January 21 2017. Between 2000 and 4000 people gathered locally for a rally in Washington Square Park. It was held in solidarity with the Women's Solidarity Rally in Washington DC at the same time. The rally in the park was joined early on by marchers from an earlier rally at the Liberty Pole organized by Metro Justice and Rochester Against Trump. Those groups also held an event the previous day, Inauguration day of the 45th President.
Speakers were featured from local groups who stand to be affected by the Trump administration's proposed policies. These groups included women, immigrants, refugees, LGBTQ people, the disabled, Muslims, the media, people of color, those concerned about the environment and health care, labor unions and many political opponents.
Speakers included Mayor Lovely Warren, Brighton Supervisor Bill Mohele, and Harry Bronson of the 138th New York Assembly district.
These were intended to be peaceful rallies. Police in DC reported no arrests. Unfortunately that was not the case in Rochester where 7 people were arrested on what sound like "trumped up" charges.
Video of all the speakers below
Jan 21 March part 1
Jan 21 march part 2
Last month, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied an easement permit needed by Energy Transfer Partners to drill underneath the Missouri River near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation to complete a critical phase of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL).
While the Army Corps' decision isn't a final victory that guarantees the end of the pipeline, it is a major step forward that came as a result of determined resistance by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and thousands of their supporters who traveled to North Dakota to join the protest encampments. Mara Ahmed, an artist and filmmaker who blogs at MaraAhmed.com, describes her delegation's trip from Rochester, New York, to Standing Rock--and what she learned along the way.
Despite Trump's primal appeal, the most important values of our nation did not spring from the imaginations of slave-owning philosophers, zealous pilgrims, or renegade capitalists. The values which gave birth to our nation are actually spiritual ideals which came before the moral evolution of humans. They are Equality, Justice, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. By making a mockery of these ideals, and by using the cult religion of Statism to manipulate people's hearts and minds, Trump has laid the groundwork for a dark new epoch in American political history. He has also proven the words of H.L. Mencken to be true once more: “Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance.”
Continue reading article at:
This essay was first published in SHARKPACK Poetry Review! This piece is republished with permission. See the original here: https://sharkpackpoetry.com/2016/12/26/favorite-bookish-thing-2016-lines-by-hesiod/
In a state of near-misery, I return to reading I did this summer: Dorothea Schmidt Wender’s ’73 translation of Hesiod and Theognis, included in the Penguin Classics series. Hesiod is most exciting, for me, in Works and Days, and especially in the verses concerning the ages of man. A famous passage (lines 170-201) concerns our own age, that of iron. Hesiod cries out:
I wish I were not of this race, that I
Had died before, or had not yet been born.
This is the race of iron. Now, by day,
Men work and grieve unceasingly; by night
They waste away and die.
The thumping iambs suit the content. Casting the poem in blank verse insists this is an English poetry made of its Greek original, a sure method for frustrating purists and exciting a sometimes-reticent reading public. The first line quoted intensely foregrounds the poetic subject—’I wish I [. . .] that I,”—and seems somehow to heighten the friction between the subjunctive mood and the lamentation. The heat produced seems angry to me, frustrated, incensed at being alive in the age of iron. Compare Wender’s lines, anyway, with the same in a more recent translation by Daryl Hine:
How I would wish to have never been one of this fifth generation!
Whether I’d died in the past or came to be born in the future.
I have not read that translation, but expect that these are intended to simulate the dactylic hexameter of the ancient Greek. That approach might work for some ears, but there’s something pleasing in the comparative austerity of Wender’s lines:
The just, the good, the man who keeps his word
Will be despised, but men will praise the bad
And insolent. Might will be Right, and shame
Will cease to be. Men will do injury
To better men by speaking crooked words
And adding lying oaths; and everywhere
Harsh-voiced and sullen-faced and loving harm,
Envy will walk along with wretched men.
Perhaps I’m shoehorning a particular politics into the way the line breaks operate to isolate ideas, but it hardly seems circumstantial that ‘Might will be Right’ appears on the same line with ‘insolence’ and ‘shame,’ especially in a passage lamenting the fallen state of humankind. And there may be some importation of biblical language going on—envy walks beside the wretched, rather than we wretched being led beside the still waters—which would be disappointing if the replication of the living, breathing Hesiod were the goal.
