New York City


“The essay is a meditative form in which the author’s personality is revealed not but what she has done but what what she has thought.”

— Patrick Madden, “In Praise of the Essay” symposium.

“The great thing about teaching writing is that you remind yourself of things you already knew.”

From Robert Root, nonfiction writer, editor, and teacher, co-author of The Fourth Genre. From talk given at the recent “In Praise of the Essay” symposium.

This is great news:

On the evening of Monday, November 7, The Ali Forney Center …reopened a 20-bed emergency shelter in Brooklyn as a shelter specifically for this population.  The reopening was made possible by a $620,000 grant from the New York City Council, turned over to the AFC by the New York City Dept. of Youth and Community Development. As the shelter is an existing shelter, previously operated by an organization that failed to comply with licensing requirements, it does not add to the city’s total number of shelter beds, which currently stands at around 250. However, it does increase the percentage of such beds set aside for LGBT youth, and brings the total of AFC-operated beds to 77.  Nonetheless, the AFC’s waiting list currently stands at 199 youths – a figure which has grown by 40 percent in the last year alone.

I reported on the rally and movement for more shelter beds in my last blog post, and I can’t help but feel like this must have been a direct result of the activism that has been taking place. I don’t know if it’s the increased media attention on Occupy Wall Street, yesterday’s elections, or what, but it does feel like there is a revival of progressive direct action and activism afoot. People are waking up from the slumber of Obama’s first term.

For the complete press release and more information on the LGBTQ homeless shelter update, click here.

I attended a rally on Monday of this week put on by a coalition of organizations fighting for more homeless shelters for LGBTQ young people. According to the flyer, an LGBTQ teen is 8 times more likely to experience homelessness than a straight teen in New York City. This is because as people come out younger and younger, many are being kicked out of their homes or facing isolation and bullying in schools. Every night in New York City, almost 4000 young people are without stable housing, but there are fewer than 200 youth shelter beds. Facing cuts by the city and state, supporters came out to demand protection for these vulnerable young people.

I interviewed a few people at the rally and spliced together a quick video of people’s impressions:

If this inspires you to take action, visit aliforneycenter.org.

I shot some video at last night’s Occupy Wall Street protests in Times Square (commentary by my friend Matthew Palevsky, a strategist at Purpose):

By the time I got to Times Square around 6:30, the group, with number in the tens of thousands, had already marched over from Washington Square Park, and some confrontations with the cops had already taken place. (I did see an older woman with short hair on the ground with a bloodied head getting assistance from others. I don’t know the details, but 50+ people were arrested as the cops stifled the movements of the marchers.)

While I was there, the situation was more diffuse, with hundreds of metal barricades set up so that protesters were mainly relegated to the sides, allowing some car traffic to drive through. Protestors, tourists, and onlookers were squeezed into narrow spaces and kept apart from one another, so as far as I could tell, there was no central spot for Occupy Wall Street. Instead, there were mini hubs up and down Broadway from 42nd street up to 47th, with people grouping around one another in each block to chant, do mic-checks, etc. This was probably not ideal–and it’s probably exactly what the cops wanted. The protest was effectively fragmented. I was getting word that a General Assembly was happening, and even though I suspect I was only half a block away from it, there was no way to get to it or hear what was going on.

I just stayed until there was a decision made to march back to Washington Square Park. Perhaps the situation in Times Square was too tense, crowded, and tight. According to reports, people stayed in the Park until midnight or 1 a.m., when police enforced the curfew.

While I have visited Occupy Wall Street twice over the past few weeks and have supported the movement in various ways, I refer to the movement and its participants as “they,” only because I haven’t invested enough time in it to truly consider myself a part. Here is my take on the infuriating dismissals of the seriousness of the protests and my call to action. Photos throughout this post were taken by me. Please give credit and link back to this post if you use them.

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I’m tired of people dismissing the legitimate concerns of the Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Together movements. It’s especially hurtful when it comes from people on the left. For example, New York Magazine ran this silly piece in last week’s magazine that insulted the intelligence of partipants using silly pop quizzes. On the next page of the magazine, they took free yoga classes waaay too seriously and explained them using terms like “democratization.” Way to give due seriousness to serious matters, guys. Or even this column in the progressive magazine Mother Jones, where a former Obama staffer, despite supporting the movement’s larger goals, still insists on calling the initiators of Occupy Wall Street “all crazy ones.”

Stop Corporate Greed

But this is old news. Ever since the beginning of the movement, media outlets, politicians, left-wingers, right-wingers, and members of the public have tried to discount the Occupy Wall Street protest activity by accusing participants of not having concrete plans, of being vague and decentralized, and of not streamlining their messaging. The coverage always insists on reiterating the same question: What exactly are you people asking for?

But the burden of proof should not always have to fall on the public. Occupy Wall Street and associated protest movements have identified the circumstances of the crisis and have pointed to the context that drove them to action: no jobs, no affordable healthcare, impunity for the real crooks of the financial crisis, staggering corporate profits and executive bonuses, a widening wage gap, too much corporate influence in our government, and much, much more.

Concrete Ideas

These are the collective concerns, many of which were outlined in the Declaration on September 29, and yet people keep accusing the movement of not having any tangible complaints or proposals for change. Well, I have a two-pronged response.

