Songs for the Struggling Artist

You’re Late. I’m Late. Let’s Get to Work.

Warning: This post has got a lot of swears in it. And it’s kind of a mess. But aren’t we all?

I don’t know what to say right now. We’re in a revolution which was long overdue and I feel invigorated and glad that changes are already being made in some way in some places. I also feel terrified and alarmed by the power of the police state which is acting out in the worst possible of fascist ways all over the country and particularly in my city.

The NYPD used terrorist tactics and ran their SUVS right into a crowd of protestors and our motherfucking useless-ass pseudo-progressive mayor, who ran on a platform of stopping this horror-show policing, defended them. In Charlottesville, town of my birth, a few short years ago, a white supremacist terrorist murdered a woman and injured many more doing this same thing. That guy was convicted and sentenced for the murder he committed.

Here in this police state of New York City, we got a curfew instead of arrests of those SUV cops. This curfew allows the police to arrest anyone at their pleasure as soon as the sun starts going down. Last night in the Bronx, they penned in a group of protestors twenty minutes before curfew and then proceeded to pepper spray and beat them before arresting them. They took them in hot crowded transport to a whole different borough in the middle of this pandemic. And all of this is just the tip of the fucking iceberg.

Am I stirred up about it? You bet. We need these cops off the streets immediately. Like, now. Their unfettered violence needs to end. There are so many activists who have been working on this stuff for ages and sure, we should have been helping them before and we’re late but we can still pitch in.

I keep thinking about how whenever I’ve been late to a rehearsal, say, and everyone’s super pissed that I’m late and I feel bad that I’m late but at a certain point, we just have to let it go and get to work. I don’t decide to give up and go home just because everyone’s mad I’m late. And we can’t waste any more time talking about how late we are.

I feel like right now I’m seeing a lot of my white friends wringing their hands and self-flagellating and you know, sure, you’re late. You didn’t get it before. You didn’t understand what Black Lives Matter was actually trying to tell you. So -you’re late and some people are pissed at you for being late. I’m late, too. Or maybe I was on time (I retweeted some of the first BLM tweets, that makes me on time, right? Didn’t I show up on time? My god, it’s so embarrassing how much I want to have been on time.) but I failed to learn my lines or bring my props. (I didn’t put my body on the line or call my reps.) In any case, we’re all fucking late and people have a right to be pissed off about it. But now it’s just time to go to work.

Interestingly, I’m noticing that my friends and family in Charlottesville aren’t doing quite as much handwringing as the rest of the country and protests there have gone smoothly, without incident. It feels to me, from 500 miles away at least, that Charlottesville having gone through the reckoning of 2017, has learned that it just needs to get down to work. And that statue of Robert E Lee that was the beacon that summoned all those white supremacists will likely finally come down. The bad guys there gave up their dumb campaign. The governor ordered a similar statue removed in the capital. There’s hope in there. There’s hope in a lot of things. And some of it is complicated as hell.

For example, here in NYC, we have these things on the streets that Google paid to have installed. We call them Propaganda Sticks because they broadcast messages and images 24-7 and are also surveillance devices. Before I stopped being able to touch my face, when I passed one, I touched my nose in the classic gesture of “I know what you’re up to.” If I was going to be caught up in a surveillance net, I wanted them to see me seeing them do it.

I would not be surprised to have confirmed that all the cute little trivia and art that shows up on them is just there to make people look at it, so they can get better facial recognition data. As you can see, I am not a fan of the propaganda sticks. I’m concerned about all the ways they could be used for ill. I don’t trust Google not to be evil just because they once had a catchphrase reminding them not to do it and I don’t trust New York to protect anyone’s privacy.

This week, the propaganda sticks are slowly just flashing the names of people who have been murdered by police around the country. It’s a black screen with each person’s name in white. And even though I hate those propaganda sticks, it’s actually very moving and we thought the sticks had maybe been hacked by an activist group, which would have been cool. They have been hacked in many interesting ways before. But, no, it’s an official LinkNYC thing. But even so, it’s moving. I about lost it in the street when Tamir Rice’s name went by. And then Eric Garner’s name came up. And on one hand, it is amazing that the city is broadcasting an acknowledgement of these murdered people and on the other hand, this is the same city that allowed Eric Garner to be murdered by police in the first place and then did absolutely nothing about it for five years. You don’t get to have your death agents murder a man for selling cigarettes and then flash his name in protest like you had nothing to do with it. Is Eric Garner’s name flashing on the propaganda stick next to the police assembling their riot shields and teargas? It could be. And is that good? Does it remind them to do the right thing? Or does it just incite their violence further? Given what we’ve seen so far, I’d guess the latter. 

Everything is just intersecting right now and I’m not going to lie, I’m a little freaked out. The police state, the surveillance state, the capitalist state, the digital dominance.

A few years ago, I was in a café when everyone’s phones starting making alarming sounds all at once. It was an alert that a snowstorm was coming and I found myself disturbed by the reach of this alert. I worried this might be used for ill in the future. I could imagine a future when our proto-fascist “president” turned full fledged fascist and would broadcast his cruel messages to all our devices at once. Then this week, we got alerts that New Yorkers were under curfew and we had to be in by 11pm. The next day, there was another alert, declaring all New Yorkers needed to be in our homes by 8pm and it would last all week. Meanwhile, most of us have been stuck in our homes for two and a half months due to the virus. And that’s when I figured out how to turn off my alerts. (So if there’s a genuine emergency and not just our local government acting like dictators, please call me to let me know, as I have now opted out of state sponsored communication.) While protestors are able to track police using things like the Citizen app, the police are also able to track protestors through their phones.

Anyway – there’s another place to get to work – because wouldn’t you know, Black activists are vulnerable to being labeled “Black identity extremists” which is a thing the FBI made up to track Black activists and they are certainly using all the digital means at their disposal to surveil the people who have been doing such important work. There are layers and layers of awfulness and it can be overwhelming looking at a list of places you should donate to and when you don’t have many donation dollars, you might just throw up your hands and go home. I’m tempted to throw bricks at the propaganda sticks like this guy but I know that’s not productive and would, in fact, be destructive to the cause and also I’m late, I’m late, I’m late, so late.

So I’m gonna go donate to the Center for Media Justice to help them defend Black activists and end surveillance because I guess that’s something I can do about this digital concern I just discovered I am especially worried about as I write this. And then, just, you know, I’ll get to work on more stuff, too, one thing at a time. Even if I’m late and everyone’s mad. I’m late. You’re late. A lot of people are late. Let’s get to work.

You want to look at that, right? Look, they put nice art on it. It says it’s Art to the People! You like that sort of thing. Just look another second…there! They got your face. But, ha! We’re all wearing masks now, so ha ha ha! Foiled the surveillance machine!

This post was brought to you by my generous patrons on Patreon.



Normally, in this space here,

I write some related line to suggest you become my patron on Patreon. 

But I’m skipping it today. Instead of asking for a tip, I’d love to suggest you donate to the Center for Media Justice or a Bail Fund or Nourish NYC which is getting food and supplies to protestors. 

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