Instead, we get the Hesiod we deserve by these importations and modifications. It speaks to the nature of great poetry that even Hesiod’s widely reported misogyny serves in our current moment. The poet says, ‘Men will destroy the towns of other men’: and the way that the destruction of the town is bookended by ‘men’ reminds me—or (woe to the republic) forewarns me—of the costs to us the impending period of masculine overdrive will impose.
As we approach the inauguration, let us overhear again Hesiod’s song to his brother:
I say important things for you to hear,
O foolish Perses: Badness can be caught
In great abundance, easily; the road
To her is level, and she lives near by.
About d. eric parkison: Poet, teacher, book peddler. Part-time misanthrope, full time guilt sufferer. Porch grump in training.
Author, activist and scholar Angela Davis spoke at East High in Rochester, NY, the day after the fated election of Donald Trump. Her talk ranged in topic: mass incarceration, the Black Lives Matter movement, the Standing Rock Sioux pipeline protests, and the need to build a third political party. You can view the entire speech at this link: https://vimeo.com/192179582
Driving from that dusty rhinestone, Las Vegas, across northern Nevada, Arizona, Wyoming, and into South Dakota on I-15N requires patience and serenity rare for me and completely alien to my companion. Our trip to Standing Rock on that dull highway took us through the most featureless, colorless lands in this country. Flat as old Coke. In our boredom, we even found ourselves intrigued by the odd snow fences in Wyoming and thrilled to see a hillock or a tiny gorge. Now and again there’d be an outcropping, towering over the bland landscape like a medieval castle, but for miles we had only sagebrush and an occasional steer as companions. In 1300 miles we’d seen no wildlife, few birds, not even road kill. The dead land had been stripped by cattlemen to smooth sterility. Houses were miles from one another. Gas stations so far apart the car was often running on our nervous breaths as we finally found a small pump in a cowboy town. No motels: we slept in the car at a truck pullout. We were excited to finally make the turn onto Route 83, a back road leading us to the smallest Standing Rock encampment where our arrival was awaited. We’d heard earlier that evening that road was a safe approach among increasingly patrolled entrances, and was about a hundred miles from our goal. We were buoyant. Even my friend’s elderly service dog woke, sniffing and nudging, sensing our excitement.
It was dark as dirt as we moved along Route 83, cautious as we’d been the entire trip to observe the speed limit. Suddenly, red and blue lights slashed through our cheer and an unctuous, tubby sheriff tapped on the passenger-side window claiming we’d been speeding and demanding ID from us both. The weeks-long nightmare began.
Ellen sits at the desk of the dog-friendly motel in an isolated town at the northern edge of South Dakota, population 714. She manages the motel twenty-four hours every single day, year round, virtually imprisoned by the job, as she cares for her disabled adult son. More, she is isolated in this hunting, hating town because of her humane and inclusive values – a silent outcast. Her joy the first night I appeared, speaking of Standing Rock, lit up her weary face. By the next day, we’d had a rousing discussion of the encampment, treaty rights, regional police, and the constant racism she’d discovered since her move from Dallas, nauseating cruelty. (She’d seen police drive into her parking lot, smash a young Native American woman’s car windows and strew her possessions for no cause but hatred.) From that moment, her affection and generosity made this dusty town bearable. And I know she was grateful, relieved for connection. Why, you ask, was I in a motel lobby in the middle of the night with someone else’s dog?
After the stop and the shuffling of our ID cards, the sheriff called us out of the car and swiftly separated us. We were too flustered and the demands too rapid-fire for us to quickly claim our rights to prevent search and seizure. We were also nervous to see he had an agitated dog in the truck and were keenly aware of our utter isolation. My travel pal, Layla, was hustled into the sheriff’s vehicle, leaving me outside with the very flummoxed assistant cop (who acknowledged he’d never worked with this sheriff and didn’t know what the hell was going on.) As Sheriff Varilek (we learned his name later) began to talk with her, he slyly turned the dash cam off. Layla was coerced into permitting a search of her vehicle, told she’d either allow the search or we’d both be arrested on invented charges, the car impounded, the dog sent to the local animal shelter with no guarantee of retrieving her. In this dark, unknown territory, threatened privately and still holding to hope any invented charges wouldn’t amount to much, she consented. At no point was she told of her right to refuse. We were both anxious to get her dog out of the car and away from weapons, fearful she’d be harmed, while the smug, heavily armed sheriff began investigating our possessions. Not wanting surprises, Layla answered his question honestly: yes, there were medications in the car, some of them controlled substances with prescription documentation (hers and mine), among them prescribed, precisely formulated, fully licensed medication to treat her auto-immune disorder, perfectly legal in her home state. And perfectly illegal, we learned, in the backwater state of South Dakota. (Two days later, North Dakota, just an hour away from the spot where we were stopped, voted in a compassionate use law for this very formulation, a bitter joke.) The car was tossed end to end and Layla was arrested.
