. Even when the meetings feel pointless – even when I can't believe some of the things that people say – still then I feel so much more engaged, this process of engaging with the world oh how I miss that and it's here and then later on, in the middle of the night when my head is racing in bed while I'm trying to sleep and I hate myself again for going, for all these ideas that are not the problem I mean they might be the answer except they're keeping me up and what will tomorrow bring?

But still this process, do you see what I'm saying? That's the dream of all of this – the process, really. Because I'm not sure exactly what the point of Occupy Santa Fe is otherwise, or not exactly, except for some vision of communal engagement to challenge the status quo. I'm not sure whether it's doing that exactly, but I do know that someone at the meeting said: I think we should go to the Plaza, and target more banks. And I got excited. Not that that’s the dominant feeling at the meetings necessarily, but it's progress. Someone else said: I want to be the first person to get arrested. It was during the discussion of whether to agree not to light a fire at the campsite, and his point was that he wanted to get arrested, but not for a fire. And so, I guess I don't know whether people applauded because he was speaking against the fire or whether they applauded because he wanted to get arrested, but still they applauded.

Monday, October 24, 2011

A right to be there

I notice that when I talk to friends in other cities, most of them are not nearly as excited about the Occupy movements. I wonder if I’m just excited because I live in a place where anything feels better than nothing. I watch all these pundits from the left speaking at Occupy Wall Street, and of course that makes me suspicious. At least Cornel West gets arrested with protesters, and Jesse Jackson comes down with his supporters to keep the medical tent safe. Most of the pundits refrain from giving advice, and that's a welcome development; maybe something is changing.

My second visit to the Occupy Santa Fe campsite, this time during the day, and it's a totally different crowd – some younger and punkish, traveler types. I'm only there for a few minutes, but it gets me excited again – I mean, it's exciting just to have a place to go. I return at night, and this time it's a whole other crowd – mostly men in their 30s to 60s, many of them men of color. Something just happened where they had to tell someone to leave because he was too drunk and people felt threatened, so everyone is on edge. Some of the women felt threatened, that's how I hear the story told. This time, some people are friendly to me and others seem disengaged, homophobic in the sense of a masculinist type of suspicion. I hear someone talking about how he's been to every Occupy space in the country – I head over to hear what he has to say, but he and the three people with him immediately turn away from me. I wonder about these spaces, who's inside and outside, and how that dynamic is in a constant state of flux.

The next day I’m walking around my neighborhood, and this guy comes up to ask about the street we’re on, does it continue or is it a dead end. Actually, what he says is does it horseshoe? I'm trying to avoid those people, he says. Who, I ask. Occupy Santa Fe, that's what they call themselves. How come, I ask.

Oh, he says – of course they have a right to be there, I agree with what they're saying, but I just can't get another citation. Are the cops over there, I ask. Yes, he says, and I just can't afford another citation – maybe they can, but I can’t – they have a permit, and they have a right to be there, but I just can't afford another citation. Are there more cops around than usual, I ask. Yes, he says, they come by every few hours.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Something like a dream

As soon as I send out an announcement for the Occupy Canyon Road meeting, I start getting responses from people with various concerns. Someone is worried about interrupting business on Canyon Road, a lot of artists depend on those galleries – this person doesn't think the gallery owners are part of the 1%, maybe the 10%. Someone else wants to occupy Whole Foods, which sounds like a fine idea, but kind of irrelevant to this particular idea. Someone else says that, other than Gerald Peters, she doesn't think there are many plutocrats who art gallery owners. No one actually responds to say that they plan on coming to the meeting, or at least not for the first few days after my email, and then people start worrying that because this meeting is at the same time as the general assembly that seems to happen every day, they're worried about "splitting the group.” But wait – this is a working group, it was announced at the general assembly meeting twice – it's a brainstorming meeting, and afterwards we will go to the general assembly with our ideas. That's what a working group does, right? I can't change the meeting with one-day notice – what if someone shows up at my door?

