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40 Years Onward, a Hip-Hop Community Keeps Old School Beats Alive

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HOST INTRO: One of hip-hop’s oldest communities turns 40 this year. It’s called Universal Zulu Nation and it started in the Bronx. Years later, Zulu Nation members still get together to celebrate old school hip-hop and give back to the community. Pierre Bienaimé has more.

SOUND: Planet Rock (1982) by Afrika Bambaataa — Keep up under narration

This is the song that started it all. It’s called Planet Rock, and by sampling other artists’ work, it helped make hip-hop its own. The song became an anthem for young Zulus ditching the dangerous streets of New York and hitting the dance floor instead.

Universal Zulu Nation isn’t a place. It’s a club, a group of people who observe the four tenets set forth by founder Afrika Bambaataa: Peace, Love, Unity, and Having a Good Time.

40 years later, Zulu Nation is still going.

SOUND: Girl saying “good to see you!” Emcee saying “Make some noise y’all!” (continue until Slick Rick)

It’s a Saturday night in the Bronx. At a warehouse on Commerce Avenue, the party is just getting started. All the Zulu staples are here: many are wearing Zulu Nation insignia, a black and white tribal drawing of a man’s face. DJs spin tracks from the 80s…

SOUND: Slick Rick (continue until Seda)

… Red slippery slide material is taped to the floor just in front of the stage, for break-dancers to show off their moves. And rappers take turns sharing their most recent writing through the mic.

A few rooms over from the music, artists are selling everything from clothes to drawings done on the spot. One member is selling Zulu Nation T-shirts close to the main entrance. Even though bouncers stand guard there (and those with Zulu Nation ID’s get discounts), he says the group keeps the door open to everyone.

LAMAR: It’s the acceptance, it’s not about race. It’s about who you are as an individual as long as you have peace, love, brotherhood and understanding, then that’s what it’s all about. If you’re not about that, then you’re not about Zulu. (0:13)

Back on the main stage, Nelson Seda is one of the night’s big organizers. His dad is also a member, and at 22 years of age, Seda heads his own Zulu Nation chapter.

He calls Zulu Nation more than a loose network of people waxing nostalgic about old school hip-hop.

SEDA: All about hip-hop culture in its pure original essence, representing hip-hop as a viable social movement. (0:07)

Seda’s mother, Julie Ann Lizardi, says Zulu Nation is a strong creative outlet for her son.

LIZARDI: He doesn’t do drugs; he’s not like the norm of children of the South Bronx. He teaches breakdancing to kids twice a week in our neighborhood. He gives to the community. (0:12)

One of the ways he does that is through the hip-hop element of graffiti. Recently he’s contributed to a colorful mural marking the group’s 40th anniversary. It’s at Zulu Nation’s unofficial quarters, within the National Black Theatre in Harlem.

SOUND: Harlem traffic. Good chunk of time here to mark movement in space.

DJ Lord Yodax, as he’s known in Zulu Nation circles, is nearly a founding member of the movement.

YODA: I’ve been with Bamb [Bambaataa] since I was eight years old, and right now I’m an old dude with long gray locks. (0:05)

He says the mural captures everything there is to know about Zulu Nation.

YODA: This mural here, we got Afrika Bambaataa as the centerpiece dressed up in the African garb, um, with the elements of hip-hop surrounding him. (0:08)

Like Nelson Seda, Yoda says that Zulu Nation is a grassroots movement that’s out there to make a difference.

YODA: It’s more than just a party with us, ya know? It’s all about ‘hip-hop does care, hip-hop does have a heart.’ It’s not about the rap music industry. We give out turkeys, we give out toys, we give out clothes, we give out hot meals, you know we really care about our community. (0:15)

Zulu Nation may not be as big or as busy as it once was, but it has a few plans for staying relevant. Afrika Bambaataa is currently a visiting scholar at Cornell University, and Yoda is spearheading efforts to build a multi-cultural center in Bambaataa’s name.

Pierre Bienaimé, Columbia Radio News.

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Examining the Emoji Zeitgeist

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HOST INTRO: “Emoji” is one of those words you’d know if you’re under 20, if you’re older here’s a clue. They’re those little icons, they look like yellow smiley faces, used on your phone in text messages. The Eyebeam Center for Arts and Technology in New York City is going to hold an art show inspired by emoji this weekend. Lara McCaffrey has the story.

The Eyebeam Center exists to bring together artists and technologists. That may be why three of the center’s advisors came up with the idea for the show looking at the influence of cell phone culture, according to Zoe Salditch who works at Eyebeam.

SALDITCH: I think they started to notice a momentum building behind emojis? They’ve been building in popularity—you can see them bleeding out from popular culture all the time.

You’ve probably seen emoji in popular culture, for example in the video for Katy Perry’s hit single “Roar” the lyrics are illustrated with emoji.

[Katy Perry’s “Roar” plays.]

The two dozen pieces include sculpture, performance art, video, textiles and a book. There’s a bustier with an emoji smiley face design. The book is a Moby Dick emoji translation titled “Emoji Dick”.

Salditch says there’s one thing that unites all of them.

SALDITCH: The works in the show attempt to define, emoji in some way.

Emoji were created by Japanese cell phone company Docomo in the 1990s. Timothy King is a sociologist at the University of California, Berkeley who studies technology and communication. The company wanted to give users a digital replacement for the information they get from gestures and facial expressions.

KING: Those are very much lost in text only communication and it seems clear that they’re very important in communication, that they’re giving us all other types of information that we do want and need.

King says they were actually inspired by something computer scientists had been doing for decades.

KING: If I can recall, it was at Carnegie Mellon on a message board, um, had suggested the idea that suggested the idea of doing a smiley face and a frowny face.

Colon, dash, closed parenthesis is the smiley, closed parenthesis is the frown. Those are called emoticons.

Emoji are the next step in that tradition.

KING: This sort of compensating mechanism, that emoji, among other things are a way to include emotional indicators, they’re ways to include emotional information.

MENDELSON: It solves the problem of ambiguity.

Zoe Mendelson she writes a blog called “Emoji Major” for design website Codesign.

She takes news, movies, songs and translates them into emoji. For example, this Bill Wither’s song.

[“Lean on Me” by Bill Withers plays]

Mendelson used a leaning pineapple indicate the verb “lean” but not everybody got it.

MENDELSON: “Lean on”—and then the “on” has like little arrows, left and right, and my editor’s husband, Peter Arkle, he can’t, he reads it “pineapple goes left and right.” And that—that just really cracks me up.

It’s the ambiguity of emoji that inspires some of the art in the show. For example in the translation of the Moby Dick ever line has multiple emoji versions. The artist did this with the same medium emoji was created for—social media.

SALDITCH: He used crowd sourcing to help translate this book hoping that this crowd mentality will help build a solid definition or more solid definition of the characters throughout the text. So that’s one way of trying to find the meaning of these images.

Like social media, the show will come and go quickly. It opens Thursday and closes Saturday. You can buy the art and other stuff with emoji on it at the Pop Up Market. Lara McCaffrey, Columbia Radio News.

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After 5 Pointz Painted Over, Artists Wonder ‘What’s Next?

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HOST INTRO: If you wanted to see work by some of the best graffiti artists in the world, you went to 5 Pointz. At least you used to. The building that used to be covered with art was painted over last month. Now some artists say the surprise paint job was an act of cultural vandalism. Matt Collette has the story.

COLLETTE: A massive portrait of rapper Biggie Smalls used to greet riders of the 7 train as it crawled above ground in Queens. It was one of a few hundred pieces of graffiti and street art on the walls of the former factory known as 5 Pointz. The building was a canvas in the city where graffiti became art, but where artists today have fewer and fewer places to do it legally.

That ended overnight between the 15th and 16th of November, when the building’s owner had the whole painted white. Artists had no idea it was going to happen. The next morning, many dropped everything and headed straight to 5 Pointz — to mourn, to grieve, to just see what had happened with their own eyes.

