At this exact moment in time there are hundreds of volunteers roaming the streets of NYC looking for homeless people to share a meal with, people for whom to provide medical attention, clothes, even a bed tonight. They are coordinated by an alliance of organizations whose collective mission is to serve the homeless in our city. This event is called Don’t Walk By.
Last week this mission was launched from a church in Harlem, where hundreds of homeless individuals were directed to be served and to share in hospitality and community. I was among the hospitality volunteers outfitting the homeless with better coats, blankets, new socks, underwear and toiletries. It was an honor to bless them and be blessed by them for my third consecutive year.
Don’t Walk By is an annual event that reaches out to the city’s homeless population each year for four or five weeks in the harshest bitter cold of winter. It is a volunteer effort and much of the materials and resources are donated. They also need money to mobilize the effort.
For these reasons and many more, I have made Don’t Walk By NYC homeless outreach one of the recipients for my Zombie Music Campaign for peace and justice. Please click on this link for more details
and to contribute to DWB and other organizations working toward peace and justice as they serve “the least of these” in NYC and beyond.
I was a young music student and aspiring intellectual when I first became privy to the crimes of the School of the Americas. The broader humanities had struck my fancy as I removed past musics from their academic vacuums and returned them to their time and place, to their historical contexts. As I learned about Bach, Beethoven, and Bartok, I couldn't help but wonder about the many extramusical factors that influenced their composition; and conversely, the ways that their music contributed back to their cultural, intellectual, political milieus.
So I enrolled in several humanities courses during my time at UCF, each examining the humanities (philosophy, art, science, architecture, religion - that which distinguishes us as humans) of a different era. The modern humanities began to touch on a time and culture with which I was more familiar, to which my own so-called postmodern era was responding. This was the era where the crimes and ideology of the nefarious School of the Americas fell squarely into place. And my own generation's response to the tragic existence of the SOA has been rather typical: ignorance, ambivalence, apathy.
Will these be the hallmark of postmodernism, the legacy of my generation? Not if I have anything to do with it!
The School of the Americas
is a US military agency that trains latin American soldiers and dispatches them back to their countries to commit terrible atrocities against their own people. Graduates are notorious for murdering diplomats, educators, political and religious leaders, union and community organizers, missionaries, and virtually anyone working to organize or help poor and exploited people in these underdeveloped countries. Renamed WHINSEC, it continues to this day, proliferating a violent, repressive, and imperialist US foreign policy in Latin America.
It sounds unreal, like something US-ians would never allow to exist; but most people have no idea that it does.
I began soaking it in myself during the fall of 2007, at the aforementioned humanities course. We read about the life and activism of Rigoberta Menchu, about US military engagement in Guatemala, Nicaragua, and El Salvador, about the SOA. I could no longer feign ignorance.
The following fall I made plans to join the annual two-day protest and vigil at the gates of Ft Benning, GA, where the school calls home. This event has occurred for over twenty years, organized by the ever vigilant SOAWatch
and attended by thousands of religious, radical, and peacenik groups persistently calling for the close of the school. The numbers exceeded 20,000 that year and I was proud to be in their number.
It was heart breaking to hear the names of thousands of torture and murder victims read off, each repeated by the haunting chant "presente." It was also empowering to see the solidarity shared by so many people working for peace and justice in the world.
I've just returned from my fourth year at the event. I have played on stage, taught workshops, joined direct action groups, played drums and participated in puppetista parades. I have also joined actions in NYC and DC with music and solidarity. But most importantly, my song Pax Americana
is largely inspired by the evils of the SOA and I have repudiated the school many times in my blog writings. I have thus found my own place as an artist and writer in the 21st century USA and global economic empire. I have contributed to the humanities of my era and perhaps we'll see our collective social consciousness increase as a result.
Until then, the school remains open, funded with taxpayer dollars while most people remain totally unaware of it's existence and the numbers at the annual vigil dwindle and the unspeakable violence of the SOA continues.
