The story of September 11, 2001, for New Yorkers, has at least as many variations of heartbreak as the city has people. Less hyped than the provocative and political United 93, another film, Saint of 9/11, touches the day in a manner more befitting such an intensely personal (yet public) tragedy. The film, rather than attempting to manufacture national “meaning” from the day, instead lovingly recounts the life of just one individual who perished at the World Trade Center. Father Mychal Judge, the “saint” of the movie’s title, was the first recorded casualty of 9-11’s morning, and, in life, was also—in no particular order—a Catholic priest, a gay man, the Fire Department chaplain, and a dedicated servant of those suffering from AIDS. The New York Times presents a special screening of the film this Tuesday at the New School. As part of its TimesTalks Gay/Lesbian Series, the event includes a panel discussion on faith and sexuality featuring Malcolm Lazin, the film’s executive producer; Thomas Von Essen, former NYC fire commissioner; and Ron Buford, director of the United Church of Christ’s Still Speaking Initiative. David W. Dunlap, a NYT reporter covering Lower Manhattan, moderates the talk.
New York stage artists are rushing in to fill the void left by the aborted U.S. debut of My Name Is Rachel Corrie. But what’s lost in the controversy regarding the halted New York Theater Workshop production is the humanity of the play itself, as well as the closeness of the local theater community. “This has been like a family event,” says actress Kathleen Chalfant, “and we’re trying to see what’s going on in our family.”
The one-woman show tells the story of a 23-year-old activist from Olympia, Washington, who traveled to Gaza in early 2003. Less than two months later, she was crushed to death by an Israeli army bulldozer as she tried to block its path toward a Palestinian home. Edited by actor Alan Rickman and Guardian journalist Katharine Viner, the single act is made up of Corrie’s journal entries and e-mail correspondence. The first half poetically details her college life (run-ins with an ex-boyfriend, second thoughts about painting her ceiling red). In the second half, the destruction she witnesses in Gaza as an international observer of potential human rights violations of Palestinians challenges her fundamental beliefs about human nature. “It hurts me, again, like it has hurt me in the past, to witness how awful we can allow the world to be,” she writes. “It is my own selfishness and will to optimism that wants to believe that even people with a great deal of privilege don’t just idly sit by and watch.”
A single line of text announces her death, followed by a video of a 10-year-old Corrie delivering a speech at a student conference. “I am here for other children. I am here because I care,” she states. “My dream is to stop hunger by the year 2000.”
After two sold-out runs at London’s Royal Court, the play was moving toward a March 22 opening at NYTW when its artistic director, James C. Nicola, pulled the plug in late February. All aspects of how far along the production agreement was, and whether NYTW’s decision constituted a delay until next season, an indefinite postponement, a cancellation, or as some contend, an act of censorship, are in dispute by both companies. The Royal Court owns the rights to the play and ultimately determines where it will have its U.S. debut.
According to The New York Times, Nicola withdrew the production after “polling local Jewish religious and community leaders,” an idea that has provoked great dismay from Jews and non-Jews alike who want to see the play produced as a work of art. “When NYTW does a play, the Workshop speaks with many members of the community before producing,” says NYTW publicist Richard Kornberg, adding that this process is more routine than has been suggested, and that no actual polling took place. The theater stands by its assertion that what it wanted, in fact, was merely more time to do justice to the playwrights’ voice.
An open letter posted on onlinepetition.com “in the spirit of friendship and collegiality” asks Nicola to make good on his commitment to the play. It garnered more than 350 signatures in three days— including those of Gloria Steinem and Eve Ensler. “Dear Jim, my old friend,” writes a signatory, “I would welcome talking to you about this.”
In the meantime, theater artists and human rights activists are planning events to promote an inclusive dialogue around Corrie’s words and the questions raised by the recent controversy. A schedule, available at villagevoice.com/theater, should comfort those who worry that the New York theater community would ever sit idly by anything.