Topaz was one of those artists. He’d just finished a big mural of Jimi Hendrix, one of dozens of pieces he’d done there over the years.

TOPAZ: The amount of work that went into covering this whole building, you’re talking 11 years. (0:08)

His real name is James Rocco. He’s 37 and lives in Queens. Like most artists, he’d accepted the fact that 5 Pointz was coming down at the end of this year, with two glass condo towers taking its place. But its early end just felt cruel.

TOPAZ: That’s not something you can just sit down and say, alright, let’s start over. You know, a lot of it was winging it. We didn’t know what the hell was going to come out of it, but we knew we didn’t want no trouble, and we knew we wanted to do something good. (0:17)

An artist who calls himself Meres One was curator at 5 Pointz. He says he had an agreement with the owners: the artists wouldn’t put up any new pieces, but their existing work would stay in place until the building was demolished. As the crowd started to gather, Meres — whose real name’s Jonathan Cohen — started taping blank poster board to the building. He wanted to give artists and neighbors a chance to express themselves even though they couldn’t paint on 5 Pointz. As people started to write, volunteer Marie Flageul wondered why a pair of NYPD officers were approaching.

FLAGEUL: We’re not painting and we’re legally in the loading dock, and the cops are coming now. I’m just – isn’t there some car robbery happening somewhere? Seriously? (0:13)

Flageul and a few other 5 Pointz volunteers starting talking with the cops, telling them that what they were doing was legal. And if a crime had been committed, they said, it was when the art was painted over.

COP: You’ve got to remember I got the call as graffiti.
FLAGEUL: Of course. Of course. Of course you got the call as graffiti.
COP: I’m not here to argue with you. I’m just making sure no laws are being broken.
FLAGEUL: No, I appreciate. No laws are being broken.
OTHER VOICES: Not on our side. (0:23)

This was all especially hard on Meres One. He’s curated the work at 5 Pointz for the last decade. In a city where graffiti had been pushed off the streets and subways, he gave it a legal home. Now it felt like they were outlaws again.

MERES: We can’t even put those posters on our wall? That amazes me even more. So where are you pushing us? Where are we supposed to go? Where are we supposed to paint? Where do you want us to go? (0:09)

5 Pointz owner Jerry Wolkoff didn’t respond to Uptown Radio’s requests for comment. But he told New York Magazine that watching the building come apart piece by piece would have been torture, so painting over the work seemed like a better alternative.

But a lot of 5 Pointz artists think he had another motive. A group of them had been putting together an application to get the building declared a landmark, graffiti and all. It would’ve been the second filed with the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission. The artists had hoped a huge number of signatures might help their cause this time. Graffiti artist Dready Kruger said all of the signatures collected were now worthless.

KRUGER: Meanwhile we have 30,000 landmark applications ready to submit, but what are you going to submit them for if you’ve destroyed all the artwork? (0:06)

There used to be more than 100 artist studios inside 5 Pointz, too. But in 2009 a stairwell collapsed. One artist was hurt so badly she spent months in the hospital. City inspectors said the building was dangerous and ordered the building closed immediately. With condo plans already underway, those studios never reopened.

Early last month, a state court judge in Brooklyn denied the artist’s final attempt to stop the condo development. Their agreement with Wolkoff came to an end November 30. Demolition is set to get started around New Years. But that doesn’t mean 5 Pointz is dead. Ryan Seslow is an artist who teaches at CUNY and a couple other art schools in New York. He says 5 Pointz will be remembered,

SESLOW: as a place that was great and as the foundation of where graffiti has traveled on to. I think that this is just the beginning, and I think there will be not only one, but a number of places that pop up over the next five to ten years. (0:15)

The owners say their new building will have some space for graffiti, though it won’t be anywhere near 200,000 or so square feet of wall space at 5 Pointz. And it’ll be years before the new building even becomes available. Matt Collette, Columbia Radio News.

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Harvest Dome 2.0 Goes to Gowanus

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HOST INTRO: The Gowanus Canal now has its very own floating art installation- a giant orb made with objects most New Yorkers would have probably thrown away. Marie Shabaya finds out what it’s all about.

Its called Harvest Dome 2.0 and it’s around the size of a small truck. Architects, Amanda Schacher and Alexander Levi, designed it. They built it with detrius that you might find lying around the city- umbrella frames and plastic bottles-but Schacher says it’s remarkably sturdy…

Schacher: The one thing we discovered about umbrella frames is that they are made of steel, which is a building material… [4s]

The piece was on display at an art fair at Governor’s Island back in September. Then it sat there until the organization that ran the Island told the artists to get it out immediately

So in late November, the artists showed up with a small band of volunteers to move the dome.

Ambi: Commotion during the move

The massive orb was headed for the Gowanus Canal only three miles away

Ambi: Volunteers moving the orb

It has some of the most polluted waters in the country. But they had to wait to get off the Island. Schacher says they had been waiting a long time for the right moment to get it off the island…

Schacher: Its been so hard to find a day to get it off Governors Island because the tides had to be right [4s]

They had good reason to worry about the tide. Tides were what destroyed their earlier piece Harvest Dome 1.0 back in 2011 as they were trying to get it to Inwood

Schacher: We went on a rainy day, the tides were bad. We had made a pontoon of 6 canoes and the tides were so bad that the canoes filled with water. The dome drifted to Rikers Island, it was in pieces… [10s]

It wasn’t the weather and the tides that had to be just right.

Hesaline: Anytime you are going to be doing anything in open waters around New York City there’s a lot of public agency coordination that needs to take place… [6s]

Hans Hesaline is Executive Director of the Gowanus Canal Conservancy. It’s an ecological group that watches over the Canal, which happens to be a Federal Superfund site.

Hesaline: …because of our role as the environmental stewards of the canal. We had the connections and the local knowledge to really play a meaningful role in helping to bring this project here. [10s]

The artists also had to raise $5000 to pay for the dome’s barge trip over to the Gowanus. They did that with a Kickstarter campaign back in November.

This dome began life, this summer in upper Manhattan in the Inwood neighborhood which the last of the salt marshes that used to encircle Manhattan Island. The Gowanus Canal also had salt marshes of its own in the past.

I spoke to Eymund Diegl, a Hydrologist who lives near the Canal

Eymund: 200 years ago this was the original harvest dome for the city. Both Inwood and the Gowanus have this connection because they were the 2 richest ecological points in the city for harvesting food, selfish, oysters… [14s]

Now, Diegl says, the Canal’s not so great…

Eymund: The Gowanus right now is a necropolis where dolphins and whales come to die [7s]

It is this connection between New York City’s waterways that prompted the artists to build the dome and move it around the city, Schacher says

Schachter: One thing that we like to do is bring people’s awareness back to original ecologies…When we decided to bring it to Gowanus that was the strongest thing…how do you link the different waterways…how do you link the city? [7s]

Harvest Dome 2.0 was stranded for a few days by the new Whole Foods Market in Gowanus but it’s now floating, just around the corner, at the 4th Street Turning Basin where it will be for the next 6 months.

Marie Shabaya. Columbia Radio News

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A New Exhibition for Something Old

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HOST INTRO: A new exhibition opened today in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s famous Egyptian wing. It celebrates Cleopatra’s Needle, an Egyptian obelisk located just behind the Met in Central Park. The exhibition also marks the kick off of a preservation process to undo 3500 years of wear and tear. David Levesley reports.

AMBI: THE EXHIBITION AT THE MET.

Once you’ve stepped between the black lion statues at its door, images of Cleopatra’s Needle surround you on every side. The exhibition captures its long and unusual history. From construction under the reign of Pharoah Thutmose III all the way to when it was transported by steamship in the 19th Century. But when the exhibition closes in June the scaffolding will already be up, obscuring New York’s oldest man made monument as it undergoes a much needed facelift.

In the exhibition a spectrum of different obelisks from the permanent collection show not only Egypt’s obsession with monuments like this, but America’s. At its center stands a miniature of the obelisk, showing the top section that none of it’s many visitors can see. This scanning and photography process is part of the brand new preservation work that started in 2011.

