Occupy Lincoln Center
Lincoln Center was on lockdown last night after the New York Police Department erected heavy metal barricades all around the Center, even blocking off its small side entrances. Lincoln Center is a public space, and excluding members of the public from assembling peaceably there is a basic violation of First Amendment rights—the sort of violation we have seen far too much of in New York City this autumn. The occasion of the lockdown was that Occupy Museums, an affinity group of Occupy Wall Street, had announced that composer Philip Glass would be joining Occupy Museum members in a gathering to protest inequities in the funding and accessibility of the arts in the United States.
Philip Glass did speak, reading a text compiled of Gandhi quotes he had used for a chorus in his opera Satyagraha, which was being performed at the Metropolitan Opera that night. Satyagraha—the word is Sanskrit for “truth force”—centers around Gandhi’s life and work, portraying his struggles against oppression (and also prominently featuring Martin Luther King, Jr. as a figure carrying on Gandhi’s legacy). The production included projected footage of police violence against civil rights protesters in the 1960s. Operagoers leaving the Met after the show found themselves confronted with an eerily similar scene: a large number of NYPD officers blocking their access to the main area of the Lincoln Center plaza, a place where people like to linger in conversation after shows.
One operagoer notes:
The police were aggressive with us as soon as we stepped outside Lincoln Center and tried to prevent us from stopping or even walking slowly when we exited as they moved us to the side as far from the barricade as possible. My friend and I had to remind ourselves that we weren’t doing anything wrong by walking past the fountain after attending the opera. It was shocking to watch footage of police violence on stage and be harassed by the police as soon as I left the theater but it served as a reminder that unless we know our rights and are proactive in asserting them, they will be taken away.
Despite NYPD’s efforts, many from the opera audience did join the protesters for an OWS-style General Assembly, and to the surprise of many, both Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed joined the crowd and participated in the assembly. Many protesters took off their shoes in tribute to Gandhi (echoing a similar scene in the opera) and placed them in a long row along the police barricades. During the GA itself, many different people spoke. We heard testimonials from Julliard students about the inaccessibility of the arts. One man who had been in the opera audience said that the most affordable tickets to the event, in the nosebleed seats where he’d sat, cost $80; he complained that the lack of government funding for the arts makes many arts events accessible only to the economic elite. We also heard from an opera singer who said he had just been fired from the New York City Opera, where he had worked for 20 years, after contract negotiations broke down. The New York Times reported yesterday on the crisis at the Opera and the fact that musicians had been asked to take a 90 percent pay cut (yes, that’s right, nine-zero percent, and this singer had been earning only $35,000 to start with) while the Opera’s managing director earns over $400,000 a year; theTimes failed to mention that a significant contingent of musicians (possibly even the entire orchestra and chorus) had just been fired.
Unsurprisingly, this morning’s New York Times made no mention of the Lincoln Center protest, but the Los Angeles Times published this story along with video.
Music critic Alex Ross, who had come to Lincoln Center to hear a performance of Mahler by the New York Philharmonic, captured video footage of part of the General Assembly (including Philip Glass’s address to the crowd) and posted iton his blog. And here’s video of Lou Reed’s brief speech; video of the protestfrom the other side of the barricades by Meg Robertson; Seth Colter Walls’sreport on the Awl; and more photos and videos on the arts blog Hyperallergic.
I’ve been writing about various issues related to the Occupy Wall Street protests on my own blog, Translationista. The OWS Translation Working Group is always looking for more members, so if you’re interested in learning about what we do, please get in touch! We hold open meetings every weekend.