Thursday, December 8, 2011

NYC needs the creativity of O.W.S.: The Villager

December 1, 2011 | Filed under: Notebook | Posted by: admin
BY K WEBSTER | You can tell that it’s time for a society to rethink itself when it justifies trashing books.

The destruction of the Occupy Wall Street encampment and its 5,000-book library raises many questions.

Like how exactly do you get free speech in a country where the ownership of the means to communicate is so grotesquely concentrated in the hands of the wealthy? Where corporations buy unlimited speech while people have to resort to cardboard signs?

And sorry, but whenever I hear too much moral outrage about private property rights in relation to Zuccotti Park I can’t help but think about whose backs those “rights” were historically and literally built on.

But I want to stick with the idea of books, the arts and ideas ­­­— this is, after all, New York City.

Where is New York’s gritty art scene? Where is its edgy, daring, life-loving, risk-taking self? Where are this generation’s Beat poets? It’s Harlem Renaissance? It’s Nuyorican Cafes? Where are the Abstract Expressionists? Where is this generation’s punk scene, jazz scene? Any arts scene?

Despite stereotypes to the contrary, artists and other thinkers flourish when they have peers nearby. That’s why we see so much tepid artwork these days — no one can afford to live here and build arts communities. No one can think flexibly, give voice to life’s complexity or gather courage to challenge what is known, in the face of isolation.

Mayor Bloomberg prides himself on his support of the arts. Yet probably the most stunning, provocative, intelligent, edgy work of human creativity to hit this town in a very long time was the Occupy Wall Street movement. Signage that is pure poetry, a library, puppeteers, photography, performance art, sculptural inventiveness (those bikes!), dance and language (those hand signals!). Messy, yes. Needing to work at being better neighbors, yes. But nothing worth creating is ever tidy. Artists have always struggled to fit in. It goes with the territory.

The removal of the O.W.S. encampment with its astonishing spark of life will haunt us. And while you can’t destroy an idea whose time has come, you can destroy communities. (Back to our history again.) And what is lost is incalculable. This community was earnestly trying to find solutions, to practice democracy and sustainability, and dusting off art forms to find their relevance. Ideas were being generated and tried out. Young people were trying to get a handle on their future.

Some of us passionately support O.W.S. because at least it is trying to grapple honestly, with humor and ingenuity, with the enormous mess created by the 1 percent in this country. It is an irony, a bitter irony, that in hollow and dishonest words, one of the wealthiest men in America claimed to be “protecting” us. From what exactly? Thinking?

It is a bitter irony that people who were trying to find our future were ordered evicted and arrested, while the people who literally stole our future were ordered guarded by our police force. An irony that a park, whose new rules must be obeyed, is cleared out in record time. But the stinking mass of corruption and theft that lies not two blocks from O.W.S. sits rotting for decades.

We are in serious trouble. We need ideas. But this mayor just evicted one of the most hopeful think tanks in generations.

O.W.S. pros outweigh cons: Downtown Express

To the Editor:
Last Thursday night I went down to an off-site sustainability meeting for Occupy Wall Street. Our community garden needs compost and they have it. It’s a win-win. As I walked to the bus I passed young adults in my neighborhood partying in a bar and at a well-heeled gallery opening. When I got to the meeting area there was an atrium full of young adults — and people of other ages — gathered in clusters strategizing about media, sustainability, sanitation, facilitation, education, etc. on behalf of O.W.S.

Did you know that after their generators were taken they hooked up bikes to batteries to power their electricity? Did you know they are looking into solar power and building a model wind generator? They are creating power-generation models that we might all need to know how to build someday. They are figuring out recycling. (City parks are not required to recycle.) They are composting, they have a gray water reclamation model. They are building possibilities for sustainability that as community gardeners we’ve been working toward for more than 30 years now.

On the Lower East Side, we still have a vibrant neighborhood: diverse, interesting and rich in culture and uniqueness. I wouldn’t trade it for anywhere else.

But in my neighborhood another teenager was murdered a few weeks ago, despite the courageous attempts by his parents to organize against youth violence. One of the few remaining low-income senior homes was sold for luxury condos. Those longtime residents were scattered away from friends and families. More unemployed workers and fewer housing options for this community’s elderly resulted. I wish we had thought to “Occupy Bialystoker.”