FADE IN AMBI: CONSERVANCY OFFICES.

Marie Warsh is the director of preservation at Central Park Conservation. She hopes that the exhibition might revive interest n New York’s needle.

WARSH: We feel that the exhibit and really also working with the Met is a great way to… We hope that people go to visit the exhibit and you can really learn a lot about how the monument got here which is a pretty fascinating story as well.

The obelisk developed a rich history, becoming an icon for Caesar and a subject of interest for several popes. But it was Ismali the Magnificent, an Egyptian official, who bequeathed it to America. It was finally brought by ship to Central Park in 1880. Like anything left to the elements for almost 150 years, it’s in need of some fixing. But it wasn’t just the cold weather in New York that started the damage.
George Wheeler is a Columbia professor who has been leading the conservation project. His research shows that even in antiquity Persian forces set alight to the needles before leaving them to be eroded by the Nile.

WHEELER: Remember the Persians were subjugated to the Egyptians for many centuries and were not particularly fond of them so they wanted to do what they could to obliterate the Egyptian history.

Its twin was taken to London and immediately given a wax treatment. But it’s Manhattanite brother was not so lucky.

WHEELER: Probably the single most damaging event to the obelisk in NY was during that treatment, in which practitioners who applied the wax treatment said ‘well let’s just remove all the loose bits that we can’ and that came to total of nearly 800 pounds of stone.

It may have shed 800 pounds of hieroglyphic-covered stone but the fans of the needle keep coming back every week, enchanted by it’s innate history.

FADE IN AMBI: THE NEEDLE AT NIGHT.

People like Michael Nuñez, who discovered the needle after 30 years in New York City and now can’t get enough.

NUNEZ: I think it’s very important and I love central park, period. it’s like the most relaxing spot in New York City. So I think it’s very important to keep this here and keep us reminded of history and how important history is. To our future.

FADE IN: CONSERVANCY OFFICES.

The exhibition marks the end of the first round of testing, in which the conservancy and Wheeler found the best way to look after the monument. As Warsh explains:

WARSH: And we’ve found that laser cleaning was really the most suitable for this monument which is three… It’s 3500 years old and it’s been through a lot and there’s some issues of fragility on it’s surface and so we wanted to do something that was really… Had the least impact on the surface.

The conservancy will now presenting the findings to the city before they can carry on with the bigger project.

It’s a lot of work. But Wheeler doesn’t see this as the end.

WHEELER: You will have to keep track of this monument. Closely. Monitor it…Probably add some conservation treatments here or there over the next five, ten years… Keeping… It’s like a maintenance operation not a grand restoration process.

When the conservation is done, hopefully more people will be able to escape Manhattan via Ancient Egypt.

David Levesley, Columbia Radio News.

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Whole Foods Opens in Gowanus: Long-time Residents Take a Look at Their Changing Neighborhood

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HOST INTRO: One week from today, a new Whole Foods store will open for business in Gowanus, Brooklyn. Some local, community activists have fought Whole Foods’ plans to open here for almost ten years, while other residents see it as a welcome addition to the neighborhood. Lene Bech tells the story of a changing neighborhood, through the eyes of two long-time residents.

Gowanus doesn’t fit most people’s idea of pretty. The Brooklyn neighborhood is home to old industrial factories and takes its name from the polluted Gowanus Canal, an EPA superfund site. And yet, Linda Mariano sees beauty, where most people do not.

Mariano: Look, just look at this . The urban, industrial landscape.

I have always loved industrial neighborhoods because it is the strength that this country was built on and this is what I find so important to our culture, our society, our history.

That’s why, Mariano spent years fighting to keep Whole Foods out of Gowanus, as part of a community organization – they attended community meetings and filed appeals.

Mariano thinks the empty lot should have been offered to smaller manufacturing companies, in keeping with the neighborhood’s history.

As she walks to the corner of 3rd Avenue and 3rd Street, she looks at the store and still can’t believe what she sees

Mariano:“What is this.. what is this?

What this is, is a big-box store.

Mariano: It’s like we landed in another world, in another place. This isn’t our neighborhood, this isn’t our community.
This is like some ugly, suburban development here. I mean, this is something Robert Moses (laughs) could have dropped in here

Moses was the urban planner, who built parks, bridges and highways in New York City. His nemesis was social activist Jane Jacobs. When he tried to build an expressway through lower Manhattan, she let a fight that defeated the plan.
The Jane Jacobs of Gowanus is Linda Mariano, according to one Brooklyn journalist. The two women are part of a long line of social activists in New York City.

Petrus: I think it’s distinguished New York and that’s not to say that other cities don’t have a rich history of social activism

That’s Stephen Petrus, a curator at the Museum of the City of New York

He says that while Jane Jacobs succeeded, present-day activists may be facing tougher challenges. Social activism ebbs and flows through history and right now, it’s ebbing. The reason? New Yorkers today are convinced that development improves the economy.

I don’t see this widespread movement where organizations are being formed to combat it because the incentives are for real estate to invest here, it will bring more tax revenue to the city, make neighborhoods even safer.
These are things that will appeal to many people as well

Gentrification is coming at Gowanus from both sides, from Park Slope and Carroll Gardens.
Mariano sees the changes happen as she walks her neighborhood,
(Mariano: Oh-oh, a lucky penny)
just as she sees a lot of people, who know her because of her community activism.
On one of her walks, she stops by the studio of sculptor Ron Mehlmann.

(Actuality of entering Ron’s workshop – music) Hello…

Mariano and Mehlmann went to graduate school together

Mehlmann: She scared the daylights out of me, this one.

and both have owned houses in the neighborhood since the 1970’s
As Mariano heads home to prepare dinner, Mehlmann explains what the neighborhood was like when he moved in almost twenty years ago

Mehlmann: I’ve watched it come from an industrial block street, it was terrible and grungy, with hookers every Friday, mostly on Friday cause it was payday.

Now, he says the neighborhood is mostly better. He thinks his neighbors will be delighted with the new store

Mehlmann: because everyone can have a Whole Foods with healthy -its expensive but so what. I think it’s gonna only enhance the neighborhood, people are complaining but the value of the buildings they own is gonna double and triple.

He does worry that the neighborhood will become too residential, to the point where businesses like his won’t be tolerated.

But, he says, in New York City, neighborhoods inevitably change. He says, he finds the gentrification in Brooklyn exciting

Mehlmann: I sound like a conservative, don’t I? But I’m not really.

And he is going to shop at Whole Foods

Mehlmann: I’m looking forward to walking two blocks down and having a healthy lunch.

Linda Mariano will not be having lunch at the store. As she stands on the sidewalk next to it, she worries it will force the neighborhood which she loves, to loose its industrial character

Mariano: It gives you a sense of place. And a sense of place is something that really makes you happy where you are. And when its taken away by ugliness and thing inappropriate. And not fairly. It’s painful.

The Whole Foods store in Gowanus opens Tuesday.

Lene Bech, Columbia Radio News

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Midnight Moviegoers Don 20s Style For Gatsby Premier

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INTRO: After years of anticipation and delays, director Baz Luhrman’s film adaptation of The Great Gatsby opens today. Fans turned out in force — and style — for the first screenings last night. Emily Jones reports on why the Jazz Age story remains so popular today.

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Queers, Against Gay Marriage?

Queers, Against Gay Marriage?

John and Glenn

John Hoge and Glenn Santiago have lived together for 27 years. They got married in 2012 a year after gay marriage became legal in New York. This is their home in the East Village. (Camilo Vargas/Uptown Radio).

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INTRO: Support for gay marriage keeps growing in the United States. But some members of the gay community, who call themselves Queers, oppose gay marriage. The issue has revealed a split in the gay community. And it goes back to the radical spirit of gay liberation from decades ago. Camilo Vargas reports from Christopher Street, where it all began.

When you walk into the Stonewall bar on Christopher Street, you’re greeted by a long line of pop hits.

