The Arts, The Rents, The Times: A Year Of Economic Divestments & Organizing In New York

By: Ricardo Levins Morales

“I’ve deleted this twice by now.”

There I was on a cold December night. I pulled open the iron doors of the elevator shaft on the tenth floor where I had been asked to go, entering a building in New York’s Flatiron District, soon surrounded by key members of the Defund DAPL movement. (A movement that has divested 30 million dollars from banks funding The Dakota Access Pipeline to date.)

I remember a member of the group saying:

“Because their movement stems from greed… our movement stems from giving… And the way we see the world? We’re creating something capitalism doesn’t want and doesn’t even compute: love… because love makes you reinvest in your brothers and sisters, the community, the nucleus of our cities, towns, neighborhoods, and parishes–all of what we do stems from love and we have to remind a world in resistance that love has to be a key part of this to keep ourselves from becoming what we’re fighting against…”

(Keith Haring)

And it then it hit me, with all the things to be outraged, worried, and vigilant about in the world right now, a certain poison had struck me: fear and hatred were fighting to colonize their messages into my body. While I’ll get back to Micah White soon, he once said, “We are a generation that has grown under a glooming apocalyptic mood after all, that has been equal parts environmental, political, cultural, and economic. We’re the first to be saddled with the awareness of climate change, that our earth is dying and species are going extinct.” That’s why we are rising up and choosing courage, disobedience, and taking back the power of money for good, in the face of dying old men and family dynasties (that could rival royal families).

They want to control their dying industries and hold us hostage to the past. Millennials are lifting one another away from their pixel screens and picking each other up while documenting it, sharing it, and communicating about it with America: here is the future we want, here is the future we’re making with or without you for the good of the planet, the future is using what we have as a source of empowerment.

We then gathered in a circle and sang songs. These grassroots warriors who faced police brutality at Standing Rock in subzero temperature weather looked welcomingly into my eyes and they saw a friend, an ally, and a collaborator. They welcomed me to an atmosphere that seems like a distant dream or an alter-verse upside down place where peace is not war and hate is not love. I understood quickly the hunger in the room, everyone wanted to speak without fear, to express themselves, and thus be who they truly need to be.

As the music came to a comfortable hum signaling it was my turn in the rotation, I told them everything I was afraid of. What my shortcomings were. It wasn’t immediate but it gave me hope and widened my awareness. I left knowing the next phase according to the collective.

Sometimes to be around other people, who don’t think it’s such a radical idea to develop new systems of sustainability, public enrichment, abundance, and access to the bounty of the wealthiest country on the planet, can be liberating and grounding for the soul.

But what’s going on these days? Why is our country at unrest when we have so much? Maybe it has a lot more to do with how the globalization of our economy, privatized bought-and-paid-for political process is running its course. But dusk has entered its midnight hour, the rise of far-right as a means to quell resistance to runaway capitalism is here once again and worse than ever. It’s going to be Bush on steroids, and you bet it’s here, in all its 21st-century HD-instantaneousness: but what will you do? What will we do? What is it worth to have all the information in the world and no action?

Well not so fast, there HAS been action and each time it swells it swells harder the next time.

Occupy was ground zero and don’t let anyone tell you it was for nothing.

The people of the world, us: the majority that aren’t  a part of the oligarchy 1%, are truly starving to be listened to, so I’ll tell you what we told each other that night: you are not alone.

Hi, I’m Nadeem Salaam. After years of working in the music scene as Elevtr Trax (filming bands, photographing moments, writing about the venues that we have loved and lost, seeing the hate crimes litter our streets), it would be dishonest to say I haven’t felt hollowed and heavy. My people have suffered. Your people have suffered, and may be preparing for a baby tyrant to scapegoat us for the next four years, amongst the pending further failure of cronyism that will be placed on the backs of the working class of all colors, the poor, women, LGBTQ, and people of color. But in our circles? We need to foster a culture of love and giving now and forever.

We need to take control of our power through the language of money and subvert crony global capitalism and create a system that benefits everyone, not just the top one-tenth of one percent, not even the one percent–they have enough for generations, while we don’t have enough for the week.

In unity with the spirit of transition right now, you can join some of the many movements right here in New York City. This is the last series and part one of the last blog posts I’ll write for 2016 and I’ve deleted this twice by now.

Taking a look back, 2016 will go down as one of the most historic shakeup years in the 2010’s. But just a year into the double digits in 2011, the Occupy movement began, sending a Lower Eastside protest to 82 countries around the world.

What was the collective energy saying? What were the bright-minded, over-educated youth talking about? Aside from being debt-straddled in a downward economic slope of cheap pay for hard to find work, and rising costs of the most basic of basic living, many were calling attention to the growing gap between rich and poor that effectively paved a way for a younger generation to be worse off than any previous generation in American history. Perhaps this message resonated so deeply in part because in big and small cities across our nation (and the world) a small percentage now enjoy the benefits of rising affluence, (none the less the basic ability to feed families off of one paycheck), while many struggle just to get by.

But before that feeling in your gut sinks, let me share an insight into where the next chapter of grassroots movements are heading in America, because it’s important to know that this movement did not happen out of thin air.

With the bank bailouts after the economic crash in 2008, it resulted in largest transfer of wealth in American history to the top one percent.

New York police evicted Occupy Wall Street protesters from Zuccotti Park in the city’s financial district early on Tuesday, two months after they set up camp and sparked a national movement against economic inequality. Photo by – Brendan McDermid

In the words of Micah White, a major player in the Occupy Movement, “Social movements are one of the most complex reoccurring phenomena of human society. Consider Occupy Wall Street, imagine you are a pigeon perched above Zuccoti Park in September 2011. One day the humans are rushing to and from work, fretting about money and oblivious to the people around them. And next to these same individuals are breaking their old patterns, and having communally: holding open assemblies, organizing free kitchens, using shared gestures, chanting each other’s words and joyously mingling with strangers like never before. The dour police arrive to dampen the people’s spirits but that didn’t stop the contagious mood from spreading via social media to cities across the world. It is as if humanity is falling into a collective daydream in order to wake from an isolating nightmare.” He goes on to say:

“Asking your innermost self: am I ok? and waiting for your soul to reply is what ultimately gives birth to social revolutions.”–Micah White (co-creator of Occupy Wall st)

Returning to my sentiments on economics, let me close with a visual method (you know my love for visual art and film) here is a video that further encapsulates the economic dilemma we are faced with. When you’re ready to resist, disobey, divest, we’ll be here to help you invest in yourself.

Read tomorrow’s blog post where we’ll pick up on this post and take a page from Bernie’s message and lay out some key information towards building local economics. With the keys in the hands of the current Trump Admin, we’re about to take on a bludgeoning and these tactics will simply mean life or death in the times of America outside the bubble of the 1%.

(Part I)

Consider a donation of any amount to Elevtr Trax! We are going into remission for January because I will be doing some organizing work in DC and then to New Orleans to finish writing a book I’ve been working on. We want to expand next year and will depend on a person based donation model. If you want more bands to have their first albums covered, first live HD-videos produced, or POC issues, LGBT artists voices amplified, and the grassroots supported on the picket line, we’re going to need your support! Thanks for giving us that in 2016, next year, in the words of Bernie, “the struggle continues.”

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