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Town Hall Meetings: five cities discuss regional models of art and activism

EdItor's Note: the Journal of Aesthetics & Protest helped to organize the Los Angeles event, by compiling a list of possible participants, and we agreed in advance to publish the transcript. It was hosted by Los Angeles contemporary Exhibitions,

The impetus for a series of “Town Hall Meetings” in the cities of Baltimore, Chicago, Los Angeles, New Orleans and New york City came out of a belief and observation that many cities in the United States have produced robust infrastructures for art and activism1 and our hope to strengthen the much-needed critical art community by sharing models and by encouraging potential networks of critical artistic practice.1 Five questions were conceived of and then circulated to all participants prior to their attendance of the meeting. Then each participant was invited to respond to no less than one and no more than three of the questions with each response being subject to a three minute time-limit. The spoken in rotation, with gradual priority given to those who had not responded to previous questions. The participants were reminded that their role was unique, and that their responses should also attempt to articulate the broader concerns of their peers, collaborating organizations and communities – since they were at the meeting and others were not. This “representational” or “spokesperson” role is not a common position that artists are asked to occupy, but it is common in politics and is something we wanted to emulate in order to encourage a serious reflection on the broader context in which these artists were working. In circles that practice “direct democracy” this form would be called a spokes-council. The set up was a bit risky, with methods and tactics borrowed from town hall meetings, progressive activist group-process, sociology and crowd-sourcing market research – then introduced to a collection of artists who don’t necessarily know each other or the moderators, and who may have never given interviews – much less a group interview! And to add a bit more chaos in the mix – the five city’s meetings were visited and gathered over the course of twelve days with the two moderators traveling from one city to the next with a suitcase full of recording equipment. But somehow, it worked.
- Daniel Tucker

Transcript of the Los Angeles Town Hall Meeting, Question #1: Who’s your audience and how does your work mobilize them towards strategic local concerns?

Sara  Daleiden : The collective was formed in 2004 for an exhibition at Art Center College of Design called gardenLab (www.fritzhaeg.com/garden_main. html) that was curated by Fritz Haeg and Francois Perrin. The participants in the exhibition were coming from a diverse set of practices in art and architecture, and to some extent, also stemming out into urban practices, such as planning, geography, all with an environmentalist bent. We actually formed to function as a facilitator inside of the exhibition. Out of a series of projects we took on the persona of the National Park service ranger. We brought this persona into a very large gallery warehouse in an attempt to activate peoples’ use of that space and to take on an interpretation of it by posing the question, “How are environmental concerns actually being represented by an exhibition like this?” Additionally, we did a series of campfire talks inside of the space where we were able to look at different urban phenomena that were happening in Los Angeles, from freeway land¬scaping to toxic tourism – again, just how to take on L.A. as a site itself, that could actually be called nature.

But let me just back up: what we found in there, in that show, was that our audience was actually this progressive community that was also exhibiting within the show, in terms of being in art and architecture and urban practices. But because we took on this persona of the park ranger it was interesting to see that there was a certain familiarity with the public – this was up in Pasadena at the time – that were drawn to us and willing to come in and listen because we had this character that was recognizable from a popular recreational culture. Four or five years later, it’s been interesting to walk a line, in a way, of whether we’re functioning as an art practice or whether we’re functioning as an information source; and also, whether we’re functioning as an authority figure inside of that space. With our Malibu Public Beaches, due to a lot of the media coverage that’s come from Malibu being such a contentious space our audience has grown quite a bit to include beach lovers, real estate agents, and people from the neighborhood in Malibu that don’t feel like they have access, and people who might use a beach – in Venice or Santa Monica – who are feeling curiosity about this other space that’s there. It’s been interesting to watch the audience change as the media has changed in relationship to us. As we switch sites we find that there’s a neighborhood association, but there’s also interest in other areas of the city to try to penetrate that area.

ARMANDO DURON: For Self Help Graphics our audience is anybody who we can get to, who we can reach. The way we reach that audience to discuss local concerns is mostly through the prints that we made and the exhibitions that we have. To describe some of them for you during 2006-2007: we had a series called “Love in the Time of War,” and it was ten prints done by ten different artists that dealt with issues of war and immigration and genocide. We had some local, well-known artists and we also had an Apache artist from Arizona. All the prints were done in a cartoon kind of format but it was designed to reach mostly young people. We just finished an atelier called “Homobre LA” which dealt with the issues of gay men in our community. We try to reach and educate our own community through some of the programs that we’re now doing. Later this year, we’ll have a lesbian atelier production. The issue that came up earlier regarding gentrification is very much in the minds of the people of East Los Angeles, especially the Boyle Heights area. We’re calling it a land grab, if you’re looking for a term (LAUGHTER ). In August we’ll have an exhibition by the works of Roberto Gutierrez, called “The Old Neighborhood.” As part of that we’re going to have panel discussions about that issue, because it’s very important. But we also participate in a larger level. In May 2006 we produced over a thousand broadsheets that were used for the May 2006 demonstrations in downtown L.A. Four artists volunteered and in a matter of three days produced a lot of broadsheets that were distributed for the demonstrations.