As a parent, I know it’s hard to live next to noise and crowds. We’ve been subjected to an unending barrage of luxury construction on the Lower East Side and a high-end bar scene that has generated noise, murders and not a few wasted evenings spent trying to rein this scene in. We have seen a burgeoning of mindless wealth accumulation and the required mind-numbing activity that accompanies it. We have seen the despair in our low- and middle-income youth over the realization that they will never be a part of the American Dream while witnessing the relentless economic decline of their parents. Over-the-top wealth inequity is not news here.

If I had a choice between living with the (loud) sounds and inconveniences of youth organizing for a better world, trying to take charge of their futures, as well as the future of all of us, or living with the status quo — I know what my choice would be.

They are welcome next door to me. Bring it all. Drums too. Because I think it may be past time to end our silent consent to the travesties going on around us.
K Webster

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Elizabeth Warren - hero

To Quote Elizabeth Warren:

"There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there- good for you.
But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers
the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest
of us paid for. You didn't have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory...

Now look. You built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great idea - God bless! Keep a big hunk of
it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along."

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Anthony Weiner - and the rest of us.

Anthony Weiner got busted exploiting young women. They are often preyed upon by men who are plagued with an endless quest to staunch their insecurity and loneliness. Lots of guys are derailed by the illusion of comfort or pleasure or just numbness. This society purposefully and increasingly entwines sex with the hard-wired need for human closeness. It sells. But despite the ads, sex is just one possible (potentially lovely) means to closeness, not the only means.

Men are set up to be “on their own” from very early on, male babies are held far less than female babies. It’s harsh, and the accumulating isolation leaves men sitting ducks for anything that looks like an offer of reprieve from the feelings of loneliness. The problem is from long ago and can’t be solved without looking at the conditions that created it. That early loss of connection can only be grieved. Guys are asked to go it alone at a too tender age and they go it alone ever after. And the desperate pull to quench that isolation with a counterfeit fix isn’t easily resisted– “maybe this time I’ll get it right”, “maybe this one will end this ache”.

Women are set up to take care of every human problem. We want to salve the world -or we make a rigid decision not to. But still we are vulnerable to giving our all without regard for our own real interests - we don’t take ourselves into account in our mission to care for others. The task is linked with what we’ve been told is our only worth. Survival of the human race demands that we erase ourselves.

I have been thinking it would be good for men and women to try not to exploit one another where we are vulnerable to being “used”. Men have one version of self-sacrifice (like, cannon fodder in wars) and women have another (like, centuries of unpaid, unacknowledged labor as moms and caregivers). Women are trained (hurt really) into trying to make men feel better – at all costs. And since we have no institutional power we often try to absorb it through our connections to men of influence. Men will do anything to feel even the pretense of closeness (hence prostitution – you don’t believe the woman actually likes you, but “it will do”). Men are deluded thinking they can live with that ruse and they lose all integrity pretending it doesn’t damage real humans who are female.

We live in a society that gives us very few options for closeness. We grow up in this confusion and then try to find a partner. Then all that past loneliness is supposed to magically vanish and be solved by our true love. And when it isn’t we despair: we give up on closeness or hunt for someone who will make the bad feelings go away.

So as Anthony Weiner leaves the scene, we lose one of our best fighters for health care and his family is embarrassed. But really, in our culture, it just means that everyone else will go further underground, hiding the places we feel lost and alone: trying to mend a societal problem with private solutions.

But what happens to our hope that people get to love each other fully and openly? And why is it that adult human closeness is presumed to require sex almost exclusively? And how do we think about sex if it is sometimes part of the equation in trying to find each other? Is there another option than letting it all be reduced to a sound bite, a joke, or a self-righteous punch line?

It is past time to stop the exploitation of women by men, to stop allowing boys to grow up so isolated that they self-destruct and/or destroy others, and to stop blaming one another for our common struggles around the human need for closeness. We need to start finding ways to make it possible for all of us to admit how we each got separated from one another and do the work necessary to make that different.