Thursday, March 16
Global readings from Brooklyn to Basra of the activist’s writings, modeled on The Lysistrata Project. For information , visit rachelswords.org.
‘Who’s Afraid of Rachel Corrie? An Evening of Rachel’s Words’
Thursday, March 16, at 7:30 p.m.
Lafayette Presbyterian Church
85 South Oxford Street, Brooklyn
Hosted by Irondale Ensemble Project. Free. 718-488-9233, irondale.org, rachelswords.org
Wednesday, March 22, at 7:30 p.m.
490 Riverside Drive
Maysoon Zayid, Kia Corthron, Malachy McCourt, Najla Said, Kathleen Chalfant, Betty Shamieh, Anthony Arnove, and others join together for an evening of readings, incorporating video from the March 16 worldwide event. $20 suggested donation (no one will be turned away), rachelswords.org, theriversidechurchny.org
‘Out of Silence: A Public Conversation on Writing, Access, Funding, Censorship, Silence, and the Arts’
Tuesday, April 11, at 7 p.m.
424 West 44th Street
Moderated by playwright Caridad Svich. Panelists include Jonathan Kalb, Marcy Arlin, Randy Gener of American Theater, Glyn O’ Malley (author of Paradise), Thaddeus Phillips, and Saviana Stanescu. Free. 212-757-6960
Monday, April 17, at 7 p.m.
The Culture Project
45 Bleecker Street
A town-hall meeting with readings, moderated by playwrights Jason Grote and Caridad Svich. Free. 212-253-9983, cultureproject.org
“People always say lefties complain too much,” I complained to Stanley Aronowitz, one of the organizers of this weekend’s Left Forum 2006, “instead of coming up with . . . ” “Alternatives!” Aronowitz, the noted labor activist, finished the sentence. “You asked the right question.” Examining the list of more than 70 panels to choose from in this three-day assemblage of activists, scholars, and artists, I felt my post-2004-election slump unslumping. Political rapper Immortal Technique and Nana Soul of Black Waxx Productions speak on the politics of music and the music of politics. Roger Toussaint of the Transport Workers Union (got to ask him about that strike) and social critic Frances Fox Piven are on board, as well as Leslie Cagan of United for Peace and Justice, Amy Goodman (host of Democracy Now!), Doug Henwood (editor of leftbusinessobserver.com), and WBAI’s Deepa Fernandes. Media hero Jeff Cohen of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting talks about the future of media, and Aronowitz himself takes part in “Do We Need a New Radical Party?” a seminar that focuses on 2008, and what that election might look like. So, for lefties still stuck in the ’04 slump, check out the numerous choices at leftforum.org and, um, get over it.
Dr. Justin A. Frank, psychoanalyst and author of Bush on the Couch: Inside the Mind of the President, watched this week’s State of the Union address from a somewhat unusual perspective. In his 2004 book, Frank examined Bush’s psyche through the lens of Freudian analysis (Melanie Klein’s brand of it, to be exact) and found it highly suspect.
Responsibility for the ailing Bush presidency rests on us all, Frank writes. “In the final analysis, our task is to watch the president, to remain alert to symptoms of trouble, and to do what we can to bring those symptoms to the attention of our elected officials,” Frank wrote, in a post-election epilogue to the paperback edition. “We need to encourage the news media…and anyone else who can confront the president, to challenge his delusions.”
Frank spoke with Voice contributor Alexis Sottile after Bush’s speech on Tuesday.
So, first impressions of the speech? My first impression was, from the
very beginning, he does the same thing he’s always done. He says one thing and does the opposite. He’s talking about working together, but as long as you choose the thing he wants. He sets up a system of two choices, either do this or do this. He uses the same divisive behavior, that the world is in black and white. He simplifies the world, which is part of his appeal, since we all want to believe the world is simpler from time to time.
