Artists as Bridges Conference Call Notes, Feb 22

INITIAL NOTES:

- Call moving to once a month after the next bi-weekly call on March 7th

- March 7 call will focus on Spring Resurgence Activities will be the focus of the next call – activists and artists doing work and try to collaborate and help those actions happen in an awesome way with lots of arts and culture

- Planning committee open to more involvement

- You can use the national Google Group. Also, there’s a list of projects, and you can add your own project, on www.artismyoccupation.org and on the interoccupyart FB page.

- Invitation to join Planning Committee – email interoccupyart@gmail.com if interested.

- Email notes to: info@interoccupy.org


 

PRESENTATIONS


HOUSING IS A HUMAN RIGHT

Singing Auction Blockade – issue: housing and foreclosures – Michael Primo & Rachel Falcone:
Housing as a Human Right Project

– people struggling to maintain their homes

– to share their stories. To help people understand what’s happening in their communities. Started Organizing for Occupation a year ago. Occupy is about the emotional connection between people. Art not just as entertainment. Bridge connections between organizing, activism, performance and storytelling. Started brainstorming with an ad hoc group of folks. New York State

– last stop on foreclosure process is "the auction"
houses put on the block and then sold and re-sold. A poem was scored, then that poem became this song and they took it to the foreclosure auctions in public courts. A performance activity: they entered the courtrooms and began singing this song. Something so beautiful it would stop people in their tracks. They were blown away by the response, it caught people off guard. Even the police officers in the court were singing with people as they arrested them. As soon as the auction started, they started singing, until the auction was stopped. How to video they’re putting together

– collaborating with Occupy Space: how to do this nonviolent civil disobedience thru singing, used in Colorado and Tampa. “Auctioneer stop all the sales now

– see Rachel Maddow piece on www.artismyoccupation.org.

- giving voice to stories

- connecting community members

- creative solutions to communication/information gaps

- see Occupy as being about connection/communication

- NEED graphic designers for song-sheets to distribute, and design flow-chart on how to take this action locally.

IMMIGRANT RIGHTS

Faviana Rodriguez: Visual artist – poster “the world versus the 1%” – she works with artists around the country focusing on the plight of migrants.

- Since 1986 there’s been no law to legalize them. Dramatically incarcerating immigrants – groups like ALEC – families facing separation due to deportation – 1 million hit under this president. In many states they’re becoming the majority of people incarcerated. The housing crash affected them because they were investing in homes as equity. It’s a war on black and brown families and immigrants. Art is an opportunity for us to expand this notion of who the 99% is. Immigrants represent a huge challenge to the notion of nation-state since they’re trans-national. Latinos need to unite with other people of color to push forward an economic agenda that meets their needs and with immigrant rights. She’s working with other artists of color. Julio’s work – Dreamers Adrift – a movement of undocumented youth – “We’re undocumented, not illegal, and we’re not afraid.”

- sees art as a way of expanding the conversation around immigration and the "Who is" of the 99 percent

TRUTH-MOB: OCCUPY 4 PRISONERS

Denise: She’s working with Occupy for Prisoners – she’s a writer and theater artist. Before Occupy exploded, was doing solidarity work with “All of Us or None” –organization made up of formerly incarcerated workers. Truth Mob is a way to do public outreach – spreading some general facts, like: In the U.S. we have 5% of world’s population and 20% of world’s prison population; the way war on drugs plays into the prison system; torture in ___ units. The intent is to bring this info into a public space. So they appear in a public place and using bull horns start with facts about prison industrial complex, then writings of prisoners, especially political prisoners – Laura Whitehorn, etc. The action lasts about 5 minutes. Underlying principle is from Pelican Bay Hunger Strike Solidarity Committee- to amplify the voices of imprisoned people. Prison Abolition movement – we’re just getting started making those connections in the larger community. Economic injustice – prisons are the worst kind – a glaring example. Corporate criminality – they are the same people doing the PIC. White supremacy keeping capitalism in place. Invitation for further steps: Easy to replicate. She has a script at occupyforprisoners.org – the concept would lend itself to a lot of other issues. She’s love to see people get creative with elements of story, music, etc. It’s important that the actions are fast. Occupy Justice Dept. in DC – another opportunity – coming up on [missed the date]. She’s working in the Bay Area.