- K Webster

Monday, June 27, 2011

City goes to Court Over Charter Schools

City goes to Court Over Charter Schools

"...Complaints have been raised from Harlem to Coney Island as charter schools increasingly share buildings with public schools in an attempt by the city to maximize existing space rather than build new schools. But the teachers union, the NAACP and some parents accuse the city of violating a new state law that says co-locations involving charters must be equitable..."

K's Response Jun. 21 2011 09:52 AM:

There are large questions in this issue. Key to me is whose ethos is will run our schools. What are our goals as a community when we say we will “educate”? How do we fund experiments and who gets to run those experiments?

The problem isn’t just what happens to everyone else who isn’t in a well-funded charter school. But whose ethos drives schools? A few wealthy philanthropists? A board of hedge fund guys? How does that involvement not end up affecting the model for “success” in a school?

I have learned to think of education as learning what we need to know to have the lives we want. That requires a certain amount of autonomy from the dictates of corporate or other narrow interests. How do we have schools that don’t just become an extension of the world-view of the moneyed few?

The charter vs. public school once again divides and conquers parents and communities who are trying to fight for their children. Many of us have limited resources to wage that battle. Ruthless competition has wound up being the major message: lotteries that decide whether you “make it” or not.

But all parents have a vested interest in all schools being good places to for our children to find their own thinking about this life. All of society has that same investment. But if corporations are shielded from paying their taxes, allowed off-shore dodges and then given a free hand in our schools to invest their “profits” as they please while the poorly funded public schools are strangled by the lack of adequate resources- how does this move us forward as an open society?

Corporations have already become persons according to this Supreme Court. Now they want to mold our children. Not acceptable. I’d rather they pay their taxes and let the teachers, principals, parents and students who have been in the trenches of poorly funded education tell them what to do with the cash. We may agree on some things, disagree on others, but definitely, money should not do the deciding.

Back and forth with Jonathan Alter on corporate influence in public schools:

Don't Believe Critics, Education Reform Works:Jonathan Alter

"...but what’s wrong with business executives or other interested outsiders devoting time and money to public schools? Would it be better if they ignored them as they did for so long? That went well for this country...."

K Webster's response on the undue influence of corporations on our public schools:

Mr. Alter: I leave it to others to debunk the absurdities of the rest of this article. But, Re: "what’s wrong with business executives ... devoting time and money to public schools? " If businesses executives would shoulder their share of the tax burden instead of milking this country for all its worth we would not need their "largesse" to fund our schools. And public schools could get back to the business of supporting the minds of our children to handle the complexities of this world.

So, "what's wrong with it"? We don't want business executives in charge of the ethos of our education system by buying their way into positions of influence. Because, speaking of your ironic comment, "That went well for this country...," I think we all know how that ethos has played out for everyone else. K Webster

On Jun 5, 2011, at 11:23 AM, wrote: In your view, What's the motive of business in this context?

K's response: Thanks. Fair question. But whether the motives are sinister or utterly based on good intentions, has no bearing on the prospect of undue influence of an outside interest in a public school. Everyone comes to this issue with a perspective honed by their life and outlook. I do too.

For example, those of us who are white and/or those of you who come from moneyed backgrounds will have an ethos (spoken, acknowledged, known, aware - or not) out of which decisions get made that impact those who are, for example: not white, not moneyed. And frankly, we are not smart enough to be making those decisions. Business has a vested interest and a belief that their method, their ethos, is the way forward. I understand that - of course they would! I fiercely disagree with that ethos for many reasons.

The number one reason is that it doesn't work. It is not even working in the business world - except for the very very few. I think that no single influence should hold sway in schools, and certainly no influence without a thorough, ongoing and transparent vetting by the communities and teaching staff that a school intends to serve or employ.

We've seen over and over again the presumption of "rightness" of a dominant and dominating culture/class/race/gender that gets proven so wrong in the light of progress. But probably more insidious in all of this, is the gutting of public funding for education, which leaves parents and those who would fight for children (especially children who have been targeted by racism or economic depravation) hunting for the "goodies" that corporate sponsorship has in abundance. How do you turn down that offer? Even if you don't understand it or have time to investigate the long-range consequences of it?

