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“He will not divide us”?!

For all my friends who post this on their FB wall, carry signs & wear clothing stating that “He will not divide us.” I have a couple questions… do you not remember November 8, 2016, and the lead up to the vote? Do you understand what you are implying with your slogan?

I ask because I feel like you are not recognizing the fact that a whole lot of people voted for Trump. So either you forgot that he is supported by a lot of Americans, or your “us” doesn’t include all of them.  Is your “us” the demographic who voted for Hillary? If so, I’d like to point out that the Democrats had a major split, and you are correct “he” did not create that divide. But your slogan is in the future tense. 

There was also the feminist divide, with white feminists pouring over Hillary and both radical and black feminists calling them, and her, out. “He” also did not create that divide. Although many white women, feminists or not, voted for Trump in the end. 

So I guess my simpls analysis actually confirms that he did not divide us because we were already divided. 

Oddly enough, he might actually bring back together some of us, sadly this coming together is mostly out of fear of him and his policies.  While I wish for a coming together out of unprovoked compassion, I guess a win is a win. I just worry about the strength and duration of the ties that currently bind us in struggle. No doubt we are stronger bundled together, (oddly enough, this is the idea behind fascism, look up fasci) but if the bonds that hold us together are based on fear, then they dissipate once or common fears are vanquished.  So we risk the folly of losing the power we find in unity after the fear and need to organize against is defeated. This is why I organize for love and always try to find the proactive solution and positive voice. It has been hard for me to find that posistivity lately. And like my mamma taught me, if I don’t have anything nice to say, I (try to) keep my mouth shut. 

There is a second conversation I’d like to start here. It may be a little hard to take for a lot of people, but here it is… Is the denial of division also a future refusal to accept a division of our United States of America? Is there something inherent about the 50 United States that you/we will fight for in order to preserve? It may be a bit alarmist but I’ve heard people pondering aloud what it means for the federal government to stop funding some states and the potential repercussions. I will make a jump and hypothesize that Trump is hoping to create an authoritarian US, but I’m not sure I would be okay if some states or regions decided to leave the rest behind to suffer through that. I do however think that this would give cause for some serious reworking of our founding documents. Im taking que’s from abolitionists here. In the 1800’s where some abolitionists were convinced that the American Constitution was so flawed that it could not be amended into working order and must be tossed out and completely redone. 

The Abitionist where quite a radical group. John Brown, in particular. Frustrated with pacifist attempts to end the institution of slavery in the US, he lead volunteers in insurectionary skirmishes that some believe led southern slave owners to worry about a massive uprising of slaves, that it brought about the ideas for civil war. 

Is this not similar to what is happening today? The main differences being that it was not a white man leading the cause for Black lives, it is an entire movement. Events where the effected and oppressed are speaking up for and defending themselves. From Ferguson to the Dakota Access Pipeline Resistance, people are rising up against the various amendments to our lives that place profit over us. To understand that last comment, watch “13th” on Netflix and look into the exact legal loopholes the Army Corp of Engineeres are allowing Energy Transfer Partners to (re)steal Native American lands for extraction of resources and further endangering their livelihoods in order to simply turn a profit (there is NO plan for domestic energy dependence or significant job creation, it really is just about profit for the DAPL investors). 

In my mind, Trump voters could be equivocated to “the South will rise again” proponents. That is a phrase that I’ve heard and lived with all my life. I’m actually glad to see that the confederate resurgance has been duped by what I will categorize as a con man from Queens, NY. Either that, or they realized that they have no hope and that the best bet is not to die fighting for bigotry, but to get rich trying to exploit anything and everything they can while the getting is good under a “pro business” Trump.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, he did not divide us. We have lived in a divided house for quite some time. With that, I leave you with questions I am still pondering. What is it that actually divides us? Can we heal those wounds outside of immediate times of threat and fear? If so what is that path forward? If not, will you stand in the way of a United States of America coming apart at it’s seams? And finally, is the idea of sanctuary city/states succeeding a success story for progressive America, or a win for the Confederacy that lost the Civil War in 1865? When you say “he will not divide us” who is the “us” you speak of?


MLK Day thoughts from Mississippi (2017)

Today we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day. MLK Jr was born on Jan. 15, 1929 and we celebrate his birthday on the third Monday in January each year.

Stevie Wonder wrote and performed this song in advocacy for establishing MLK Day as a nationally recognized holiday.

Over the past couple years, I have been on an inwardly spiritual and outwardly vocal campaign to oppose oppression. I’ve recently come to realize that these two are one in the same and fall under the idea of decolonize my own mind. Sometimes this has looked and sounded vindictive, accusatory and spiteful, outright ugly at times. I hope to move past the negative and aggressive communication style, it’s not going to be easy for me to get over my violent socialization, but I shall try. That said the historical injustice itself is harsh, writing or even thinking about it without internalizing or externalizing the inherent violence is difficult, relating to it is not easy, and the offensive past puts white people in a defensive position (defensiveness is actually a general aspect of suffering that nearly all “white people” experience through colonization, but that will have to wait for another post).

