At Last

June 25, 2011

It happened last night. I was attending a large event. The main speaker was at the front of the room, holding the attention of the rapt audience.

Suddenly, a woman stood and, without preamble, began reading aloud from the cell phone in her outstretched hand. “The State Senate has just passed legislation making same-sex marriage legal in the State of New York!”

The room erupted in cheers and applause and all in attendance began hugging friends and strangers alike. Last night a long, difficult struggle for equal rights finally came to an end.

The key votes in passing the new law came from two men, both of whom put their consciences above their party loyalty:

NY State Senator Stephen M. Saland, a Republican from Poughkeepsie, who said, “My intellectual and emotional journey has ended here today, and I have to find doing the right thing as treating all persons with equality, and that equality includes within the definition of marriage.”

NY State Senator Mark J. Grisanti, a Republican from Buffalo, who stated, “I cannot deny a person, a human being, a taxpayer, a worker, the people of my district and across this state, the State of New York — and those people who make this the great state that it is — the same rights that I have with my wife.”

I’ve never been prouder of my state. It’s been a long time coming, but in New York State, the rule of law is for equality — at last, at last, at last.

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This magnet, long stuck to my file cabinet, is now an historic relic.

NY Times: New York Allows Same-Sex Marriage
NY Times: The Road to Gay Marriage in New York


The Land Where St. Patrick Walked

March 17, 2011

The St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Fifth Avenue is the world’s biggest, noisiest, happiest celebration of Ireland and its patron saint. Between the dancing, drinking and green hair, it is easy for an observer to think that those who hail from “the land with 40 shades of green” have always been welcome and accepted here.

But the story of the Irish in New York has many a tragic side. Most terrible is the reason that so many Irish citizens arrived on our shores 150 years ago; they were fleeing the disaster known as An Gorta Mór (the Great Hunger). The devestation began in the late 1840s, when a virus attacked the potatoes planted in the fields of the land where St. Patrick had walked.

Cheap, filling, and easy to grow, potatoes were an essential source of nutrition for poor, rural Irish families. When the virus caused the potato plants to wither and their crops to fail, it wasn’t long before starvation set in.

The Great Hunger, also known as the Great Potato Famine, lasted from 1845 to 1852. During that period approximately one million Irish people died and two million more emigrated, many of them landing in New York Harbor. Now, in a quiet corner of Battery Park, near the spot where those desperate survivors arrived, stands the Irish Hunger Memorial.

Created by New York artist Brian Tolle, the memorial opened in 2002 on a quarter-acre of land shaped to resemble a burial mound cut from an Irish hillside. The base of the memorial is made of slabs of concrete interlaced with bands of plexiglass-covered metal bearing excerpts from reports, poems, songs, sermons and letters describing the desperation and destitution of the victims of the famine. These are intermingled with information about world hunger today.

After walking around the base, visitors walk through a short, dark corridor where recorded voices recite facts about the Hunger and emerge into a small atrium lined with stone walls. A dirt path winds up the hill past thirty-two massive stones, each marked with the name the Irish county that donated it, a roofless stone cottage, wildflowers and grasses, all imported from Ireland.

Every aspect of this small patch of land is significant and symbolic; even the size of the space reflects the Irish Poor Law of 1847, which denied relief to those living on land larger than a quarter of acre. Small, subtle and enormously moving, the Irish Hunger Memorial helps illuminate the wonderful, terrible history of the Irish in New York City.

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Approaching the memorial from West Street

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Closer to the entrance

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Plantings overhanging the concrete

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Through the entry corridor

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Words on the walls

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More quotations on the walls

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The words stretch on

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Climbing the hill

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The view from the top of the hill

CRG Gallery: Brian Tolle
The New York Times: A Memorial Remembers The Hungry
New York Magazine: Irish Hunger Memorial
NYC: Battery Park
Battery Park Conservancy


Dyke March NYC

June 26, 2009

Now in its 17th year, the Dyke March NYC is a protest, not a parade. The people who participate in this annual event are motivated by a desire to increase their visibility and make their voices heard.

Thousands of dykes take over the streets every year in celebration of lesbians and to protest against ongoing discrimination, harassment, and anti-lesbian violence in schools, on the job, in our families, and on the streets.

The march goes down Fifth Avenue from Bryant Park to Washington Square. While the organizers never obtain permits for the march, the NYPD takes a rather benevolent view. All along the route, police officers block traffic, pose for photos, wave and generally enjoy Dyke March duty.

Even though it rained during most of the march, one police officer remarked, “Watching these women is the highlight of my week.” I hope you agree.