Many small businesses in my community have stepped up and do step up to share their wealth because they believe in the principals who work hard to make the local schools excellent. They give [them] the money and assume [they] will know how to spend it. Of course businesses large and small should donate funds to schools!

But not as a substitute for the paying of a fair share of their taxes so that WE the public and those who run our schools get to determine what gets spent where and for what. The destruction of the infrastructure needed to create schools that are truly open and public is in no one's best interests. Everyone's ethos ends up being too narrow to be allowed to determine a school in any way. That takes a collaborative effort with all minds engaged, but particularly those who are most impacted by the end results.

Thanks for asking. Yours, K Webster

On Jun 5, 2011, at 1:44 PM, wrote:

We totally agree on taxes and the shame of corporate power in this country. That has nothing to do, however, with the Gates Foundation and others funding education models that have been proven to work.
- Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

K Webster response:
But while Bill Gates dabbles in his experiments with our children's education Microsoft engages in off-shore tax dodges and a host of other manipulations in order to avoid paying very large quantities of taxes in this country.

 I'd rather have those taxes in hand and directed by electeds, parents, communities, students and people who have knowledge
of the field (by successful years worked in schooling and/or by years of study and degrees) who would choose where the money would
best be spent in the public interest. Even if there was disagreement, that is a conversation worth having!

It doesn't work to have education policy be driven so powerfully by an individual (no matter how savvy he or she feels themselves to be). It just strikes one as sheer hubris that someone who hasn't spent much time in the field of public education either as a consumer or as a worker (nor elected -later comment)
 should feel entitled to influence on such a broad scale.

Again, the ethos matters. Business in this country is all about competition. I think we are fast learning that ruthless, mindless
competition ultimately does not beget a good or even functional world. There is a point to some competition- when you push someone else to be their best and they push you to do the same.
 But this pervasive corporate kind of competition breeds insecurity and insecurity does not breed thought it breeds panic. You
 may "survive", even "win", but it is a poor winning that is self-serving and narrow and a low functioning intelligence that must focus on survival rather than letting one's mind "soar".

I think that the unexamined piece in all of this is that when you have corporate or business interests trying to play a big role in education
that world-view imbues everything. I don't want us to be trying to create job training programs for future competent workers for companies - I want us trying to create schools and institutions that encourage students to own their world, that invite curiosity and compassion, that reward investigation and inspire their naturally scientific minds. Children love to learn and they will figure out their world if we give them the room and support to do so.

I guess that's why I don't think these models work. They are based not on a human model- on what makes a human successful- but on a corporate model that has a very narrow, very pale definition of a successful life.

Last, I read an interesting book, "How Lincoln Learned to Read". It's all about how people learned what they needed to know: Lincoln, Harriet Tubman, Ben Franklin, Elvis Presely, etc. It changes the discussion to a more interesting, more complex one as regards education. 


Saturday, June 25, 2011

What is Possible: A Woman’s Journey from Iran to America

What is Possible: A Woman’s Journey from Iran to America
Her daughter wants to keep bouncing on the two big mattresses that lie on the floor, but Azadeh is tired. She’s been up all night. She catches a glimpse of her child’s eyes inviting her to play. She tosses aside her weariness and starts tumbling and laughing with her little girl. It’s a scene repeated in different ways in different homes. A parent rallies to fulfill a child’s wish to be close and alive with them.
Who we know shapes our world: our children, our parents, our partners and their families, the neighbors and friends we create community with and the boss we work for. Sometimes our most life-changing relationships are not the ones we “chose” to have, but the ones that chance causes us to build.