I make this personal shift in my life for myself, it is a reflection of love in my heart and mind. Beyond this personal approach, I hope that this kinder gentler approach will lend itself to a more receptive audience. I have come to understand that, while most of the people who have been oppressed by Western civilization are aware of this oppression, some are angry, most are disillusioned, some are organized, most are not, some follow King’s lead in non-violent resistance, others are ready to ensure their freedom, justice and equality “by any means necessary.”

It actually took 15yrs after MLK’s assassination before activists succeeded in commemorating him in a national day or remembrance. The only way I can begin to understand why this took so long is to do some research and to understand that MLK’s entire career was met with a public and aggressive smear campaign by the FBI to discredit everything he ever did or participated in. In addition, Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina campaigned against the holiday, arguing that King was a communist sympathizer and an unfaithful husband. The sad reality is, most of America absolutely loathed this man while he was alive. It is a wonder (and hard won activist battles) that so many of us look back at him in reverence today.

That said, many American still look back in anger and veiled contempt. Sometimes this contempt is not so veiled. I was born and raised in the South, spending childhood and early adult years in Hattiesburg, MS. I am back in these parts as I write this and I’m actively researching the roots of my southern enculturation, once again, this is my personal exercise of decolonizing my mind, I practice vulnerability in making this exploration public. I hope to share some of my findings of how the Civil Rights movement shaped my hometown soon.

Many states dragged their feet in adopting this National holiday, enacted in 1983, New Hampshire didn’t do so until 1999. Here in Mississippi (and in Arkansas and Alabama) the legislature (maybe I should just say “we” since they represent me) decided that, in addition to MLK Day, we would combine it with a holiday we already celebrated—the anniversary of Robert E. Lee’s birthday.

Despite the fact that these two men stood for two very different ideologies, sheisty dissidents use the civil rights language that defeated their racist ideologies and employ an ironic turn of words claiming that “separate is not equal.”

So, now I am in the awkward position of being from, and currently living in, a state whose legislative charter celebrates “Great Americans Day“. I think this is detestable, but I’m gonna run with it anyway. Here we go…

I think that it is important to not only celebrate the people who made such great strides towards a spirit of oneness and civil society as Martin Luther King Junior. But it is also important to not forget the unconscionable acts of violence, hate, and bigotry that necessitated the existence of both King’s non-violent resistance as well as Malcolm X’s Black Liberation Movement, and the current Black Lives Matter movement (to name jsut a few). While some spiritual traditions would have us believe that this duality balances each other. I tend to err on the side of Assata Shakur’s statement that, “Black revolutionaries do not drop from the moon. We are created by our conditions. Shaped by our oppression.”

So if folks in Mississippi, Alabama, and Arkansas must remember both General Lee and Reverand King on the same day, let’s remember what both of them stood for. General Robert Edward Lee, the commander of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia was a Civil War general for the Confederacy, a group of states that seceded from the United States to form a government in which, as Article IV (3) of its constitution stated, “the institution of negro slavery, as it now exists in the Confederate States, shall be recognized and protected.” As we celebrate this man (in MS, AL & AR), let’s talk about how as a General he led Confederate troops onto the extremely bloody American Civil War, was willing to tear apart our country in order to defend the racial hierarchy that sustained an indiscriminate economy which relied on slave labor to exist. Let us remember that, Lee was a man who lived to the age of 63 and died peacefully at his home in Lexington, Virginia. This is how America lets treasonous (white) men live in society. Let’s remember that only three states honor this man in this way.

Reverand Martin Luther King did may just and righteous deeds in his life. Among these he named the Triple Evils of poverty, racism, and warfare that lead to his (and others) necessary existence, public resistance and civil disobedience. He left us the Kingian six principles of non-violence which paved a path for Civil Rights activism in America. King managed to carve a niche where he kept the powers that be at bay, although they definitely did not leave him alone to do his work. King was respected by many in his own time despite the public media smear campaign the FBI waged against him. When King began to shift his focus towards ending the war, he quickly met the end of his life. His life was snubbed short. Shot in the face, he died violently at the age of 39. Assassinated for being black and powerful in America.

Let us not forget how the existence and resistance of one actually necessitated the existence and resistance of the other. When my good ole’ boy neighbors beam with pride over their stars and bars, (AKA the rebel flag) and note that it isn’t about being racist, it’s about being proud of their heritage, let us always remember that that heritage was predicated on slave labor and stolen native American land. Without these slave owning traditions, there would be no need for an outspoken civil rights leader. We may have never had a Martin Luther King Jr. if it wasn’t for the oppressive roots leading to his noteworthy life and death. Southern pride is one of many faces of the colonized mind as it reinforces itself and refuses to amend the cognitive dissonance that comes up when analytical thought or critical analysis is employed.

