Category Archives: Politics

New York/Atlantic City

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Trump Taj Mahal, Atlantic City — © Brian Rose

The bankrupt Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City. Closed in October 2016. The beginning of a new series of photographs.

Chicago Tribune:

The closure of the sprawling Boardwalk casino, with its soaring domes, minarets and towers built to mimic the famed Indian historic site, cost nearly 3,000 workers their jobs, bringing the total jobs lost by Atlantic City casino closings to 11,000 since 2014. Atlantic City now has seven casinos.

New York/Hamilton

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Bruton Parish Church, Williamsburg, Virginia — © Brian Rose

Although I tend to keep politics in the background on this blog, there are times when the background and the foreground collapse into one another and it becomes impossible to separate them. So, I’d like to address the question of the appropriateness of the cast of Hamilton confronting the Vice President elect — who was attending the show — with a statement expressing their concerns about the incoming Trump administration.

Let me share a story from 1967 when I was 13 years old.

President Lyndon Johnson was in Williamsburg, Virginia to address a group of Washington journalists of the Gridiron Club. It was a roast much like the White House Correspondents Dinner, and there were the usual rhetorical jabs directed at the President amid the clubby conviviality between the press and the powers-at-be. I performed at the event as a member of the Colonial Williamsburg Fife and Drum Corps, and I remember vividly how the jokey bonhomie that evening clashed with the reality outside of constant protests against a never-ending war, and Walter Cronkite intoning the latest daily casualty figures on the evening news.

The next morning Johnson attended the Bruton Parish Church, an Episcopalian church presided over by the Reverend Cotesworth Pinkney Lewis, an eloquent, sometimes melodramatic, speaker
stepsofchurchoriginally from Birmingham, Alabama. I was there with my parents as Lewis mounted the pulpit high above the congregation and directed his sermon at the President of the United States sitting just below. His remarks were respectful in tone, but the message was blunt: “there is a rather general consensus that what we are doing in Vietnam is wrong.” Lewis asked why the war continued to drag on and why there did not seem to be a concerted effort to end it.

Johnson, of course, was a captive audience to Lewis’s criticism, ambushed, some said in a house of worship, and Reverend Lewis came under fierce criticism in the national media. The governor of Virginia and the local vestry felt the need to apologize for his breech of protocol. But as far as I know, Lewis never apologized. A year later Johnson announced that he would not run for a second term. James Jones, President Johnson’s chief of staff wrote years later in the Times: “Mr. Johnson had begun to doubt our ability to prosecute the war to any clear-cut victory.” Precisely the criticism made by Reverend Lewis at Bruton Parish.

As a young teenager I considered Lewis something of a pompous ass, in love with hearing himself speak from on high, delivering well-tuned platitudes that soothed the earnest complacency of those filling the pews below. But Lewis broke from his habitual cautiousness that day, his conscience aroused, he seized what he knew was a once in a lifetime moment, and challenged the President of the United States on the prosecution of the war in Vietnam. Lewis’s church was not a safe space that day.

So, when I see the cast of Hamilton stand up and respectfully challenge Mike Pence in the sanctuary of a Broadway theater, I think back to that day in Virginia in 1967. Sometimes it is necessary to disturb the normally observed conventions, to break the fourth wall when the opportunity presents itself, and confront those whose words and actions promote intolerance and threaten our principles and our rights. May there be no safe spaces over the next four years for Mike Pence or Donald Trump.

Reverend Lewis closed his 1967 sermon to Lyndon Johnson with these words:

“The years ahead will be painful. Customs which seem an essential part of life may have to be given up. Opinions we have held tenaciously may be proven false. Physical and emotional landmarks may be swept aside. We may be compelled to think new thoughts and walk in new paths. Emerging young men and women who will gradually take over must have more understanding than we have had. Necessity will compel them to rise to greater heights than we have known. The future looks terrible; but with guidance from God (as in every strategic juncture of history) He will infuse the essential factor into the equation – something we could never suspect as a possibility – to make the future glorious.”

New York/WTC

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Union Square Park, September 2001 — © Brian Rose

“Under those eight years before Obama came along, we didn’t have any successful radical Islamic terrorist attacks in the US.”  – Rudy Giuliani

Excuse me?!

New York/Borders

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The former Iron Curtain border, Germany, 1985 — © Brian Rose

It was fearsome thing up close, the walls and fences that divided Europe during the Cold War years. From a distance it sometimes appeared more benign — silvery ribbons of steel following the contours of the landscape. But the reality was plain — it was an apparatus created by autocratic governments for repression — and its dual purpose was to keep its own citizens imprisoned, and to limit the influence of western culture. Hundreds died trying to escape.

It was also a dangerous line in the sand between nuclear powers, and any incident along that line had the potential for triggering global catastrophe. I photographed the border in the 1980s, and I documented the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

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Mexican/American border 2016 — Photograph by Kirsten Luce  (New York Times article)

The border between the United States and Mexico can appear similar to the old Iron Curtain with miles of steel fencing snaking through the undulating desert Southwest. It is not the Iron Curtain — it serves a very different purpose — but it, too, is a deadly and dehumanizing scar on the land.