She’d been told in the car that they’d been waiting for us. They knew who we were, what route we’d been taking, when to expect us, where we were headed. They knew our backgrounds. They’d heard our conversations. And they did not want us at camp. We knew then our phones had been hacked and I remembered camp complaints of surveillance and communications jams. And, too late, I recalled that Stingray surveillance devices had just been issued to the militarized police, militia, and mercenaries assaulting Standing Rock. This technology was used at the camp to thwart communication, scramble text and video messages, steal funds from PayPal and fundraising accounts, track incoming goods and torment those trying to stay in contact with home, medics, and those bringing in supplies. The Stingrays (and other brands of surveillance devices) have been brought in and employed by TigerSwan, the black ops that Blackwater morphed into after its horrific misdeeds in Iraq were exposed. They've provided and supervised the use of the most militarized weapons used against Water Protectors, including water cannons, LRAD noise cannons, tear gas, ammunition and the concussion grenades that blinded one woman and tore the arm off another. They also run surveillance planes over the camp day and night both for intimidation and observation, much of it using infrared cameras to track the number in each tent. They fly in the dark without lights to confuse campers and disrupt sleep. Federal generosity with wartime equipment apparently also reached to the camp’s outskirts, arming local officials with all they needed to stop would-be Water Protectors. Together they could read our very thoughts.
As they began to drive away, I realized that my friend had our active GPS and I had no notion where they were taking her. The sheriff told me to go up the road to a distant turn-around and follow them. When I did as he demanded, he’d already sped off. The road was dark. I gunned the engine and headed back the way we’d come, guessing which way he’d gone. It took a long while at 80 mph to find them. We sped at that pace through dark country, over a bumpy bridge spanning the Missouri, through a small town, and on another twenty miles to the jail. (Remember that we were pulled over on a phony speeding charge.) Seven counties surround the Standing Rock encampment and the jails in every one of them were full, stuffed with people nabbed from or around the camps on false or exaggerated charges. The procedure in all of the arrests was to make accusations that would threaten long sentences. Those arrested endured all the notorious humiliations publicized after the arrests of many journalists, photographers, filmakers and other notables (including Amy Goodman of Democracy Now and Deia Schlosberg, filmmaker of the Gasland movies, and the many jailed Water Protectors.) I got out of the car and ran to the door of the Quonset hut county jail just as it was slammed in my face. There was no other entrance. I stood in dark and silence.
The bumbling assistant sheriff finally emerged, looking over his shoulder, with a phone number scribbled on a tiny scrap of paper. ‘Call here and you can see her in twelve hours,’ he whispered. And then darted back in. I was flummoxed and furious. Remembering the frightened dog, I went to the car to assure her all would be well. Would it? I wished someone would scruffle my fur and make false promises.
That’s when I met Ellen.
After hearing my story, Ellen offered a room at a reduced rate, ignoring that I had a big, lumbering old hound with me. I wrestled my daypack from the mad upheaval in the car, examined the small, clean, shabby room, settled Ruby into her bed, and dropped into mine. This would not be a night of sleep.
In the morning I called at the twelve-hour mark. No go. I called later as instructed. Nope. I couldn’t leave a message. Later I could, but without any assurance it would be delivered. Meanwhile I’d searched for a bondsman and found the only one in the seven counties, a hundred and fifty miles away We made arrangements to meet at the jail. Finally, through plexi, with an ancient phone, my friend and I spoke briefly, a doughy guard behind her monitoring the conversation, before the bondsman arrived. Not knowing yet of her evil treatment, I was alarmed at her deflation from fierce to bedraggled. Bail was preposterously high, but I’d scrambled to have the bond fee in hand and was able to pull my bud out of the pit. We headed to Ellen’s motel, our room tucked between hunters and their kill.