But, back to the We Are the 99% rhetoric, which does seem to be a bit limiting if people are only want to target the 1%. Should we ask gallery owners on Canyon Road for their tax statements? The point of targeting Canyon Road is that Santa Fe is run by the art market and the tourist industries. This is a town of 70,000 people with an art market neck in neck with LA, a city more than 50 times larger. Do you understand the significance of all that money? The commodification of creativity; the way everyone is wrapped up in it.

And, all the wealth that clusters around and above Canyon Road – streets of mansions where no one really lives, just vacation homes for the international jet set. On the phone, someone is saying you're new to the group. But, wait – I thought everyone was new to this group! Didn't the whole thing start here three weeks ago?

There's something about living in Santa Fe that allows me to suspend disbelief about this whole thing. I try to follow what's going on in New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, and other occupations that pop up in the news, and of course there's a lot more going on there – larger and more confrontational action. But the truth is that if I was living in San Francisco, I'm pretty certain that I would hate the whole thing, or at least most of it – I would see all the limitations; it would be hard to see anything else. I talked to the two people in San Francisco with whom I've done the most organizing, and I was kind of stunned that neither of them had even visited the occupation, or gone to any of the protests. "It's easier to support it without going there,” one of them said, and I knew that feeling exactly – that’s why I left San Francisco. The trendiness, the groupthink, the way a subculture becomes an identity and a worldview.

Of course, I'm sure it’s just as corrupt here, but I don't know the people who are involved. I don't know anything about their motivations really, or where they came from before their involvement in Occupy Santa Fe. I see the limitations immediately – the hierarchies that are emerging, the ways the process doesn't exactly make sense, the trust in law and order and government, the lack of a radical analysis. But I also see that people are trying to engage politically in a city where political engagement barely exists, and sometimes that inspires me.

It’s the fourth Saturday of the protests, and I wake up feeling so awful that there's no way I can possibly go. But I also feel awful about not going, not because I think I'm missing something amazing, but because I want to stay in touch. Jessica doesn't want to go either – she read something on the website about a multiracial awareness group that decided against "white allies" in favor of "tribal awareness." But where are their minutes, I've never seen minutes. Apparently on the Facebook page – everything is on the Facebook page. I take a look – it's hard to tell what this group means exactly. Jessica says she's been thinking about the people who she wants to work with, and how we all struggle with our health, our limitations, and maybe that's an opening for thinking about how to engage.

But where is the opening? Today I feel so horrible that I can't even write about how horrible I feel, I mean that's actually why I decide not go to the protest, because if I go then I'll be too tired to write, and I have a lot of writing to catch up on, but then I write a paragraph and a half, and my whole mind goes blank. The rest of the day I'm just struggling not to get back in bed, because it always makes me feel worse, right? But then I feel worse anyway. I cruise the internet; that's always a bad sign, a sign that I'm trying to feel something other than what I'm feeling now, anything. I don't even leave the house, except to sit outside in the sun a few times.

I'm on the Occupy Santa Fe Facebook page again – that's where I learn that now there’s an encampment in the Railyard, it began last night. The mayor has given his approval. People voted at the meeting to call themselves occupiers, not campers – this is the kind of thing that gets to me: it's consensus, right? We don't vote. And: just when Occupy Albuquerque changed its name to (Un)Occupy Albuquerque, we’re going in the opposite direction. But this is just a sentence in the minutes – it's so easy to get upset about something online; and yet, so much of how everyone finds out about all these Occupy action and engagements happens online. It's such a limited way of communicating.

The campsite is only a few blocks away, and it's almost time for me to get ready for bed but I need to go on some kind of walk, so I head over to see what it's all about. I'm surprised to see almost 20 tents, four large ones in the middle that I guess are community tents, for anyone who wants to stay there. All arranged in a circle around a grassy area – I thought maybe they would have set the tents up in the grassy area, but someone says we thought of that, but then we didn't want to kill the grass.