- bringing conversation around mass incarceration to public space

- 5 min. bullhorn interventions

- "amplify the voices of imprisoned people"

- April 24th is Occupy Justice Department

CLIMATE CHANGE

Kevin Buckland: Climate Change (CC) – Occupy COP17 – He’s the arts ambassador with 350.org which is trying to build a movement strong enough to stop climate change. See www.occupycop17.org. Global youth climate movement and climate justice movement. Occupy and climate change happening simultaneously in a political landscape as volatile as the meteorological climate and the rules are changing – everything’s changing because of the internet. CC as a symptom of many of these causes that allow for social inequity. Then we’re forced to look at the structures – human issues, food security, immigrant rights, desertification, sea level rise – affecting humans and all species. One thing that hasn’t been successful yet is the rationale – we don’t want social change and we desperately need it. There’s no higher card we can play for legitimizing the urgency of change. CC is a cultural problem. We as artists need to help. The Artist Project Earth will launch on May 5 with 350 – connecting CC with extreme weather impacts we’ve been seeing recently. Inviting communities to put their own dot on the map to show there’s a global movement of people coming together.

FOOD JUSTICE

Occupy Food Supply – Seth:  He’s with the OWS Food Justice group. It’s an issue that intersects with all the other justice issues here. Food is one of the basic human needs and the one most successfully commodified along with private property. Recognized as a principle means of controlling populations – in the U.S. based on petrochemical industrial and biotech model, as result of collusion between government and the major chemical and seed industries – monopolized – also with banking sector through speculation of food as a commodity. It’s not but it’s treated as such. Goal is to reclaim food as a human right and as a commons – focusing on all different links in the food system chain, from agriculture, seeds, stewardship of land, soil, to transportations, processing and distribution of food, labor, health, environmental implications of all these steps. OSF in Oakland and groups in NY

- OWS Food Justice and Occupy Big Food and Occupy Farms working on actions in NY.

- wheat-pasting garden images in vacant lots to 'plant seeds' for the spring.

- seed-bomb making workshop followed by Critical Mass, seed bombing

- national day of action on Feb. 27: Join us in doing some of these actions or whatever occurs to you on Monday 2/27. The theme is “Create and Resist” – land, seeds and supermarket (the primary food distribution centers). In the city they’re focusing on vacant lots, playing a major role for actions coming up in the spring. Land reclamation project – they’ll be pasting up vacant lots with images of flourishing gardens; a seed exchange in front of Stock Exchange, and after that workshop on seed bomb making. Then a critical mass bike ride using those seed bombs – guerilla bombing of vacant spaces all over town. Then they’ll be focusing on GMO labeling. Most processed foods use GMOs. They’ll have stickers which can be downloaded with codes on them that people can scan and get taken back to the website with all the info – download the images, print them out on stickers, go to you r local supermarket and sticker away. Interested in working on all these issues being brought to the table tonight.

- Website: www.labelityourself.org – will go live on 2/27. For other info for general events for 2/27, go to www.occupyfood.wordpress.com

UNEMPLOYMENT AND JOBS

The Line 2012 – Yana: Action event in NYC on March 6 at 8:14 am for 14 minutes – a silent protest – people will be standing in line from the bottom of Manhattan to Times Square 42nd Street – they’re trying to get as many people as possible. 14 minutes represents the 14 million people unemployed in U.S. Everyone will hold up a pink slip with facts. They have approval to do it. There will be block leaders. It was done for during the republican national convention at Madison Square Garden. The purpose is to raise awareness about unemployment. They’ve gotten union support and other groups are supporting them. Ideally people will take blocks and bring in their own friends to fill them – they’re organizing block by block. They’ll be handing out the pink slips. Anyone can join the line as they’re passing by. A mixture of artists and organizers working together – it’s a small crew – they’re looking to expand it. She did Occupy Broadway – 24 hour action of performance.