In all respect to Martin Luther King, his dream has not yet come to pass. Although he brought us a great many strides forward. We have managed lose a few yards. And now it seems we have fumbled the ball altogether. Yes, we still have work to do. Despite a Black President, we do not live in a post-racial society… Despite the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery, we still have modern day slavery and new Jim Crow in the form of criminalization and imprisonment of black and brown people… Despite the integration of the south we still have the undercurrent of hate and bigotry that put a false sense of pride above the basic human dignity of black people, as well as systemic and institutional racism that has created intergenerational trauma for African Americans… Despite a robust #BlackLivesMatter (#BLM) movement, we still have people more concerned with the means of Black liberation than the actual goals. In the face of all this, I will continue to educate myself and decolonize my own mind in the hopes that individual action can also be a powerful form of love, leadership, and civil empathy.

Rest In Power Reverand King. Glory to your name, your life and your spiritual, civic and political leadership.

One Love

Erased By False Victory: Obama Hasn’t Stopped DAPL

Transformative Spaces

14067704_1246845795349461_128050987172044891_n #NoDAPL protesters gather for a boat action in Standing Rock on August 20. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)

All Native struggles in the United States are a struggle against erasure. The poisoning of our land, the theft of our children, the state violence committed against us — we are forced to not only live in opposition to these ills, but also to live in opposition to the fact that they are often erased from public view and public discourse, outside of Indian Country. The truth of our history and our struggle does not match the myth of American exceptionalism, and thus, we are frequently boxed out of the narrative.

The struggle at Standing Rock, North Dakota, has been no exception, with Water Protectors fighting tooth and nail for visibility, ever since the Sacred Stone prayer encampment began on April 1.

For months, major news outlets have ignored what’s become the largest convergence of Native…

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The Black Snake

Last week I embarked on the second, of what I hope to become an annual, pilgrimage to the Grafton Peace Pagoda, which is managed by Jun -san, a Buddhist nun who traveled from Japan in 1978 (the year I was born) to support the American Indian Movement. Her spiritual teacher told her before leaving Japan that in order for world peace to exist, the most militaristic, vicious and offensive country (yup, that’s US, America) must come to understand it’s indigenous ways and spiritual connections to our Earth. In bringin this light to our masses she has walked in solidarity with various tribes and Chiefs, including across the entire country on multiple occasions. Jun -san and other devoted Peace Walkers join the cause whenever the call for support and solidarity is made from the indigenous community.

I left NYC expecting to do carpentry and grounds maintenance around Jun -san’s stunning property upstate in Grafton, NY.   I didn’t even get all the way to the Peace Pagoda before the plans shifted under me. Happy to be spontaneous, and excited about the prospect of my first demonstration in our nations capital, I gleefully agreed to the changed agenda. Plus, I was assured that Jun -san was thrilled in knowing what we would be doing instead.

Early Wednesday morning I joined a carpool full of Peace Walkers and headed down to Washington DC for a rally called by the Standing Rock Sioux. By noon I was standing in solidarity with indigenous people from across the US who gathered to speak their powerful truth to the media and a federal circuit court judge who is hearing arguments over the Dakota Access Pipe Line (DAPL). Hundreds of people held signs, drummed, chanted, danced, spoke out and connected with their brothers and sisters.

This well attended demonstration of solidarity was among the most pure and beautiful demonstrations of civil unrest I have ever witnessed. There where young children playing and holding signs. Elders where held in reverence. Attention was respectfully given to the speakers throughout the entire demo. While there where some elders, Chiefs, young organizers and celebrities on the roster,  there was plenty of time for anyone to approach the mic and speak their truth and wisdom to the crowd through the PA. The police kept a respectful distance. There where some really beautiful signs, flags and lots of full indiginous regalia.

I will not place importance or give energy to the company trying to build this pipe line (I will simply refer to them as “the company” in this post), I will not discuss here the proposed length of the pipe line, nor the anticipated flow, or the price tag for the DAPL. If you need that info it is available elsewhere. None of that matters to me. Here are the things that do matter (note: many of these things I learned at the rally during the speak outs and/or in dialogue with Peace Walkers during the road trip).

– the Sioux tribe has filed a federal court case against the Army Corp of Engineers for granting permissions to the company to build a pipeline near their territory and under the Missouri River.

-The four states involved and the company made decisions about the route of the pipe line without speaking to the native people who’s sovereign land these lines would cross.

– oil infrastructure is well documented to be highly unstable and extremely damaging to the local ecosystems, ground and surface waters, people, air and soil in the event of leaks, explosions or other “accidents”, which are really just eventual collateral damage for the fossil fuel industry profiteers.

– Forty-seven indigenous nations where present and represented at Standing Rock and in Washington DC (at the time of this posting there are now over 60! tribes/nations working in solidarity to stop the DAPL). They are banding together not to protest, but to protect what is rightfully theirs. Their shared land, their human rights and our water.

– As I understand it, most of these tribes Ave never buried the hatchet from disputes and skirmishes long ago. This is the first time in history that this many First Nations of Turtle Island are successfully forming an alliance. We are witnessing an historic moment.

– A native woman spoke about Homeland Security. She made the point that this is a exactly what the indigenous protectors are providing for all of us as they stand up for the shared commons. The Peace Camps in North Dakota represent nothing less than a peaceful homeland security detail.

– There is a Lakota prophesy that states that a black snake will pass across the nation and this will mark the end the world as we know it.