There's a fire in the area where grills are set up, the ending of a circle to bless the site is what someone says. I'm not sure about circles like that – I mean, I like circles, but I don't like blessings. Although I do like this story someone tells about it – the guy giving the blessing asked who was the youngest person, two 18-year-olds it turned out. He said you are our future, or something like that, and then it was the turn of one of the 18-year-olds to speak. I didn't cause the problems of this world, she said – I don't know how to fix them; I needs advice from my elders; I need some guidance!

People are talking about iPhones and where to get the cheapest sleeping mats, Target or Kmart, so no – not the most politicized conversation. Someone who I've never met comes up to me and says you look fabulous, opens his arms and gives me a hug, that's pretty sweet. Do potentially straight guys use the word fabulous? Maybe he said amazing.

Three little dogs are humping each other, and the guy next to me who often helps facilitate is camping it up, talking about making Occupy Santa Fe porn. Maybe this is a queer moment. One woman wonders if there should be a sign saying that no drugs or alcohol are permitted at the campsite, and some guy who kind of acts like he's in charge says no, no signs. The reason I ask, says the woman, is because there was a sign at the other campsite. The guy who gave me a hug asks about sleeping bags for people who want to sleep in the community tents -- he's helping build the new homeless shelter; I didn't know there was a new homeless shelter. Right by the existing one, I guess, by the direction in which he points. He'll be here for a week, he says; he likes to help out. And, that's the feeling here – people are sharing, talking to one another, creating something communally, something like a dream, and that's what gets me excited again.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

But what do the spiders think of these spooky webs?

"Justified Rage from an Unsafe Space: Reflection on Occupy Wall Street"

I've been wondering about the politics of sex and gender in the various Occupy (Decolonize?) spaces -- not to mention potential problems for so many people (in terms of race, ability, immigration status) in camping out in some of these spaces where "occupation" is claimed predominately by straight white men – here's a great piece that addresses some of these very issues at Occupy Wall Street…

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Watch out, it's another sand tray – "Leaving death in the forest to find a together alone" -- it came about with the instruction to show what would happen if I gave up on trying to push through the exhaustion + what would happen if I didn't have to push through the exhaustion…

To the rest of the world, we are the 1%

Sixty people at another general assembly meeting, I'll admit I'm impressed at this continued commitment! A majority are white people in their late-40s and older, once again – now, in other cities it may be true that participants in their 30s are on the older side as far as the organizers, but if I see any of that type of media coverage displayed in Santa Fe, it will certainly be a time for endless laughter.

For some reason, the same people seem to facilitate every time – people in their 30s and 40s who seem to have become the unspoken leaders. I'm not sure that any of the working groups have actually met yet, but perhaps there should be one about facilitation. Or, as skillshare, right? Although one teenager who seems to know many of the older people there volunteers to take stack. Calling on people, that is – first he asks me: what’s stack? Good question – no one exactly takes time to explain things here. Like consensus, for example. At one point, someone asks, and one of the facilitators says at Occupy Wall Street it meant 90% in agreement. But wait – that's not consensus at all! But no one stops to talk more about the process, perhaps this will happen in the future?

Facilitation is not exactly going smoothly – the facilitators are not assertive, that's what I'm thinking. Because, we’re allegedly brainstorming priorities for a campsite, and maybe 50 people have talked, but there are only six things on the list. When I say that 50 people have talked, of course, there are five or 10 who have talked way more than the others. Eventually, things are settled – or, not settled, but at least there's a list – and then we move on to talking about potential actions for the coming Saturday. Again, people raise their hand to say all sorts of things that have absolutely no relation, or only a tentative relation. Really – how many people can raise their hand to talk about outreach, when each time someone else points out that there is a outreach working group, would you like to join? People keep talking about building numbers, but can't they see that there are 60 people at this meeting? I mean, that's amazing to me! Yes, there could be a wider range of people present – I'm especially curious about Somos Un Pueblo Unido, the community-based immigrant rights organization that’s the only group I've seen organize effective mass protests, or any protests really – I'm curious about their decision not to show up at Occupy Santa Fe assembly meetings, or the protests. The outreach working group seems to be spearheaded by women of color, so I'm sure Somos will be one of the first groups contacted.