ASHLEY HUNT: The way I think about audience tends to be in terms of how the work that I produce or work within produces a public; understanding that a work has an address that calls people into it and produces whatever that audience is. I like to think of it as a public, because that can produce a conversation that might not have taken place without the work that helped to generate that public for that moment. One example of this is a feature documentary I did around privatization and mass expansion of the prison system, for which I got a grant to do a grassroots screening tour. The strategy was to locate people in different cities and different organizations who were already trying to directly address prison issues or people who find themselves accidentally working on prison issues because they’re in public education or they’re in welfare or they’re in any number of other service sectors that are being folded into the prison system. We tried to get them together and use the film as a way to start a conversation between them, and then left that there in the community so new conversations could emerge.

ESL/Esthetics as a Second Language: ESL does not have an audience nor is it a commercial gallery. We don’t have any econometrics, demographic exercises, any focus or target groups, and we don’t try to generate those types of contexts that seek to quantify audiences. Rather, we’re an exhibitions program that understands itself as a debate interval between academia, art institutions, and individuals interested in developing a conversation with only the artist and the members of ESL.

Question #2: Given that the ways we make money impacts the type of culture we produce, how does the local economy affect your art practice? Also, how do you work to obtain and share resources?

Irina Contreras: So I just want so say,say, first off, I love this question. This question was the deal-breaker, actually, when I got the email. I was like, “Oh, yeah, I want to do this.” No one asks this question. I would like to acknowledge that I definitely have privilege from attending two private art institutions, but nonetheless the class structure that I come from is definitely always apparent in everything that I do. My mother was a striking grocery store worker and my sister and I joined her on the picket line in 2003. I’m jumping all over the place, but there’s one little story I want to share that I thought was really interesting that I was just reminded of. I was invited to participate in a show of temporary installations at a hotel that had closed in Silver Lake last year or the year before, I can’t quite remember. The hotel was being remodeled to reflect the new residents that have been moving in: a boutique hotel with a spa inside, etcetera. It was a hotel that was notorious for, you name it – people doping up, sex workers, etcetera, etcetera. I really felt like I wanted to make something that was an ode – I don’t want to say an ode to that kind of violent culture, because I realize that there’s violence – but I wanted to make an ode to the disappearing culture that existed in Silver Lake when I was growing up and to the kind of communities that I grew up in, which I definitely [identify with]; I’ve always felt connected to the DIY punk rock/activist/hip hop communities, which I think all have roots in class struggle. I was thinking about the houses that I used to couch surf in when I was – well, I would like to say in high school, but even when I was 25, 26, probably. One of the things that I thought was interesting was a real division of class in the way that people received my work. There were some people that looked at it and said, “Oh, it’s scatter art, you do scatter art. How cool.” And I was really disgusted (LAUGHTER ) because I do not do scatter art. And then there are other people that looked at it and said, “Oh, you make folk art, you make outsider art,” which also felt wrong. Outsider to whom? Mainstream culture? White culture? And part of me was thinking, I feel or I want to be [that kind of art] but obviously that’s not present, I acknowledge that’s not present. But I feel like I’m connected to communities that carry on legacies. And the legacies that I want to be part of are things that are connected to street theater, things that are connected to street performance, things that are connected to agitprop, to interventionism, and to direct action. Direct action, for me, is very much tied to my performance work. Besides that, I also think about how money impacts the kind of culture that we produce. I try to be a part of a gift economy when I can. And by that I mean that while I don’t have health insurance I think that health insurance is a façade to me, anyway. Before Michael Moore started talking about it, I didn’t believe that it was really going to make me safer, anyway. I’ve seen a number of folks in my family and community who even with insurance haven’t been able to get the care they deserve. I do, however, make more money than I have ever made, and I make more money than my mother, as well, which is sometimes really difficult to deal with. In that sense, I’m able to give whatever kind of video production services that I can. That specifically came up last week when there were Ice raids in high schools throughout South Central – one of the things that I plan to do is to tape the different trainings that we’re going to be doing.