– A speaker drew a parallel to the black snake and the Dakota Access Pipe Line (DAPL). The World (being a man made term) is upon its completion or end cycle. The world we live in does not respect the Earth or the vital resources she gives us. So, the protectors are allowing this world to pass in order to exalt, protect and praise Mother Earth in our new shared earthy experience.

– A relay race took place during the week before the rally. Young indigenous people ran over two thousand miles from the Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota to Washington DC. They delivered a petition which had over 200,000 signatures when they arrived in DC. Denied a meeting with President Obama, they delivered the petition to the Army Corps office on Capital Hil. They have a goal of one million signatures, add yours here:

Environmental racism has placed unwanted, dirty industries and infrastructure in places where people of color and/or poor people live. They do not have the political power to reject these intrusions.

– Native American reservations, sacred grounds and territories are often unhappy recipients of pipelines, landfills, fracking, nuclear waste, oil pumps, etc. This is true for other indigenous lands around the globe.

– due to these unwanted and uninvited developments nearby or on their lands, Native American homes are often compromised by toxic chemicals and their water is poisoned and rendered unfit to drink. Health issues and death are unproportionaly high in many Indian communities due, in part, to nearby dirty industry.

– because of this pollution, children are often taken from their parents and placed into foster care after pollution and toxins create an environment that is “unfit to raise children in”.

– foster care programs, the war on drugs, the school to prison pipeline, state imposed violence (like accessible force from police) and other well studied and documented socio-political issues impact Native American communities at an extremely disproportionate rate.

– in the past, construction for various projects have disturbed sacred Indian sites. This has been permitted by the Army Corps, then justified by companies claiming that no artifacts where found during construction. These companies are not funding archealogical digs, so it is it not surprising that they are not finding indigenous artefacts as they dig, drill, pave, and dump. It would be very surprising if the companies are not actively covering up any discoveries of artifacts they may have inadvertently made, in order continue extracting resources and wealth from these lands.

– the DAPL’s originally planned path would have passed by (about 100 miles from) a community where primarily non-indigenous people live, but that community raised a stink about it and, without fanfare or a federal court case, convinced the company to rerouted the pipeline. It is now designed to pass by (within 10 miles of) Indian territory.

– our Constitution includes a Treaty Clause which priorities treaties. Even still, we (the Us Government) are in violation of many, probably most, of the treaties made with the First Nation peoples.

– Native Americans have tribal sovereignty in the US. They make their own laws and govern themselves.

Native Americans once occupied and dwelled upon all of the habitable lands in the Americas, from Canada to Tierra del Fuego, California to Maine.

– Pilgrims lived peacefully with natives for about 55 years. Indians showed the first white settlers how to live on the land. The second generation of white colonizer a forgot about this and started disrespecting the natives. Since then, colonizer a have essentially attempted genocide on these peoples. In some cases it has come to pass, who remembers the last of the Mohicans?

– Today, Native Americans make up one of the smallest percentages of ethnicities and are primarily confined to Indian reservations, which are located in some of the most inhospitable portions of land within the United States.

– Native Americans “own” the land, mineral rights and river beds located on their territories. (I used quotations around own because Native Peoples believe in collective ownership and reject private ownership.)

– the indigenous protectors at Standing Rock are a peaceful, praying people. There has been no violence reported in these prayer camps.

– Native Americans smoke pipes they do this for peace and prayer, for ceremony and ritual. They speak about these pipes regularly.

-a police officer who overheard discussion of pipes told news outlets that there are pipe bombs. This is slanderous and repeating it in the news is libel.

– While neither the people in these camps nor the company’s private security around the camps carry guns, there are checkpoints to enter the camps where there are lots of what seem to be armed militia. It is unclear why they are there or who placed them there.

– As I understand it, this is the first time in history that this many (at least 47) First Nations of Turtle Island are forming a successful alliance. They are banding together not to protest, but to protect the commons which we all share, including land, their human rights and our water.

– the company responsible for constructing the DAPL, has yet to receive a permit to cross the Missouri  River, yet construction continues elsewhere.

– there is a prayer camp (actually two camps now) that have successfully stopped DAPL construction near the Indian territory. These camps have about 2,000 people at this point.

– North Dakota officials have declared a state of emergency. They have come down on the camps and arrested at least a dozen peaceful protectors.

– The company  filed a restraining order against some protectors including the Sioux Chief.

– State officials recently cut off water supplies to the camps.

– the natives have been denied the right to defend their own territory and resources. [UPDATE: Judge rejects motion to restrict pipeline protestors]

– the police, who are supposed to serve and protect the people, are essentially acting as a security force for the company.

– An indigenous woman speaking out at the rally stated that the use of the word Dakota in the DAPL title is particularly offensive as it is a Lakota word that means friend.

– A Peace Walker friend pointed out that the DAPL name is actually quite fitting. The Dakota Access Pipe Line seems to be bringing together all First Nation tribes as friends (AKA Dakota), encouraging them to access and share a peace pipe as they form a line of solidarity to protect their land and water.

– Very few mainstream media sources are giving this uprising fair coverage. As mentioned, some are repeating lies and starting unnecessary controversy. Despite this, here is one account that I have found poignant from MSNBC.