The campsite discussion is kind of strange – sure, it would be glamorous to have a campsite, but I'm pretty sure only a handful of people stayed overnight at the previous one. Are we just mimicking Occupy Wall Street? My contribution to the priorities list is that we should be interrupting business as usual. What is the best way to do that in Santa Fe? If there is a campsite, shouldn't it focus on housing issues? Somehow I doubt that, because people keep talking about vagrants – or, at the first meeting, it was transient people, they've been great so far but call 911 if anything gets out of hand. But, wait a second – you're sleeping in a tent on the side of a thoroughfare – isn't that transient? Today someone mentions a potential camping area where everyone has been cleared out – oh, a perfect place for an occupation, right? Clear out the wrong people, bring in the right ones. We are the 99 percent!

At least there's a more nuanced conversation about the cops. Or, not really a conversation, but an open question about whether camping can proceed without permission. Strangely, or perhaps not strangely at all, someone emerges during this conversation to announce that she is, in fact, in charge of activities that occur at the Railyard, the place where we are meeting, so convenient for me I mean I even walked to the meeting, with my food and water. But that's not what she's talking about – she says that she would like to work with us. Technically camping isn't allowed, she says, but there are ways around that. It almost seems like she's asking us to camp there, but she’s on her way somewhere else and no further discussion emerges on this particular point. Although, I think it does open more space for thinking about unpermitted camping.

But back to facilitation – we've gotten to the point in the action discussion where there’s a list, but five things on the list are basically the same – various ideas for a march, and the locations are all within 10 blocks. My turn for an intervention: why don't we consolidate these five items? Is that a proposal, one of the facilitators asks, although we haven't clarified any process for making proposals. But yes – a proposal it is! And then it’s approved – apparently the meeting is nearing an end, but I want to make an announcement about Occupy Canyon Road – I guess I’ve decided it's time for meeting, even though I'm so exhausted that I can barely imagine organizing anything. I mean, I can barely imagine writing this paragraph, but still here it is. I can barely imagine how I'm going to get to another meeting, especially when I leave this one and my whole body hurts, and then thinking about all these people 20 and 30 years older than me, sitting on bricks outside in the chilly air, isn’t anyone else hurting?

That's the thing about inspiration, for me I mean – it leaves me here in bed, wired out of my mind, I mean wired in my mind, even after listening to the feldenkrais CD which leaves me so thankful that I've discovered something that actually helps with the pain, helps me move through it, except then it’s the next day and I'm so much more exhausted, I can hardly even form sentences, am I really thinking of organizing something? But I can't help it – I feel like part of this thing, this Occupy/Decolonize movement, even if the decolonization part seems parenthetical to most of it, still I'm thinking about this one sign that I didn't see at Saturday's protest, but apparently it was there, because I see it in a photo: "To the Rest of the World, We Are the 1%." How do we incorporate this into our organizing?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

What it means to really live here

Occupy Santa Fe, weekend three: this time it's moved to the Roundhouse, the State Capitol, and it feels kind of like a be-in. People are sprawled out in the grass – someone yells out: who wants to discuss healthcare? And a group forms. By the street, people are lined up to face the traffic again – Jessica wants to see if anyone mentions decolonization. No, no, no – oh, wait! Someone with a huge handwritten sign that says Occupy Wall Street – Decolonize America. Brilliant! And, Jessica knows the person, one of her students, a transmasculine young queer with a shaved head. Later, I will have a discussion with this person’s lover, who points to the people drumming on the corner, white hippies of a certain age, and asks: who does that exclude? A lot of people, I think, although to tell you the truth I appreciate the music and the enthusiasm, but this person adds: who is excluded by the way they are using and I'm sure misusing those instruments?

