What does it mean to carve a safe space from a world under siege? While the prevailing notion of "security" in Washington revolves around walls and borders, New York City is showing that breaking down walls, leveling barriers and integrating communities does a better job of protecting us. The grassroots youth group DRUM (Desis Rising Up and Moving) has been partnering with other neighborhood groups to create a number of safe spaces around the city that use love, mutual aid, and solidarity as their protective shield, not the violent boundaries and strictures that we encounter daily in a conflict-ridden political sphere.
Their "hate free zone" in Kensington Brooklyn has become an open-air urban commons where communities gather for public and private communion. It's not unusual, of course, for people to hang out in the streets on any given night in Brooklyn. But for young hijabis, undocumented migrants, and the urban poor, sometimes being outside can bring unwanted exposure. Knowing that you can go out and find yourself surrounded by neighbors and supportive community members helps bring people out of doors, and the more people are out, the more the dynamic shifts from one of overarching fear to one of social embrace.
The group moved from creating an expansive social space to a more intimate creative environment in Corona, Queens, in July, with Moving Art into our Movements: a community gathering of art-making workshops, presentations and performance events that enabled activists to explore the current political moment through the lens of art. They aim to "follow collective processes to produce art that uses our culture to tell our communities stories. We believe the process of art-making is just like organizing - bringing our people with a common vision to create something together."
It's not always pretty, but it is always real.
One young artist's statement, posted below an image of a lone girl with braided hair and glasses, recounts the night ICE changed everything. A father disappeared, and a family shattered.
The next morning, my mom explained to me that we were undocumented and they came to take my dad away. I remember, the whole month I was crying every day. My mother didn't cry. She doesn't usually cry....
Is it all worth it in the end? Why am I doing this? Why am I doing this?" YOu can't help but think this all the time. There's just all this unknown shit, but all you can do is keep going because you can't be afraid. I want to be happy, to be free. I've been living here since I was three years old... [After working with DRUM] I learned what to do. I know my rights and what to do if ICE comes. For me, this is home and organizing keeps me grounded."
The portrait on the wall shows a girl who could be anyone's neighbor, walking through the city streets on any given day, a million troubled thoughts coursing through her mind that go mostly unnoticed. Maybe in times like these, she prefers the anonymity of the city, prefers keeping her distance. But sometimes, there's a good way to crowd a street or anonymous faces--art can capture that moment when intimacy meets spectacle, between the artist and the onlooker. Looking up from the frame, all you see is that she's not crying anymore. And today, maybe that's all you both need to know.
--July 31, 2017