It was clear the police both inside and outside the encampment were illegally monitoring cell phones. There are countless tales of strange cell phone behavior, battery depletion, communication cut-off, dead phones, broken calls and text. In our case, I presume the officer, since he boasted he knew everything about us, was using a portable device in his car to thwart all entries from the south. Later I heard him in the courthouse telling a covey of cops that he pulled everyone over on the charge of carrying marijuana. He lowered his voice to describe his techniques. He or his colleague sniffed the car, one saying he smelled dope, they pulled out the dog, and whether it had been there before or not, it was found in the search. I learned later he was known as a disreputable cop and this was his fourth job in the last few years. Public defenders often pleaded overload to avoid taking on his cases.
Medical marijuana is currently legal in 29 states, including my own state of NY, ushered in under compassionate care laws, Recent elections will shortly expand that number by 4. The number of disorders, and the doctors assigned to prescribe it, are both limited in most states. Those, too, will shortly expand. While there is still debate about its efficacy, and trials have been small, don’t include placebo tests, and do not meet the protocols for scientific testing, much anecdotal evidence indicates it is useful. It is generally assumed that the reported benefits merit further testing and there are few concerns about its present use. Drowsiness and long-term cognitive slowing are the major concerns.
Edward Snowden has long been my hero. He risked everything to reveal the extent of governmental spying, using invasive technology to break into our computers, our phones, our private conversations, our business arrangements. We know that the meeting places for activist groups and our bookstores are infested with listening devices. Even when we have identified encrypted apps to communicate with one another, Stingrays and their ilk can break those barriers quickly. Since the infuriating technical and tactical invasion of the camp and supporters, confounding communication and gathering ‘evidence,’ I’ve become obsessed with reading about illegal surveillance. Here are just a few articles with information about the invasive governmental and private corporate capacity to own us. At the very least, our computers and phones must be encrypted in these perilous times.
I don’t yet know how to do that. Long a Blackberry user, which was designed with sophisticated encryption built into the device, I was complacent after I made the change to iPhone. Despite dire articles detailing the betrayals of privacy by Apple, AT&T, Verizon, assorted apps and other apparatus and service providers, I didn’t really expect such significant personal effect.
While we waited, we discovered the tenor of the towns around us. With no preconceptions, I made my jaunty way into a café, ready to chat with any willing stranger. Customer suspicion and discomfort rose like dust around us. We didn’t look like hunters. We didn’t look like locals. We looked like strangers on their way to stop work on a pipeline that fed their families. Their mocking voices rose, full of racial epithets, full of spit, full of hate. Everywhere we went, except for Ellen’s office, we heard loud voices, not shouting precisely at us but at the air around us, decrying ethnic groups and lauding Trump. It was lonely and unnerving. I understood, then, the isolation of the Water Protectors in a land that still despised Native Americans, seized their land, desecrated their sacred places, demeaned their culture and language, mocked their rituals, discounted their very humanness. How was it that I was not in camp, aiding their defense, but stuck instead among the likely masked mercenaries attacking them?
Setting out for the first court hearing, we were astonished to find the courthouse was one hundred twenty five miles away. The first appearance was simply a reading of the accusation, a listing of the charges, and assessing the probable penalty – hardly worth the gas. We expected a high level misdemeanor with a substantial penalty. When the charges comprised one felony and two serious misdemeanors, with a likely sentence of eight years in prison, we paled, heads spinning. Layla kept her composure as she was granted the right to a court-appointed attorney and given a date for arraignment. Still unused to the distances and stretches of time in this sluggish state, we could barely fathom that the attorney was more than two hundred miles from the courthouse (well over three hundred miles from our motel) and she wouldn’t have an opening to meet us for an entire week. In that time we began to search for other legal support from the many organizations supporting Water Protectors, but they were already triaging camp cases and unprepared to take on even worthy cases of those still on the road. We were warned, though, not to bring in a too-confident, shiny-suited attorney from the big city. That would only harm our case with the parochial judges. We should look for a local legal eagle. Trouble was, the only nearby lawyer’s office had four walls full of trophy animal heads, an unlikely match for us, activists against wildlife extinction. We waited the week.