It's this kind of question, even if only asked once at this gathering, that makes it feel important to me. Once again the crowd is vastly white and straight, mostly 40s and older, and knowing that this age demographic would probably not be the case at almost any of the other Occupy gatherings, I’m intrigued not just by the limitations but the possibilities. But then a gesture so apparently small as drumming on the side of the road where once again people are facing the street with signs in order to get the cars to honk in support, and to think about its ramifications. If anything will come of all of these gatherings – over 1000 now, simultaneously – of course we will have to grapple with the layers of ramifications, the (intentionally and unintentionally) colonial gestures of bodies attempting to resist, the question of who is excluded – not just from the big picture, but from every decision made and unmade.

Apparently, a group has left to march towards the Plaza, the symbolic center of town, which sounds kind of exciting. Across the street, someone is dressed as Lady Liberty, green facemask and all, holding a sign that says Freedom and Liberty for the Rich. There's a bit more satire overall, which I always appreciate. I wonder about the signs from people who certainly came of age in the ‘60s, reading “Give Peace a Chance – AGAIN.” Perhaps a few hundred people in total, although later I will see a figure of 800-1000, which must have been at the very beginning. I arrived by noon, and the protest was scheduled from 10 to 5, but here in Santa Fe people show up early, another difference to note.

Jessica and another adjunct professor from the community college are having a “grade-in,” grading midterms underneath a tree, with signs noting that 80% of professors at the community college are adjuncts, who lack benefits and job stability. The word goes around that a general assembly is scheduled for 3, but my energy is fading fast so I go home to rest for an hour, call Jessica just before 3 to see if she wants to pick me up but apparently the general assembly started an hour early, by the time I succeed in walking over it's finished. I feel finished too, struggling to form sentences. Apparently, not much happened at the general assembly – people were using the human mike even though it wasn't necessary; they decided to have a meeting tomorrow to figure out what comes next.

Did I mention that this was a permitted demonstration – which means someone paid the fee for the permit, a payment that goes directly to the cops, who actually only seem to have showed up with one police car in the center of the road. The fewer the better, of course, although I wonder if those two cops get to split the rumored thousand-dollar fee. We were told ahead of time that we could use the bathrooms in the Roundhouse, but when I walk up to the door of course it's locked: private event, security tells me. I always like private events in public buildings, what a great idea! As I'm getting ready to leave, I see someone pouring out all the purified water on to the sidewalk, what the hell is going on? We were told that we were not supposed to leave any chalk markings on the sidewalk, he says, and that's what makes me really angry. I'm not angry at this arbitrary rule, but angry at his obeyance and the ways that this Occupy Santa Fe organizing seems to lack even a basic confrontational stance.

And yet. And yet I wake up, thinking: is this a mass movement? And: what does it mean to be part of a mass movement? The people who planned Occupy Wall Street met for three months before starting the occupation. Here in Santa Fe, it's been going on for a little over two weeks. There were no meetings before it began, just a Facebook posting from someone who didn't have experience with political organizing. Another week and then a campsite emerged, sanctioned by the mayor and the police chief – meetings there for a week, and then the campsite was dismantled once the city declared that actually it was privately owned, and the owner wanted everyone to leave. The next day, the Roundhouse. And here we are now.

Even in this short time, I can see the leaders who do not identify as leaders emerging, I can see the way they talk to one another and I know that intoxication from my own experience with activism. In a decentralized movement that's allegedly about participation from everyone, how do you prevent the follow-the-leader mentality that always emerges, how do you expose the secret intrigues so that everyone is on the inside? Here in Santa Fe, we are far from the media, population, and political centers – it's a different experiment than in the occupations that have received the most attention – New York, San Francisco, LA, Chicago, Washington DC, Boston.