The quote from Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid on that was, “I expect
the president to do exactly the opposite of what he says.” He’s very good at distracting you from what he’s really doing and what he really wants, like a con artist. He said he’s going to cut 140 programs, in the middle of this sort of lovey-dovey speech.
You have some caveats in your book about how well psychologists can examine someone who has never actually come to them for therapy, like a public figure. It’s called applied psychoanalysis; it’s the application of psychoanalytic principles to study a historical figure or a public figure whom you’re never going to have in your office. . . . It’s fraught with dangers because you don’t actually have the person in your office. For example, someone will ask me, “Is he [President Bush] still drinking?” Well, I can’t tell if he’s been drinking, but I can say that he has the dynamics of an alcoholic.
So, what was new from Bush, in this most recent speech? He brought up two new things: isolationism and pessimism. [He’s implying that] anyone who wants to bring the troops home now is a pessimist.
He converts their questioning into their being pessimists. He’s the most instinctive divider of people I’ve ever seen in public life. When he talks about pessimism, he’s saying, “You’re wrong.” When he uses the word “pessimism,” he is
trying to keep pessimism out of his brain, by putting it on other people.
And what about bringing the troops home from Iraq? He made an amazing statement saying he is not going to withdraw troops until the generals tell him to. He is saying he is not the commander in chief. “I’ve decided to send you to war and you can tell me when it’s over.” I was struck by that being an abdication of power.
And toward the end of his speech, he more or less in one sentence compared his belief in continuing the war in Iraq to Lincoln’s dedication to preserving the Union, to Martin Luther King’s fight for civil rights, and to the rebuilding of Europe after World War II. It was amazing. It was very grandiose. We’ve never been attacked by Iraq. . . . Comparing himself and this mission to Martin Luther King was pathetic.
I imagine that anyone who’s president of the United States might feel a
bit grandiose. With him, it’s not about grandiosity. It’s about having a
disturbed relationship to reality. The last president who had this disturbed a relationship to reality was Richard Nixon. He was more paranoid; it was clearer. Here, it’s a bit glossed over.
Can you explain more about this “disturbed relationship to reality?” I think he doesn’t know he’s a liar. That vagueness is very typical of people who don’t tell the truth. It’s called confabulation, and it’s very typical of alcoholics. It reminds me of a child who’s been bad, who will placate their parents by saying, “Don’t worry. Everything is fine.” It’s like the child saying that everything will be OK, but they don’t have anything to back it up.
As I watched the speech, I tried to be aware of what you call “countertransference” toward Bush, of what feelings were being aroused in me. Despite myself, I found myself feeling something like pity– I think he invites pity in a way that will catch you off-guard. I’ve written about this before. It’s called the rope-a-dope technique, and it was called that in relation to Muhammad Ali. He would lie back on the ropes as if he’s being hit, but he’s really ducking the punches and then he’ll come back with an attack.
So, not to be a pessimist, but where is the hope? For him? For us? For the rest of the government? Our hope is–for the more naive of us–for him to
see the light about who he is and then change or mellow; for the less naive among us hope is meaningless and will only cause pain. Thus the only thing left is to act in whatever way can be effective to block his destructive behavior, by urging the press to stand up, by writing to Congress, by educating our friends. Convert our understanding into action rather than putting our heads in the sand and passively hold our collective breath for the next three years.
Ever wonder why President Clinton’s lie about his sex life led to impeachment trials, while President Bush’s (a) lies and (b) flip-flopping on the reasons for a war have not? The 2005 International Commission of Inquiry, in the tradition of the Nuremberg trials, has formed to fill the oversight void left by Congress and the U.N. and to put the Bush administration’s policies to the test of international law and a jury of conscience. Inspired by the Not in Our Name Statement of Conscience, the first day will have a panel of jurors try Bush and his collaborators in four areas: (1) wars of aggression, (2) torture and indefinite detention, (3) destruction of the global environment, and (4) attacks on global public health (with an emphasis on the AIDS epidemic). Representatives of the Bush administration will be invited to present an argument in their own defense at a later session. Day two examines the administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina. The commission will be keynoted by Howard Zinn, author of A People’s History of the United States; Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights; and Marcus Raskin, co-founder of the Institute for Policy Studies. For many affected by war or disaster, a trial of Bush and co. for crimes against humanity may seem long in coming.