- Action event in NYC on March 6 at 8:14 am for 14 minutes

- Will have "pink slip" with facts about the event

- Did this once before during RNC in NY in 2004.

- Email Yana at theline2012 (at) gmail.com if you want to participate.


 

BREAK-OUT GROUPS


HOUSING:

- Obstacles: Fear – different types of fear, from police, banks, system, homeowner in fear of process, or activists interested in feeling compelled to take action but afraid or uncertain. How can art get into our hearts to fight fear?

- People are pretty excited about this issue in NY.

- Auction blockades have been discussed in NY.

- Occupy Gainesville is looking to do an auction blockade around a superfund site.

- we talked about fear and the use of art/humor/costume as way of fighting fear. Opportunities to overcome fear with laughter, humor, levity in ways that can allow us to think differently about our situations – helping us to reach inside our hearts. Role playing can help

- getting into a character, a costume can do that.

- Role playing

PRISONS

- Peer to peer groups in Baltimore with youth taking lead.

- Interviewed 50 people on probation and parole – highlighted corruption of probation system.

- Group “Between the Bars” – a blogging platform for prisoners, addressing the challenge of criminalization.

- Having people who’ve been incarcerated give testimony in public forums about incarceration – their first hand experiences.

- Tying Truth Mob into local issues – using mic check process to get words out. Can’t use bull horns sometimes.

- Building schools – prefab school to prison construction site.

- Having a place to stay connected and update each other on our work.

- Have prisoners perform their work at occupations

- Bring a prefab school into prison sites

CLIMATE CHANGE

1) Many clear connections between Occupy and climate change, including:

- social/environmental justice

- human rights – disproportionate amount of impact from extreme weather on low income/people of color

- corporate influence on the U.S. government and economics (ie, government’s position that we can’t afford to deal with climate change but can afford endless wars)

- housing – people left homeless due to extreme weather events

- jobs lost due to extreme weather events and lack of green job creation by the government due to corporate influence (fossil fuel industry)

- also spoke of fear as a main factor

- branding, graphics

- seed-bombings

- Lot of potential linkages around economic, social justice

- Money

- Highlight them through music and art projects

- Help people understand the immediacty of climate change

- Disinformation campaign - use art to help

- Connect the dots

- The Climate Monologues


2) Challenges/obstacles:

- Fear – people are afraid to deal with such a large issue; afraid or don’t want to change living habits

- Well-funded disinformation campaigns by fossil fuel industry

- Lack of understanding – people don’t know what they can do to help or don’t believe they can make a difference

- Our capitalist system is exploitative and has no morals – made up of corporations. As long as that paradigm keeps going and people are fed on it and rely on it, we’re up against that.  Of all the issues this evening, CC is the only one that’s not considered a national issue here. And because it’s a global issue, it doesn’t get the attention it needs.

- Not enough incentive for corporations that want to do the right thing – too much competition not doing the right thing.

- People in underserved communities living hand-to-mouth with more immediate concerns don’t focus on this issue and don’t know how it’s relevant to their lives

- Lack of political will to create change gives the impression that solutions don’t exist

- Environmental education too often focuses on negative rather than positive “what you can do” and the win-win of changing how we do things.

- Very little of the rationale of Occupy is focused around CC, but social justice and inequality are common to both. When people talk about crisis, they’re still talking about money and not about very real ecological collapse. It needs to be part of the focus.
 
 

3) Solutions through great art projects that can deepen these connections:

- Climate Change Sing-Alongs

- Short dramatic readings from people affected by climate change

- Win-Win scenario posters

- Connect the Dots project (launching May 5) – largely creative project asking communities to create their dots and put themselves on the map as a global online platform – whenever an extreme weather arrives in their communities to put it on the map – do a simple creative action, like a human social sculpture to highlight that irregularity of climate. Encouraging people to bring their stories into the conversation. To encourage community building and resilience. CC can be addressed in solidarity with communities involved with other social struggles.