Fade up music at  ‘pop hits’

Near the entrance, a frame has a newspaper from June 1969. The headline: Homo Nest: Queen Bees are Stinging Mad.

Fade down pop music and fade up street ambi.

I walk out with Steve, one of the sixty-year olds at the bar. He was 22 at the time, and he explains the headline.

Steve:

The Stonewall bar was the original bar that was raided by the police where people resisted the raid and the denigration that used to go on. This kicked off the gay liberation movement. 0.12

The rioters were drag queens, runaway youth and gay and lesbian patrons of the bar. Society called them queers. They were the weirdos, the marginals, the deviants. And they inspired activist the groups that sprung up all around the country. They claimed the word Queer as a synonym of sexual liberation, of freedom, of gay power. “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it,” was their motto.  Fade out street ambi

Queer activist Yasmin Nair fears that gay marriage betrays the spirit of the Stonewall riots.

Yasmin

We felt that there was a real need for queers to understand that there’s actually always been a radical history of being against gay marriage and having a left radical politics. 0.10

Queers today continue fighting against what they saw as the establishment.

Yasmin 

The queers have always made a connection between those oppressive institutions and institutions like marriage, the prison industrial complex, the military… 0.08

During the seventies and eighties, the gay movement fought for sexual liberation, for social and economic rights. And for their own survival survival.

Yasmin

We had the AIDS movement in the 80s and that depleted our efforts, not only because we lost so many but because it consumed so much energy.  0.10

Then the face of the gay movement changed in the 90s. Celebrities and rich personalities came out. Organizations like the Human Rights Campaign began lobbying for full legal equality. The new motto was not to fight the establishment, but to be part of it.  The movement began to attract mass support. Gender studies professor Bonnie Morris remembers the third great march for gay rights in Washington.

Morris

Now by the time we get to the Millenium March in 2000 there was a definite trend towards Faith, Marriage, it sounded very mainstream. 0.08


Hundreds of thousands attended the march. But Queer activists all over shunned the event. The demands had gotten too conservative. Corporations began funding gay initiatives. And many Gays began focusing on  the legal benefits of marriage.

Morris

A lot of the shift towards focusing on marriage, had to do with protecting assets if you had some.  0.08

Queer activist Yasmin has a somewhat darker interpretation of the shift. She believes that gay couples must now tie the knot, literally, if they want health care, immigration rights or tax breaks.

Yasmin

Marriage is now being coerced upon too many people, so it’s not an option actually. 0.05

But Morris argues that there is something that draws couples to marriage, and it has nothing to do with assets.

Morris

Gay marriage as a means of also getting access to rituals, and well-wishing, and a host of other things that are very hard to quantify. 0.10

Fade up room tone from John and Glenn’s

Rituals are important to Glenn Santiago and John Hoge. They met in New York in 1985 and have been together for 27 years. Their apartment in the East Village is an explosion of Mexican carnival skulls, catholics relics and gay art. They started celebrating the Mexican Day of the Dead in the name of the dozens of friends they lost during the AIDS epidemic.

John

We didn’t think we’d live to be together 20 years. Everyone was dying. It was like get married, why? Let’s just have as much fun as we can now, because we’re not gonna make it that much longer. 0.13

The experience of surviving AIDS led John and Glenn to get legal documents to protect them in case one of them should pass away. Assets were not in their mind when they decided to tie the knot last November.

John

When did we do our wills? That was…

Glenn

Probably fifteen years ago. 0.05

John and Glenn lived and cherished the free spirit of the seventies. Marriage was not something that they needed. Until last year, when Glenn had a fever that almost took him to the hospital.

John

I realized that if I have to take Glenn to a hospital anywhere in this country now, I don’t have to take that paper with me, I can say “that is my husband.” 0.10

John and Glenn are still getting used to that word… husband. They’ve survived together, lived together. And the day of the ceremony, as the minister pronounced them husbands

Glenn

I got choked up thinking I never ever dreamed that I would be part of a state or a country that would legally say that I was just like everybody. 0.13

Fade out room tone.

Bonnie Morris thinks back to 2000 and remembers why many activists supported the shift in the movement.

Morris

Should we be putting all of our time into defending gays in the military, gays in the altar, gays in the church, and a lot of people said “Yeah, because we’ve been there all along.” 0.18)

The queers are not standing in the way of those who want to get married. But they continue to defend their radical legacy. They want marriage to remain an option among many. And to make its rights and benefits available to all.

Camilo Vargas, Columbia Radio News.

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Telling Stories With Strings

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INTRO: We’re all used to hearing stories with words. But commentator Matthew Vann found you don’t always need words to tell them.

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Black Rockers Fight Against Music Industry Stereotypes

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HOST: And now to a totally different kind of music — punk rock and hard rock. In the midst of their popularity in the 1980s came the Black Rock Coalition. African American musicians and artists in New York founded the group in 1985. For a while it really helped some Black bands make it big. But Lance Dixon reports that changes in the music industry have made it harder for Black musicians to be seen beyond their skin color.

NARR: When the Black Rock Coalition began in 1985, its flagship band was Living Colour. They stormed onto the scene with their hit song, “Cult of Personality.”

[Fade in “Cult of Personality” to a bed that fades out until first WILLIAMS ACT]

It hit #13 on the Billboard charts and won the group a Grammy in 1990. Living Colour’s Vernon Reid was one of the founders of the coalition and Gene Williams is currently the artistic director of the New York chapter. He watched a recent Living Colour performance on YouTube and was shocked that some commenters on the video didn’t identify them as a Black group.

GENE WILLIAMS: They didn’t even know Living Colour was black. They see Corey up there and they’re like, oh my God he’s black!?

He says the fact that people are shocked, decades later, is a part of why the Black Rock Coalition or BRC was founded in 1985. Their goals were to seek chances for Black artists to perform, record and be paid fairly.

WILLIAMS: When we started we needed an outlet for musicians to have venues that weren’t really provided for us at the time.

Eventually they were able to find places to play. And building off the fame of Living Colour, the BRC gained momentum and allowed for other bands to follow suit. BRC co-founder Greg Tate says it also allowed them to assert their Blackness.

GREG TATE: We chose the name Black Rock Coalition because we knew if you put Black in front of anything it immediately becomes kind of terrifying to certain folks.

Jimi Hazel is the lead guitarist of another BRC band–24-7 Spyz and he says that given the history of rock and roll, the idea of Black people playing it shouldn’t be so surprising.

HAZEL: Black people don’t rock. Hello? We’ve been rocking since the fifties, we invented it.

Of course, rock and roll came out of blues music. Black artists like Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters and Jimi Hendrix rocked in the 50s and 60s. Guitarists that followed them moved into funk bands like Sly and the Family Stone and Funkadelic with large Black followings. But, once disco arrived, Hazel says it became more about dance tracks and not live shows.

HAZEL: That’s really when the disconnect happens between Black people and rock music. Because now rock it just went back to being predominantly a white thing, except for a handful of black bands. But, they weren’t being supported by their own people.

Gene Williams says today there are even fewer places for bands to play in New York.

WILLIAMS: We lost a lot of great venues, we don’t have CBGB’s anymore, we don’t have Danceteria, we don’t have the places that we started at.

Greg Tate who, along with his BRC work, is a long-time music journalist says the real problem is what he calls “progressive racism” in the music industry.

TATE: There’s still a desire to keep Black musicians in their place.

Tate says this racism means corporate executives still tell Black musicians that they can’t sell them as artists.

TATE: You know, they were telling people that in 1985 when we started, and they’re kind of still telling people that 30 years later.

The Black Rock Coalition’s membership today is mainly built on the older acts who are still rocking, but mainly at the occasional benefit concert. Still, there are younger supporters of the movement.

[Fade in Earl Greyhound song “Shotgun” to a bed and fade out before THOMAS ACT]

Earl Greyhound was a rock trio that debuted in the largely-white alternative rock scene seven years ago.Bassist and vocalist Kamara Thomas and drummer Ricc Sheridan were the black members of the group. Thomas says when the band was looking for a new deal, label executives weren’t sure of what to do with them.