MING YUEN: I have three main ideas in response to this question: the idea of economics, the idea of privilege, and the idea of self-sufficiency. Economics: in a lot of the conversations of this kind that I have participated in there is consistently a dancing around the economics of the art world. It’s actually a really important thing to have frank discussions about, but we almost never do because it’s a dirty little secret – people never talk about how they make money, how much money they make, how much of their work is selling for if they make a living by selling their work. I really like this question, and I think that, for example, if you think about the title of this project, the Democracy in America Project, and you substitute art world for America, if you think about democracy and the art world and maybe add a question mark and exclamation mark then we might be approaching the crux of the matter. I teach at a private liberal arts college that costs about $40,000 a year in tuition to attend. I teach full-time and I have tenure so I’m in a comparatively privileged position. My job, which is stressful and laborintensive, allows me a good degree of access and freedom. That brings me to my thought about privilege. I’m not really interested in the liberal white left’s constant self-flagellation about privilege, such as, “Oh, we have this privilege. What are we going do with it? You know, we’re such bad, middleclass capitalists.” I’m much more interested in how one can use privilege – yes, one has privilege, and one acknowledges it. But how does one use it productively? My students at the Claremont Colleges are rather privileged; a lot of them are going to go on to occupy positions of power. It’s not fair, it’s very problematic, but it is a symptom of the kind of transnational capitalist society that we live in. For me, the issue is really, how do I work with this privileged group of individuals, who are going to have a very large degree of power, who can actually make change happen, in a realistic and pragmatic way so that what they do later in their lives can make a difference? For me, that’s how I chose to work with privilege. On a more institutional level, I think that collaboration is a very interesting way of thinking about it. I know it can be a cliché, but take my school, for instance, it was founded in the Sixties, and tried to incorporate the best and the worst part of that era. Community-based learning is a very important aspect of education there, and while it is not always successful, important lessons about collaboration with less-privileged communities are usually learnt, and this is happening in the context of a very privileged institution. That makes the access to power and privilege productive. My third point, very briefly, is that I think self-sustaining models are really important. Having a full-time job means I have health benefits, and that’s really important to me at my age. Also, I do not write grants anymore, and usually self-finance my projects through my salary and academic research grants that I did not have access to as an independent artist. This allows me a freedom; I don’t have to worry about the economics of the grant writing and the power play related to that. Another aspect of self-sustenance for artists to consider here is the model of nonprofit arts organization. I have had the chance to look at a few budgets for nonprofit arts organization over the past few years, and I just don’t think that model is self-sustaining right now. I think that we really need to find a way to make nonprofit arts organization truly self-sustaining.

OMAR FOGLIO: How does the local economy affect our art practice? Well, it’s made us be honest, it’s made us be on time, pay our bills on time, and it’s made us be friendly and try to be as generous as we can. Sometimes these are things that you see are lacking. It’s actually made us be better, and by generating jobs you can give jobs to other people and that helps everyone, which feels good. How do we work to obtain and share resources? Well, we run our own company, but more than running the company is the same as doing an art project – we keep on doing projects that are creative, but that will actually give us the money to continue, and that’s why we formed the corporation. In reality, the corporation and Bulbo, the art collective, is the same thing. The only thing that changes is how we organize and how we present ourselves to outsiders.

Questio n #3: Describe a local cultural event that productively expanded the social networks that your practice operates in; that is to say, the event produced a new sense of community that had political potential.

KELLY MARTIN : For me, it’s undeniably the Democratic National Convention of 2000. Basically, I had accidentally seen Marc and Robby Herbst, from the Journal of Aesthetics & Protest, in 1999 in Seattle at the battle in Seattle. I was coincidentally there for Thanksgiving to visit my brother, saw them, and then saw one of them in L.A. at an art event and asked them about what they were doing up there in the battle in Seattle. They invited me to participate in the Indymedia Radio arm of the Indymedia Center, basically an independent media recording of the Democratic National Convention that was located at the Patriotic Hall in downtown Los Angeles. We manned and womanned the Internet radio broadcast that was going on during the four to five days of protests and interventions and events. It was going between the Patriotic Hall and the Convergence Center, which the Arts in Action grew out of, on 7th and Wilshire. It also coincidentally ties back to bicycling, as it seems like everything does these days (LAUGHTER ). During the four days of protests, a Critical Mass ride through downtown Los Angeles happened to be the largest mass arrest by the LAPD during the protest. There were about 300 people on bicycles, biking through downtown L.A., being escorted in front by motorcycle cops, and in the back by bicycling cops. Critical Mass, if you’re not aware, has a formation where the people who are in front lead the ride, so the cops led us to an alley off of Washington and 14th and blocked it off. All the people who were in front got mass jumped and arrested. There were 73 arrests and there actually ended up being a class action lawsuit that the people who were arrested won after a couple of years. But it extensively opened up my networks in a number of ways, obviously, by infusing my own personal artistic practice with ideas about direct action and intervention. Also, in a very local way of how I get around town.