- May 5 is Boys Day in Japan – it’s a big thing in Japan – maybe can tie it into Fukushima? He lives in Hawaii which is subject to rising oceans and other CC issues. He met with a lawyer that’s been to the COP meetings in Cancun and Copenhagen and represents the Federated States of Micronesia – works in Honolulu and is very concerned about homelessness and other issues. He’s aware of the largest funds concerning CC and says there are funds available to help governments deal with CC.

IMMIGRATION

- can we break down the 99 percent further?

- small breakout group – issue of representation in the rhetoric of the 99% – posters or puppets or both

- visibility of immigrants and their stories in the visuals and rhetoric we make about who the 99% are.

- Brainstorm around how we can deepen this – using statistics.

- Language: “I am” – as a rhetorical device “I am a migrant laborer” – different ways to do solidarity in our messaging.

FOOD JUSTICE

1) Clear connexions between occupy and food justice?

- Occupy is about corporate control.

- Clear connexions between Occupy's challenge to the bank system and the corporate control of the food system represented by Cargill and Monsanto.

- Clear connexions between Occupy and the effect of financial speculation on large-scale landgrabbing, food prices and hunger.

- Agribusiness dominates public policy on food.  

- Rural Farming - Occupy is often seen as an urban phenomenon but there are so many occupations in rural areas. focusing on farming could be a good way to highlight that.

- Food and Occupy clearly intersect through rural folks facing farm foreclosures - there are many more rural Occupations than many people realise.

- Question of access. Food Deserts. Many parts of the population that does not have access to good food. Economic question, as these tend to be in poorer neighborhoods.

- Bread riots in developing countries.

 

2a) Opportunities:

- Opportunities to re-ignite a spring push around gardens, providing new occupations

- Connect with rural communities that have seen small farmers kicked off land because of agribusiness and the banks

- Use urban gardens to provide a founding layer for new Occupations in the spring. Gardens could be convivial creative spaces to re-ignite Occupations

 

2b) Challenges, Obstacles

- Reaching small farmers. Many are conservative. See occupy on TV as alien to them.- City/Country narrative needs to be broken down. A new story needs to be told. Need theatre, song to tell that story.

- So much of the farming system has already been taken over by chemical agriculture model. Many farmers are invested in that technology since they have been  using them for years. Show alternative agricultural model are viable. 

- Difficult to persuade or demonstrate viability of sustainable agriculture models and local food systems

- "Food deserts":  Large numbers of people don't have basic access to good food, especially in low-income, people of colour or immigrant neighbourhoods

- Culture gap and class divide between "foodies," consumer-oriented health food advocates vs people fighting hunger, land displacement and food sovereignty issues, and as a result,

- Language, lingo, graphics and branding may be alienating, misread or invisible. Food Chic. Health Food. Alternative organic food. Can be alienating for people of color and immigrants, folks who cannot afford or have access to it. The branding and language does not speak to some of us. And yet, they are being hit the hardest by basic issues of food justice or food soveriegnty. In my city, half the kids don't have breakfast.

 

3) Art projects to broaden or deepen connexions

- graphic branding - we could use a lot more good branding graphics

- seed bombing, critical mass bike-ride with seed bombing

- land/vacant lot reclamation: Make a map of vacant lots. Go to vacant lot.

- Make posters: Garden Coming Soon! Let people know it's coming. Help them visualize. People have forgotten they can still grow things in their own yard.

- occupy a farmers market or performance at a farmer's market

- seed exchange at the stock exchange

-  Spring gardens can be a foundational layer for new occupations

 

Other resources or ideas mentioned:

- RAN's "Occupy our food supply" event map

- Wendell Barry's "What Matters"

- Support local farmers. Buy their goods. Go to farmer markets. Occupy those. Do performance, Bring attention

- Greensburg, Kansas -  rural town rebuilt on ecological principals after suffering tornado damage

- occupyfood.wordpress.com

- labelityourself.org (to be launched Feb 27)
 

UNEMPLOYMENT

- Need projects that have more longevity - not just one-offs.