I met Azadeh while visiting an old friend and so began our “unplanned” twenty-five year friendship. Getting to know one another has been a chance to see life freshly through another’s eyes. I grew up Catholic in Buffalo in a working class home with many siblings and little money. Azadeh and her brother grew up Muslim in Teheran in a formerly wealthy family. She heard Farsi and the poetry of Rumi. I heard Yeats from my Irish mom. But despite our differences both our childhoods were tumultuous, difficult and fantastic.
Azadeh taught herself to be bold. She cannot bear to have anyone face a hard time alone and has had to find her voice in order to help. It has catapulted her into action and speech despite her shyness and fears of not being smart. She does her advocacy work in a language she learned at 16 years old.
During the days of 9/11 this city felt compelled to respect no barrier in our compassion for one another. People tried to lend a hand in whatever way they could: from the heart-stopping courage of first responders to the simple act of offering water to the dust covered and dazed who streamed from downtown. We all met and loved complete strangers that day.
Azadeh too, went out to lend whatever comfort she could that day. She found herself at one of the Centers helping those who were searching for their loved ones. A young blond man, a carpenter’s belt around his waist, was waiting for word of his brother. He had heard news of the attack, jumped into his truck and raced from Canada. His face was rigid with rage. No one would go near him. But it was cold and Azadeh saw that he had no socks. Softly, she came over and stood next to him. A few moments passed, and she started speaking to him, feeling foolish and inadequate. He said nothing. She kept talking. She asked if he needed socks. No reply. She kept trying. Finally, she asked him gently about his missing brother. His face contorted, he bit his lip. She was afraid, wondering what he might do in his grief and anger, but refused to leave his side. Then, in a sudden movement he turned towards her, eyed her squarely, wrapped his arms around her and sobbed.
Azadeh is a Shia Muslim. It took quiet courage to walk into that center, on that day. But there is a true kinship that drives all people whether they were born here or arrived later.
Who we know, whether for a few minutes or for a lifetime, shapes our world: Azadeh, her daughter, the broken-hearted stranger, the rescued and the rescuers of 9/11, the friendship of two people from a world apart. We all try to meet one another in that place of human possibility. What is possible there we don’t really know yet, but it will take a world of different minds to find out.
K Webster is a community organizer in New York City’s Lower Manhattan. She is the Co-Chair of an activist community garden on the Lower East Side and the Chair of the Chinatown Working Group’s Education and Schools Working Team. She is an artist, organizer, former construction worker, mom, wife and daughter and proud of her working class Buffalo roots.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Park51.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Talking Point Mayor’s Irish quip shouldn’t be swept under the rug

Irish ...By K Webster

“Normally when I walk by [the American Irish Historical Building] there are a bunch of people that are totally inebriated hanging out the window. I know that’s a stereotype about the Irish,” Mayor Bloomberg joked recently at a pre-St. Patrick’s Day Parade gathering.

You kind of want to give the mayor a break. A gaffe, an unaware remark — who hasn’t done that? And yes, we unrealistically want our public leaders to be perfect models of civility and intelligence. Never going for stale humor — the calcified artifacts of a time when some barbs had pointed and awful impact.

But I don’t think we want to sweep it under the rug, either. It’s one of those teachable moments — yes? A time to look at those unstated but pervasive characterizations that still sit in our minds like a poison. He’s not the only one with that unfortunate view of Irish people.

We are the people of Yeats, Synge, Swift, Wilde, Joyce, Beckett, Heaney, Shaw, Maud Gonne, Molly Brown, Sandra Day O’Connor, etc. We are the people who made the Book of Kells, the Skellig Michael monastery, and who kept learning alive during the Middle Ages of Europe. We are poets and singers and dancers.

It’s a tad diminishing to see your ancestors’ culture reduced to leprechauns, four-leaf clovers and alcoholism.

My grandparents left Ireland for a better life, and found one, but not without struggle. In those days the “No Irish Need Apply” signs meant it. It was an economic ban born of prejudice and oppression. It was intended to humiliate, hurt, impoverish and isolate Irish men, women and children.

The Irish came at different times to escape the impossibility of surviving in Ireland. They came as indentured servants, prisoners, refugees from colonization and starvation — despite anti-Catholic laws and riots in the United States.

And I guess it bears repeating that for 800 years of Ireland’s existence the English wealthy subjugated the people, stole the land, denuded the forests, outlawed the Catholic religion, and insured that Irish people were pitted against one another for generations to come. Ports were full of food that was exported for profit while a million starved to death during the potato famine.

One result of this ferocious destruction and the powerlessness it engendered was, for some, to resort to a slow death by mind-numbing alcohol addiction. Another result was to be subjected to ridicule and blame for having the problem.