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Police cars lead the way

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Police and marshalls stop traffic

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Here come the marchers

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Drummers keep the beat

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The rain didn’t dampen spirits

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Finally, the storm tapered off

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Marchers were drenched but happy

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Very happy

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Some were silly, too

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Kids also participated

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NYPD posing and grinning

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Spectators’ signs were wet but legible

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Marchers carried signs, too

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You don’t need a sign to carry a message

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A marshall in her “uniform”

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Dancing in the street

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A couple with a message

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Walking in the sunshine

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Visibility was important

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So was togetherness

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Her shirt says “I love my two moms”

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The march ended at Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village

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These marchers were inspired by the Village People

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The mood in the park was celebratory

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And triumphant

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Rainbows appeared everywhere

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Even on flags

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Veterans of past marches sat and sang together

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Even visitors to the city showed their pride

Dyke March


How About Little Intolerance With Your Breakfast?

May 1, 2009

If you want to survive in New York City, you need to know what’s going on around you. It isn’t easy to keep up with the constant changes that affect our lives, so many of us begin each day by catching up with local news reports on line, in newspapers, on the radio or on television.

To ensure that I hear about the latest street closings, subway delays and traffic jams, I usually turn to the TV morning news. In fact, I was one of the New Yorkers who wasn’t alarmed the other day, when several planes flew around the Statue of Liberty, because I’d heard the flyover announced in advance on the local news.

Today, however, I found the news stories less surprising than a commercial that ran towards the end of the local broadcast. It was 7:50 a.m. and I hadn’t yet swallowed a caffeinated drop, but the ad certainly jolted me awake. It was prompted, I assume, by the governor of New York’s recent introduction of a bill to make marriage legal for same-sex couples.

The commercial, from a group called the National Organization for Marriage, carries a clear message: if all New Yorkers are allowed to equal access to marriage, it will be the end to life as we know it. Heterosexual marriages, happy families and small businesses will be destroyed. Nothing like a little intolerance with breakfast to get the day off to a great start.

Yeah! Let’s make sure them gays don’t get equal rights! And the National Organization for Marriage earns extra points by linking the marriage issue to the current state of the economy!

I expect my local television stations to have some sort of standards, but it appears that Channel 2 (WCBS-TV) is willing to run anything for a buck these days. What’s next? Commercials for the KKK and the American Nazi Party?

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Gay Liberation by George Segal in Christopher Park

WCBS TV: Contact Us
Marriage Equality New York
Human Rights Campaign Exposes National Organization for Marriage’s Fake Ad for Fake Problems
End The Lies
NY Times: Paterson on ‘Guilt’ And Gay Marriage


Help keep the fares fair!

March 26, 2009

Yesterday, the board of directors of the New York State Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) voted to cut transit service and increase fares.

While the politicians and the heads of the agency make their way around in chauffeured limousines, the changes, which are scheduled to go into effect on May 31, will deal a crushing blow to already-struggling New Yorkers. The changes are more than substantial; they are painful.

  • The MTA will charge $6 more for a 7-day unlimited MetroCard, $12 more for a 14-day MetroCard, and a 30-day MetroCard will jump from $81 to $103.
  • The fare on Long Island Bus, which serves Nassau County, will go from $2 to $3.50.
  • Riders on commuter trains will find their fares up by as much as 30%.
  • Those who drive won’t be spared, either: tolls will cost $1.50 more each way at the Brooklyn-Battery tunnel, Queens-Midtown tunnel and the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge (formerly the Triborough).
  • The service cuts are horrendous: five subway lines, including the entire W and Z trains, will be shortened or eliminated; 35 bus routes will be totally cut and dozens more will have less service. Bus and train waiting times and crowding will increase while hundreds of station attendants will vanish.

According to the New York Times, after the board voted, H. Dale Hemmerdinger, the chairman, said, “It’s now a fact, it’s done.”

The only remaining hope for those of us who use the system is that state legislators and the governor can be persuaded to agree on a new transit aid package in the next few weeks. Please call or e-mail elected officials and tell them that they need to come to the aid of riders while there is still time; you can find your representatives via the links below.

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Message posted inside the High Street Subway Station in Brooklyn

Find New York State Elected Officials
Contact the Governor of New York State
New York Times: M.T.A. Votes to Raise Fares and Cut Service
New York Post: The Great Train Robbery
Metropolitan Transportation Authority


Hope on the Corner

January 20, 2009

Even on a cold, barren street corner in Brooklyn, the optimistic mood of the inauguration is apparent. From the front window of this pet grooming shop on Hicks Street, the light of hope shines through the darkness.

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The light at the corner of Hicks and Pineapple Streets

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Hope shines from the window


Our Inauguration Day

January 20, 2009

An overwhelming majority of New Yorkers voted for Barack Obama last November, and many thought of today as “our” inauguration day.

Across the city, workers took the day off to celebrate with friends and family, students watched the inauguration ceremonies from their classrooms, and residents and tourists flocked to see the pomp and circumstance unfold on enormous screens that were erected in several locations.

Of course, the souvenir vendors were out in force, too, selling mementos of the day Barack Obama became the 44th president of the United States.

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First Black President buttons for sale at Foley Square

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January 20, 2009 badges selling in Union Square

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Inauguration Barack Obama shirt for sale on Broadway

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My President Obama shirt for sale in Foley Square


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