The leading presidential candidate for the Republican Party proposes to extend the fencing across the entire border with Mexico and make it taller, more impenetrable. A beautiful wall, as Donald Trump says.

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There Berlin Wall, 1985 — © Brian Rose

The problems of illegal immigration and the desperate flight of refugees seeking freedom will not be solved by a higher, stronger, more efficient — and deadly — wall. It’s a fool’s errand. And the antithesis of American values.

The East Germans euphemistically called their border fortifications the Antifaschistischer Schutzwall, or anti-fascist protective rampart. Trump’s beautiful wall is fascism — nakedly expressed, for all to see.

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Statue of Liberty — © Brian Rose

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

— Emma Lazarus

New York/Garden of Eden

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The Garden of Eden on Eldridge Street, 1980 — © Brian Rose/Edward Fausty

Adam Purple, 1930 – 2015

I knew about Adam Purple back when I photographed the Lower East Side in 1980. He was impossible to miss riding around on his bicycle dressed in tie-dyed purple. I made the photograph above of his famous Garden of Eden, which consisted of concentric rings planted with flowers and vegetables.

Purple was an eccentric character, to say the least, and from what I could tell, a man of rather severe temperament. So I steered clear. But that was a superficial judgement for sure. We all thought his garden was amazing, carved into the rubble of one of the many vacant lots of the Lower East Side, one of the many individual and group efforts to reclaim land that had been abandoned by property owners.

Later, in the 80s, Purple’s creation became caught up in a range war like the cattlemen and the sheepherders out west. The housing activists wanted low income housing, and the garden activists wanted community gardens and green spaces. Adam Purple was a single minded gardener and an artist — and he wasn’t interested in building bridges with other political elements of the community. That was the downfall of the Garden of Eden, though I don’t blame him for it. He was who he was.

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Eldridge Street 2010 — © Brian Rose

Above is what got built on Adam Purple’s Garden of Eden. It isn’t lovely. It is low income housing providing shelter for dozens of families. There are no shops built along the street to provide opportunity for small businesses and to bring life to the neighborhood, and there is barely any architecture to speak of. But the apartments are decent and affordable, and the area is safe and convenient to everything.

Imagine, if you will, a different scenario in which a sensitively designed complex of affordable housing was created embracing the Garden of Eden at its center. It could have been glorious. But it would have taken vision, something the housing activists and the city planners lacked. And I’m not sure that Adam Purple with his fierce independence would have gone along anyway. After vanishing for many years, Adam Purple was seen again on his bicycle around town, carrying cans and the like for recycling. He died on his bike on the Williamsburg Bridge.

Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.

 

New York/Stars and Bars

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Jefferson Davis grave, Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia — © Brian Rose

I grew up in Williamsburg, Virginia, the one time colonial capital, and now restored town. It’s a place steeped in history, a place that played an important role in the founding of the United States, and I lived just a few miles away from Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in North America. My ancestors can be traced back to the south side of the James River, and at least one Rose came aboard one of the first ships to Jamestown. Not far away is Yorktown, where the last major battle of the Revolutionary War took place, and it appears that my great, great, great — I’m not sure how many great — grandfather fought and died in that war.

On my mother’s side of the family, I have equally deep American roots. The Berryhills emigrated from Scotland to North Carolina, and some of them headed south to Georgia, marrying into the Creek Indian tribe, which was driven west in the “Trail of Tears.” Despite this Native American heritage, my Berryhill line was clearly white, though my sister and I used to joke when we were kids, that we had slightly asiatic features. That was long before we had any idea that there might be a reason.

Some time before the Trail of Tears, my family traveled from Georgia to Mississippi and settled in the area around Jackson, named for President Andrew Jackson, who, ironically, is responsible for vanquishing the Creek Indians from their homeland. My ancestor Alexander Berryhill was a corporal in the Confederate Army and died in the battle of Vicksburg. His grandson eventually made his way to Richmond, Virginia, and finally to Portsmouth, Virginia, where I was born.

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Berryhill marker, Vicksburg, Mississippi

Growing up in Virginia the symbols of the old South were ubiquitous, and I was accustomed to seeing the Confederate flag displayed, sometimes in official settings, but more often in an ad hoc fashion, as a statement I usually associated with red neck no-nothingism, or a solidarity with suspect southern values, one of which was racism. On the other hand, I knew a number of people who participated in Civil War battle reenactments in which the flag was integral, and although it isn’t my kind of thing, I’ve always understood the way in which both sides in the “War Between the States” were given equal respect. That was what I grew up with correct or not — that Robert E. Lee surrendered with honor at Appomattox — that the South may have been wrong, but it is our heritage, and is part of the history of who we are as a nation today.