We lost many to famine, addiction, poverty and overwork. But like any oppression, when we feel ashamed of our people’s responses to it, it is vital to remember that it is those who inflicted the disgrace who bear the dishonor.

K Webster is also known as Kathleen O’Brien Webster

Monday, January 31, 2011

DNAinfo: San Gennaro Festival Being Pushed Out by Community Board

ink San Gennaro Festival By Jordan Heller

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

"NOLITA — NoLita residents and merchants seeking to rid their neighborhood of the annual San Gennaro Feast scored a victory last week when Community Board 2 penned a letter to the city's permit office urging them to cut off the 85-year-old festival at Kenmare Street, the de facto border between Little Italy and NoLita....."

Read more:

My response and another's response to the discussion:

Cordoning off the festival is an odd response to any problems associated with it. This isn’t just an Italian Catholic festival, supported by the neighborhoods local Church. It’s also a working class cultural icon. Yes, it draws working class tourists, unlike the wealthy ones some merchants prefer. But there are also people who live and work here who enjoy it– like the children from nearby schools etc. The comments (“greasy fingers”, etc.) have been rife with insult to working class people. They are demeaning and arrogant. The carny atmosphere is authentic and edgy and very New York. But it’s only ten days. Consider how ever-present the upper class culture is that we’ve been inundated with lately. It’s hard for those who belong to it to even recognize it AS a culture (because it’s “just you being you”). But believe me, it is every bit as grating to us as this is to you. I think some have no idea how stilted and narrow it can read. Don't insist on your class culture as the only worthwhile one. You have to share.
kathleen webster | January 27, 2011

Comment from someone opposed to the Festival:

As a an American, Little Italy resident supporter of "Middle America Faggots" and "fruitcakes," (see the thoughtful commentor's quaint remarks below) and as an Italian Amercan, the issue has nothing to do with the cultural, ethnic, and class warfare a few responders on this page have chosen to conjure, as well as the event's proponents. No one is taking away anything from anyone, denying any ethnic and cultural heritage (that which actually exists). This is not about Nolita area retailers and residents solely opposing this event with a vendetta against any culture, or any particular ethnic dynamic. That's a bogus ruse, and offensive if not farcical. This is about reducing an overrun, grotesquely over-commercialized street closing event that a majority in the entire area and outward--whether business owners, property owners, or residents-- feel is a reasonable compromise to restoring the most basic quality of living for all in the area. To frame and box this as a some sort of unified assault on "working class" people is disingenuous at best, absurd at worst. As many "working class" (ironically, many who are deceptively being called "new," have lived in the area for 15 years+) residents as the scapegoated "boutique" owners vehemently oppose the Gennaro event as-is. Also, many of the artisinal retailers who distaste the event, implicitly grouped together as "arrogant and demeaning," is ludicrous. Many work seven days a week producing their products, and work as hard as anyone in the city. Both in Nolita, below Broome, on Lafayette, Centre, Centre Market, and elsewhere throughout the community. The demand is not for deposing the event; it's for a fair compromise, legitimately cultivated in frustration over the years by a colossal number of people, from all walks of life, and from all areas of the community.

Hey David, please stop using anti-gay slurs. That brings in a whole bunch of lousy stuff that is part of what is wrong with the anti-festival attitudes. It confuses the issue and is just plain mean and hurtful to a group that has enough to deal with. It’s a divide and conquer mess that working class people in particular are vulnerable to. Mjcveritas: my comment about “demeaning and arrogant” I wrote very specifically to those who made the “greasy fingers” comment, I did not group the storeowners as a whole. I stand by that: it was. Don’t you agree? As to store workers/owners working hard -not the issue here. It has to do with a superior attitude towards others who do different kinds of work. Like the phrase “red neck” (white people who worked in the fields all day) it’s meant to degrade. And yes, slurs are often a part of white working class harshness and they need to go (for a host of reasons). But once again, the implication is, that because you don’t say lousy words, you are clear of carrying oppressive attitudes. Not so. Working class people often show the oppressive attitudes in society while the wealthy insure that oppression continues - quietly. I don’t think you who get to decide that this isn’t about class. This is working class cultural event as such it attracts working class tourists (as well as any child in a ten block area) – everyone knows that. As I mentioned, the culture of wealth that is attracted by some of the shops is equally maddening to many of us. Yes, you have to share the space for 10 days. I know you can do it.
kathleen webster | January 31, 2011