From the children’s drawings that filled city firehouses to large-scale public-art projects like the “Tribute in Light,” art works have been so interwoven in the city’s response to the tragedy of September 11 that one might possibly take them for granted. This year, coinciding with the fourth anniversary of 9-11, the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council has created “What Comes After: Cities, Art and Recovery,” an international summit on how the arts develop and sustain a city after catastrophic events, running from September 8 through 11 at various locations in Lower Manhattan. On Sunday, September 11, the conference culminates with “Political Cabaret,” an evening of eclectic performances by some of New York City’s own rock-steady social, political, and cultural artist-activists. Danny Hoch blends hip-hop, theater, and humor in his solo pieces, deep cuts into contemporary culture, while Rennie Harris’s dance synergizes African American traditional forms with the voices of today. Carl Hancock Rux reads from his novel Asphalt, and Brooklyn-born MC Suheir Hammad adds her unique poetry to the night’s mix, celebrating arts that have been both respite and regeneration to a New York City that never sleeps on its drive to thrive.
Fifty years ago, Allen Ginsberg sent a poison arrow into the heart of conformity with his epic poem “Howl.” Read it before you go to bed tonight. Then show up at the Federation of East Village Artist’s (FEVA) 3rd Annual Howl Festival and revel in the diversity and miraculous madness that proliferate in one of New York City’s remaining wildlife refuges, the Lower East Side. The list of performers, poets, musicians, readings, workshops, and events is too studded with sequins to name just a few, but a short list of “What Would Allen Do” might suffice. He’d hit the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival in Tompkins Square Park for sure, and it’s probably safe to say he’d check out Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson at Joe’s Pub. We’re almost sure he’d wander into Karen Finley’s performance piece on Terri Schiavo at Bowery Poetry Club and scour Counter Convention, the RNC documentary at the Pioneer Theater, for the faces of fellow protesters. Undoubtedly, the Semi-Nude Drawing sessions in Tompkins Square Park would delight the poet, as would the daily readings of the poem from which the festival takes its name. A full listing of the grand cacophony of events (many of them free of charge) can be found at howlfestival.com.
What do The Joys of African Sex have in common with
The Revolutionary Christ? We’re not sure either, but you can ask author-publishers Boniface Wewe (of The Joys) and Sander Hicks (of The Revolutionary) yourself this Saturday at Brooklyn’s hot-off-the-presses meet and greet for rugged individualists of the small-press-books world. Organizer Emily Brown has been spreading this buffet of non-corporate, DIY, iconoclastic published works for the past four years to increase public awareness of the eclectic written (and recorded) curiosities that lurk below the radar in Brooklyn and beyond. Red Letter Press, of Seattle, will be on hand to showcase the Left Coast and add a fair share of socialism to the plenitude of one-person self-publishing outfits. Having grown since its inception, the Small Press Fair this year occupies a larger space in Camp Friendship’s sunny hall in Park Slope, Brooklyn. The accumulated goods of over 25 makers of great small works will include offerings from Poets & Writers magazine, Harlem Overheard newspaper, and the Drench Kiss Media Co. of the aforementioned Hicks. Saturday’s six-hour day includes performances as well as exhibitions, so be prepared for live-action wordsmithery throughout the affair.
Four years ago, theatrical provocateur Reverend Billy launched his crusade against Starbucks. The New York–based performance activist told The Village Voice (“Rage Against the Caffeine,” April 25, 2000) that it was his intention to preach against corporate greed in Starbucks cafés all across Manhattan. In response, the company issued an internal memo to its NYC stores, establishing a protocol on how to handle one of the Reverend’s “interventions.”