BUT! Now that you're swimming in the still shallow pool of collective consciousness regarding the SOA, you can also do your part. Educate yourself, educate others, and support the SOAWatch! One way you can do this, while also supporting my contribution to the humanities, is by supporting the Zombie Music Campaign for peace and justice
. Part of the money supports my recently released album, Protest Songs (Are Dead)
, which includes the song Pax Americana. Another 10% will go to SOAWatch so that they can continue to shed light on the SOA and its crimes, until it is finally closed.
Got my guitar, sleeping bag, jacket, and long johns. Think I'm ready to #takewallstreet.
Sept 17 at Zuccotti Park
was my horse and I was Paul Revere. It was September 17, 2011 and I had just witnessed what I could only presume was the spark of revolution. The time had finally come.
After nearly ten years of war and atrocity in Afghanistan and Iraq, the complete plunder of the American economy, the co-opting of our political process by corporate interests (sanctioned by the US Supreme Court), the foreclosures of thousands of homes by predatory banks and financial institutions, and a persistently grim outlook on the job market - after all this and so much more, a small band of opportunistic lower-case anarchists and democrats were about ready to take back the reins of our wayward country, to be the change we wished to see, and to occupy Wall Street all the while, until somebody paid attention. I found myself at the center of the action.
I had waited for this moment at least two years, about the same amount of time that I had been writing protest songs - and these were my own response to the milieu described above. After moving to NYC where injustice, greed, exploitation, materialism, and corruption were unavoidable and unconscionable, I couldn't help but notice the relative silence coming from the arts community, the very people that, as far as I'm concerned, are charged with speaking up, crying out, and standing against institutional violence with Truth, Beauty, Peace, Justice. I found that this silence was most sadly (and ironically) deafening from the music scene. As an aspiring songwriter myself, I felt the great weight of responsibility fall on my feeble shoulders; I began writing protest music.
Nearly two years later, and only one month before the occupation was to begin, I released my first opus of such material on an EP called Protest Songs (Are Dead)
. Little did I know the perfect venue to perform these songs was soon to crop up in the financial district of Manhattan!
After seeing the first general assembly at Zuccotti Park on September 17, I tweeted giddily as I picked up what was needed to camp the first night at #OccupyWallStreet. For the following week I occupied the newly-dubbed Liberty Plaza almost 24/7: participating in GAs, marching, playing drums and protest songs
, dancing, interviewing, and otherwise building friendship and community with people of struggle - we who would call ourselves the ninety-nine percent.
And that tiny spark, flicked brightly on September 17, ignited a conflagration that quickly spread across the country and the world. I was continually encouraged by the news coming from Liberty Plaza, especially relayed updates from occupations in Atlanta, Chicago, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, and so on. This was indeed a real movement!
But as time passed and our humble occupation grew, so too did the police presence and abuse, tourist interference, and media attention (there was a virtual blackout from corporate media until the mass arrest on the Brooklyn Bridge). I felt increasingly uncomfortable at the occupation downtown and spent less and less time there, though my solidarity did not dwindle in the slightest. After that first week I only stayed at the park for morning marches, evening GAs, and overnight camping; after three weeks, I only came for certain special occasions.
I spent the time instead tweeting, writing, and supporting the occupation from my home in uptown Manhattan: I started the Zombie Music Campaign
(a portion of which will go directly to OWS) and began working occupy visits into the schedule for my Zombie Music Tour to support the new Protest Songs album. On December 4 I started the tour and have since played for occupations in Philly, DC, Asheville and Chattanooga, with many more occupations to come. It has been great to meet with the other occupations, to see the work they are all doing to resist violence and injustice with peace, compassion, and a hopeful vision for the future ever in view.
The Zombie Music Tour continues tonight in Athens and the campaign, still going on now, could really use your support
. 50% goes to five great organizations working toward peace and justice, one of which is Occupy Wall Street in NYC. The rest of the money will support the production of the Protest Songs album and tour.
I do hope you'll consider: if you believe in the occupy movement and/or the role of artists and musicians to inspire and speak truth to power, and if you have the slightest amount to contribute to my existential tip jar, then you can make a huge difference as I trek along on my Zombie Music Tour for peace and justice! Please check out this page for more info and I hope you'll consider nudging me along on my journey.
Please also be sure to learn about and support your nearest occupation. It can be very fatiguing out there, especially as smaller occupations meet resistance from police and local governments. Your local occupy needs your support!
