Taira, Alejandra and Mark. Robert Roth

Manaraq No End in Sight librun tuskuspan wayki Roberth Roth chilachanta mallichiwanchik

Michael Szpakowski, street view of Robet's
 house


 Taira, Alejandra and Mark

 

by

 

Robert Roth

 

 

 

An excerpt from No End in Sight

 

A defiant, in your face, politically conscious U.S. women's soccer/futbol team beats England in the semi-final of the World Cup. A few days later they would beat The Netherlands. I think of Laurie Ourlicht, an artist, a political radical, a friend who died after years of protracted  illness. I remember one art work in particular, “Grandmothers”. Her two grandmothers-- one Jewish from Russia, one black (not sure from where)-- standing side by side in a shadow box. One day just in passing she told me that she had played on the US women's national soccer team. She described entering a stadium to thunderous applause. I asked her if she could write the experience  up for And Then. She very reluctantly agreed. I periodically brought it up. One day she said she much preferred giving us an art work. 

 

 I also have a vivid memory of her laughing, smiling, chanting and singing with enormous gusto and glee a song about Winnie Mandela at an anti-apartheid demonstration. The last time I saw her was on a very hot summer night when she came to the gathering in my apartment to pick up the issue of And Then with her art work in it. I walked her to the door. She was sweating profusely. We hugged each other tightly and said good-bye. At her memorial, just a few months later,  I spoke about our conversation.  Not one friend of hers from the last few decades knew that she had played for the national team. Her family nodded, slight smiles of recognition, as if acknowledging a distant memory. That shadow box, so tender, so steeped in history. Laurie thinking of you today.

 

*

  A new “model” children's--prison, detention center, internment camp, potential concentration camp-- has just opened. 200 kids already in one of them. Clean. Well lit. Not yet overcrowded.  Reporters are given 3 tours  a day, but they are not allowed to talk to any of the [children, kids, young people, young adults] aged 13-17. There will be at least 900 more kids that will be brought in. Barbed wired fences.  A chilling photo of  migrant kids hands over heart  ghoulishly made to recite  the pledge of allegiance each day.  My mother wrote an essay in which she described that as a schoolgirl in Hungary her German teacher, a Nazi sympathizer, made all the Jewish girls stand in front of the class and recite in German the accomplishments of Hitler.

 

*

 

I could almost write a history of the late 20th century to the present just talking about all the people from around the globe who have slept in the other room. My living room is their bedroom.  I could also write a piece  significantly less long and considerably more fraught about the people who have slept with me in my room.

 

My apartment alive now with a stream of visitors. Something like serial monogamy, but not exactly monogamy since there are two people here now. Alejandra, a Jewish  artist from Venezuela. Taira, a Pakistani Muslim filmmaker from England. They sleep head to toe in my narrow bed/couch in the living room. When one actually gets up, not just to go to the bathroom, the other unfolds onto the whole bed. 

 

Long time friends of each other, Taira is here working on a documentary about the Poor People's Campaign. Day and night at the kitchen table doing research, writing, focusing in with  laser intensity, looking for archival material to use in the film. There she is  absorbing and processing information with a sensitivity, determination that is breathtaking, finding things that most people miss.  An extraordinary painter, Alejandra is  returning from a five day meditation retreat in Washington D.C. Her country in shambles. Trying to find ways to stay afloat. Moving from place to place. Living out of a suitcase. No job. Part time job here. Part time job there. The term precariat could have been coined just for her. 

          Her sister Pearla  a doctor in Mexico City. A life saving resource for both of us during a couple of serious health emergencies. Today her sister called to tell her that she, Pearla, will appear in a Dove shampoo commercial. 

 

Coming from Boston,  Mark, one of my oldest and dearest friends, was here twice for a week during the last month. First to be at the launch of And Then20 and then to be here for the 50thanniversary of the Stonewall  [uprising, riot, insurrection].  Taira and Alejandra had places to stay during Mark's visits. 

 

Robert's Living room by @alejandramandelblum

 An original member of the GLF [Gay Liberation Front], Mark is  attending a number of   activities, many focusing on events of 50 years ago.  There will be two marches. One where millions of people will attend. Multiple corporations are sponsoring it. The other will be an alternative march. It is intended to be a militant festival of liberation not one of corporate cooptation. Their statement reads: We march in our communities’ tradition of resistance against police, state, and societal oppression, a tradition that is epitomized and symbolized by the 1969 Stonewall Rebellion.

“We march against the exploitation of our communities for profit and against corporate and state pinkwashing, as displayed in Pride celebrations worldwide, including the NYC Pride Parade.

“We march in opposition to transphobia, homophobia, biphobia, racism, sexism, xenophobia, bigotry based on religious affiliation, classism, ableism, audism, ageism, all other forms of oppression, and the violence that accompanies them in the US and globally.”

 

 

The two marches both in their ways were spectacular. 

 

Millions of people singing, dancing, cutting up, and chanting.  Mainstream politicians and huge media coverage in the first.

 

Thousands (one friend estimated 25-30 thousand)-- radical joyous defiant, far reaching in their focus--in the second. 

