Tag Archives: community

A Politics of Love | The Nation

7 Oct

We need to embrace the direct-action spirit of the Occupy movement, and we need to broaden that spirit by offering the millions of people who are hurting ways to connect and participate. We should claim the significant voter protection, registration and mobilization work that was done to promote democratic participation in this election cycle. We can embrace the many ways in which people are coming together already to support one another and meet their communities’ growing needs.

We need to engage in massive efforts to change the culture, both within and beyond our movements. We need to engage in politics from a place of love and care; we must challenge the tendency toward individualism and self-interest that has dominated our politics for several decades. We need to reaffirm our humanity and spirit, emphasizing the importance of building emotional connections between people in local communities and identifying where interests overlap across constituencies.

via A Politics of Love | The Nation.

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A Community Garden Builds Itself

28 Jun

Not, mind you, that the rocks just up and cleared themselves out of the way, nor did lumber arrange itself into planter boxes, much less did the dirt leap into the boxes followed in close order by seeds, seedlings, shoots, and sprouts. Nothing like that. But the garden wasn’t planned by spreadsheet and Gant charts, nor was it built by highly organized teams working against the clock, on time and on budget. Fact is, if you’d been on site any Saturday—and a few weekdays here and there—from mid-April through May and into mid-June it’s not clear to me just what you’d have seen. And I was there.

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It all depends on just when you showed up. You might have seen people building things, planting things, watering the plants, and painting the wall. But you might have seen some women and girls tossing rocks over a wall, or a young boy burying himself to his neck in a mound of dirt, or a middle-aged man taking photographs of a plush-toy frog lounging in the lettuce, or men women boys girls and dogs chillin’ around the barbecue listening to hip-hop and Rnb on the radio.

Not a high-energy task-oriented workforce at all. But they built the garden. We, we built the garden—I’m the guy who photographed the toy frog. Also shoveled some dirt. And ate some barbecue.

This and more happened on Pacific Avenue near Commnipaw in the Lafayette neighborhood of Jersey City in the Spring and early Summer of 2012. Come to think of it, not far from where Henry Hudson first set foot in the New World in 1609. The Lafayette Community Learning Garden.

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Dance to a Different Drummer: Groovology and Politics

14 May

Groovology, about the groove, the human groove, the dancing and music-making at the heart of human community and togetherness. A line of thinkers going back through Darwin and Rousseau argued that it’s music that made clever apes into human beings – and, wouldn’t you know? that connects to the apes, the rabbits, fish, bees, flowers and the earth as well. Because we sing and dance we are human. Groovology is lightness and joy, but also sorrow and healing. It binds us together in common action and feeling, in community.

What has that to do with politics?

Politics too is about community, about negotiating among that various needs and desires of people living in a group. When the group is small, the negotiations are face-to-face, as is grooving. When the group is small, groovology and politics are commensurate, their connection is obvious.

It is when the group gets large, very large, that the connection is obscured. The USofA is very large, our political leaders distant from the local places where we politic and negotiate. And yet there are obvious connections, still.

Politics is not all backrooms and stolen votes. Politics is also ceremony, and ceremony has music: Hail to the Chief, The Star Spangled Banner, Battle Hymn of the Republic, Washington Post March, Taps, and much else. Continue reading

The Children Will Lead: Ruslan on the Sousaphone

24 Dec

by Peter & Charlie

When you see this short clip, you may say to yourself “Cute kid, but what’s the big deal?”

Well, the big deal isn’t the clip per se, but the story of how an 8 year old gained the easy confidence to pick up a gigantic horn and march around the back yard playing a song. This is symbolic of a very, very, big deal which is that every child has it in him or her to do the same.

