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.

14 comments:

davka said...

holy shit this is the most important thing I've read in a long time. Wow.

davka said...

What a powerful title and last sentence and your tags are wonderful. This was something I needed to read this week. Thank you so much.

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Oh, Davka, wow, thank you so much!!!

(Your comment made me cry.)

Love –
mattilda

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Comments :)

Love –
mattilda

Furbird said...

How sad they just don't get it. I am afraid that the reformists have taken over and only want to go so far. That is what is happening here in Hartford. You know us on Furbirdsqueerly and our thoughts on art and the art market. Oh, the art market and artists. Perhaps just another tactic of the 1% to keep folks down. We know how art feeds the rich pigs. Starve them we say!! Please though don't beat your head too hard against the wall of their stupidity. As you told me once just continue to write and know that some of us understand what you are saying and love, love, love you.

Richard

vale said...

That's really sad. A march down Canyon road would just hurt the gallery owners so much--they would all instantaneously go out of business and become homeless. But, instead of poor gallery owners identifying as the 99% and linking up the economic downturn with wall street crimes, they just show up to make reactionary statements. It is one the most pathetic and feeble attributes imaginable when a political group refuses to confront the leading industry in town--like towns with a chemical plant or oil refinery who refuse to make a fuss about the pollution involved because of jobs. The tourist industry is a global leech on par with the financial sector. Anyway, I'm sorry occupy sante fe is proving to be a let down.

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Thank you, my dear!

And, well, here the reformists didn't have to take over because it was never anyone else, oh my...

Or, perhaps more New Age than reform -- New Age reform!

But then, an interesting conversation at the campsite and suddenly my mind gets excited again – it doesn't take much here in Santa Fe, where there isn't much....

Always good to hear from you!

Love –
mattilda

Furbird said...

New Age reform. How goofy. I fully know what you mean by one conversation and then excitment again. Perhaps it will develope like here where those of us who see the folly in it all are regrouping. The rip in the curtian of the ruling class can not be mended and it would be a shame for the beyond what there is thinkers to just drop out. In Hartford they have raised the americkan flag over the camp so we see how small they really are. Someone told me that they are pandering to the people, how dare they.

I hear there is a unoccupy movemnet coming from the first nation peoples in Arizona.

Always love to you and many kisses
Richard

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Hello darling –

Yes, one conversation, and then…

Of course, here in Santa Fe those conversations are so rare, so perhaps that explains my excitement in those moments.

I do you have a wacky idea about Canyon Road – certainly it will not be connected to the Occupy Santa Fe general assembly, however…

And yes, could anything be worse than the US flag? Oh, I know – activists using it (except, of course, as a burning decoration).

Love –
mattilda

Unknown said...

Lots of people are waking up. I think its a process. I see similar dynamics at play where I live. I think people are going to be timid for a while. What ultimately gives me hope is that ordinarily quiet people are observing something they've never seen in their lives and instead of turning back to the familiar, they are looking for ways to imitate it. They do this because they are becoming ready to take responsibility for the changes they want. They aren't ready to risk alot to get there, but they are engaged, they're out there mixing with strangers and they are learning a new language. People are now having the discussions that the government for decades has discouraged and stopped. I've got my fingers crossed that this time, the genie really is out of the bottle.

Much Love

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Unknown, I hope so!!!

Love--
mattilda

erin said...

I guess you could say that Santa Fe doesn't have a 1%, if you consider that the rich folks and real estate vampires have gentrified the shit out of the place and now make up a much larger percentage of the population than they used to. It's kind of a city that is 50% full of the 1%.

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Erin, so true – and, I thought you were going to say that we don't have the 1% because they only have their fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth houses here :)

Love –
mattilda

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Vale, can you imagine that somehow your wonderful comment from way back on October 31 just showed up? I guess it got caught in the spam box somehow -- why oh why? I really appreciate your analysis!

Love --
mattilda