Finally, if you're interested in the Protest Songs album, you can download it from iTunes or listen for free on YouTube
. I hope you'll check it out!
Thanks so much for your support and solidarity. We are the 100% and we're all in this together.
It's tough to book shows on weekdays because people don't necessarily plan to go out to events throughout the week. Most venues don't even bother. But when on tour, a band or artist can hardly afford to just sit on their hands for five days out of the week.
Besides - this is New York City!
So I get frequent e-mails from traveling DIY bands hoping to book shows in the greatest city in the world. I do
warn them that we don't really charge cover at Word Up
, a new non-profit and all-volunteer-run bookstore in Washington Heights. The best we can do is pass a donation jar for the touring acts, who will split the earnings 50/50 with the bookstore. And these acts likely don't anticipate the costs of the tolls across the George Washington Bridge from Jersey or the likelihood of getting exorbitant parking tickets. Oklahoma acts Luna Moth
and Blue Valley Farmer
of them for parking too close to fire hydrants in Brooklyn. And those tickets were $115 each! Ouch.
These folk crooners contacted me on CouchSurfing
, hoping that I could help them book a show in the city on a Tuesday night. They were in luck!
After all, I've had a penchant for booking, promoting, and playing DIY shows ever since my days as singer songwriter and guitarist for Miami-based punk band SnootiBounse. I was in high school at the time, working with many friends and colleagues to keep an all-ages DIY music scene alive. Our shows occurred in back yards, living rooms, churches, and dance clubs - any place that would have us. It was a blast.
Then, in 2004, I moved to Orlando where 1) I'm not sure that anything like that even existed and 2) I didn't play much music outside of my studies at UCF (aside from a couple stints with musical theater and a one-off ska show with a brain child called Shaving Esau).
It wasn't until the Black Box Collective cropped up in Orlando, four years later, that I fell back into my old groove - booking, promoting, and playing shows at a warehouse in Paramore filled with beautiful graffiti art, crusty punks, roaches, profanity, and possibly the presence of God herself. But now I also volunteered my time and energy at this venue - sweeping, recycling, working the bar, bottom-lining shows, running sound, etc - which I could not have afforded to do back in high school; and we had dreams of making this a real community center in the heart of downtown Orlando, to create a safe space in a heavily blighted neighborhood, overrun with homeless people, drug addicts, violence, prostitution. The Black Box became my home away from home, the venue for my debut album release show (a defining moment in my life), and a place that I have missed a lot since moving to NYC in 2009.
I was again in limbo.
New York City has plenty of DIY venues, but as far as I can tell they're all in Brooklyn. And I live in uptown Manhattan. While I was happy to discover some semblance of a DIY scene in NYC, I felt that it shouldn't take over an hour to get to and from decent shows in the city. As far as I was aware, there were no options in Manhattan. This needed to change and I wanted to be a part of it.
I started booking acoustic, freegan (food and all), DIY, all-ages shows at my apartment in Harlem, but my roommates did not tolerate that for too long. I needed to find another venue that would be open to this kind of thing. But how could I ever find such a venue in a city that practically runs on consumerism, corporatism, individualism, greed - values that fall in direct contradiction to those on which I hoped to build a DIY art and music scene? I certainly could not afford my own start-up (though I did once call a real estate agent regarding a vacant storefront on Amsterdam and 130-something) and I could not have anticipated that anything like the Black Box would have materialized in my neighborhood without me. Thankfully something did!
I got involved with Word Up Books
a few weeks after they opened and a few days before they learned that the donation of their former-pharmacy space in Washington Heights would be extended through the end of September (now going on five months rent free!) I knew that something big was happening there from the moment I stepped foot inside this Broadway storefront. I needed to get involved.
My first order of business was to let the other volunteers know that I was interested in booking shows. Once I attended a few volunteer meetings and earned their trust I began organizing events, was given keys, joined the Space and Events committees, helped organize the used books, gave report-backs from #OccupyWallStreet, procured a couch... I'm all in.
