Thursday, October 6, 2011

I Support Occupy Wall Street & Occupy Boston

I support the occupiers of Wall Street, and by proxy, those of Dewey Square in Boston. I haven't been surprised by the coverage of it: Starting slow, becoming overly-dramatic and focusing on fringe elements, much like they treated the "Tea Party."

I want to be clear about why I personally support the cause, as I've seen a lot of criticism of it from places I didn't expect. I'll address why I support it, then I'll address those who don't.

To me, Occupy is an embodiment of people's frustration with big business and government. We've seen, in the past few decades like never before, rich companies getting much richer and taking no responsibility for their actions. They've achieved something of a corporate socialism in which they get all of the benefits but bare none of the responsibilities. Banks packaged mortgages and sold them, then made money hand-over-fist on speculation of them. But when people defaulted on them, instead of eating the losses, they had the US Government, and by proxy us, to bail them out. I don't necessarily think we shouldn't have bailed them out, but at the very least, I expect that they should have to follow new rules and not continue business as usual. Certainly, they shouldn't be hording all of the money they've been given by the tax payers while they deny new mortgages to qualified applicants, deny loans to small businesses, and raise fees and interest rates on customers who are struggling.

I support Occupy because I make about as much money as I made five years ago, but that money isn't worth as much as it was. I didn't devalue it and I work just as hard for it. Meanwhile, fine print that is now illegal allowed those same banks to raise interest rates on my credit cards and other debts, making a once manageable, if difficult debt load almost unbearable. And I know that I'm one of the lucky ones. While I am forced to hand over almost all of my "middle class" salary to rent and debt, my borderline wage-slavery situation has not left me without a roof over my head, nor did I have to move in with my parents.

That said, I see people struggling, and I refuse to believe what I'm being told from so many of my peers, who keep repeating this fallacy that if people are struggling that it is inherently their fault. Are there freeloaders? Sure there are. But there are just as many, and I'd argue many more people who are doing what they can and are still struggling. I'm sick of watching people work or try to work and lose while the so-called "job creators" of America horde more money, much of which is funneled to them through bonuses made possible by bailout money we have to pay. That's not American capitalism. That's American greed.

I don't hate bankers. I'm sure they're nice people and I'm sure they're just trying to look out for themselves and their families. Yesterday, when Cornell West spoke at Occupy Boston, and he said, "we don't hate the rich - we hate injustice." He was spot-on in that statement. It is unfair and unjust for these banks and businesses to take government money and give nothing back while the rest of us are left to fend for ourselves.

I cannot be at Occupy Boston all day. I cannot be at Occupy Wall Street at all. The reason for this is that I do have a job. But I refuse to denounce the Occupiers, even the alleged "professional protesters" and "trustafarians" among them for being able to be there. They represent a message that many of the employed lower and middle classes cannot state, and their occupation in our stead is welcome. They march under the banner of "We are the 99%, and so are you." When they marched by me on Monday morning at 8:30 AM on Winter Street in downtown Boston, I joined them, if only for 20 minutes, not because I was aching to smash the state, not because I hate business, and not because I'm a disappointed liberal. I marched because they were right. They can (and have been) written off by many as being dirty hippies, 60's throwbacks, angry students, and unemployed, but it doesn't make them any less right. Within my lifetime, the discrepancy between rich and poor has grown at an astounding rate. It is similar to an America of our past, but not one we're proud of. While we no longer work in coal mines for 16 hours a day or in mills we also sleep in, we are willingly dismantling the system that protects us, our children, our neighbors, and strangers we have nothing in common with but our home country from that life.

If Occupy is nothing but an expression of anger, it's an expression that needs to be made. Even if it's demands are impossible, if it makes people in Washington (and maybe even Wall Street) just an inkling more interested in economic fairness and consumer protection, it's well worth it to me.

As for my peers who have been quick to speak out against the Occupy Movement, I say to you this: Even if you are entirely right about the most negative opinions you have about the protesters and the people they represent, even if every welfare recipient, unemployment check beneficiary, and every public employee is hoodwinking you and getting something for nothing because they're too lazy to make an honest living, the amount of money that equates to annually is nothing compared to what the people they're protesting are extracting from you and me every year, not only in the form of tax loopholes and bailouts, but also in unfair and hidden fees and interest increases. You are welcome to believe that the poor are your enemy. I'm even happy to have a conversation about what we can do to reform welfare, health care, social security, and medicare. I'm just not willing to have that conversation before we go after the biggest culprits. Welfare didn't cause a foreclosure crisis, gambling bankers and traders did. Police don't spend all day going after street dealers - they go after the kingpin. Go after the kingpin. Occupy.

I'm not much one for arbitrary patriotism, nor am I overly concerned with proving how much I love America. I am concerned with accusations that Americans are doing un-American things. Specifically, I disagree with the sentiment that this, or any other movement, is un-American. It is comprised of Americans, and opposes entities that are primarily nation-less, with headquarters' all over the world to ensure that they can hide their money from the American tax system. If you find yourself wondering "how is it that I can show my love for America," let me make a suggestion: Try not to hate Americans. Even the ones you don't agree with.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Fuck Yeah America @ The LAP Gallery

The prospect of going all the way to Waltham for an art show was frankly not that appealing to me. Going to any place where the T stop is a commuter rail station doesn't inspire confidence. My experience at LAP Gallery threw that position into question.