KAMARA THOMAS: Labels still had this kind of idea about how you market music and how it’s gotta be divided into all these categories. And you market r&b to black people and rock to white people.

There have been some noteworthy crossover exceptions since Living Colour. Black rock artists like Lenny Kravitz in the nineties and bands like TV on the Radio more recently. But, Darrell McNeil, operations director for the New York BRC, thinks it’s not enough.

MCNEIL: We can have a black president, but we can’t have a black superstar rock and roller outside of say like a Lenny Kravitz. He’s the guy who kind of gets the pass. But, he’s the only guy who’s getting the pass.

But maybe Kravitz is starting to be joined in the mainstream by some good company.

[Fade in Gary Clark Jr. song “Numb” to a bed until MCNEIL ACT]

Gary Clark Jr. is a rising star in the industry, Tate says he’s been able to find success due to his look, charisma and the popularity of blues-rock bands like The Black Keys. His debut album Blak and Blu peaked at #6 on the Billboard charts last year. McNeil says Clark is embodying  the Black Rock Coalition’s mission.

MCNEIL: In a lot of respects I look at him as kind of an ambassador as to the different things that can happen for a black artist if you put together your audience the right way. 

[“Numb” fades in as a bed through SOC and end of piece.]

And with another potential crossover Black rocker on the rise, the BRC can continue to fight for a fair shot.

Lance Dixon, Columbia Radio News.

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Restorative Justice Aims To Be Peaceful Alternative to Punishment

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HOST INTRO:

The American criminal justice system seems pretty simple: After someone commits a crime, they’re convicted, sentenced and sent to prison. Time is served and people are released. But the disturbing fact is that 40-percent of the people leaving prison will be back.

But there’s another way of looking at crime and punishment – it’s called restorative justice. And as Christie Thorne reports, it’s a movement that’s taking off across the country.

[AMB: Fade Up and Hold Under, Driving in car with Vicky to scene of accident (Engine, Turn Signal)]

On a recent sunny afternoon, Vicky Ruvolo takes a right turn onto Sunrise Highway in Ronkonkoma, a quiet Long Island town. We arrive at a spot less than five minutes from her house. Vicky says this is where she almost died nine years ago.

VICKY RUVOLO:

See, I think it happened right over here at this miniature golf place.

Just before Thanksgiving in 2004, Vicky was driving home from a fun night out with her family. Four teenagers were approaching in an oncoming car. The kids were joyriding, on a shopping spree with a stolen credit card. As the two cars passed, 18-year-old Ryan Cushing hurled a large object out of the window, aiming it right at Vicky. It was a 20-pound frozen turkey…

VICKY RUVOLO:

That went into my windshield, hit me in the face and nearly killed me. I didn’t wake up until over a month later.

She was knocked out on the spot.

[AMB: Drop Out "Driving in car"]

Vicky’s injuries were so severe that she spent a month in a medically induced coma, and another five recovering.

It took the police less than a week to identify the teenagers. Ryan eventually turned himself in. He was facing up to 25 years in prison for first-degree assault and reckless endangerment.

VICKY RUVOLO:

He was going to be wasting his whole life – he was going to lose 25 years to sit and rot in jail for a stupid, ridiculous act.

Vicky didn’t understand the benefit of punishing Ryan. Her emotional struggle was just as challenging as the physical. Still in rehab, Vicky prayed. And she came to a realization: that she had to forgive.

VICKY RUVOLO:

Because that’s the biggest thing that people forget. Is that forgiveness, isn’t about that other person. It’s all about you. Because when you forgive you’re letting go of all that anger, that pain, that negativity. It actually releases you.

Vicky asked that Ryan be given leniency. She didn’t want him to spend more than 6 months in jail.

At the sentencing hearing, Vicky and Ryan met face-to-face for the first time. At the end of the day, Ryan walked over to where Vicky was sitting with her family.

VICKY RUVOLO:

And he stood in front of me and was just crying profusely, just crying. Talking through his tears just saying, “I never meant this to happen. I prayed for you every day. I’m so glad you’re doing well.”

Then, she hugged him.

VICKY RUVOLO:

The only thing I could do was coddle him like a child. And I told him, “Just take this experience and do something good with your life.”

In response to Vicky’s request, the judge sentenced Ryan to six months in jail, five years of probation and a year of community service.

Ryan spent that year working with Dr. Robert Goldman, who was the supervising psychologist at the Suffolk County Probation Department. Goldman had developed an innovative restorative justice program called TASTE.

[AMB: Fade Up and Hold Under, Vicky & Robert greet one another at restaurant (Waitress, Dishes)]

ROBERT GOLDMAN:

I was seeing children in the juvenile justice system graduate into the adult criminal justice system.

Goldman had spent a little over a decade as a criminal defense attorney. And most of his defendants were children. He noticed a problem. Not just in Long Island, but across the country.

ROBERT GOLDMAN:

Like Vicky, I really didn’t know what restorative justice was, I just knew what we were doing wasn’t right.

Restorative justice is an alternative to a purely punitive approach. The movement focuses on the needs of both victims and offenders and gives both parties an opportunity to heal and learn from a criminal experience.

Psychologist Jacques Verduin has pioneered several restorative justice programs in California prisons:

JACQUES VERDUIN:

Where you get to stare down your demons, confront your actions and name your victim in front of everybody. That’s tough on crime.

Verduin says that the current system isn’t doing anyone any good.

JACQUES VERDUIN:

You know, to run a system that is so heavy on custody and so little on creating opportunities for people to change their ways, is in many ways a disservice to public safety. It’s time for us to start investing in keeping people out of prison rather than in prison.

Right now, 1 in 34 Americans are under some form of correctional supervision – that’s close to 7 million people in prison, jail, parole or probation.

JACQUES VERDUIN:

Across the board, about 95 percent of all prisoners eventually get out. And they get out to be somebody’s neighbor. So how do you want them to come out? Punished, clueless, not having learned anything? Or educated, evolved and a bit more humble?

Ryan Cushing is a good example of the latter. Vicky still keeps in touch with him.

VICKY RUVOLO:

Now he’s off probation, now he’s got a job, he’s got his own apartment, now he’s paying taxes like the rest of us – instead of our taxes paying for him to rot in jail!

Vicky knows how much Ryan took away from the experience. She says that she gained, too.

VICKY RUVOLO:

I got my life, what better gift is there? And I was just glad that I could do that for him.

Right now, Ryan’s outcome is the exception and not the norm. But more and more restorative justice programs are being implemented across the country. And in New York City, the method is even being introduced in some schools.

Christie Thorne, Columbia Radio News.

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New York Church Helps Ex-Convicts Find Jobs

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HOST INTRO: Another way to help former inmates re-enter society is through religious groups. Re-entering society after imprisonment can be difficult on the former inmate and his or her family. Amber Binion visited Riverside Memorial Church where religious organizations met to discuss the most effective ways to help ex-convicts find jobs.

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Mixed Martial Arts Questions Legality of Beating People Up

Mixed Martial Arts Questions Legality of Beating People Up

Champion Jon Jones, top, lands an elbow against Chael Sonnen during their UFC 159 Mixed Martial Arts light heavyweight title bout in Newark, N.J., Saturday, April 27,2013. Professional mixed martial arts is illegal in New York. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)

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HOST INTRO: Mixed Martial Arts is one of the fastest-growing sports in America. But New York is one of only two states where the sport is banned. Tony Maglio tells us why 2013 may be the year that this changes. Or possibly why it won’t be.

If you’ve never seen a mixed martial arts — or MMA — match before, it can be tough to watch.

[Bring up UFC 121 ambi]

At a 2010 event in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, or UFC – which is the “big league” of mixed martial arts — the heavy weight champion is about to lose his title. The challenger and soon-too-be-champ is on top, hammer punching his face and head. There is blood on the mat, all the champ’s. He has a bad cut under his left eye. It’s over quickly. A first-round knock out.