Bill Talen, a/k/a Reverend Billy, has delivered on his promise, having done hundreds of political pieces inside the chain’s many locations worldwide. But Starbucks, at least for the time being, doesn’t have to worry about any more of Talen’s impromptu teach-ins of the Tazo set.
A California brew-haha led to the Reverend’s temporary exile from the latte kingdom. On April 19, 2004, Reverend Billy performed his usual Starbucks ritual upon entering one of the chain’s locations on Reseda Boulevard in Northridge, California. He prayed for the healing of the store’s computerized cash register, asking for the bills that lay safely locked inside to make their way into the pockets of the families who work for low wages to harvest the coffee beans. One can rest assured that he was not praying for more of that money to go to the corporation’s billionaire founder, Howard Schultz, or to aid its union-busting operations, or, in all probability, to help the chain reach its goal of expansion to 30,000 stores worldwide.
In a recent phone interview, Talen described how, as he prayed with “one hand in the air, and one hand on the thing that needs to be healed,” he was grabbed from behind by an aggravated Starbucks customer, who witnesses claim was an ex-marine. Some say he was “tackled”; Talen himself describes it as a “bear hug.” Either way, the Reverend was going down. After a few chaotic minutes, both Talen and the computerized cash register came away anything but healed. Talen walked away with a bleeding palm, which he and his Church of Stop Shopping choir dubbed the “Cash Register Stigmata,” and the cash register’s plastic guard was apparently torn.
Talen has made a career out of provoking strange scenes in chain stores. As early as 1999, he was agitating with his crucified Mickey Mouses and evangelical gesticulations at the Disney Store in Times Square. His message then was one of communal salvation: the preservation of neighborhood uniqueness and spontaneous culture in the face of what some members of the Reverend Billy project call corporations’ “colonization.” According to one Church of Stop Shopping choir member, “It’s not usually an upsetting experience for the customers.”
Nothing in the past has come close to the response that Reverend Billy and his choir received on Reseda Boulevard. Aside from being jumped for his theatrical antics, the reaction was unusual in that a police report was filed with the LAPD, resulting in the first ever trial by jury for Talen (slated to begin in a Los Angeles criminal court on November 1).
In addition, the court issued a temporary restraining order on Talen, stipulating that he refrain from coming within 250 yards of any of California’s over 1,500 Starbucks. He is also barred from entering any Starbucks in the U.S. until this injunction expires in July of 2007. Ironically, the first judge assigned to the case had to recuse himself from the upcoming trial because of his shareholder status in Starbucks Corporation.
Talen was arrested for his theatrical protests during last November’s Buy Nothing Day festivities in New York, though he was dismissed without charges. (For Talen, a night in the Tombs in defense of free speech is nothing to be ashamed of.) But the misdemeanor charges filed against him in California—destruction of property and obstruction of business—are something totally new.
Art Goldberg, Talen’s attorney from the Working People’s Law Center in Los Angeles, says that the security camera tape of the event is in Talen’s favor: “After seeing the video, [it was clear that] he didn’t disrupt much. The other person was an aggressor.”
Professor Tony Perucci, who had invited Talen to teach his communications students at Cal State Northridge, was also at Starbucks that day. He feels that the prosecution of this activist could only happen “outside the spotlight of New York, where he’s so well known.”
While Starbucks is not bringing the suit against Talen, as would happen in a civil case, it is the corporation that is named as “victim” in the proceedings. Ever alert to corporate ironies, those in Reverend Billy’s camp are quick to point out that the “victim,” in their reading of the temporary restraining order, is the “computerized cash register itself.”
Talen hopes to use the trial as a springboard to air the concerns of Starbucks workers, and to highlight the company’s lack of real commitment to fair-trade practices. Though he has difficulty seeing the cash register as a victim, he still would like to heal it.