SANDRA DE LA LOZA: One event I want to speak about, that speaks to an aspect of Los Angeles I love, is an event actually opening this Saturday at Self Help Graphics, and that’s the Mujeres de Maiz event. This is an event that has been organized over ten years, on and off, in recognition of International Women’s Day. It’s organized by a collective of artists, activists, and cultural producers. It’s a Chicana-centered event, but open to expressions by many women of color. The month long exhibit will be comprised of many mini events that will include, film screenings, a visual art show, performances; I think there’s a self-defense workshop, and there’s a day dedicated to healing, so healers will share their practices with the public. I think this event speaks to the question of visibility and brings together a movement, for lack of a better word, that has been present in Los Angeles for a very long time, but isn’t always visible. It brings together a lot of practitioners, a lot of artists, a lot of cultural producers, and for a moment it creates a temporary space, and that is a Chicana-feminist space, if I’d call it that. It’s a very strong and powerful event, and it makes visible this practice that’s ongoing and has been ongoing for generations. I think we get to see our collective potential during this event, as it brings together a lot of women who work in many different realms, and all of the work together creates a presence and a certain consciousness.

CHRISTINA ULKE (Jou rnal of Aesthetics & Protest): I just wanted to briefly talk about a very small experience that happened in 2006, in this space. It was Civic Matters. It was organized by Brett Littman, Irene Tsatsos and Veronica Wiman as an exhibition in progress involving local artists and practitioners and designers/artists from Scandinavia. JoA&P organized a campaign for it. Initially we called it the ROCK WOMEN FOR REICH CAMPAIGN before we knew what the campaign was about. We had four hours to conceptualize it together with exhibition participants and whoever came for our event, invited or uninvited. What we did was address everyone who was in the space as one constituency including ourselves; there was no separation between the audience and what we were doing. We used activist organizing strategies, like consensus building, to break down the campaign and to develop its goals, strategies, aesthetics/banners and slogans in small groups. Then we worked with our limited time as our reality, the idea being that at this point this was all the time we had available to us, and to create common ground within that limited space. We had to use opportunities, small opportunities, and it was a very powerful experience because we managed to consent upon a campaign. We went out in the street, where the ROCK WOMEN FOR REICH CAMPAIGN had turned into the NICE CAMPAIGN and we gave apples to everyone. But I wanted to say, bringing it back to the first question, I think that the question of the audience is somewhat limiting, actually, in that it’s already describing a relationship that should take place. If you want to move towards a culture of caring you have to overcome the idea of the audience and think more in the sense of, “OK, we’re in this boat together. What can we do at this point in time?” I want to share a recent submission for our next issue; it addresses issues of self and other, I think in a beautiful way. If you don’t mind, I’ll just read it. It’s by Lozeh Luna….(2) “Detras de Nosotros, Estamos Ustedes is almost impossible to translate satisfactorily into English, as it contains a paradoxical use of plural terms for self and other. It would be something like “Behind us, are (in we form of being) you (all),” where the “we” form of the verb “to be” is implicit in “are” and “you” is plural (akin, but not identical) to the French “vous.” It is another way the Zapatistas articulate the encompassing and inclusive reach of their movement and ideology. Such notions of “I am you” and “us is them” are central to my work with communities in Chiapas, Lebanon, Iran, and the U.S. Through local and long-distance collaborations with others who are living, learning, and working in similar ways, I have come to learn and participate in transformational projects and processes such as those of Al-jame’ah, Universidad de la Tierra, and the Learning Societies Network.”

Questio n #4: As a politically engaged artist or organization, how does your practice relate to existing social movements?