It is widely recognized that music education — think performing, playing, and experimenting more than “Music Appreciation” — gives many skills to students, but it also improves thinking ability, which transfers over to all the other core studies such as math and science. Students with experience in music have higher SAT scores and lower instances of substance abuse. To put it another way, “The musician is constantly adjusting decisions on tempo, tone, style, rhythm, phrasing, and feeling — training the brain to become incredibly good at organizing and conducting numerous activities at once. Dedicated practice of this orchestration can have a great payoff for lifelong attentional skills, intelligence, and an ability for self-knowledge and expression.” Ratey, John J., MD. A User’s Guide to the Brain. OK, enough – I could write volumes about this, and nobody is disputing the truth of it anyways. The puzzling thing is how music, and the arts in general, are underfunded and undervalued in our schools. We know music education will help students do better on math tests, but we cut the music program so there will be more time to study for the math tests, and everybody in education understands that this ultimately results in lower math scores. Kind of like eliminating soap, so everybody will have more time to wash their hands.

OK, back to the video. Ruslan isn’t worried about wrong notes, proper technique, marching “in time,” or his reputation as a performer. In other words, nothing has discouraged him from playing. Encouragement, enjoyment and participation are what he knows. Here’s how Charlie Keil, a key figure in this encouragment, describes it:

Put “Ruslan Sousaphone” in the google slot and click on the vid of the kid with the ‘phone beyond trombone in his big green backyard. Ruslan announces “This is how you play the — prompt from his older brother, ‘sousaphone’ — Sousaphone!”

He doesn’t know the name of the instrument for sure; he’s never played one before, unless he puffed on it a few times just before somebody said “let’s do a video of this,” but he is very confident that he can show you how it is played. Then he says “Let’s do ‘Peace is the Way’!” and off he goes with a horn generously barter’d to me from ethnomusicologist Steve Feld, once evaluated by trombone legend Ray Anderson, currently on loan to Ruslan’s father. May the gift circulate! Continue reading

Community Bands in America

18 Dec

In 19th century America, the community band was at the center of community life. Here’s a documentary about them:

Meet The Band, a Hindsight Media production, is a one-hour documentary tracing the history of community bands n the United States. We profile four very different bands from around the country and takes us through the American Revolution, the Civil War and the 20th century.

Art and Civil Society in Tokugawa Japan

6 Apr

With an extension to graffiti in late 20th Century

rainbow CEAZE in the industrial zone

I first published this in The Valve back in 2007 under the title “Tokugawa Blogging: Best of 2006.” I’m republishing it here because it relates to the role Transition Teams are playing in moving our societies to a new, more sustainable, and more human way of life.

Back in September of 2006 I was looking through the current issue of Science and saw a book review (requires subscription) entitled “Through Art to Association in Japanese Politics” by one Christena Turner. Given my interest in manga and anime, the title caught my attention. That Science was reviewing a book on such a topic, that really caught my attention. So I read the review, of Bonds of Civility: Aesthetic Networks and the Political Origins of Japanese Culture (Amazon.com) by Eiko Ekegami.

According to Turner, Eikegami argued that

Japanese sociability is characterized by an extensive repertoire of practices for handling the problem of how to interact with strangers. Somewhere between friends and enemies lies the domain of strangers. Somewhere between intimacy and danger lies the domain of civility. “The degree of ‘strangership’ may be an indication of the degree of civility in a given society,” she claims. Civility permits ordinary people to be confident in interactions with those of unknown or different backgrounds, making it possible to form social bonds in the absence of friendship or kinship.

This is important because modern democracies requires a civil realm where individuals can form voluntary associations “outside the realms of both the political institutions of the state and the intimate ties of the family.” Ikegami argued

that networks of people engaged in interactive artistic and cultural pursuits created the bonds of “civility without civil society” that prepared the population of pre-modern Japan for its strikingly rapid transformation into one of the first and most successful modern nations outside of the West. Art created politics when participation in aesthetic networks taught people technologies of association among strangers that eased the transition toward institutions of a modern political economy.

That had me hooked. Not only would this book serve as “deep background” for my interest in manga and anime – “deep” because it’s about a period, roughly 1600 to 1850, well before the emergence of those forms – but it also promised to be a volume that argued for the social value of art on an empirical basis, as opposed to asserting ideals. Since I’d already argued that it was music that made apes into humans, I was eager to read a more empirical, less speculative, argument broadly, if only loosely, consistent with that. Finally, it seemed that Ikegami’s argument might be generally useful in thinking about how social networks function in the larger society.