It is this kind of spectacle that led New York legislators to ban professional combat sports in 1997. In 2000, the legislature also cracked down on amateur bouts.

[Fade out UFC ambi]

[Bring up gym ambi]

But that has not put a damper on the dreams of Anthony Pipola. At a gym in midtown, he sees becoming a pro MMA fighter as a way out of his current life.

[Fade down gym ambi]

Pipola: “Currently I dig holes for a living…and it kind of sucks. So I’d rather much try to beat the sh** out of people for a living.”

Pipola’s 31-years-old and from Queens. He’s currently 2-0 as an amateur.

Pipola: “The fighting’s the easy part, the training sucks. The dieting, the conditioning, the strength training, the living like a Buddhist disciple, pretty much removed from everybody and just concentrating on what you have to do – that’s the hard part. The nine minutes of fighting is easy.”

[Bring up gym ambi]

Pipola alternates between two-minute rounds on the heavy bag and wrestling with his coach. He trains six days a week for his next amateur fight on May 25 in Atlantic City, New Jersey. But he would rather fight in New York.

[Fade out gym ambi]

Some legislators, like Manhattan State Senator Brad Hoylman, want to keep the sport illegal.

Hoylman: “The reason I’m concerned about mixed martial arts is because I have a two-year-old daughter and the main venues where mixed martial arts at a professional level would be held are in my district.” 

And there are activists on Hoylman’s side. One group hosts a web site called UnfitForChildren.org. Let’s break those initials down: “U-F-C.” The site accuses Ultimate Fighting Championship of sexism and homophobia, and accused one of its stars of having made a ‘how-to’ rape video.”

Mixed Martial Arts can be dangerous, too. Aspiring pro Anthony Pipola certainly has had a few injuries.

Pipola: “Uch, about 7,341.”

all sarcasm aside…

Pipola: “None during fighting, all during training and my conditioning routines. Three broken noses, broken ribs, sprained my back, sprained my knee…

Since MMA in New York is illegal, any bouts that do occur are unregulated. Stephen Koepher is Pipola’s coach and owner of the New York Sambo gym. He says that means anything can happen.

Koepher: “There was an incidence where a gentleman fought on an unregulated show in New York, and he was banned by the Association of Boxing Commissions for having hepatitis. So he couldn’t fight anywhere else, but he fought here in New York where nobody cared to check.”

And that’s not even as bad as it gets. In the past year alone, there have been three deaths in amateur mixed martial arts. Last month, a 35-year-old fighter collapsed and died following an amateur bout in Michigan. There was no doctor on site.

Koepher and other critics of the New York State ban say that legalizing the sport would make it much safer.

Koepher: “And New York right now having a blank slate, actually has an opportunity to make some really important changes.”

It could also be a boon to the state’s economy: The UFC’s own study estimates that legalizing and regulating MMA in New York State would bring in $23 million annually and create over 200 new jobs.

In 2013, for the fourth straight year, the state legislature has taken up a bill to legalize the sport. The past three efforts failed. This year’s bill has passed through the senate and into the assembly. That’s where it sits now.

The reason the bill has been shot down over and over is … a union dispute 2500 miles away.

Culinary Union Local 226 is by far the largest union in Nevada. And it’s locked in a battle with the Fertitta brothers, who own Station Casinos in Las Vegas. The National Labor Relations Board found Station Casinos violated U.S. labor law 82 times in efforts to block the Culinary Union from organizing its employees. Stephen Koepher of New York Combat Sambo says there’s one more thing the Fertitta’s own…

Koepher: “They are also the owners of he UFC. So their beef in Nevada has dragged its way over here to New York. So both parties are sort of using New York MMA as a proxy battleground to take shots at each other. And New York, being a union-friendly state, obviously has some ears that are listening to what the union is having to say.”

New York Legislators are listening because this culinary union is a part of a larger union, UNITE HERE, which has a major presence in New York. Sources with knowledge of the situation in Albany confirm that it is union pressure that has killed the bill to legalize MMA in the past.

And remember that website “UnfitForChildren” which bashes the Ultimate Fighting Championship? That website is connected to Culinary Union Local 226. Though you’d really only know that if you emailed them. Which Uptown Radio did. No one at the website responded to multiple requests for comment, nor did the culinary union or UNITE HERE.

The bill is still up for consideration as the legislative calendar year approaches its summer recess.  And some backers are hopeful. But with only about four weeks left for the bill to get going, other backers say they’ve used up all of their optimism in the past.

Tony Maglio, Columbia Radio News.

Posted in City Life, Culture, Featured, Health1 Comment

Proposed Bills to Stop Use of Condoms As Evidence of Sex Work

Proposed Bills to Stop Use of Condoms As Evidence of Sex Work

Activists assemble on the steps of City Hall, May 3, 2013. They’re backing city and state bills that would create more oversight of the NYPD and ban the use of condoms as evidence in sex work prosecutions. (Camilo Vargas/Uptown Radio)

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HOST INTRO:

A New York State Senate Bill would ban the NYPD to stop using condoms as evidence of sex work, and a City Council bill would create a new NYPD oversight office. Activists for the bills gathered at City Hall to support the measures. Camilo Vargas reports.

——-

A bundle of legislation to reform the way the NYPD operates is currently making its way in the State Council. It’s called the Community Safety Act, and among its measures is the creation of an Inspector General for NYPD Oversight. The Measure has been endorsed by Mayoral Candidates Christine Quinn and Bill de Blasio. But the measure is opposed by current Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. They claim that the bill would add more bureaucracy to NYPD oversight.

At noon today, human rights, public health and anti stop and frisk organizations gathered at City Hall to push for passage of the Community Safety Act. They support the act because they believe it will end what they call police profiling of LGBTQ communities of color. And that it will end the NYPD’s practice of using condoms as evidence of sex work.

[Ambi of protesters chanting “Safe needles saves lives”]

Activists chant on the steps of City Hall protesting against the NYPD. They’re a coalition of HIV Aids, LGBT and human rights groups that oppose the city’s stop and frisk measures. They claim the NYPD confiscates condoms and needles, and use them as evidence to arrest and charge people of prostitution and drug use. A transgender hispanic woman gives her testimony for the crowd.

Transgender witness:

Porque en mi caso personal cuando yo iba para un club me arrestaron por andar un condon en mi bolsa.

She says she was arrested for carrying a condom in her bag as she headed for a club. She fears being arrested for carrying condoms sh   e got at a city health center. She is one of the cases documented by a study by Human Rights Watch. The human rights group interviewed 125 sex workers, LGBT individuals and outreach organizations, and found that because of the NYPD’s use of condoms as evidence, people at high risk of infections are afraid of carrying them.

Margaret Worth:

That the condoms that they have on them at the time can be considered evidence by police and by prosecutors.

That’s Margaret Worth, a spokeswoman for Human Rights Watch at the press conference. She says people in communities at high risk of HIV and STD infections sometimes believe that there’s a limit to the number of condoms they can carry, so that the NYPD doesn’t prosecute them for sexworkers.

Elizabeth Worth:

There’s absolutely no legal limit to the number of condoms a person can carry on them. Condoms are not contraband.

Elizabeth Lavenger, a spokesperson for the gay men’s health crisis says the measure of confiscating and using condoms as evidence of sex work contradicts the city’s policies of promoting condom use. The city’s health department actually hands out condoms for free. But what the city giveth, the city taketh away.

Elizabeth Lavenger:

People take those condoms and then almost immediately taken by the Police. So it’s money wasted that could be used to prevent infections.

The activists claim that these infection have led to a recent health crisis. Health officials recently documented meningitis and syphilis outbreaks among men who have sex with men in New York City. They also continue to record higher than average HIV infection rates in this group.

The organizations are also pushing for passage of the State Senate Bill sponsored by Senator Velmanette Montgomery, that would ban the use of condoms as evidence of sex work. The bill has received the endorsement of several public officials, including Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Haley. George Artz is the DA spokesperson:

George Artz:

The District Attorney has assigned his LGBT liaison to work with Senator Montgomery’s staff to support a bill prohibiting the use of condoms as evidence.

