The Bendy Tree Memorial, Part 1

I am separating the bendy tree memorial story into two parts.

Part 1 is performance artist Bill Talen.


 
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Part 2 should be up tomorrow. Stay tuned!

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The Bendy Tree

On September 14, a group of people led by performance artist Bill Talen (“Reverend Billy”) met in Tompkins Square Park to “pray and sing” at the site of the bent elm, the bendy tree.

The performance was supposed to start at 8:30pm, but at 8:30, people were still milling about.

_MG_1816
People milling about the bendy tree.

It didn’t get underway until around 8:40pm, when Talen enjoined people to surround the tree. They climbed over the fence that surrounded the tree and circled it. There were about a dozen people, most of whom were part of Talen’s Stop Shopping Choir.

_MG_1822

Once around the tree, Talen began his speech. I commented on it the next day on EVGrieve’s report of this performance:

    It wasn’t so much a prayer for the tree as a challenge to the science used to determine that the tree was structurally unsound, criticizing “professional arborists,” “academics,” etc., equating the removal of the tree to gentrification at one point, to removing anything “different”. It was pretty appalling to listen to (except for the singing, which was very good, I’ll say!).

    If it had just been a farewell to the tree, I’d have thought it was silly enough to do at night, but not worth commenting on. As it was, if you exchanged a few of the nouns, it could have been a global warming denial sermon.

Gamma, from Gammablog, was there shooting a video (below). I don’t know if he read what I wrote above, and decided not to include Talen’s anti-academic screed, or if he himself was embarrassed by it, or if he just wasn’t there when it happened, but that part of the speech (which occurred at the beginning) is missing from the video, although there are other disparaging comments about those whose conclusion it was that the tree was unsafe.


 
* * *

Saturday morning, September 20, the people from the Parks Department showed up to remove the tree. This is the video I shot of that event:


 
While taping, a guy standing next to me said “You know, there’s nothing wrong with this tree.”

“Yes there is,” I said. “It’s not safe.” He went on to tell me arborists agree with him, and I should talk to arborists.

I told the guy “They’ve been studying this tree for years.1 They didn’t just walk in one day and say “This tree has to come down! There isn’t some Earth Spirit that’s going to come save it,” but you can’t reason with a man of faith.

Towards the end, I moved to the other side. This same guy there too, with his iPhone. When they cut through the tree, exposing the hollowed-out center, I said to him “There’s your proof,” but he didn’t respond.

* * *

About half way through the process of cutting it down, Bill Talen showed up, in costume, but alone. He attempted to climb the tree, or at least acted as if he was attempting it, then mounted the top of the workers’ truck, and did a modified version of his performance from earlier in the week. He spoke this time of Anne Frank, and the tree she wrote about in her diary2, and what people did when that tree was dying. He pulled his wallet out of his pocket and threw it into the crowd I was in, exhorting someone to go to a hardware store and buy a ladder, using his credit card. A guy next to me picked up the wallet, but didn’t leave to buy the ladder.

I haven’t processed the video of him on the truck, and subsequently being arrested, because I don’t want to promote his nonsense. As I wrote before, I’m tired of the preacher schtick. But that by itself wouldn’t prevent me from posting a video of one of his performances. It’s the anti-rational argument he gives regarding the tree that I won’t promote. Some other time, some other performance, and I’ll put it on YouTube, but not this one.

Tomorrow, Sunday, September 28, he will be at the tree again, this time for a memorial. I will be there with my video camera; maybe I’ll be able to post it!

In conclusion, I just want to say that this looks way better now!

_MG_2437

* * *

Meanwhile, not a word was uttered regarding a tree at the Avenue A and 7th Street entrance to the park, that was cut down on Monday, September 15. No memorials were held, no prayers, no circus acts. It was so… normal!

_MG_2446

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1 There was a cable attached to the taller tree behind it, holding it up. It was put there years ago. People have been aware of the precariousness of this tree for a long time, and did what they could to preserve it.

2 My god! Where do you even begin?! The significance of Anne Frank; the significance of fascism, and specifically Nazism; even the significance of the chestnut tree (it was the roots of a chestnut tree that revealed the meaning of existence to Antoine Roquentin in Jean Paul Sartre’s Nausea). This elm doesn’t come close to any of those. Talen debases them all with his comparison!

Keep The “East Village” Weird?

Back in April, Reverend Billy came to preach in Tompkins Square Park.