We were constantly monitoring events at the encampments and were – like all activists in the nation – riveted and horrified by the violent assault on Water Protectors on November 20. It nearly drove us mad, being so close and unable to help. I needed strength for organizing legal needs, caring for the dog, maintaining composure in the surly surroundings and did not give way to despair, expecting to swim in it when I returned home. (That expectation was fully met.) With mounting expenses and plummeting spirits, we were relieved to receive financial and emotional support from my friends and some legal guidance from her pals and mine. Her court date scheduled two weeks hence, we prayed that the legal ruffians would settle for a commitment to clear out of the state. They’d already made examples of us. I could hardly bear that the energy, time and money I’d spent to be part of this monumental movement had been vaporized. My thwarted desire to play even a small part in this resistance to genocide and ecocide was burning a hole in my heart.
The arraignment was perfunctory, the trial set for yet another week later. A long week it was, full of cheese sandwiches (no vegetarian meals in this beefy town) and weak coffee. The attorney, at first certain she could get all charges dropped, had to negotiate a sterner sentence. In the end all charges were reduced to misdemeanors, two requiring fines of $500 each and the last remaining on record to be expunged in two years if there were no further arrests, even for a traffic violation.
Another South Dakota shock: use of a public defender is not free. In an article titled, A Mockery of Justice for the Poor, John Pfaff, writing in the New York Times notes, “The situation in South Dakota highlights the insanity of this. South Dakota charges a defendant $92 an hour “for his public defender, owed no matter what the outcome of the case. If a public defender spends 10 hours proving her client is innocent, the defender still owes the lawyer $920, even though he committed no crime and his arrest was a mistake.” With just such a fee, total court expenses were $1600.
Payment arranged, we fled from the courthouse to the nearest town in Wyoming with a pet-friendly motel. I drove. I was so grateful for the healing of sheer beauty as we wound our way to Vegas on roads slicing through Wyoming’s Granite, Ferris, Shirley, Medicine Bow and Sierra Madre mountains, and through Utah and Arizona’s stunning red canyons.
There was one last thing though. Google Maps had been loyal throughout our trials, leading us on digital leashes from one place to another. But before we left oil country, things got a little weird. Since we barely had a signal through all the mountain ranges, we’d take screen shots of the maps and directions as we could and follow those. When we could, we’d follow voice directions. We noticed that Siri was sending us down new roads, not the ones we’d saved, but we twisted and turned and trusted we were headed in the right direction. After we were directed further and further from our goal, taken right to the door of three oil refineries, one after the other, miles apart, we contacted Verizon via a direct line system my pal had installed. Sure enough, we’d been misled for miles, the refineries far off our path. Within moments Verizon restored the maps. I’m still wondering if this was one last invasive digital joke. Only Edward Snowden knows for sure.
see the original piece here: http://transgenderuniverse.com/2016/11/17/from-burning-pride-flags-to-a-neighborhood-rally/ Kameron gave us permission to cross-post to Rochester Indymedia! Thanks Kameron!
The morning after the election, I woke up to a text from a friend who said, “Hi! We’d like to get a rainbow flag to hang at the house in solidarity after what happened yesterday. Do you know where we could purchase one?” When he had said, “what happened yesterday,” I figured he meant Trump, but once I got on facebook, I saw that two pride flags had been burned in my neighborhood the evening before. Talk about getting hit close to home! It is being investigated as both arson and a hate crime, but so far there are no suspects.
So I looked up information for the gay pride store that had been a mainstay in our city, first opening in 1989 as a leather and fetish supplier, and later changing ownership a couple of times and morphing into a place that had something for everyone in the LGBTQ+ community. I was shocked and saddened to learn that it had closed in August with the death of the current owner. So instead I recommended a couple of novelty stores to my friend, hoping he’d be able to track one down.
“As the events unfolded, it became apparent that there was nowhere, locally, to get a pride flag because every place had sold out!”
As the events had unfolded, it became apparent that there was nowhere, locally, to get a pride flag because every place had sold out! A fellow neighbor had ordered 120 more flags, and she was formulating a plan to get these out to people and acquire more, flooding the area with rainbows.