Bowery Boogie: Rally to save 35 Cooper Square

"Rally to Save Cooper Square"
"Two-foot snow embankments, freezing temps, and narrow sidewalks couldn’t stop dozens from rallying in support of 35 Cooper Square yesterday evening. At 185-years-old, the Federal-row style structure was recently purchased for $8.5 million, and is currently staring down a death sentence via wrecking ball. The rally, co-organized by the Bowery Alliance of Neighbors (BAN), was an effort to help nudge the Landmarks Preservation Commission to calendar this property for preservation...."

I remember well the beautiful mural painted on the side of this building after 9/11. So much history, so much that defines New York. Do you really want to keep tearing down buildings of this caliber and richness? Meanwhile, the community near the Trade Center's footprint is begging for building and reconstruction for their devastated community. How in any conscience can a developer continue to defy the local clear preference of the East Village community and turn a deaf ear to the real needs of that other destroyed site not a mile and a half from here? - Bowerygals

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Park51 Islamic Center: Rebuilding a Neighborhood with Care

Rebuilding a Neighborhood with Care

I was a mile away when the first plane hit the Trade Towers. I was taking my son by stroller to our parent-run day care center. I ran with him to that shelter. We all struggled not to show how afraid we were to the children. We took turns going outside to watch and pray that the towers would hold. We sobbed when they fell. I went out the next day just to listen to people in the lines waiting for news of their friends, children, parents and co-workers – most of whom they would never see again. My beloved brother had died the week before. I felt I understood the shock of loss.

Every community works to make the best possible home for its members to live in. The most promising communities gather and sustain the resources around them to insure that members are cared for and can thrive.

Although Americans come from ancestors and societies of people with similar beliefs and customs, we have always been a far more complex society. Here we have been tasked with reinventing our communities with each new wave of people from across the world. It is our great strength. Our work has been to honor and protect our own ways and beliefs while we guard against becoming exclusive and isolated and therefore limited. We do this despite many of us having prior histories as the targets of intolerance and attack. Not simple. There have been many bumps in that road, but we slowly get better at it.

As in any community, yours too, you decide its course by gathering the thoughts of everyone involved. The vigorous and sometimes rancorous debate around the Park51 Islamic Center’s location was/is necessary and unavoidable. People are made angry, grief struck and fearful by senseless loss. Yet we still have to find a way not to be shackled by those griefs, angers and fears when determining the future. Atrocities have happened here before. We live on Lenape Native land, we have built our homes and lives on their sacred sites. We must remember, honor and learn from all losses and work towards our best hopes for the present and for the future.

The proposed Park51 Islamic Center affords us an opportunity to learn about each other and offers an important resource for Lower Manhattan. Modeled after the Jewish Community Center and the Christian YMCA whose faiths infuse the values of their centers, Park51 will be inspired by the Islamic faith but open to everyone. It intends to provide services to prevent domestic violence, classes to learn English and Arabic, courses in cooking, a place to swim, a memorial to the victims of 9/11 and an Interfaith Center. And, importantly, a Muslim prayer space. Observing one’s faith is an American principle held dear by most people in this country.

The neighborhood leadership, local elected representatives, and the community have resoundingly backed the proposal. The Center offers the possibility of a positive infusion into the life of this neighborhood that was badly scarred by the destruction of 9/11. Local leadership would like more institutions to come and build here. This is no surprise – during the past few years Lower Manhattan has become increasingly residential. This is a neighborhood. It has need of jobs, homes, parks, schools, labor centers, day care, senior housing, shelters, prayer spaces, learning centers, health and recreation centers, and police and fire houses. Far from being disrespectful to build here, every faith must lend their weight towards the restoration of this community.

At the site of the World Trade Towers will stand an enduring memorial to the enduring heartbreak of that day. Nearby, children will splash in a pool, babies will laugh and cry, women will heal, people will learn, a faith will have a place to pray. Life will go on - a direct challenge to the twisted plans of a small group who would have had it otherwise