 

The letters of a new alphabet keep being added. LGBTQ becoming LBGTQ +.   The “+” becoming individual pennants hanging from a lamppost on the the corner of Gay and Christopher streets:  Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual, Polygamous/polyamorous, Kink.   

         Have no idea what some of it means. Kink though probably, hopefully covers a lot. 

 

         Fifty years ago I stumbled onto the Stonewall uprising totally by accident. The streets were alive in  ways I had never seen before. 

 

A [Hispanic, Latino, Latin X] man in his early twenties clean cut, beautiful shirt, well built squaring off face to face with a young white cop whose own face was totally impassive. Looking the cop straight in the eyes, he  said defiantly, angrily, with just the slightest touch  of humor, “I'm going to stick my big Spanish dick up your tight Irish ass.”  And if it hadn't been clear before, it was very clear now, that nothing would ever be the same.

 

My friends Pete Wilson and Charles Pitts wrote a broadside called “Faggots are Revolting. You Bet Your Sweet Ass We Are.” Years later Charles stayed with me for a number of days while recovering from a brutal [attack, gay bashing, fag bashing, assault] that almost killed him.

 

This past month both Mark and Taira have brought the past into the present. The Poor People's Campaign  then (1968) and now, The Gay Liberation Movement then (1969) and LGBTQ + now. With Taira and Mark staying here both then and noware vividly alive. The passion, the tensions, the disputes, the betrayals, the solidarity, the misery, the exhilaration, the guilt trips, the intrigue, the eloquence, the defeats, the victories--The profound sense of being part of something of immense importance. Both then and now. And all the times in between.

 

*

 

Many of the same contradictions  that existed inside  and between the two LGBTQ+ [marches, parades, celebrations] are playing themselves out in all the activity surrounding the women's soccer team's great World Cup victory.

 

A powerful insurgent energy. A freewheeling exuberance. Charming, dynamic, very out players. Gold Ball winner Megan Rapinoe speaking passionately, defiantly, vividly about her lesbianism.  Affirming desire. Living big.  The team as a whole confronting the [soccer, futbol] establishment for its gender biases. Calling for equal pay to the men. Ferociously calling out the cruelty and racism of the present administration as well as the  society as a whole.  

         At one point Megan  talked about how much love existed among the players, how they could embrace  their differences. Different races, all the colors of the rainbow, different sexual orientations, religious beliefs and political perspectives. A few days later though, in a more sober moment,  she spoke eloquently about the fact that the team is overwhelmingly white. And discussed the marketing advantages they have in relationship to the women of the WNBA whose  players are mostly women of color. She said this in a way that did not diminish the virulent as well as subtle forms of sexism that they themselves are struggling to overcome. 

 

A huge parade was held down lower Manhattan. Young girls cheering their lungs out. Women in tears. Boys and men there also. Signs and shouts of equal pay ringing through lower Manhattan.

 

A kind of puritanism laced with envy is always a genuine danger in speaking critically about any of these things. There is so much energy, real joy, hard won accomplishment, and explosion of possibility. But here goes.  

 

 Living big often involves immersion in celebrity and corporate culture. The American Dream:  money, power, celebrity, and winning. The howling emptiness of fame. 

 

In the case of the [soccer, futbol] team, powerful corporations with their own sordid pasts and equally sordid present lending their support to the struggle for  equal pay. Sounding like  they are in the forefront of resistance, Nike made an ad: We will keep fighting not just to make history, but to change it, forever!” the ad’s narrator says as a crowd of voices bursts into the ubiquitous “I believe that we will win” cheer.

Visa demanded new contract terms for the women. Secret donated more than $500,000. What role will this play is anyone's guess. Will other corporations lend their support? 

 

Just today I read that the Toronto Raptors and Nike are selling hijabs with the Raptors  logo. [Honoring, Corporate targeting] the Muslim girls and women living in Toronto. Embracing them, including them. There is an ad featuring [girls, women] wearing hijabs playing basketball. Quick snippets of action. Driving to the basket, shooting jump shots, passing with finesse. 

 

Right after  the World Cup one commentator spoke that if women athletes appeared in Coke commercials for example,  that would be one major indicator of progress. I flashed on a news story I had recently read.

 

 A  Coke bottling plant was built near a village in Mexico.   The plant has permits to extract more than 300,000 gallons of water a day.  No water is accessible for the local population. Some  drink  cheap bottles of water. But those are hard to come by. Mostly though, in a vivid example of a corporation giving something back to the community, bottles of Coke are sold almost as cheaply. As a result diabetes and obesity have spiked. There has been a 30% rise in mortality rates. So what then is a well produced Coke or Nike commercial with music alive with bouncing energy,  maybe even a familiar song  that once resonated with [semi-, money infused, actual]  liberatory energy,  featuring star female athletes. Or a gay friendly commercial with a multicolored cast  with bright white smiles or one with a tender scene between an adult and a cheeky charming [child, kid]. 

 

Rampant exploitation of workers, dangerous working conditions and  sexual abuse  in the workplace, live in and around any  “indicators” of progress.

 

 

 

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