When Allen Ginsberg wrote in Howl that he saw the best minds of his generation and that they wailed, he added that “the Staten Island ferry also wailed.” Any Staten Island expat worth her saltwater tears can tell you about the integral relationship of the ferryboat to the city, and of the peculiarly beautiful experience of spending at least 40 minutes at sea each day. Nowhere on the island is this amphibious life more apparent than in St. George, which houses the ferry terminal and has the waterfront as two of its hazy boundaries. The neighborhood shows off its island nature in a flourishing Caribbean culture mixed with a sizable African American population, a crunchy-granola bunch, and a blend of Italian, Filipino, Southeast Asian, Irish, and Polish residents. The ocean is the greatest democrat in the city.
Boundaries: Richmond Terrace to the north, Bay Street to the east, Victory Boulevard to the south, and Westervelt Avenue to the west
Main Drags: Bay Street and Richmond Terrace for arguably the best view of the lower Manhattan skyline in the whole city
Mass Transit: From Union Square 20 minutes on the N and R trains to Whitehall Street/South Ferry or 4 and 5 trains to Bowling Green; 25 minutes on the free Staten Island Ferry from Whitehall Street to St. George
Average Rents: One-bedroom: $800; two-bedroom: $900
Average Price to Buy: $250,000 to $450,000 for a house. A loft in a co-op starts at $159,000
Cultural Institutions: For years, baseball held firm as the sport the general public could afford to attend. Today, tickets to a Staten Island Yankees game will run you $8. The new 6886-seat stadium is about as close to the ferry as it can be without getting wet. On the east side of the terminal is the North Shore Esplanade Extension, with impressive design by Siah Armajani. The walkway to the waterfront, and a grand public place to sit in the sun or watch fireworks, takes you past historic buildings dating from 1869.
Famous Residents: Paul Newman lived in St. George as a struggling actor. Much later, Martin Sheen lived in the same building. His son Emilio Estevez was born on the living room floor of that apartment. Brendan Sexton III, of Welcome to the Dollhouse fame, grew up in the neighborhood. (Much earlier, George Burns got his act off the ground performing on the Staten Island Ferry.)
Sietsema‘s Pick: The Polish Place, 19 Corson Avenue. Hidden by a grocery storefront, this jaunty red-and-white establishment produces lovely stick-to-your-ribs fortifications like chicken rolls chock full of cheese.
My Pick: Island Roti, 65 Victory Boulevard, and its adjoining grocery store feature all kinds of roti (pumpkin is best), plus bright, gem-like candies, and pickles. Have a splendid meal in this homey, two-table spot where the walls are covered with pics of the West Indian Day Parade. Victory Nutrition Center, a health food store across the street, will service all one’s soy and carob deficiencies.
Best Bar: The Cargo Café, 120 Bay Street, is a bar, a restaurant, and an evolving work of art. At times, the exterior has been covered with paintings of giant eggbeaters, mondo ants, and humongous swaths of plaid. Currently, the flag and the twin towers wrap the building. Open mic every Monday all summer long draws musicians, poets, and comic acts. Music at least four nights a week. Pool table. The Side Street Saloon, at 11 Schuyler Street, is a hop-skip-jump from the boat.
Community Standbys: Everything Goes, with its three shops, serves all one’s non-edible consumer needs, and at a thrifty price for high-quality used goods. Attire yourself at 140 Bay Street; furnish your pad at 17 Brook Street; find everything else at the original store (208 Bay Street).
Local Politicos: Councilman Michael E. McMahon, Democrat; State Assemblyman John W. Lavelle, Democrat; State Senator Vincent J. Gentile, Democrat; Congressman Vito Fossella, Republican
Crime Stats: The 120th Precinct, which includes St. George, covers all of the northern third of Staten Island, so statistics are by no means limited to the neighborhood. As of May 12, there were three homicides, compared to two last year; 11 rapes (compared to 12 in 2001); 78 robberies (down from 91); 114 felonious assaults (a drop from 162); 179 burglaries (up from 160); and 112 reports of grand larceny (down from 138).