I've lived in a lot of depoliticized towns in this depoliticized country, but Santa Fe takes the cake. Here counterculture moved in the 1960s, and hasn't moved since. It's a frontier town with an art-world mentality, where a self-congratulatory emphasis on the rhetoric of diversity without critical engagement reigns supreme. Here dominant paradigms of colonial entitlement exist basically unquestioned. Wacky subcultures do little more than infuse the tourist economy with hints of desert flavor – sure, you can disappear in your all-terrain vehicle down a dirt road to hide out in your fauxdobe casita, but all this means to me is that everyone drives everywhere and connections are rare. Sometimes this makes me feel desperate, other times lonely, almost always separate.

And so, when I stepped into a tent on the side of a thoroughfare, and found 50 people clamoring to engage politically in some way, however limited, I couldn't help but get excited. Maybe this is what it means to really live here.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

My film is showing again in London!!!

That's right – All That Sheltering Emptiness, the film I made with Gina Carducci, will be showing in a program of films and performances called "Sex Work Is Work," as part of the Sex Worker Open University – here are the details:

Saturday, October 15, 8 pm
The Tent at the Arcola Theatre
24 Ashwin Street
Dalston, London E8 3DL

An interesting article in Toronto's FAB Magazine that quotes me and several of the contributors to Why Are Faggots So Afraid of Faggots...

“Gay men have forgotten how to have sex,” says Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, editor of the forthcoming anthology Why Are Faggots So Afraid of Faggots? “For so long that was supposed to be something gay men were good at, but I’m not so sure anymore. They might be good at the technique but not the openness. Sex should be about opening possibilities, not closing them off.”

The negative language so prevalent on Craigslist and Grindr seems to signal that the culture of sexual liberation has been replaced by sexual segregation.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

More shy cats...

Occupy Santa Fe?

Occupy Santa Fe – inspired, of course, by Occupy Wall Street and the resulting movements across the country, started two weeks ago after a call-out on Facebook for a Saturday protest in the parking lot of a Bank of America branch on one of the busiest intersections in Santa Fe – busy for cars, that is, but certainly well outside the visible commercial center of Santa Fe's tourist industry. That first protest was pretty festive – music and signs, about 70 people when I was there, mostly in their 40s and older I would say, overwhelmingly straight and white, a few people in their 20s and 30s, and several straight couples with kids. The second week was similar, although twice as many people and a wider range – high school and college students, a contingent from the Taos Pueblo, a horrifying hot pink Hummer filled with older gay men and lesbians. Both weeks, the whole action centered around getting the attention of all the cars driving by, a little strange for me since wasn’t Bank of America the target?

The third week, coming up this Saturday, the protest moves to the Roundhouse, New Mexico's State Capitol, which unfortunately has way less visibility on a Saturday, even if it does wield more symbolic importance and is closer to the center of town. Last night I went to the meeting to organize Saturday's protest, held at a new encampment directly across the street from the Bank of America parking lot. I'll admit I was skeptical about this encampment, which apparently has received the blessing of both the Mayor of Santa Fe and the Santa Fe Police Department – a blessing I assume came because it's not in the Plaza, the symbolic center of Santa Fe, or interfering with any tourist photo opportunities. But, when I arrived, it was pretty fascinating to see the infrastructure that had emerged in just a few days – tons of free food and water, several tents and an Airstream trailer. And then, when I entered the tent where the meeting was taking place, maybe 15 minutes after the start, I couldn't believe it was packed with 50 people. 50 people at an activist meeting in Santa Fe, a town of less than 70,000 – that's pretty impressive!