- Life skills are being used in the movement, even if we dont have jobs. overcome the isolation of joblessness. show that we are still productive.

- how are OWS groups working with labor?  Part of idea is to look at already extant networks, and how to build connections especially with labor.

- Line’s reaching out to labor is great, but what about ongoing work? Karen, Arts and Democracy Project–hooking with SEIU and labor generally; sporadic and project-based, instead of sustained.  How can we think in a longer term way. 

- uniting issues through performance, to bridge gaps, etc.  Boolynne(so many groups and splinters that often array to choose from and overlap and such–good and bad aspects, almost too much–with artists ‘running from one fire to the next’)”

- Turning others on to inner artists in selves. 

- refocusing creativity of unemployed into creative work.

- strategy is important too, “being at the table and then staying at the table.”

- Isolation and loneliness big problems among unemployed people that the work of the ‘Line’ had helped to address.  She likened this work to finding fulfilling work and suggested that building bridges from Occupy grew out of that.

 

1) Clear connexions between occupy and unemployment?

- Out-of-work people naturally gravitated to OWS, and that many of them had amazing skills that we needed and put to good use, and that comfort and energy and feedback, feeling wanted and valued, resulted from this natural intersection of Occupy and folks out of work.  She suggested that it let us “harry the rich.”

- This process was leading to new skill acquisition, as in the case of a jobless worker who was now a photographer.

- Jim made graphic the natural centrality of jobs and employment to other aspects of Occupy efforts: jobless people “can’t pay their fucking mortgages,” like when he and his wife lost their house last year; jobless people can’t eat right, even sometimes if they receive Nutrition Assistance like he and his wife have intermittently now for several months; jobless people attack immigrants, who generally have a much higher jobless rate and will work for less, because of desperation and the criminalization of their status, which becomes the status of many other workers over time; jobless people steal and go to jail, or, like three unemployed fellows that he knows in the hills, start to deal, which can also quickly lead to jail; jobless people often feel as if they could give a shit about climate change, since they won’t have to worry about it if they’re homeless, starving, imprisoned, or forced to migrate as a result of the central fact of their perilous and uncertain economic circumstances.
 
 

2) obstacles, challenges, and opportunities

- Karen wondered what the ‘Line’ was doing with labor; she emphasized the importance of reaching out to and involving already organized networks of labor.  Her efforts with the Arts and Democracy Project had made connections with SEIU in NYC, but such traction was not sustained, based on episodic collaboration and one-time deals.  Jim made a passionate plea for some general strategic thinking, pointing out that since the 1970′s compartmentalization of single-issue work had produced marvelous research and ideas, but that much impact on political power for people–for building democracy–was difficult or impossible to show.

- Chris wanted to affirm the idea of working in an interdisciplinary fashion, and articulated that some of her work involved scripting and performance that showed commonality, bridged gaps, etc.  She called for more such efforts and received several ‘here, here!’ expostulations.
 
 

3) Art projects to broaden or deepen connexions

The group never really got to number three, solutions, as such, but beginning with Boolynne, many of the comments in the last few minutes might be expressed in this fashion.  Boolynne saw both and upside and a downside to narrow focus.  It allowed for clear commitments but also led to “almost too much” choice and possibility, a splintering of things.  “Taking a minute to breathe and create a strategy might be useful,” she said.  Yana felt that turning others, for example fired workers or jobless folks, on to their own creativity and their potential to contribute as artists might be a powerful move for the work of Occupy artists themselves.  Chris seconded this idea, seeing it as a refocusing of the creativity of the unemployed into new creative endeavors.  Karen closed by saying that strategy is important too, developing the capacity to “be at the table and stay at the table.”  Jim gave that a loud huzzah as the bell tolled a final time.

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