SUZANNE LACY: There are three things that I think about in terms of my context as I begin to work. One is social and political movements, and the ones that I’ve been involved with have been, first, civil rights, then farm workers, and then feminism, and finally racial politics, in particular white hegemony, in a variety of regions. The connecting theme is the discourse of oppression. Class is harder to work on here in the U.S., but is very important to me, as a working-class person. The way these are conflated and work together is partially what motivates me to enter the art environment, along with a love of sculptural and performative forms, but I think I enter it first through personal story. I’m committed in my performances to providing a public platform for multiple, sometimes hundreds, of people to express their experience, often around specific social issues, but they’re not proscribed conversations, nor are they scripted. The organizing that I did in the ‘70s around women and violence was quite emotional at times. I learned to start with the emotional and direct experience – often one not heard in the larger culture, invisible in some way – and connect that to larger issues of equity and justice through political and pragmatic analysis. The analysis of teen pregnancy, for example, is based on a much deeper look at the research information available to us, on the conflation of race and class and gender politics at play, and the actual experience of young women. What is apparent, according to sociologist Mike Males, is that teen pregnancy isn’t necessarily an example of youth promiscuity as much as it is adult predation, as the largest percentage of teen moms had their first sexual experience as an underage female with an adult male. Finally, whenever I start a project I track the organizations that exist around these issues and engage with them to understand how the community is already working on the issues. On any project I might work with between 10 and 30 organizations over time, depending on their political strategies, but I don’t necessarily support one strategy to the exclusion of others. For example, Cop Watch organizations and Police Athletic Leagues and city council and mentorship clubs – all with differences in strategies and analyses, but all concerned with youth well being. Even within political divisions there are ways, often, to bring people together around a shared value.

MARC HERBST (Jou rnal of Aesthetics & Prot est): How do we relate to social movements? This may bleed into the local and the national, but we meet, we email, we phone, we write, we network, we think with people and theorize by speaking and by mixing dough. We open our mouths when invited to do so or not. Many people do all these things. One thing that we do pragmatically is that when we send out announcements we include other peoples’ announcements. We also put up things not related to us on our website which we think are important. This is very small, but I think a good symbol of relating.

As a journal, we show other peoples’ productions, we ask other groups of people “What needs to be said right now? What needs to be thought about right now?” We actively edit and participate in their thinking and editing of it. We generate ideas in spaces. I wanted to give a few examples. As a magazine, we’ve documented ideas for the globalization movement; we’ve done that in the past, with our first issue, especially- documenting gas mask projects for street protests, doing interviews with Indymedia workers. We put out specific calls: we put out a poster project about the war on terrorism in 2001 and 2002, which was trying to connect the war on terror and its effects on our communities to the neighborhoods people wander through on a day-to-day basis by doing site-specific stuff. Open call projects like these get people to say, “We need to think about this.” We ran a symposium for a while entitled “Inventing Antiwar Culture” that aimed to work with artists of all stripes to foment an antiwar culture. All these acts are key to seeing how we try and relate to existing social movements. On May Day in 2006, during the called general strike, we tried to organize a general strike among artists, contacting several art organizations and saying, “Let’s put out a call! Let’s shut our spaces down for the day as well! Lets do this as a public act!”

ROBBY HERBST (Jou rnal of Aesthetics & Prot est): Just to add two sentences: As a group with an expertise in expanding the discourse around politics, we find it interesting, surprising and/or problematic that our relationship to social movements in L.A. is largely one-way – one-way is underlined. We ask for collaborations; they either do or do not happen. We are never asked by social movements in L.A. to collaborate with them. That’s just interesting.

PAMELA MI LLER-MACIAS: As I’ve mentioned before, how the L.A. Poverty Department relates to existing social movements is basically to interweave our work with the community members. I just wanted to put some faces to some of the things that I’ve been talking about. One of the social movements that LAPD works with is the L.A. Community Action Network, LACan, and one of the things that they do on Skid Row is to police the police, so to speak, and monitor the abuses that are taking place by the police toward the residents there. One of those members is a man named General Dogon. The General was incorporated into the REDCAT show; he had an autobiographical piece where he was sitting in the audience and when his vignette came up, he stands up and he says, “I am General Do-gan. The police will tell you what you can do.” Or, “The police will tell you what you can’t do. I will tell you what you can do. If the police stop you, ask them, ‘Am I being detained?’ If they say no, walk on. If they say yes, ask them why.” And it goes on like that. That’s a specific example of involving individuals from the existing social movements into the work. Another thing that happened in the Glimpses events, where people gave their individual glimpses of utopia, someone named Redd, who is a member of the Skid Row community – meaning he’s someone who lived in a box for ten years on the corner of, I think, 5th Street and Crocker, and is a survivor of addiction and is now a counselor in prisons – spoke at one of the Glimpses of Utopia events. There was also someone there who is the director of special projects for Skid Row Housing Trust, which is a nonprofit developer that operates more than 1,200 units, and people who work as policymakers on Skid Row are pretty connected to the community. It’s not an up here/down here thing. But I do remember really, really vividly a moment when Redd had given his talk – he’s a beautiful orator – and he was talking about what goes on in his visits to the prisons. And Molly, this person who makes the decisions about housing on Skid Row, was saying something like, “We have all these debates among ourselves about zero tolerance policy versus harm reduction,” and talking about the relative merits of each, in this very intellectualized way. She looked at Redd and said, “Well, what do you think of that?” For me, that was a really profound moment, because I know that they’re not so far removed from the street, but in that moment, she really wanted to hear what Redd, someone who lived that kind of experience, had to say. And I don’t know how she took that information and translated it into what she does in her day-to-day work, but it’s an exposure that she had; I don’t know if she would have asked someone that kind of question that directly otherwise.