It was standing-room-only in the tent, and I would say the demographic was pretty close to the protests – the majority insisted of white people in their 40s and older, although most facilitation and information-sharing seemed to be coming from people in their late-20s and 30s (all of this is an approximation, of course). Later, more people in their 20s and 30s arrived, and a contingent of six or seven young women of color who arrived together – it turned out that these women organize the local Food Not Bombs, and wanted to serve food at Saturday's protest. Everyone agreed that noon would be the best time, but these women argued that no, the general time for serving food was 5:30 pm, they wanted to serve dinner so that they could bring the people who usually come out for food to the protest. In one of the smoothest moments of the meeting, a quick consensus emerged for 5:30 pm, even though the protest was officially called for 10 am to 5 pm – and, since it is apparently a permitted protest (I'm curious who paid the hefty fee for the permit), this means it would go on after the permit expired.

I'll admit that I was frightened by the fact that, soon after the meeting began, people were asserting, over and over – if anything goes wrong at the campsite, call 911. People were even naming names of the elected officials you needed to call in order to march on the sidewalk – although, then, one woman did stand up and say that she came of age in the 1960s – “in my generation, we don't trust the cops for anything,” she said – she also seemed very knowledgeable about Santa Fe police in particular. This was perhaps the least popular thing that anyone said at the meeting – immediately people started holding peace signs in the air (ironically, of course, many of these people had also come of age in the 1960s – apparently a flurry of peace signs meant let's stop this conversation now. But, the way it was resolved was to start a civil disobedience working group – not a bad solution, if it was it just to shut this woman up.

Someone demonstrated the “people’s mike,” the call-and-response technique popularized by Occupy Wall Street once they were prevented by the police from using amplified sound. Even though I wasn't sure exactly why the organizers had already turned down the sound system allowed for by the permit, I'll admit it was kind of fun to repeat things. It seemed like there was a pretty wide range of experiences represented by people at the meeting, which left me with an excitement I don't think I was expecting. I'm not sure if it's just because I live in this depoliticized town, or because I haven't directly been involved in an activist collective in several years and oh my do I miss it, or because of the participatory possibilities, but I left kind of wired actually.

Oh – and, my idea for an Occupy protest in Santa Fe, where the occupation angle seems particularly problematic. Remember, this is a town where the multiple legacies of colonialism are sold as tourist ambience, where the largest celebration of the year marks the "peaceful reconquest" of Diego de Vargas in 1690. I figure we should occupy Canyon Road, the heart of Santa Fe's art market, also in the wealthiest section of Santa Fe. Free Art! Occupy Canyon Road! Since Santa Fe is a town run by the art market and the tourists industries, Canyon Road is our Wall Street. I even woke up in the middle of the night thinking of slogans – “Whose Art? Our Art?” Or, blowing bubbles while chanting POP POP POP the art bubble! Or maybe Decolonize Art, Occupy Canyon Road, which Jessica Lawless just threw my way in a voicemail.

As of last night's meeting, there’s now an Occupy Canyon Road working group – we'll see what emerges…

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Before I get back in bed

I wake up kind of excited, actually – when I pull off the eye mask to look at the clock, it's 9 am, which means that I actually slept through the night, more or less. Then I'm sitting outside in the chilly air, thinking how can I be this tired, really this tired? So, after I finish preparing my food, I get back in bed, but only for a few minutes, because then the bloating gets too intense. So then I'm up again, shoveling food down my throat, no wait, first I go on a walk, before eating anything actually, an experiment since it's still early and the walk is gorgeous, the air is so fresh except when another rotting car drives by poisoning the air with awful fumes and then here I am again, sitting down to write something, anything, but how many times can I write this, how exhausted I am, what does it accomplish, is there a point, before I get back in bed.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Friday, October 07, 2011

The getting-in part

There it all goes – energy. What I thought was energy: gone. In a half-hour, I have to walk a mile. To get to feldenkrais. I like this walk, because it means that I can walk a mile. But I don't like this walk when I’m this tired. What do I like when I’m this tired? Getting back in bed. Just the getting-in part, because once I get out of bed everything’s worse. Feldenkrais is better than bed: we've already established that. And so, I will walk.