Outside of the mainstream media, indipendant media groups (like Unicorn Riot) are documenting the Peace Camps and sending the message out to the world. Here are some of my favorites…

The Cutoff

noun: cut-off
  1. 1.
    a point or level that is a designated limit of something.
    “1 p.m. is the cutoff for being out of the woods”
  2. 2.
    an act of stopping or interrupting the supply or provision of something.
    “a cutoff of aid would be a disaster”

OK, so I don’t usually resort to dictionary definitions in these infrequent blog posts. But this one is of linguistic interest. I am part of the Cutoff Coalition. Some folks have questioned why we choose to call ourselves this as it seems a bit, well… negative.

It’s simple really, the MTA’s Request For Expressions of Interest (RFEI) for the adaptive reuse of the Montauk Cutoff just led us to the name. We had our first meeting and no one seemed too very concerned about what we called ourselves. So Cutoff Coalition it was.

But folks have asked, why the negative terminology and I have had a moment to reflect upon it. I speak for myself here but would hope that (at least some) others in the Cutoff Coalition would agree. “Cutoff” is terminology that has been handed to us by our post-industrial society. It was innocuous in it’s day, primarily referring to land that was held as a Right of Way (ROW) for the MTA’s Long Island Railroad (LIRR).  So we have adopted and become stewards of this abandoned land. The ROW and all the negative connotations it brings with it, including the name have been lovingly adopted by us. As we reappropriate the terms and conditions of our completely human toxic legacy, we also embrace that legacy and the baggage it brings with it. We bear the name of our despicable past and do not wish to greenwash what it was. In our work toward bioremediation of the land, air, water and ourselves, we do not deny the fact that it is currently toxic, for that would be ignorant and foolhardy. We become hyperaware of the perils we step into. In that process, we become those perilous agents of change, but we start exactly where we are. No window-dressing needed.

Only in becoming the thing we loath can we begin to understand and hold empathy for these things. we do not work from outside, we work from within. As we become one with the site we employ our deep green jiu-jitsu.

There are lots of things that could happen here. I for one would love to see less reliance on semi-truck traffic in NYC’s industrial areas. But the fact of the matter is, not all business can be serviced by train. That said, the locomotive holds a strong place in the developmental history of NYC. In fact, the Montauk Cutoff was the last place that a steam powered engine ran in our fine town. Rail-lore romanticism aside, this place used to be a sacred hunting ground for the Lenape. An ecotone where fresh water ran into the brackish water of the harbor creating a rich and biodiverse ecosystem. Native peoples revered this place, modern peoples dumped fill on top of it and laced it down with creosote ties and iron rails to run coal burning trains, carrying extracted resources from distant lands to and fro.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the industrial revolution just as much as the next guy. The fact remains, we have a toxic legacy on our hands. This persistent toxins disrupting our endocrine systems, killing smaller organisms, collapsing ecosystems and causing cancer. What are we, as a society, going to do to offer reparations for the environmental chaos we have caused in the name of progress? I cannot answer that question. But I can tell you what the Cutoff Coalition plans to do…

Cut-it-0ff. That’s right. We will use the waste off of the machine, in this case land itself, to cut off machine at the pass.

We will cutoff the lead and arsenic laced urban soil issues with bioremediation technologies.

…cutoff the sedentary, consumption based lifestyle by cultivating active producers in our community.

…cutoff the waste of food, water, land, and people by recognizing these resources for what they are and valuing them accordingly, not based on what some corporate entity says they are, or are not, worth.

The Cutoff Coalition, challenges the everyday idea that environmentalism is forever happy and gay. The cutoff Coalition sees the challenge as it is and wears the mask that was handed to us. We refuse to purty up our name so others can be comfortable with it. We demand that the atrocities of the past be seen and dealt with.

I am grieving over the environmental tragedies we have cause and must face today. Popular knowledge tells me that there are five stages of grief, these include: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

We have denied the fact that global eco-crisis, climate change and overpopulation is happening for years, some continue to do so despite mounting scientific evidence.

Some of us have gotten angry about the ramifications of the raping of Mother Earth. Lashed out against the true eco-terrorists with media campaigns, civil disobedience, and direct action.

Others have resorted to bargaining with carbon credits and REDD+s, petitioning our policy making and governing officials for sanctions or slowdowns of the overconsumption and degradation of our natural resources and ecological services.

Many live in a constant state of depression at the outlook of global climate change, the challenge of feeding our growing population with diminishing soil quality and quantity, pain of not knowing how to solve huge issues like drought in the Western states, deforestation in the Amazon, and general malaise over our implicit participation in the industrial/prison/corporate/military complex by simply going about our daily lives of consumption in America.