The bill is garnering support in the New York State Senate. Activists expect it will be ready for passage later this year.

Camilo Vargas, Columbia Radio News.


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Argentine Dispute a Concern on World Press Freedom Day

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HOST INTRO: Today is World Press Freedom Day. Journalists from South America gathered on the campus of Columbia University today to debate one of the continent’s most heated disputes between a government and journalists. It pits Argentina’s left-wing government against a media conglomerate that opponents say has grown too big and too powerful. Alexandra Hall reports.

[CLARIN LOGO AMBI]

Clarín is Argentina’s biggest and most influential multimedia conglomerate. It has 44% of the market share in Argentina. Argentineans consume more news produced by Clarín than any other media company. Four years ago, the government said that media in the country was too concentrated, making it impossible for smaller broadcasters to compete. So it enacted a law to break down monopolies and increase the number of voices in the media. It requires Clarín to get rid of most of its holdings. But the company says its being unfairly targeted, according to Miguel Winaski, editor of El Clarín newspapers.

MIGUEL WINASKI: They feel fear of our investigations. Freedom of speech is under attack, so and we are under attack as journalists.

But Damian Loreti disagrees. He’s Secretary of the Center of Legal and Social Studies, an Argentine human rights NGO, and he helped draft the law.

DAMIEN LORETI: In Argentina, there is no press restrictions, there is no censorship, there is no journalists killed, there is no journalists imprisoned.

Clarín’s first reaction when the law was enacted four years ago was to take legal action, but it was unsuccessful. It wasn’t until two weeks ago that a federal appeals court granted Clarín’s request saying that clauses of the law, which apply to the company, are unconstitutional violations of private property rights. This was a triumph for supporters of Clarín, who argue that it has been unfairly singled out for political reasons. Columbia University political science professor Victoria Murillo isn’t convinced.

VICTORIA MURILLO: I don’t know to what extent their fear is warranted. Monopolies are not good anywhere, so in that sense, the law is not bad, it’s good.

She thinks that Clarín is a monopoly.

MURILLO: What’s bad is that the enforcement of the law is uneven in the sense that there are other monopolies and the government doesn’t seem to be paying attention to those.

This would have been a rare opportunity for representatives of Clarín and the leftist administration of President Christina Kirchner to talk openly about media reform. But no government representatives were present. Roberto Saba is Dean of Palermo University School of Law in Buenos Aires. He says that’s one reason why the conflict is still ongoing.

ROBERTO SABA: The big media and the government cannot even talk to each other. Which makes things very difficult.

Columbia University will make one more effort to bring the two sides together again this fall.

Alexandra Hall, Columbia Radio News.

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Classical Musicians Rebel Against Modern Music Traditions

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HOST INTRO: Street musicians can be found almost anywhere in New York City. Classical musicians, however, are just a bit harder to find for reasons many believe have to due with the challenges  the industry faces. But as Matthew Vann reports, one classical pianist is reviving this old art form one note at a time.

It’s 8:15 on a Saturday morning at Washington Square Park. Vinny Longo and a friend are moving a baby grand piano off a pickup truck.

[FADE UP AMBI: Vinny Moving Piano]

They’re assembling the piano for what will be a very long day of playing by the instrument’s owner: 35 year-old Colin Huggins.

[FADE UP AMBI: Assembling Piano]  

They turn the piano over and screw in the legs. After a half hour, the piano is assembled. The pianist, Colin Huggins is red-haired, with music notes tattooed to his finger knuckles. He tunes the instrument himself.

[FADE UP AMBI: Colin Tuning the Piano.]

He sits at the keyboard, closes his eyes and plays.

[PIANO AMBI IN FULL]

He opens with Consolation No. 3 by 19th century composer Franz Liszt.

[FADE UP AMBI & UNDER NARR: Sound from piano]

In a matter of minutes, a small crowd gathers. Huggins turns this otherwise noisy park into a concert hall.

[FADE UP AMBI & UNDER NARR: Last Note and Applause]

As he takes in the applause, some from the crowd approach to drop dollar bills in the two buckets Huggins placed at each end of the piano.  Others linger for the next piece.

[PIANO AMBI IN FULL THEN FADE UNDER NARR]

He’s now playing Claude Debussy’s Clair de Lune. This music is his passion.

COLIN HUGGINS: These pieces are beautiful. And if they’re presented in the right way I think people will totally take them.  

Huggins lives solely off of the monetary donations he gets from playing in the park on weekends. And he’s found the life of a solo classical street performer to be tough.

COLIN HUGGINS:  I can pay my rent. I can get enough food to eat. But I can’t unfortunately afford health care or a car or to buy myself my own home.

Other classical musicians teach, play freelance gigs or work in orchestras, but aren’t  necessarily more prosperous than a street musician like Huggins. That’s because the industry of classical music is in crisis.

DAVID GEBER: We have strikes, we have lockouts, we have bankruptcies, we have scaling down in terms of personnel.  And those are really 21st century issues. There were not these problems, 50, 60, 70 years ago.

David Geber is a professor at the Manhattan School of Music. According to the National Endowment for the Arts, the audience for classical music has declined by 30% since the 1980s. And because audiences have dropped, hiring with orchestras and arts institutions have slowed.  But despite that, Colin Huggins still landed a job. He worked for a while as an accompanist at the American Ballet Theatre in New York. But it wasn’t what he wanted.

COLIN HUGGINS: I want to be performing. I want to be the center of attention. I want to be preparing big classical pieces and not just working on the accompaniment.

That’s why playing on the weekends is so important for Huggins. Once he’s reeled in a listener with music, he’s got them hooked.

[FADE UP AMBI: If you like that piece of music I have it here on a CD feel free to come grab one anytime.]

And they do come to grab one. Sometimes, even more than one.

[FADE UP AMBI: Exchange between Colin and Listener]

He says the key to his success as a classical music performer is knowing which pieces to play. That’s something he says more classical musicians should be aware of.

COLIN HUGGINS: If you end up forcing boring music on people and get angry at them then they say this is boring when they say they don’t wanna listen to this. It’s gonna be a wreck and that’s what classical musicians end up doing a lot of the time.

Unlike popular music, classical music isn’t heard as widely. Because listenership declined, public radio stations dropped classical music programming for more news and talk. According to the National Endowment for the Arts, there are only 19 commercial classical music stations nationwide. To reverse this trend, some performers are combining classical music with other music genres. Allan Kozinn,  a New York Times music critic, says that’s working.

ALLAN KOZINN: Now you have an audience of young people going to what is in effect new classical music. Liking it because it speaks a language that is not that different from pop language but incorporates classical elements and classical sounds.

And that’s an audience Huggins is trying to attract. On the days he’s not playing in Washington Sq. Park, Huggins is busy composing new classical music from his home studio.

[FADE UP AMBI & UNDER: Huggins Composing and Playing Excerpts]

This time, he’s branching out beyond the piano to compose a piece for strings, guitar, and voice.

[FADE UP AMBI & UNDER: Huggins Composing and Playing Excerpts]

COLIN HUGGINS: I play a lot of the same music in the park but I’m aware of it and I’m trying to learn new things and keep developing it.

And it is, perhaps, that desire from listeners to hear new works that will sustain classical music in spite of its challenges.  Matthew Vann. Columbia Radio News.

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Stories From My Grandfather, Stories From My Homeland

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HOST INTRO: Commentator Tenzin Shakya has been hearing stories about her family’s homeland, Tibet since she was a little girl. She says her grandfather’s stories have shaped how she thinks about Tibet — and its occupation by China.