On Friday evening, another friend in the neighborhood had texted me to see whether my spouse and I were going to the rally in the morning (I feel fortunate that I have so many friends who are in the loop, because there are times when I am totally living under a rock!). I said, “Yes,” as if I knew all about it (ha ha), and we made a plan to go together.
And so, my spouse and friends (a queer couple with a 10 year-old son) and I walked over to a nearby park Saturday morning, carrying signs and wearing fun outfits. As we approached, I felt a wave of emotion, moved by the size of the gathering, the amount of rainbows flying in the air, and the openness of everyone there.
Mary Moore, the organizer and the neighbor that ordered the flags, stood up on a table to announce the intentions of this rally: to hand out more flags for community members to show solidarity, and to show LGBTQ+ members in this neighborhood how much support is out there. Mission accomplished, by leaps and bounds! There were so many allies and families, along with people who identify as LGBTQ+. I walked around the outskirts of the crowd, taking photos and scoping out all that was happening. There was a station for people to make rainbows out of ribbons, as well as a spot to make construction-paper rainbows. Someone was doing face painting, and there was also a place to sign up to order a flag, because the 120 that Mary had ordered for the rally had sold out in 9 minutes!
The director of the local gay alliance also stopped by, got up on the table, and delivered a similar message of hope and love. I started to feel more comfortable, and moving into the crowd and approaching people with signs, asking whether I could take their photograph. I saw a couple of acquaintances, and where I would normally be too shy to strike up a conversation, in this environment, I went right up to them to say hey and chat for a while. My spouse and friends also connected with neighbors we know, as well as meeting a few new people.
I posted a photo album of the event on Facebook and watched my social network do its work, spider-webbing outwards from friends I had tagged, to friends of friends and beyond. I also messaged Mary, the organizer, to thank her and to ask her a couple of questions.
“…I learned that she has been an ally and supporter of LGBTQ+ rights for a long time.”
We talked on the phone for a bit this morning, and I learned that she has been an ally and supporter of LGBTQ+ rights for a long time, even doing advocacy work in Washington DC. She said that for the past 8 years though, she could ease up because there was someone in the White House who was pushing for the same things; she could focus on her career, working as a lawyer in private practice, and on her family.
She first heard about the 2 flag burning incidents from a friend, while picking her kids up from daycare. Her husband had heard about it through the website, nextdoor.com, which acts as a community bulletin board and a way to connect with others nearby. I just joined, myself, to see what it’s all about (and to try not living under a rock quite so much). Sure enough, 5 days ago, there was a post from one of the victims of the hate crime, stating, “I hang a rainbow flag on my front porch and someone burned it down. Thankfully my house didn’t catch fire. The [police are] currently investigating; please keep an eye out for suspicious behavior in the area.”
And then, as a response, Mary Moore created the event, “Let’s Gather to Support Our Community.” She wrote:
In response to the burning of two rainbow flags in [our] area, let’s stand together and show that our community is tolerant and welcoming, regardless of who you love, where you worship, where you were born, your political affiliation, the color of your skin, or how much money you have. Many people in [our] neighborhood have been buying rainbow flags to put out in solidarity and to give to friends. … Would people be interested in organizing a central meeting place this weekend or next to give out flags and just to stand with our community in solidarity? … Please comment below if you would be interested in a gathering like this, if you have or can buy flags to distribute, and/or if you can assist with finding a location for this gathering. If there is interest, then we can set up a formal event on here.
I know that this is just one of many issues and injustices within our communities and that we are all so very busy, but we have to start somewhere and do what we can with what we’ve got every day. Let’s not be bullied or let our neighbors be bullied.
It all came together from there. I want to personally thank Mary Moore for showing my friends, my spouse, me, and everyone else who could be there for how much we are supported by our neighbors!
Regarding our rainbow flag status: We don’t have one, but when we moved into our house ten years ago, we dubbed it the “Rainbow Ranch,” and I spray painted a rainbow on our garage door. I sure as hell hope that never gets burned down – we just put a new roof on it a couple years ago!
About Kameron: Kameron is a genderqueer janitor, radio DJ, and blog writer. He lives with his spouse and two cats in a house. He is in the midst of his own version of a non-binary transition, and he loves to talk about it! Feel free to reach out about that or anything else, really.