 
Anyone who’s seen the show Portlandia is no doubt familiar with the unofficial slogan of the town that’s shown in the opening credits: Keep Portland Weird. It’s the slogan on over 18,000 bumper stickers1 in the Portland area, and many more t-shirts, no doubt. What people probably do not know is that Keep Portland Weird is a marketing campaign:

    Keep Portland Weird is about supporting local business in the Portland Oregon area. We want to support local business because they make Portland stand out from other cites and make it a more unique place to live. They do this by providing consumers a wide range of products that represent the different cultures that make up Portland.2

Culture is expressed through one’s purchases. The web site itself is an online shop, where KPW tchotchkes can be bought.

kpw-whats-weird

Weird umbrellas! Weird soy candles! Weird keychains! Weird stickers!
Weird refrigerator magnets!

Weird.

This campaign is modeled on a similar one in Austin Texas, with a surprisingly similar name: Keep Austin Weird. The campaign was launched by the Austin Independent Business Alliance, with the same goal of promoting shopping at small businesses in Austin.

But this isn’t about Portland, it’s about the “East Village,” and what could be the development of a similar strategy here. Reverend Billy says “We’re not the product of a corporate marketing campaign,” but to what degree is the “East Village” the product of a small-business marketing campaign? To what degree does someone “make themselves up” when all of the accessories are already on the shelves, ready to buy?

It may not be a concerted effort yet, but it’s just a matter of time. The sensibility is there, and so is the language. Key words are: sustainable, responsible, local, community. You almost never see one of these words without the others. Once you see the word “weird” in this mix, you’ll know it’s started.

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Probably the most insidious thing about the Weird movement is its racism. A resident of Portland, Linda Ueki Absher, wrote a piece for Counterpunch called Keep Portland White!

    But as I wander pass the organic coffee houses chock-full of thirtyish men with full-on lumberjack beards and defiant beer bellies, or boutiques filled with mock Goodwill cardigans selling for prices once considered exorbitant monthly rent, the message is unmistakable: I am not a member of the Keeping-it-Weird club.

After retiring from the Univesity of Pennsylvania – Johnstown, former Economics professor Michael Yates spent some time travelling around the country, and wrote about his adventure in a book called “Cheap Motels and a Hot Plate: An Economist’s Travelogue.” About Portland, he wrote:

    The most distressing thing about Portland, and the fact that most belied its liberal image, was its racism. A writer once called Portland the “last bastion of Caucasian culture.” It is certainly a white town; less than 7 percent of the population is African-American. Even the city’s homeless are nearly all white, as are all the young people asking for money. Blacks who gravitated to Portland to work in the wartime shipyards were housed in a flood plain of the Columbia River and were soon enough driven out by high waters. The ghettoes where they were next allowed to live were destroyed by highway construction. Today the tiny black community is scattered over several mostly poor neighborhoods. Despite the small number of black residents, whites were inordinately hostile to them.

    There is a growing Hispanic community in both Portland and the rest of Oregon. … Not surprisingly, anti-immigrant sentiment resonated in Portland. A history of racism – Oregon had anti-miscegenation laws until the Supreme Court overturned these in the late 1960s – and high unemployment made workers susceptible to immigrant-bashing.

Maybe this is a Portland thing, but the group that showed up to see Reverend Billy this day was entirely white. The neighborhood is changing. According to the always-helpful city‑data.com:

Races: White Alone
white-alone-recent

Races: Black Alone
black-alone

Hispanic
hispanic

Races: Two or More
two-or-more

If you click on the maps it will take you to the site, where you can get a better sense of things.

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While I’m on the subject, I never cared for Reverend Billy. The whole evangelist schtick was played out a long time ago. I remember when he first went into the Disney Store in Times Square. It may have been the first time but maybe not. I have a friend who was very excited about it and went. I was curious, but for some reason I couldn’t make it. I’ve seen him all too many times since then, but I’ve never been won over.

His whole spiel is to stop shopping, but here he is exhorting people to do exactly the opposite: Go to “these small shops you can’t find anywhere else” and buy crap. What exactly can you not find anywhere else? Let’s not forget that the stuff sold here is manufactured first. It’s only then that the small shops you can’t find anywhere else stock it. There’s no factory churning out commodities that are sold in only one location, or that can’t be bought online. And Alphabets isn’t any different than Spencer’s Gifts, found in every mall.

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Finally, while researching this piece, I discovered that KPW’s web site is a do-it-yourself mess! From “What’s Weird About Portland?”:

kpw-about

From the Soy Candles page:

kpw-soy-candles-lorem-ipsum

Is this supposed to be part of their appeal?

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1Keep Portland … quaint?
2Keep Portland Weird

No 7-Eleven NYC, Labor, and “Free Markets”

This past Saturday (April 6), the local small-business association No 7‑Eleven NYC (N7E) held an event in Tompkins Square Park. This is how they advertised it:

n7e-tsp-announcement

I didn’t think I was going to be able to make it — I usually have a lot of work to do on Saturdays. As luck would have it, though, my mid-afternoon appointment got cancelled, so I was able to go. This is my review.