Word Up does a ton of great work in the neighborhood. We provide a safe space where folks of all ages can hang out, read books, listen to music and poetry. We host events of all kinds - open mics, book readings, film screenings, plays. We sell the work of local writers, poets, artists, photographers, musicians, and crafts-people. We provide an enormous selection of used books and vinyl records for $1 and plenty of radical literature at discounted prices. We are at once a book store, music venue and community center. Non-profit and all-volunteer-run, mostly by writers, artists, and other creative folk.
And yes, we'll book shows on a Tuesday night.
It is for all these reasons - and more - that I chose Word Up as one of the orgs that will receive 10% from my Zombie Music Campaign, going on NOW. Please consider supportng the work that we are doing to bring peace and justice to the neighborhood of Washington Heights - and beyond!For more info about the campaign, please click here!
Also, if you live in NYC, come check out my CD release and tour kickoff show at Word Up next Saturday, Nov 5. Joanlie Shiah will also be playing and there will be a screening of the most epic film: V For Vendetta. Click here for more details and to RSVP
For some reason the prospects of "conventional" work never appealed to me. I've felt more in my element playing guitar on the subway, teaching free music lessons, tutoring and playing with kids, counseling summer camps, etc. So I've spent much time volunteering, especially after I graduated from UCF. Countless folks have been so generous as to drop a little something in my existential tip jar.
I'm now raising money to support my new album and non-profit organizations working toward peace and justice. I have spent considerable time volunteering with each of the organizations that will receive direct support from my Zombie Music Campaign
, and I believe that they are all worthy of support and acknowledgement.
So I am beginning a series of blog entries that will include info about each of the organizations, the great work they do, the service that I did with them, and any other reasons that I believe they deserve your support in the Zombie Music Campaign
Thanks for your interest and support. Please stay tuned!
Several months ago, I saw that two or three of my peers on twitter were talking about an upcoming festival (a "gathering," NOT a conference or convention) in North Carolina that would focus on the intersection of art, justice, and spirituality. It was to be called Wild Goose Festival, after a Celtic metaphor for the Holy Spirit of God.
I contacted Jacob, one of the directors, hoping to snag some stage time at the event, but I was too late - the programming was already planned out. I ended up volunteering with the "recycling crew" instead (euphemism for the waste management team which also handled trash and compost).
Being a freegan myself - and therefore especially concerned about waste - I figured I was a shoe-in. I gladly accepted the position which would allow me to attend the entire event for free - food and camping accommodations included!
I volunteered 16 hours throughout the fest shouldering large compost bins and heavy black bags of trash and recycling into the bed of a bright blue pick up truck and emptying them at the farm's dump site. It wasn't very glamorous, but I did make friends with my fellow trash crew members and we even devised a secret handshake!
Though it was fun and even enlightening - to a certain extent - to spend the weekend camping out, singing, dancing, playing, and engaging in conversation with my mostly-left-leaning brothers and sisters, I was sorely disappointed by their apparent inability to minimize and sort waste properly, even in a festival milieu that so aptly encouraged it! Nearly every waste station had separate bins for compost, trash, and recycling with colorful signs explaining which items ought to go in each - yet It was all too often that we found plastic bags in the compost bins, bottles and food waste in the trash.
By the end of the festival we accumulated about two large dumpsters worth of both trash and recycling; relatively little amounts of food and paper waste were composted; stunningly exorbitant amounts of waste were improperly sorted.
Now I hate to sound all holier-than-thou; but seriously, how can such a group of hippie, environmentalist, progressive, leftist, and/or so-called emergent Christians blow it on such a basic level? Christians really can't figure out how to reuse, reduce, recycle? To properly steward the planet created for us? If anything, we ought to be leading the charge!
I know that many Christians are, indeed, leading the way - I first really learned about composting at a similar Xian event in 2008 called PAPA Fest - and that many of those who attended Wild Goose did their part. But on the whole the folks of this festival community (still only a small sampling of this minority appendage of the Church in the US) absolutely must do more to create a better model for consumption and waste. Here's hoping that by next year this flock gets its act straight, realizes its responsibility to care for the earth, and starts to lead the way. Our planet can hardly afford otherwise!For more on my trip to North Carolina, check out the post on my personal blog page... click here =D