But this acceptance of the terms given to us is transformative. We understand the underlying ramifications of the past and walking into negotiations for the future with our eyes wide open, our hearts at the center of our work, and an unwillingness to compromise or repeat any of the previous stages of grief. This is not a new era of activism, or a new way of working together towards solutions, but it is a propositional method. Instead of working together against those things that have caused us this grief to begin with, we work together to create reasons for celebration so we no longer have to dwell on the grief.
I cannot, and will not, say that; denial, anger, bargaining, or depression are things of the past. In fact these are important motivators in the environmental, social justice, and class movements among other struggles. What excites me is the capacity to work towards positive change with social provocateurs who have experienced the other stages of grief, acted upon them in meaningful ways both internally and externally, worked through them and have come out on the other side ready to make positive change working with the tools, terminology, technology and skills that we have been given.

The Cutoff Coalition is building the new world from the hollowed out shell of the old one. The shell may not be attractive, but your gonna like what grows from within.

In prosperity,

Gil Lopez

Dec. 2015, from the Flux Factory, NYC

Smiling Hogshead Ranch is not…

In this post I assert that no one should be referring to Smiling Hogshead Ranch (and Montauk Cutoff/Ranch on Rails project) as the “Queens Highline”. If you are unfamiliar with any of these projects, feel free to click though these links and get to know them:

Okay, I’m a spiritual dude. I believe thinking about things give those things energy. Writing them down or speaking these things out loud breathes life into those ideas. For this reason, I also believe in being propositional and minimizing oppositional ideas, talk or actions. Why be negative when the positive idea is the one I want to breath life into?!
All that said, I feel I need to lay out some logic and pit to rest some confusion that plagues Smiling Hogshead Ranch and the Montauk Cutoff. Unfortunately and perhaps ironically, these damaging ideas are perpetuated by what are potentially some of our greatest friends and supporters.
I often find myself trying to avoid saying this statement, “Smiling Hogshead Ranch (or the Montauk Cutoff) is not the Queens HighLine (or Queens LowLine for that matter).” Please don’t be upset, or misunderstand me here. I love rails to trails projects. I think the HighLine is an exceptionally amazing project and everyone involved with Smiling Hogshead Ranch is absolutely humbled to even have the comparison made.
I’m writing this to explain, so let’s unpack that oppositional statement that I so often try to avoid by looking at the five W’s
Who? What? When? Where? and Why?
I’ll focus on Smiling Hogshead Ranch since it’s established and focus less on the Montauk Cutoff since it is still in its infancy. I’ll also predicate this by making the obvious note that I don’t know everything (or that much really) about the HighLine, so…

WHO created, built & maintains the two spaces?
– Friends of the HighLine formed in response to a plan to demolish the elevated structure. They organized, raised money, had plans drawn up by architects and landscape architects and worked with the Parks Dept, and contracted with builders to design, build out and maintain the space.
– Smiling Hogshead Ranch is completely designed, built and maintained by a group of guerrilla gardeners and volunteers. The founders incorporated as a nonprofit organization to enter into a year to year Garden License Agreement with the MTA/LIRR (property owner). A collective of collectives, many citizens organize and lead the Ranch.

WHAT is the function of the two spaces?
-The HighLine is an elevated city park offering a passive recreational space for people to walk or sit during daylight hours. Active components include cultural events, educational programming, commercial vending, and art installations. The landscape is primarily a passive space. HighLine Park is filled with native plants, little or no edibles and a very high quality built environment, from the lighting and elevators to the seating and pavement. The elevated structure is technically the largest greenroof in NYC; this green infrastructure provides rainwater capture, wildlife habitat, reduces heat island effects, cleans the air and performs a slew of other ecological services.
-Smiling Hogshead Ranch also hosts cultural events, has art, is home to many native plants and could be considered green infrastructure with many of the same ecological services performed. The Ranch also has a focus on obtaining a yield (done with many edible plants) while also attracting wildlife and acting as a community social space. Beyond raising awareness, the Ranch is poised to actively address social justice issues by creating an active urban agriculture scene in which “waste” streams are converted to added value agricultural products. Right now the Ranch is run by members and volunteers. In the future it is expected that The Ranch will remain in this same model but produce an offshoot in the Montauk Cutoff that will produce revenue and pay worker/owners to build and service cooperative businesses that employ many while greening our city and feeding our hungry, teaching our students, and healing our soil, water and air.

WHEN are these two projects happening?
– HighLine Park is open during NYC Park hours, essentially from dawn till dusk. Friends of The HighLine formed in 1999 and the Park was completed in 2015. The fine design offers universal access (wheelchair accessibility). No pets or bikes allowed.
– Smiling Hogshead Ranch was established in 2011. The nonprofit organization was created in 2013 and the Garden License Agreement signed in 2014. We are still expanding. With no fence, the Ranch is open 24/7/365 to anyone and everyone. We strive towards wheelchair accessibility. Pets are allowed, in fact there is a feral cat colony existing onsite.we actively promote bike culture although there isn’t really a place to ride bikes on site.

WHERE are these projects?
-The HighLine is atop abandoned, elevated tracks on trestles which run through Chelsea in Southwest Manhattan. It used to be an industrial area but is now bustling with extremely high-end retail and food options. The north end comes up to Hells Kitchen. The park has been a catylist for real estate growth and valuation. A stated intention of te origional organizers.
– Smiling Hogshead Ranch is located on abandoned railroad tracks in Long Island City’s Industrial Business Zone (IBZ). There is potential to expand onto additional tracks which are elevated on a bed of gravel. There are many schools and industrial businesses nearby and one of the largest active railyards in America is across the street. No residential buildings are in the immediate area. The organizers are attempting to outwit the creeping real estate speculation and displacement that is already changing he face of the IBZ.