LAP Gallery is located on Moody Street in Waltham, a semi-hip enclave of Greater Boston's outer limits, fully equipped with a brew pub, small book store, an independent movie theater, and a waterfall. A pretty broad cross section of people walked up and down the drag, ranging from businessman to aging scenester to possibly mentally ill. It feels like an alright community, but also one where a robbery or two wouldn't be totally out of place.

The gallery itself is incredibly welcoming. Initially the entrance space and lobby to art studios upstairs, it was converted by proprietors Elliot Anderson and Pat Falco into a really well presented show space. It's super-sleek interior rivals any NYC gallery, and the pieces on display were nothing to scoff at, either.

Immediately upon entering the Fuck Yeah America exhibit, two unrelated things greeted me. One: a stencil and spray paint American flag rendered in Legos by Dave Tolmie and the welcoming face of co-founder Pat Falco. Pat was immediately friendly to new faces, jumping on the chance to talk about artists featured in the show. There wasn't a bad piece in the room. There were a number of standouts.

Among them was New York artist Jes Hughes' American Homestead: Summer, a really well composed mixed media piece primarily based in watercolor and letterpress, and Molly Kennedy's uberweird MEEE! (shown), a wax and plaster sculpture of what appears to be a stripped chicken with Teddy Roosevelt's head.

Dan Lambert's The Throats of 44 Men, a series of 44 pieces of white paper featuring a shadowed area where the throats are visible from American Presidential portraits was one of the more impressive parts of the show. It's incredibly simplistic, but really interesting. If I had two hundred seventy five spare dollars (totally a steal), I'd probably have this piece in my living room right now.

Throughout, the show is fantastic. The artists were personable and the venue is great. Locally brewed beer was handed out for free, apparently as usual at LAP's openings, and the contents will fuel your party with conversation pieces for the whole ride home.

LAP Gallery is located at 289 Moody St., Waltham, MA
Fuck Yeah America remains open until July 9. Gallery is open Wed-Sat from 12-6
Parking available nearby
Commuter Rail stop: Waltham (Fitchburg Line)

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Spring in Jamaica Plain - 1st Thursdays!

It's gorgeous outside, and Jamaica Plain took advantage. Residents and visitors strolled the neighborhood's Centre/South district to check out local galleries, get some (free) booze here and there, catch a minimum of three bands performing with instruments unknown to anyone but Europhiles and carnival lovers, and maybe even buy something.

Generally speaking, the local marketing brainchild of Centre/South Main Streets didn't disappoint.

As per usual, Hallway Gallery stood out in a crowd. Gallery owner Brent Refsland has an excellent eye for the local and interesting, and the current collection may have been the best yet. P.M. Allen managed to make illustrations of local scenery made on an iPhone significantly better than it sounds when I say it out loud, presenting a really present and modern collection. Melanie Blood's almost skeletal creations were eerie and beautiful. P.M. Allen's pieces were both old and new in style, but consistent in their high quality.

The real show stealer was Aaron North. With what appeared to be pens, paints, and paper melded with wood and wheat paste, Mr. North produced a number of social scenes among Anthropomorphs that is worth the trip to the neighborhood no matter where you are in town. (And with $1 oyster Thursdays back at VeeVee, you should probably come anyways).

Aviary was also looking good. Danielle Spurge's stitched pieces were simple and lovely, and while the paintings/collages featured (I missed who did these) were not terribly appealing to me specifically, I could certainly understand their value. They just weren't exactly my taste.

Aviary also has a little table in the back full of books, including many from local artists and writers. I didn't get enough time to explore that, but I'd very much like to read some of the local works, and was thrilled to see people doing that.

Monumental Cupcakes had a really fun series of pictures - many requiring old 3d glasses to view - of rock shows, a tin man, and some staged images that could have been porn if they had any nudity in them. Particularly unsettling (read: my favorite piece in there) of a woman in a refrigerator snarling at the camera in throwback red-and-blue pop-out begged to make it to my wall. Alas, I'm a poor person. Other spaces within the bakery showed off Sex Pistols inspired pieces that may or may not have lacked any real merit, but were really fun nonetheless.

The dud was UForge Gallery. I'm going to be honest. I had my reservations about UForge before I went in. I had missed the first show of the "assignment" issuing gallery. It's theme of art deco seemed like a drab class assignment by an uninventive history teacher in the midwest who had what he perceived as the misfortune of having to teach art class due to budget cuts. This month's assignment, "remembering Andy Warhol," didn't make me much more hopeful. It did not let me down in letting me down, either. A series of pieces derivative of Warhol's famous and long clich├ęd silk screen prints and Campbell's Soup cans conjured the feeling one gets when his mom calls him from Target to tell him that she's found something "perfect for your apartment."