It was 4 o’clock in the morning when my grandfather, Popo Sonam, awoke me. “It’s time to go for kora,” he said.  Kora is a Buddhist practice of praying and walking in circles, usually around a temple. I got dressed, put on a t-shirt and chupa, the traditional dress that Tibetan people wear.  since I was visiting my grandfather in Nepal, where many of Tibetan elders live, I decided to dress in proper attire. Also to avoid the uncomfortable feeling of old Tibetans starring me down and calling me “inji,” which means foreigner.  Of course as soon as Popo Sonam saw me with the t-shirt underneath my chupa instead of the traditional silk shirt, he insisted that I change. “If you’re going to wear the chupa, wear it right,” he said. “and while you’re at it, go braid your hair,” .

I argued against it. “Popo Sonam, times have changed and you must learn that we are not required to walk around with braids.” Little did I know, that an argument about braids would help me to understand my family’s history.

My family fled Tibet in 1960, a year after China invaded. Five years later, my grandfather traveled back to Tibet. He hoped that he would find it safe to return. Instead, he was captured by Chinese soldiers and forced to work in labor camps for 6 months. He had to plow fields, and clean up rubble left by the war. He had been a farmer in Tibet, so the work didn’t bother him. What really hurt him was being told by a young Chinese soldier to kneel, and remain still as he chopped off my Popo’s long braids. Traditionally, Tibetan men kept their hair in braids, too, wrapped around their head. For Popo Sonam, the braids represented his devotion to a centuries-old cultural tradition. But for the soldier, it represented the “old ways.”

Growing up as a Tibetan refugee, I’d heard much worse stories.  I’ve wept as Tibetan nuns shared their stories of being raped in prison by Chinese soldiers, while monks were forced to watch. They were political prisoners because they demanded freedom.

It’s hard not to resent the Chinese government.

Popo Sonam is a constant reminder of why I am hopeful about the future of Tibet. Popo Sonam never re-grew his braids but he did escape the camps six months later in 1965. And, he did it with the help of a young Buddhist Chinese soldier who empathized with his longing to be reunited with his family.

I’ve tried to visit Tibet twice; both times I was denied entry.  But when I listen to Popo’s stories, I travel. He is a window into a world I may never get to see.  Popo Sonam gives me hope, inspires me with his wisdom and compassion. He always tells me to focus on the good.

He’s old now, and every time I talk to him, he says his time is coming.

I fear his passing. Not only because I would lose my last remaining grandfather, but, because it would mean that the stories would come to an end.

BACK ANNOUNCE: Tenzin Shakya is planning a journey back to Tibet with her grandfather, soon.

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Latino Evangelicals Reshape Immigration Views

Latino Evangelicals Reshape Immigration Views

 

Teachers lead a music class at the Bronx Spanish Evangelical Church in the Bronx, Apr. 20, 2013. Some observers say growing Latino churches are the future of Evangelical Christianity. (Sonia Paul/Uptown Radio)

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HOST: Some Evangelical Christians have embraced comprehensive immigration reform in recent months. It’s a huge shift for the group, usually conservative in its politics. An influx of Latino congregants has pushed the church into changing its stance. Sonia Paul reports.

It was a week and a half ago, the day the Senate released its eight hundred and forty-four page draft bill for comprehensive immigration reform.

[AMBI: Rev. Salguero singing at the worship service in DC. [Let rise and play for seven seconds, then fade under and float under narration.]

Just blocks away from the Capital, at the Church of Reformation, an audience was singing a closing hymn . A giant screen at the front showed the people who came to preach and perform. They were clapping their hands and stomping their feet.

[Bring up more ambi.]

Latinos, Blacks, and a few Asians. But most of them appeared to be white.

They were Evangelical Christians. And they came here from all over the country to lobby Congress on immigration reform.

[LET AMBI RISE UP A LITTLE BIT FOR A FEW MORE SECONDS, THEN FADE DOWN]

They were calling the day a National Day of Prayer and Action on immigration. A group that calls itself the Evangelical Immigration Table organized the event.

[Fade out AMBI HERE]

Evangelicals aren’t the most likely supporters of immigration reform. Take Southern Baptist Mike Huckabee. In the Republican presidential primaries in 2008, he advocated strict controls.

ACT: MIKE HUCKABEE AUDIO

What we need to do is have a border that is sealed, and the same kind of process that we have if we go through a stadium — we go in one at a time, and we have a ticket.

His views were mainstream Republican at the time. Pew research Center reports show white Evangelicals overwhelmingly supported the Republican party in the last three presidential elections. But now, residents in North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Florida — all conservative states — can hear ads like this one coming through their airwaves.

ACT: FLORIDA AD AUDIO

But our dysfunctional immigration system breaks up families and causes suffering. Christ calls all of us to compassion and justice.

That focus on compassion and justice is the selling point of the two-year-old Evangelical Immigration Table. It’s an umbrella organization for several Evangelical and social justice groups in support of immigration reform.

Evangelical pastor Gabriel Salguero chairs the group. He’s the president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition. In January, under his leadership, the Evangelical Immigration Table developed a bold message on immigration.

ACT: SALGUERO PRAYER CHALLENGE

We worked on a campaign called I was a Stranger. And we engaged just hundreds of Evangelical churches and tens of thousands of Evangelical Christians to read the bible and pray.

The Table put out radio ads in areas with large Evangelical populations — and released YouTube ads, like this one, of prominent Evangelical leaders reciting a well-known verse from the Book of Michael.

ACT: I WAS A STRANGER CAMPAIGN AUDIO

For I was a stranger, and you gave me food. I was thirsty, and you gave me drink.

I was a stranger, and you welcomed me.

I was a stranger.

I was a stranger.

I was a stranger.

(In Spanish)

I was a stranger. And you invited me in.

I needed clothes, and you clothed me.

[AMBI FROM OUTSIDE THE DC CHURCH]

Back in Washington, people outside the Church of Reformation are saying their goodbyes after a long day of lobbying on immigration. Others inside the church are still singing.

David Beckmann is a white Lutheran pastor and economist. He says it’s about time Christians unite for immigration reform — because the connection between the bible and the public policy issue is clear.

ACT: BECKMAN BIBLE MESSAGE

Cause the bible over and over again talks about doing right, being kind to widows, orphans and immigrants. Duh! (laughs). Cause immigrants are always kind of shuddered aside, they don’t ever have full rights.

But it’s not just biblical passages reminding Evangelicals of their call to duty. Reports indicate there are now nearly eight million Hispanic Evangelicals in the United States. That’s about 15 percent of the overall Evangelical population.

[AMBI OF MUSIC CLASS]

At the Bronx Spanish Evangelical Church in New York, Latinos are the majority of students at the church’s weekend music class. They make up practically the entire church population.

ACT: MORELBA BRONX CHURCH POPULATION

There are people Dominican, Puerto Rican, from Hondorus, Ecuadorian…

That’s eighteen year old Morelba Fernandez. She’s at her church in the Bronx most days of the week, leading the youth ministry or assisting the music classes.

[AMBI OF MUSIC CLASS]

Or, advocating for immigration reform.

ACT: MORELBA

We also go to marches about immigration, like the Dream Act. A lot of teenagers, we go, because that’s very important for us.

Some observers say growing all-Latino churches like Fernandez’s are the future of Evangelical Christianity. Their support of immigration reform is hardly surprising.

[FADE OUT AMBI OF MUSIC CLASS]

Pew research polls show over 85 percent of Hispanic evangelicals support immigration reform. In comparison, just over half of white Evangelicals support the cause.

But that’s still a big change for the white Evangelical community. A few years ago, only a quarter of them polled supported immigration.

ACT: CRUZ

Hi, I’m Samuel Cruz.

Samuel Cruz is a sociologist of religion at the Union Theological Seminary in New York. He says the Latino Evangelical influence is the biggest reason Evangelicals are now embracing immigration.

ACT: CRUZ

In fact, Focus on the Family, which is one of the big conservative right-wing organizations in this country, is supporting immigration reform. And they know why they’re doing it. They’re catering to their huge constituency of Latinos within the Evangelical community.

The Senate is expected to debate the provisions of the immigration bill in coming weeks. Observers say that if Evangelicals maintain unity, they just might help tip the scale on passing immigration reform.

Sonia Paul, Columbia Radio News.

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