WHY do these projects exist?
– The HighLine is a preservation project utilizing elevated tracks to expand green space in NYC. The NYC Parks Dept. took ownership of the infrastructure from the owning train company in order to create a public park. The organizers wanted to retain the infrastructure, promote tourism and increase local property values.
– Smiling Hogshead Ranch is a direct action addressing the shared commons, food, environmental, and other social justice issues, striving to create financially sustainable green-collar jobs, educate youth and professionals about all these issues and do it all as an autonomous, community-run, urban farm collective. Initially, we did not ask permission to create the Ranch. We now have a year-to-year garden license agreement with the MTA and are hoping to continue our unique brand of community land use activism.

So that is a little of what each is. I hope you noticed a significant difference. When the “HighLine of Queens” comparison is made, it undercuts the work, and potential, of both spaces. Would you call the HighLine “<a href=””The Growing Power Farm of Manhattan”? Of course you wouldn’t or maybe this analogy doesn’t work because you may not know about Will Allen’s Growing Power Farm, or maybe you would never compare a Manhattan park to a Milwaukee farm. Another, more simple, analogy would be calling a dog a cat, simply because you saw it on abandoned railroad tracks and you saw a cat on abandoned railroad tracks recently in the town over. Well this not only reveals you can’t properly differentiate a dog from a cat when they are both seen on railroad tracks, but it makes it hard for other people to know that that you saw a dog, not a cat, when you tell them about your experience. This can lead people to be disappointed when they visit and see a dog (especially if they are cat people). If you manage to convince many people it is a cat on those tracks, even though it is obviously a dog, it could also lead to the dog having to painstakingly explain the difference between a dog and a cat to everyone it meets, when really, the dog just wants to be the best dog it can be and defending it’s doggedness only detract from that mission. In another scenarios, this could make the dog seem anti-cat as it defends itself. Worst still, you could confuse the dog and it may start to meow in order to appease all those who visit the abandoned railroad tracks expecting to see a cat. I happen to be a dog lover and think that making the dog meow would be a real shame. I’m gonna let this tedious analogy go for now.

I love NYC Parks and the HighLine Park is an exemplary one. A shining example of what landscape architects like to call landscape urbanism. In fact, it is now the most popular tourist destination in NYC! I could write a whole blog post about how awesome it is if I only had the time. Let’s all love and support all City Parks, including the HighLine! I also encourage you to support your local urban farms, especially Smiling Hogshead Ranch! We at the Ranch have ambitious plans for an urban agriculture model unlike any that has been realized before. Please don’t make us give up this dream of a transformative urban farm and perfomrative landscape rising up out of the abandoned grey infrastructure of our revolutionary industrial past simply because you cannot see beyond the railroad tracks. Making the “HighLine in Queens” analogy forces us to put energy into oppositional statements that do not help advance our PROpositional project. Please don’t make us explain what we are not simply because we utilize the same hard, grey infrastructure to create our dream as another group in another boro did. Please respect our mission by not eclipsing it with their ideas or their brand. We love your enthusiasm for our project, please help us frame it in a useful way. May we suggest “Ranch on Rails”. This is far less confusing and infinitely less frustrating than the “Queens HighLine” comparison statement.

In Peas & SOILdarity -Gil Lopez

Queens Compost Bike Tour Recap

On a beautiful Sunday afternoon in June (2015) over two dozen compost and bicycle enthusiasts gathered at the Queens Botanical Garden for the Queens Compost Bike Tour (see press release here). Participants across the boroughs of Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens were in attendance. Including folks from highly successful community community sites such as the 462 Halsey Community Garden, which operates one of the most active and productive community run compost sites in NYC.
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Jeremy Teperman, of the NYC Compost Project hosted by the Queens Botanical Garden, treated participants to a behind the scenes peek at QBGs composting operation and learned about the Master Composter training program.

The group rambled through Flushing Meadows Park, by the iconic Unisphere and made our way to the 34th Avenue bike lane which provided a convenient corridor to follow as we stopped at various composting sites in Queens. The second stop was St. Mark’s Church/Farmspot CSA compost site (33-50 82nd Street, Jackson Heights) where Kirsten Magnani and Evie McKenna, two Queens Master Composters, treated attendees to an inside look at a community compost site run by a local Community Supported Agriculture group, which uses space from the church to distribute its veggie shares to its members. CSA members drop off their food scraps and tend to the compost bins weekly.
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From the lush church garden we rode on to a less conventional site.


From the lush church garden we rode on to a less conventional site.

