Perhaps you’ve noticed that, since sometime late last week, almost everywhere you turn, people are in a rather dour mood. Could it be that nothing feels quite so exciting after watching a limousine burst into flames? Is it all downhill from here? True, Inauguration Day was pretty insane for a lot of people, and as good-quality club drugs have taught us, even the most gorgeously wild highs will inevitably come crashing down.
From what I understand, civic engagement is somewhat different than partying all night, but then again, getting back on the protest pony is just as taxing as snapping out of a hangover stupor– in both cases, technology makes things easier, but also harder. Why not just retweet some sick “Down with Prez Cheeto” slogan? Or if you’re really not in any hurry, there’s always Shia LaBeouf’s anti-Trump livestream— just be sure to get there sometime within the next four years.
But perhaps techy slacktivism really grinds your gears. Maybe you’re convinced that you have more to contribute than turning your body into an object of Monsieur LaBeouf’s amusement, but let’s be real, acting like a Shepard Fairey mural will just get you into trouble. (See, even Shia LaBeouf is not immune.) So how does one avoid either doing too little or going too far, both of which have equally great potential for compounding our current nightmare exponentially forever and ever? City Reliquary is here to help with a new series that promises to make you feel less ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ about democratic citizenry.
Officially, the event series, Beyond Patience and Fortitude, kicked off last week, but really the Reliquary is just getting started. If you have some free time on your hands between now and March 16, dig into some of the lectures, workshop-style events, and “performance presentations.” It’s not the usual fare, either (which, don’t get me wrong, is plenty cool, too). The community museum is expanding its historical scope to include the here-and-now, allowing for a longview of the grassroots activism going on now in the context of civil society movements from the recent (and not so recent) past.
Like many more non-profits and institutions across the country, City Reliquary has tailored its programming in response to the “current political climate.” Assistant director Sarah Celentano explained, “We wanted to do something that focused not only on the challenges that historically marginalized groups have experienced, but we also wanted to provide a component that would celebrate and educate at the same time.”
The events run in no particular order, but the first focuses on ACT-UP, a protest movement that enacted a major shift not only in the way that the government confronted a health crisis, but transformed how many Americans think about medicine, toward the concept of healthcare as an inalienable right. Tonight at 7 pm, discussion will follow a screening of the documentary, United in Anger, with filmmaker Jim Hubbar, and “drag queen, writer, and activist” Miz Cracker on deck. (Tickets are $10.)
“This really speaks to New York’s roll as a ‘sanctuary city’ of sorts,” Celentano said. “Something that it has always been and something that we hope it continues to be.”
That might read like a swipe at the new administration’s promise that so-called sanctuary cities–or places where both official policies and de facto practices either block or discourage enforcement against undocumented immigrants– will be cut off from federal funding. (New York City stands to lose an absolutely insane $7 billion if Trump actually follows through with his threat.) But Celentano explained that City Reliquary has to remain neutral when it comes to politics and specific policies: “We’re doing the most we can as a non-profit organization, which means that our role, for the most part, is limited to galvanizing the public.”
However the museum has not shied away from spotlighting others who take a more explicitly activist role. Gabe Fowler of Desert Island Comics is one of the more protest-oriented presenters, and is set to lead a discussion on Resist! an illustrated zine that boasts an all-star cast of mostly women contributors (including Nadja Spiegelman, daughter of Art). The result, as described by the editors, is a “powerful collective female voice and an affirmation of unity, diversity, and creativity.” (February 9 at 7 pm, tickets: $10).
As you might have noticed, Beyond Patience drops the words “diversity” a whole lot– which makes sense, given that New York City is pretty much synonymous with the immigrant experience and home to the country’s most potent symbols of that legacy (Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, duh). At the same rate, Celentano seems intent on welcoming a diversity of ideas into the museum as well. “We just hope that [people] leave these events excited to get involved, to get more connected to their neighbors in New York, and everywhere,” she said. “We’re hoping to raise awareness, and ultimately through these events, maybe help humanize people in a way.”
Humans are nice and all, but the new administration has many people worried after running a campaign that appealed to hatred and divisiveness and, now, captaining a policy push that is largely based in intolerance and fear. So right now it’s pretty essential to understand that prejudice can pretty easily move from the realm of symbols and rhetoric to actual violence. Iron out your creepy pants, because on Thursday February 2, (7 pm, $10) Dan Lenchner will lead a lecture and discussion centered around more than 500 photos he took in Nazi Germany during the 1930s and 40s. The images aren’t gory or blood-splattered, actually they’re much worse than that– Lenchner’s photos show Nazis doing, well, people things. As such, Normalizing Hatred offers a vivid illustration of Hannah Arendt’s concept of “the banality of evil” (if you haven’t read “Eichmann in Jerusalem” do it, like, now). “It is really important to understand that something completely abhorrent can be done by somebody who is actually a human being,” Celentano said. “The fact of the matter is, Nazis did all of the everyday, normal stuff that we do: they had families, they had lovers, they laughed. I think that’s the most unsettling thing of all.”
On February 16, the series takes a turn for the more hands-on with a workshop on podcasting basics headed by Keisha Dutes of Bondfire Radio, who promises to teach her students “how to broadcast your message and get your voice heard” (7 pm, tickets: $10).
And that’s just Part I, y’all. The details are still being hammered out, but we can tell you that the second chunk of the series starts February 23 with an event led by a representative of the Lenape Native American tribe discussing “what it really means to be a ‘native New Yorker.'” (Which is guaranteed to make you feel like a jerk for using that phrase, like, every other hour.)
So yeah, there are tons of ways to get involved, and probably zero excuses not to, unless you are developing carpal tunnel syndrome after months of hand-knitting thousands of balaklavas for the protestors at Standing Rock, in which case, I’ll leave you to it. “We do hope that the series inspires action,” Celentano said. “I don’t think that we can just wait and see and be patient.”
Editor’s note: an earlier version of this article included an incorrect caption for the headline photo caption; the button is City Reliquary’s own, not a Gray’s Papaya pin.