Hana Chamoun, a talented Lebanese-Palestinian actress, was in Rochester on September 18, 2016 to talk about 3000 Nights after it screened. Moderating the discussion was Linc Spaulding from Witness Palestine Rochester. This heart-rending and amazing feature film opened the Witness Palestine Film Series at The Little Theatre.
The Toronto Palestine Film Festival described 3000 Nights this way:
Layal, a young newlywed Palestinian schoolteacher is arrested after being falsely accused and sentenced to 8 years of prison. She is transferred to a high security Israeli women’s prison where she encounters a terrifying world in which Palestinian political prisoners are incarcerated with Israeli criminal inmates. When she discovers she is pregnant, the prison director pressures her to abort the baby and spy on the Palestinian inmates. However, resilient and still in chains, she gives birth to a baby boy. Through her struggle to raise her son behind bars, and her relationship with the other prisoners, she manages to find a sense of hope and a meaning to her life. Prison conditions deteriorate and the Palestinian prisoners decide to strike. The prison director warns her against joining the rebellion and threatens to take her son away. In a moment of truth, Layal is forced to make a choice that will forever change her life.
Watch the trailer below:
Rochester Indymedia journalist T. Forsyth had the chance to meet Hana and was able to send her some questions via email that she happily agreed to answer.
1) Does the math work? Is 8 years actually 3000 Nights?
2) How did you get involved in acting? And this specific film project?
I was 5 years old when I acted in my Father’s film In The Shadows of the City (2000), and ever since then I knew I wanted to be an actress. I directed and acted in several short films and plays throughout my adult life. I was involved in this film project from the very beginning when my mother started working on it. She created a character just for me, but I still had to audition for the part.
3) Your mother directed the film and at the panel discussion I believe you said you were her personal aid. With regards to the film, what were your tasks? And what kinds of hurdles did you have to overcome in making the film?
I took a semester off from university in January 2014 and moved to Amman, Jordan with my mother where we started the casting and preproduction processes. I was my mother’s shadow for 6 months, learning everything I could from her and being involved in the creative process. One of the biggest obstacles we encountered was working with a two year old child, and one of my responsibilities was to keep him happy and ready for the shoot. Asking a two year old to memorize lines or deliver a performance when its needed, is a very difficult task.
4) Can you give me some history (and the location) of the prison used as the backdrop for the film in Jordan? What was the reaction of the Jordanian government when you went to make the film, if any? What about the locals? Did you hear anything in particular, stories, fragments, etc., about what happened in the prison you were shooting?
The location where we shot the film was in an abandoned military prison in Zarqa, Jordan. We had the cooperation of the Royal Film Commission and with their help we were able to get a special permit from the Jordanian army to film in the prison. We were lucky to be able to shoot the whole film in the prion and use it as our base.
5) What was your reaction to the prison on your first tour of it? How did the other cast members react?
Seeing the location for the first time was both moving and chilling. Since it was a real prison we could still see tallies and arabic writing carved into the walls by the former prisoners. There was a haunting atmosphere in that abandoned prison that gave a wonderful mood to the film. One of the actresses, got very emotional when she first arrived on set because she remembered her brother who was imprisoned for several years in an Israeli prison. She recounted to us the traumatic experiences she went through as a child visiting her brother in the prison. She is a Palestinian actress who played the role of Ze’eva, an Israeli inmate. After the shoot was over she shared that playing an opposing role from her reality was therapeutic.
6) Mara raised a great connection that the prison is a metaphor for the occupation. Was that intentionally built into the script? If so, could you tell me more about the connections between the occupation and the prison environment in general?
The oppressive prison system parallels the brutal occupation that dictates the lives of the Palestinian people on a daily basis. Gaza is a huge open air prison because of the blockade enforced on it, and the West Bank is under occupation with military checkpoints, settlements and an Apartheid wall confining people and limiting their freedom of movement. Families and loved ones are separated from each other and denied the resources of their land. Human rights violations such as forced evictions, demolition of homes, unwarranted arrests and torture are far too common. The mass incarceration technique has been used as a means to weaken and silence resistance, resulting in the imprisonment of over 1 million Palestinians over the years.
7) Last year's Witness Palestine Film Fest had the theme of connecting the dots, from Ferguson to Palestine. What connections do you see in the film? What stands out?