JH SCRAPS (an acronym for Jackson Heights Scrap Collection to Restore our Areas Poor Soils) is located underneath a set of train tracks, on State DOT land with a DEP pumping station adjacent to their operation.  Lenny Olsson, another Queens Master Composter, explained the nuances of creating this group, their volunteer model and future expansion plans.  It was remarkable to view composting being created underneath a highway structure and displays the innovative nature of our community and how little space is required to compost effectively.  At this site, thermophilic temperatures were above 150 degrees across the compost bins. JH SCRAPS also envisions itself as a community center, and also collects mulch from NYC Parks’ nearby Mulch Fest, and accepts fall leaves from nearby residents.
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Departing from Jackson Heights we had a relatively quick jaunt over to Sunnyside Gardens where the volunteers at Sunny Compost greeted our rag-tag group with sliced watermelon and fresh produce grown in their immaculate community garden.

Several members from the Sunny Compost team showed off their operations which includes tumblers and three bin systems. We visited during drop off hours and witnessed the magic happening in front of us with children and students chopping food scraps and then placing them into an active pile. The Sunny Compost crew also had a really nice sifting trommel and were placing finishing touches on this item.  (Their blog article of the tour)
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It was difficult to leave the well kept and hospitality filled community garden but the wide open expanse of the largest rooftop farm in NYC beckoned. Most of us had never been to the top of the hulking building located on the SW corner of Northern Ave and 39th Street. We were in awe as the elevator doors opened to the roof and the spectacular Brooklyn Grange flagship farm revealed itself, in all of it’s late Spring glory. Row after row of meticulously planted and cared for crops destined for market and chef’s pantries gave way to sweeping views of the NYC skyline.

After gawking at all of the visual stimulation, the head farmer Bradley Fleming corralled our group and spoke to us about their impressive composting operation. The Grange boasts an Aerated Static Pile (ASP) which makes for lighter work, forcing air into the pile means it doesn’t deplete oxygen and go anaerobic, thus eliminating the need to turn the pile. While chatting about some of the commercial sources that The Grange receives organic residues from, the topic of discussion shifted towards two unique companies called Global Enviro, which grinds and dehydrates food scraps, and the InSinkErator, which converts kitchen sinks into garbage disposals. Both companies are working to become standardized in NYC, both have positives and downsides but anyone interested in compost and waste management in NYC should familiarize themselves with these two concepts because they offer different approaches to the composting norm.
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After the breathtaking views, we took it easy, taking a complete lane of traffic as we casually cruised through Astoria to the Western reaches of Queens. Just shy of the waterfront, underneath the Queensboro Bridge, lies the largest community composting operation in New York City. Erycka de Jesus, of Build It Green! Compost, gave us the grand tour of this NYC Compost Project site. Replete with a box truck, bin-tipper, jay-lor mixer, bobcat skid-steer, an ASP engineered system with a forced air pump and Gore-Tex cover, motorized trommel and seemingly endless amounts of wood chips, sawdust and leaves (collectively called “browns”), this is a composters dream set-up.  In addition to BIG! Compost’s processing operation, they host regular GreenMarket and commuter (near subway stations) drop-off sites in Queens and North Brooklyn.  As amazing as it all is, it was pointed out that it all started as one Master Composters community volunteer project back in 2009.
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The final leg of the tour led us from Queensbridge to Long Island City’s Industrial Business Zone where the members of Smiling Hogshead Ranch greeted the riders with cheers and whistles, not to mention the delicious BBQ and cold beverages.

Huge thanks to O‘Neil (Erycka’s husband) for throwing down on the grill!

Before digging into the food, we took a quick tour of the Ranch, and the variety of compost methods (8 in total!) on display from the most basic leaf mold area, to our successful 3-bin systems and vermicompost, and towards advanced biodynamic systems such as hugelkulture windrows, bokashi food fermentation, and mushroom compost. Gil Lopez, co-founder of the Ranch, introduced the Ranch’s new weigh station and #NYCompost as part of a campaign to unite composters city-wide on social media. He also address local organic recovery and soil building as a fundamental form of autonomous development.

We then heard from Jennifer Plewka, Hogshead educator, who filled us in on the two biodynamic windrows which will slowly decompose and be converted into a fedge (food-hedge) on the verge of our edible forest.
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Finally, Sashti Balasundaram, founder of We Radiate, an environmental research start-up dealing with compost, provided a demonstration of their new product initiative called ThermoSense. The ThermoSense initiative records temperature fluctuations across a compost pile and offers educational feedback to users to enhance compost quality and efficiency.
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We Radiate’s fundamental goal is to minimize landfill disposal of food-waste through technologies that encourage urban composting. As a result, municipalities can reduce spending on the export of waste to landfill, and re-appropriate funds towards compost programs that encourage growth in green jobs, enhance local food production in urban settings, and promote healthier neighborhoods.  They are currently developing add-ons to eventually create a complete diagnostic tool that measures key compost indicators into a wireless device.

This bike tour was a success in that it brought people together to enjoy a beautiful day together, educated many on the important work being done around our serious issue of waste, shined a light on the people and locations doint this important work and encouraged a diverse community to become more connected and enriched. We hope that future similar bike tours will take place and the issue is delved into even more deeply. By connecting the dots between all these things we hope that there will be even more composting sites, bike tours and positive community interactions in the future.