1.) Coming up with policy solutions and proposals should not be the job of Occupy Wall Street. Protestors should not have to have centralized messaging, single-issue demands, or charts and graphs to demonstrate their rationality and seriousness. Occupy Wall Street and its partner protests around the country have pointed a finger at a crisis. They cannot reverse it or make steps to prevent it from happening again without the collaboration of larger social institutions. It is the work of economists, elected officials, the President’s cabinet, members of government agencies, and nonprofit advocacy organizations to put into motion reforms, laws and regulations based on the people’s demands. The people have cried out for help to ensure that corporations don’t have undue influence over our government, that there are no more predatory lenders or rapid stock trading. Now it’s your turn to act, America.

2.) Of course, Occupy Wall Street protestors aren’t just sitting back and waiting for the world to change. Protest is not just about getting the attention of those in power and hoping that they’ll respond to make lasting change. Occupy Wall Street participants are spending their time actively responding to and shaping an alternative to the moral crisis in this country. Through the consensus-based model known as the General Assembly, people in New York City’s Zucotti Park are creating the world they wish to see. The micro-communities camping out all over the country are modeling themselves after a world that doesn’t exist in the U.S., a world where grassroots democracy is a reality.

Watch this incredible short video to get a taste of the consensus model if you haven’t already seen it in action, or just to be re-inspired if you already know about it:

And that should be enough.

Indeed, many unlikely allies have begun latching onto the messaging of Occupy Wall Street to show that the protest’s concerns are real.

First, there are charts from Business Insider that show how “inequality in this country has hit a level that has been seen only once in the nation’s history, and unemployment has reached a level that has been seen only once since the Great Depression. And, at the same time, corporate profits are at a record high.”

David Weidner, Wall Street columnist for MarketWatchpenned an op-ed arguing that “the bankers who brought us this mess not only walk free, they drive free in Bentleys paid for by money looted through toxic mortgages, trading debacles and derivative madness…The ones outraged by greed run amok, reckless behavior and fraud are getting wrestled to the pavement and arrested.”

So why not stop trying to malign the movement? They are here to stay. Take them seriously.

The Economy Could Be More FairThanks for listening.

And you can read it here!

I entered a literary contest and my piece didn’t win but I got to read it out loud anyway to bar crammed with word-hungry patrons. It was fun. People seemed to like it. So I figured I’d put it on the internet for all to see.

An excerpt:

Now it’s Sunday morning. Eleven forty in the afternoon, actually. I just woke up. There’s still snow–at least a foot–covering the streets, sidewalks, rooftops, cars and abandoned bikes. The snow is grey and pockmarked with dog shit, cigarette butts, and the lids from the bottles of sports drinks. It’s Christmas in Bay Ridge.

Read the rest over at LitDrift.

This is the kind of writing I love (and I know my friend Josephine loves, too). This quick blog post from the Village Voice is about a particular type of gentrification happening in parts of Western Queens:

​It was only a matter of time (and rents) before this happened, but little bits of Queens are starting to look like little bits of Brooklyn. Case in point is the newly-opened Salt & Fat, a restaurant whose name points towards the similarly pared-down North Brooklyn nomenclature favored by certain North Brooklyn establishments (and points a middle finger in the direction of Mayor Bloomberg’s nutritional agenda).

I lived in Astoria for a year or so and much of the areas in Western Queens that I frequented had an interesting mix of old-time residents and newcomers. But this was never a Williamsburg or Greenpoint form of gentrification. In Astoria, the old-time European (Italian, Greek) immigrants lived alongside new folks who can’t afford Manhattan. But there was never really any bohemian element to the new residents in those parts of Queens like there are in Brooklyn.

I mean that Brooklyn’s gentrification often takes the form of grunge and racial replacement. White people in formerly people of color enclaves. In Western Queens (Jamaica and Jackson Heights don’t follow this trend, so I’m really talking here about Astoria and Sunnyside and Woodside), the newcomers and the old-timers are both largely white and the newcomers don’t particularly espouse hipsterism.

But apparently this is starting to change. I guess it was only a matter of time.

Zabar's Chocolate BabkaYesterday, I introduced eight or so people to the joy that is Chocolate Babka. If you don’t know this  food, god’s biggest gift to the Chosen people, then go out STAT to Zabar’s on the Upper West Side and get yourself a loaf of this sweet twisted yeast bread.

I of course prefer the chocolate filling to other alternatives (cinnamon, cherry, almond), but any will do.  I highly recommend you go to Zabar’s instead of Whole Foods if you’re in New York City. Also, local bakeries and delies in Jewish and/or Eastern European neighborhoods will probably have a good one.

Also, I love that chowhound has a whole discussion board thread about where to get the best babka in New York City.

Get some now. Stop kidding yourself. You need it. Or come over and help me finish my loaf.

Queer APIs (Asian Pacific Islanders) were invited for the first time ever to participate in New York City’s annual Chinese New Year Parade held in Manhattan’s Chinatown.

Check out this article and great video that interviews many of the participants, including Pauline Park, well-known transgender leader who I saw at the recent Creating Change Conference:

Steven Tin, executive director of the Better Chinatown Society, said there was no reason to exclude the groups. “Why not?” he said. “We basically welcome groups that want to do a cultural celebration.”

I was at the Chinese New Year Parade in Flushing, Queens (a smaller affair than the Manhattan festivities), so I missed this. I didn’t see any LGBT groups at the Queens parade.  Who wants to change that?!

(P.S.: The Year of the Tiger is my year!)

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