Somehow the walk back didn't tire me out – that's how I know it was a really good session. And then it’s the next day, somehow I’m wired in the morning, filled with edgy and ideas, is this a turning point? Probably you already know the answer – I eat, and then it's over. Should I get back in bed?

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

I was just thinking about queer possibilities for the national movements starting with Occupy Wall Street, and then I got this fantastic announcement for queer camp at Occupy Baltimore -- let's hear it for Mortville!!!

We, the people of Mortville reject global capitalism and the consumer-based identities it imposes upon the populace. We acknowledge that race, class, gender, and sexual orientation have been systematically transformed into marketing schemes to sell us our identities at the expense of the global poor and the human spirit. Mortville shall exist indefinitely as a laboratory in which we create recombinant personas from the detritus of corrupt corporate constructs. We shall embarrass capitalism by exposing its lies and subverting its strategy of spectacle. In the shadow of Urban Outfitters, we will illuminate the plight of those who toil in sweatshops to line the pockets of republican scum. We strive to alternately parody the excesses of consumer culture and set an example of living free of them. We declare the self-definition of glamor to be a human right and not a privilege of the 1%. Constantly reinventing ourselves as a hybrid of identities, we will look how we feel, say what we wish, fuck who we want, act as we should(n't), vogue like a queen, and walk like an Egyptian.
The first action of the un-government of Mortville shall be to impose economic sanctions upon the tyrannical regime of the status quo and it's allies. Sanctions shall be lifted when the wealth is redistributed, the military industrial complex dismantled, the police disempowered, and the public sector fulfilling its obligations to the people. We demand education, housing, public transportation, dignified employment, energy that neither spoils our planet nor supports oppressive theocracies, abortions, human rights, arts programming, a secular and transparent democracy, free health care (including sex change operations), and legal residency for all! Until our demands are met, we shall cast our glittery high-heeled sabots into the mechanism of complacency and laugh as the gears shatter!

Tuesday, October 04, 2011


I don't know if I'll ever get used to this feeling of waking up with all these ideas in my head, swirling around, going to all the places I want to find, create, cultivate, explore. And then it's all gone, minutes later – sometimes there's a transition like eating or going on a walk, and sometimes no transition at all: my brain just goes cloudy, dreary, overwhelmed, unable. Like now: I'm closing my eyes while I'm writing this, that's how tired I am. Still, I want to write something. Before. Before I get back in bed. And then? And then. And then. And then.

And then somehow I will get to therapy. I will get to therapy, and it will be interesting, soothing, maybe helpful in a subtle way. Fun, even? Afterwards, a walk to the bus, where I can appreciate things more – I mean on the walk, not on the bus. And then, once I get home, back to the exhaustion and overwhelmed and then I'll think was it worth it? Going to therapy, if it just makes me this exhausted. But I'm already this exhausted.

Like with my reading in Albuquerque, it went so well, but afterwards oh my. I was a wreck, sitting with people and trying to form sentences. Thinking: how can they expect me to talk, is this what I'm doing, what am I doing, talking. Luckily, though, I don't think I feel dramatically more exhausted than the dramatically more exhausted that I already felt. When does something get better, anything? The doctor likes to ask me if I would know what it would feel like to feel better – she thinks it's been so long of feeling so awful that maybe I wouldn't notice. What an idiotic thing to say – of course I would notice. For now, I just notice that I can always feel worse, I knew that before I took the anti-parasite medications, I mean it's what I told the doctor but instead what she heard was: it couldn’t get worse. It made me so angry when she said that, I mean reported it to me like it was something I had told her, when it was just something she was telling me, and then telling me that I told her.

And then I do feel worse, struggling to pull these words into the me, these words that could, could help, sometimes do, a little, don’t. My eyes are open now, and I don't know what that means exactly. More energy, or less? Time to take off my contacts while there’s still enough time to get up and go outside into the fresh air, yes, it's fresh and cool now, fall it seems, the leaves even falling although if the sun comes out, then it will feel hot again, right? Two hours – I still have two hours, almost.