I guess the first thing I’d say is that N7E is undisciplined. They were supposed to begin at 1:00pm, but none of them arrived on time. Reverend Billy, an invited guest of theirs, paced back and forth waiting for them. They finally showed up around 1:10, carrying their signs and Wheel of Fortune.

I will discuss their activities in another post (perhaps). Today, I’ll just limit myself to their writings. This is the flier they handed out (I commend them for printing double-sided; at least they don’t waste paper):

n7e-tsp-flier1 n7e-tsp-flier2

Don’t strain your eyes trying to read it; I’ll enlarge the points I want to discuss.

n7e-tsp-flier1-blurb2

This is just deceitful. 7‑Eleven employs between seven and ten people per store (depending on the location), up to three-times more than a bodega.

The labor issue is probably the most significant one when comparing 7‑Eleven with bodegas. I’d like to point out something that happened just last week:

The workers at fast-food restaurants across the city went on strike. This is something that could never happen with bodega workers, for a number of reasons, the most important of which is that bodega workers are fragmented. Concentration of capital can enhance the solidarity of the workers, as more are brought into cooperation with each other by working in bigger firms.

On their web site, N7E’s propagandists insists that, in addition to employing more people, bodegas are, for workers, superior to chain stores, because bodega owners will hire convicted felons. I would love to see the statistics on this claim! However, on a more relevant note, they ignore that bodegas are exempt from most labor and health & safety laws:

  • Unemployment Insurance – Employees are paid in cash, so there is no record of their employment.
  • OSHA Requirements – If you have fewer than 25 employees, your penalty is cut by 60 percent. If your business has fewer than 10 employees, you’re exempt from many requirements that obligate you to report workplace injuries.
  • Discrimination Laws – Federal laws against discrimination in the workplace do not always apply to small businesses. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act apply to employers with 15 or more employees. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act applies only to employers of 20 or more people.
  • Employee Health Insurance – Beginning in 2014, employers will be expected to pay a “shared responsibility fee” for health insurance coverage under the terms of the Affordable Care Act. Small businesses are exempt from this rule. If your company has fewer than 50 employees, you have no healthcare responsibilities.1

Because bodegas workers are paid in cash, no taxes are withheld, leaving them with a large tax liability at the end of the year, and with no Social Security credits. Bodegas also frequently hire undocumented workers, whose protections are nil. Not only can they be fired for no reason, they are oftentimes threatened with deportation if they raise any objection.

nelp12

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N7E claims that 7‑Eleven’s presence in the neighborhood threatens the “free market”.

n7e-tsp-flier2-blurb1

I’ve already discussed this claim with an N7E ideologue in the Comments section of another blog, but I will point out to them, once again, that rather than it being threatened, this is exactly how the “free market” operates:

    The battle of competition is fought by cheapening of commodities. The cheapness of commodities demands, [all else being equal], on the productiveness of labour, and this again on the scale of production. Therefore, the larger capitals beat the smaller. It will further be remembered that, with the development of the capitalist mode of production, there is an increase in the minimum amount of individual capital necessary to carry on a business under its normal conditions. The smaller capitals, therefore, crowd into spheres of production which Modern Industry has only sporadically or incompletely got hold of. Here competition rages in direct proportion to the number, and in inverse proportion to the magnitudes, of the antagonistic capitals. It always ends in the ruin of many small capitalists, whose capitals partly pass into the hands of their conquerors, partly vanish. [Emphasis mine]

I’m certainly not against fighting the “free market,” but people who know better can see N7E doesn’t know what they’re saying. A real grassroots campaign would be up-front about wanting to subvert the “free market” in their effort to establish the type of neighborhood they desire. They would understand that there’s no way that could be avoided. They would advocate for the people who work in the bodegas, instead of for the owners. They might even want to restrict the number of bodegas, as even they realize there is an over-abundance of them:

n7e-tsp-flier1-blurb1

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The same organization that works to protect the rights of undocumented workers has an unfavorable assessment of bodegas as places to shop, as well:

nelp23

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So this was an assessment of parts of their most current flier. I addressed their main fallacies. In the second bullet-point on page two, they claim that there is a ban in New York City on the sale of sodas over 16 ounces, which isn’t true, but isn’t worth the time to refute at any length.

I shot some video of the event. I have to watch it again to see if I want to comment on it. I might just upload it to YouTube and post a link to it.

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1Small Business Exemptions
2Good Food and Good Jobs for Underserved Communities
3Unregulated Work in the Grocery and Supermarket Industry in New York City