Questio n #5: These conversations come out of a nationwide concern about the fate of democracy. How do you see your projects tying into a larger national structure? Is organizing nationally productive? What are its limitations?

KELLY MARTIN : When you think about one of the definitions of democracy as just directly meaning the common people, especially with respect to their political power, it’s doomed. It’s impossible to talk about it without mentioning its destructor, capitalism, or the domination of the corporate class, like the privatization of social institutions such as healthcare and education and now art. Thinking about even five to ten years ago, if you went to an art opening that was sponsored by Red Bull or Stoli vodka, it was a different kind of art opening than a fine art opening; and now it’s normal, it’s a normalized activity. Not only are institutions and individual artists now competing for funding and approval from companies and corporations, they’re also looking for hipster cachet. It starts to get really scary then. I was thinking about that as an artist; I was applying with my collaborator, David Jones, for a Center for Cultural Innovation grant, and we had to choose between going for tools or going for marketing and planning. And I was thinking about that whole idea of, well, how would I even talk about, as an artist, what is my marketing strategy? (LAUGHTER) It just seemed really ludicrous and scary to me.

On a positive note, thinking of a national or international model, I’ve been talking with some friends about the ways that locally there are all these great groups that are doing things, and that you come across them in various situations and there are these cross-pollinations or exchanges that happen between cultural, community and activist organizations. We were saying we should just print our own money or scrip to use between us, and my brotherin- law, Angelo Logan, said, “Use the word barter instead,” because obviously money or scrip needs to have gold behind it or whatever. And of course, obviously, bartering is a lot more realistic and viable. But then it really got me thinking about maybe what we need is a grant kitchen, much the way we have the Bicycle Kitchen, which would be made up of kick-ass grant writers who effectively could go after the big money hoops that are out there and around town. Organizations could be members equally and then the cash could be distributed equally. You wouldn’t have to apply. One other thing on that is – just thinking about the idea that there are a lot of groups that are fostering new ways of thinking and producing cultural activity. I think that the next step is to go nationally and internationally, and one local example is the model of the Bicycle Kitchen. There have been groups in Santa Monica that started a similar space called Bikerowave, and then in northeast L.A. and Highland Park, there’s the Bike Oven. Their name gives a nod or a shout-out to the model of the Bicycle Kitchen, and our model is one that’s national, and the way that we come together and share information and ideas is this conference called the Bike-Bike Conference. I think that that could happen on a national level with other things, as well.

AMI TIS MOTEVALLI: I think one of the issues I have with this question is – well, of course, I wasn’t born in this nation, and I have never seen this nation as a place that actually contained any kind of democracy. So the fate of it is kind of obvious to me, but in terms of actually trying to produce democracy, that’s another question. For me, a lot of dialogue and a lot of what moves forward has always worked through relationship-building and working through those relationships; sometimes in small collectives and small groups, where a lot of threads tie people together and reach beyond. Recently, I was able to work with a group of women, and a book that we were involved in called Voices of Resistance brought us all together. It was basically all women who were Muslim, either born Muslim, converted into Islam, or gave up Islam, but it had something to do with Islam. And through that space I was able to develop relationships that built into something else. One of the things that I realized was that every time my family members ever wanted change in their life it was sparked through intimate dialogues. A lot of those dialogues happened in the hamam, in the bath space, in the kitchen, in friendships, and at small gatherings and parties. Again, some of our personal issues were turned into something that was much more political and dealt with what was going on in the world.

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