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Peace Grooves

26 Feb

We are musical beings, born to groove. It’s music that a bunch of clever apes used to turn themselves into human beings. But we’ve been losing those skills over the last century of recorded and broadcast music. Everyone can make music; it’s not a special skill that’s only for those who have ‘talent.’

I wrote the following piece eight years ago, just after a big anti-war demonstration in Manhattan. There was lots of spontaneous music making in the streets, most of it by ordinary ‘no-talent’ (ha!) people who just wanted to have fun while expressing their political will. Here’s how it went down.

* * * * *

It was Saturday, March 22,2003, the day of the big peace demonstration. I got off the PATH train in mid-town Manhattan at about 12:30. Five minutes later I was in Harold Square, home of Macy’s, checking out the demo. I’d agreed to hook up with Charlie between 1 and 1:30, so I had a few minutes to get a feel for the flow.

People filled Broadway from side-to-side for block after block. Here and there I heard drums and bells and a horn player or two, but no organized music. Shortly after the Sparticists passed (they’re still around?) I noticed a trombonist standing on the sidewalk. Just as I was about to invite him to come with Charlie and me he headed out into the crowd. I let him go his way as I went mine.

I arrived at 36th and 6th – our meeting point a block away from the demo route – at about 1. Charlie arrived about five minutes later, with two German house guests. We were to meet with other musicians and then join the demo, providing some street music for the occasion. None of the other musicians had arrived by 1:45, so we waded into the crowd searching for the drummers we could hear so well – one of our musicians arrived about ten minutes later and managed to find us in the demo. We made our way to the drummers and starting riffing along with them, Charlie on cornet and me on trumpet. I could see one guy playing bass drum, another on snare, a djembe player or two, and various people playing bells, a small cooking pot, plastic paint cans. Then I heard some wild horn playing off to the left. I looked and saw the one-armed cornetist I’d seen playing in Union Square in the days after 9/11. Charlie and I made our way toward him and joined up. Then I noticed two trumpeters and a trombonist a few yards behind us.

So there we were, a half dozen horns, perhaps a dozen percussion, all within a 20-yard radius. We’d come to the demo in ones, twos and threes, managed to home-in on one another’s sounds, and stayed in floating proximity for the two or three mile walk down Broadway to Washington Square. Sometimes we were closer, within a 5 or 6-yard radius, and sometimes we sprawled over 50 yards. The music was like that too, sometimes close, sometimes sprawled.

When the march slowed to a stop, one of the djembe players would urge the percussionists to form a circle. The horn players executed punctuating riffs as one person after another moved into the circle’s center to dance their steps. These young women clearly had taken African dance classes. When the demo started to move, the dancers dispersed into the crowd, the circle dissolved, and we starting moving forward.

Sometimes the music made magic. The drummers would lock on a rhythm, then a horn player – we took turns doing this – would set a riff, with the four or five others joining in on harmony parts or unison with the lead. At the same time the crowd would chant “peace now” between the riffs while raising their hands in the air, in synch. All of a sudden – it only took two or three seconds for this to happen – a thirty-yard swath of people became one. Horn players traded off on solos, the others kept the riffs flowing, percussionists were locked, and the crowd embraced us all. You walked with spring and purpose. Even as the crowd chanted “peace” I was feeling “Onward Christian Soldiers” and “Battle Hymn of the Republic” in my mind and in my step.

The tribe was rising.

Things got jammed up as we got to Waverly Place – the street that runs just north of Washington Square, the demo’s end. One of the cornet players looked off to the side. I followed his gaze and saw the trombonist I’d passed when I’d first reconnoitered the demo in Harold Square. His horn was pointed to the sky, slide pumping away, as he worked his way toward us. He settled into “All You Need Is Love” and the other horns joined him in sweet, crude, rough harmony. I was hearing John Lenon in my mind’s ear, along with the sardonic horn riffs answering the treacly refrain.

Leaving us wanting more, that’s how it ended.