I don't mean to beat up on them too much, but in a neighborhood that is starting to really show quality work, a gallery that is so reminiscent of the stale Cape Cod-esque set feels out of place and disappointing.

Music was also on. Performances in City Feed & Supply and Dame were folksy and great, giving people something to watch and adding an impeccably appropriate soundtrack to the streets.

My wife and I grabbed some eats at James's Gate and made our way through all of it. Most places had wine or other refreshments. A few drinks in, along with a few bucks in drink donation jars, it was an enjoyable evening for sure. Rarely do I walk around my neighborhood thinking "I wish more people were here." Today was one of those days.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

I don't wear a bike helmet.

I'm an avid cyclist. This does not mean that I own or wear Pearl Izumi pants or that I own neon. It doesn't mean I have a pile of bike friends with whom I ride, discuss riding, eat Clif bars with, or share cigarettes with while coasting in the Tour de France. It also doesn't mean that I wear a helmet.

What it means is that I own a bicycle, and whenever possible, I ride that bicycle. I ride it to and from work, between neighborhoods, or wherever I need to go. Sometimes, I even ride for leisure!

I don't consider myself part of a "biking community" any more than I consider myself part of a "hat wearing community" or a "guy who still uses the United States Postal Service community." As such, I tend not to give people free biking advice unless I'm asked for it. Unfortunately, I am not always extended the same courtesy. So I have decided to give out some biking advice: Stop giving out biking advice. Specifically, stop yelling at me for not wearing a helmet.

I know how important it is to wear a helmet. I know it protects my fragile, incredibly valuable brain from the cold, hard reality of pavement and car parts. I know that they've even figured out a few designs that don't look completely stupid. I don't need anyone yelling at me from across bike paths or on the other side of the road or even from a car asking me where my helmet is. My helmet doesn't exist. I don't own one. I don't intend to purchase one any time soon. Stop yelling at me about it.

I might appreciate your advice from time to time, if not for your tone. But like when an adult tells another adult that smoking is bad for them, there's no way to politely say "that thing you're doing is hazardous to your health, and while I know you've been told this for a minimum of 150 years, I am concerned you may not have actually heard/read/understood the warning. So just a quick reminder for you: Despite your being deaf, blind, and/or possibly mute, I care about your health."

Now smoking isn't a perfect analogy. There are selfish reasons to hate people for smoking. Smoking pollutes the air, makes things smell, and causes cancer among people who do not smoke. By saying "smoking is bad for you" to someone who marginally knows you or is a total stranger, you're being insincere in your approach, but your concern is justifiable. This is not the case with helmet wearing.

My lack of helmet doesn't hurt other people. In fact, I'd be willing to bet that should I be flung from my bicycle head first toward your head or body, you may even fare better against my bare skull than you would against the same cranium with armor. Helmets also smell. My head smells less helmetless. Finally, my smashed head does not cause cancer. You might even lose weight, because the sight might make you puke.

So okay, smoking and not wearing a helmet are almost totally incomparable. I guess it's possible that you're just looking out for my health. Maybe you even like me! But wait, why does your tone suggest that you think I'm a bad cat juggler who wears babies for shoes? I mean, you really sound angry! When you (and I am using a general "you," assuming you're all part of one smug, judgmental pseudo-liberal group mind) shouted to me "where's your helmet?" with an angry tone the first few times, I assumed it was just to make sure I could hear you. When it became "where's your fucking helmet?" I thought maybe you had Tourette's. It was "get a helmet, asshole" where you convinced me that maybe it wasn't my interests you had in mind.

Here's the thing - initiatives to encourage people to wear helmets are great. So are local bike shop and charity drives for helmets. There are a bunch of cafes and stores who even offer discounts to people with helmets. That's great. It isn't the law, though. There are laws about lights. I was informed of them by a Boston police officer on the Southwest Corridor in Jamaica Plain. The officer also explicitly said "we also recommend you wear bright colors and a helmet. Now that's not the law. Just something we recommend." Thanks, police officer. I will take that into account. That conversation made me think "maybe I should go pick up a helmet when I buy that front light." It was then that a piece of the collective "you" whizzed by me going the other direction yelling "get a helmet, asshole."

Well done, you. You've succeeded in your objective. This is only if your objective is veiled, as I suspect it is. You want people to hate bicycle riders. You want people to think folks on two wheels are all priggish, snotty know-it-alls who make life choice suggestions not because they're actually concerned with people, but because they want people to know how much better they are at stuff. "Nice '96 Ford truck! Now get a Prius!" "I see you're eating a hamburger. I hope you know you're murdering both cows and the future." "Your head is exposed. Luckily, I'm not as stupid as you, so mine is covered." Yep. Well done, you. You made a perfectly reasonable position sound like a real life animation of the worst Fox News caricature of what people from the northeast are like. You're totally better than me, and you're totally right. You might be sainted if you didn't know in your heart that organized religion is a misogynistic hierarchy meant to mislead the masses into a false sense of security about themselves. Because we all know who's on top.