I can see a lot of connections between the Black struggle against police brutality in the US and the Palestinian struggle against the Israeli Occupation. The same oppression techniques (which can be seen in the film) are used by the US police force and the Israeli military against their respective civilian population, including shooting of unarmed protesters, indiscriminate beating and use of tear gas. This connection is directly linked to the training of US police officers by IDF soldiers in Israel.
8) Watching the film I had an incredible emotional reaction. As an actor, watching yourself in Rochester on the big screen, I was curious what you felt and does your impression of the film change? If so, how?
Every time I see the film on the big screen I feel like I am watching it for the first time, crying and laughing with the audience. But I also remember the funny, frustrating and difficult moments the cast an crew went through while shooting the scenes. I always tear up in the scene where my sister dies in the film (I’m not sure if it’s because I give a truthful performance or because I remember how hard it was experiencing that - I think it’s a combination of both).
9) How has the film been received by Jewish audiences in Europe, America, and Israel?
The film has had a positive reception by audiences all over the world. It has created discussions among everyone and been an eye opener for some Israelis who are sheltered from or chose to ignore this reality.
10) At the panel discussion you spoke about the relationships between cast and crew. How did folks nurture those connections after acting out such violent and ugly scenes? Did everyone participate in any rituals together?
My mother comes from a documentary background so she is not used to interfering with the performance. She relies on capturing the truth of the moment and the true essence of characters she films, so she gave us a lot of freedom to explore and improvise on set. We were able to do that successfully and create beautiful spontaneous moments because we built strong relationships in the rehearsal period two weeks prior to the shoot.
11) How did you decompress at the end of a shoot?
I definitely experience PPD (post production depression) after the shoot was over. I missed everyone I worked with, but more importantly I missed having such an active role in the creative processes of the work. I felt all along as though the film was my baby and having to depart from the people, location and routine was sad. Working on the film was a very fulfilling and life changing experience for me.
12) (spoiler alert) You also mentioned you had no professional acting experience before the film. Your character's reaction to seeing her sister shot and killed was chilling and felt raw and authentic. How do you think that scene would have played out had you been professionally trained? (Personally, I thought you were fucking amazing. Chills.)
I think even if I had acting training before the film I still would have done the scene the same way. The way I act hasn't changed since I began training, the only difference is that now I am more aware of myself and the process I have to go through to prepare for a role. Acting for me is, and has always been, about believing in and living through the circumstances of the film/play. When I can’t truthfully do that then I can’t truthfully act.
13) Last question. Audience members referenced a certain feminist quality in the characters and their decisions throughout the film. How do you define feminism? Is that a word you identify with? How is your feminism different from, say, American, white, liberal feminism? Or your mother's feminism, for that matter?
Feminism to me is when women can stand up against oppression, subjugation, and in solidarity with other struggles for equality. In this film the women’s struggles are against the oppressive prison system and the injustice of the occupation. Another important struggle and strong feminist message in the film, is motherhood and how the protagonist, Layal, has to deal with that in the context of the prison.
14) Bonus question(s): I know the script was based on true stories from women inside of these prisons. I'm not sure if you know, but was the portrayal of the prison a portrayal of the absolute worst prison or just your average prison at that time? Have you heard of audience members writing the film off as being too harsh or too radical a portrayal of prisons at that time? Or, instead of being written off, has the film brought a kind of reckoning with a reality many perhaps refused to acknowledge or were ignorant of?
The prison experience portrayed in this film is an average one compared to other experiences. There are some elements that my mother chose not to put in the film for various reasons, for example the extreme and brutal torture techniques that were used on the women, especially the rape of the women by Israeli soldiers, which was very common.
Thank you so much!
Related: Miko Peled interview by Witness Palestine Rochester | What Islam means to the White Male- Through the lens of a Bullet Covered in Bacon Grease | After the Requiem, Chomsky answers questions | The Apocalypse’s Apocalypse and Post-Apocalyptic Visions of Sunshine and Blessings | Rev. Hagler's U of R speech and an interview with student organizer Hijazi | Rochester Rally for Palestine | From Ferguson to Palestine to Rochester: the truth perseveres! Rev. Hagler speaks! | New venue found for Palestinian rights speaker after divinity school rescinds invite