So, I am a descendant of families that came to Jamestown, fought and died in the Revolution, married into the Creek Indians, and fought and died in the Civil War. My father once told me that my grandfather was a Republican, which was the party of Lincoln in the old South, and he said that he woke one night to the spectacle of a cross being burned in the front yard. I left the South to make my home in the Yankee city of New York, and lived for 15 years in Amsterdam, among the people who founded that city, New Amsterdam..

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Jefferson Davis and Confederate flags, Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia
© Brian Rose

Recently, I returned to Richmond for a funeral in Hollywood Cemetery, the gravesite of Jefferson Davis, the former president of the Confederacy, and the burial ground for 18,000 Confederate soldiers. There were visitors to Davis’s monument, tourists, or perhaps, those who venerated what he represented — I don’t know. And there were Confederate flags. Seeing the flags sent a chill through me on that already cold November day. The Stars and Bars as historical object is one thing, but when flown, (with a calculated impunity) is something else.

Let us remember those who died, right or wrong, in the Civil War. Let us show respect for that history as we seek to learn from it. But it is long past time for the Confederate Flag to fly over any capital in any state, and it is time to acknowledge, finally, that what is a symbol of heritage to some, is clearly a symbol of hatred to others. And as such, should be relegated to museums and text books once and for all.

New York/TSA

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On the floor of the Newport News/Williamsburg Airport — © Brian Rose

I recently traveled to Virginia for a family visit, and I brought along some of my work to show a former high school classmate, who is an avid photo collector. But it seems that he was not the only one eager to check out my portfolio. At least the TSA was kind enough to retape the box of prints. I hope they enjoyed the photographs.

New York/Letter to Attorney General

Following up on my recent post about the situation at Cooper Union, I drafted a letter to New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on behalf of the Cooper Union Alumni Association expressing our support for his ongoing investigation of the college’s board of trustees and administration. Additionally, the letter makes an appeal for the AG to intervene to save the school. It calls for the removal of the current president and the replacement of certain members of the board of trustees. and it calls for a return to tuition free education, the cornerstone of Peter Cooper’s mission as stated in the charter of 1859..

The proposed letter was first presented on the Save Cooper Union Facebook page, and was then submitted to the Cooper Union Alumni Council, which made various improvements to the original. After extensive discussion, the council voted overwhelmingly in favor of sending the letter to the Attorney General. We now await his action.

The final text is below. An easier to read version is also available here.

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New York/Cooper Square

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Cooper Square, New York — © Brian Rose

As Cooper Square gets a makeover, and Cooper Union “reinvents” itself — students entering the school now pay tuition for the first time since 1859 — Peter Cooper sits protected, for his own good we are told, in a box at the center of the square.

Some of us still hold out hope, that when Peter emerges from his plywood prison, his pioneering school will have returned to the mission he set out for it: tuition free, open to all, at the pinnacle of higher education in America.

That hope now rests primarily on a lawsuit brought against the Board of Trustees of Cooper Union accusing them of violating the school’s charter and squandering its resources. We wait — alumni and friends — with mounting anticipation for a positive decision from the judge of the New York State Supreme Court.

Please visit the website of the Committee to Save Cooper Union to learn more.

 

New York/Williamsburg

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Bedford Avenue, Williamsburg, Brooklyn — © Brian Rose

JE SUIS CHARLIE.

Well, actually a more nuanced perspective. This is something I posted today on the blog Daily Kos as a reply to a diary writer who does not support the kind of provocative satire practiced by Charlie Hebdo. The full discussion is here.

Theo van Gogh

I am coming to the discussion rather late, but want to add some thoughts about another similar incident in the Netherlands, where I lived for 15 years. Some years ago, the columnist/TV personality Theo van Gogh was murdered by an Islamic extremist. Van Gogh was well known for his provocative statements about Islam and just about everything, and he collaborated with Ayan Hirsi Ali on a film that attacked Muslim persecution of women. But it was, in my view, a recklessly inflammatory film.

I considered Van Gogh an odious person, even though there was truth to some of what he had to say. He poured gasoline onto the fire, and didn’t seem to care about the consequences.

However, when he was attacked and stabbed to death in the street in Amsterdam, I was left with no choice in the end, but to side with those who defended Van Gogh’s right to live and to speak out. The attack on him was an attack on all of us. As is the case with the attacks in Paris.

So, while I sympathize with the points made in this diary — and I do not endorse many of the cartoons in question — I have to say, in the end, “Je suis Charlie.”

Sat Jan 10, 2015 at 09:56:43 AM PST

 

New York/Lower East Side

NYT_spuraPhotograph from Time and Space on the Lower East Side in the New York Times — © Brian Rose

One of the photographs from Time and Space on the Lower East Side appeared in the Sunday New York Times .

50 years ago a number of blocks of densely occupied tenement housing along Delancey Street were razed and thousands of low income families, mostly Puerto Rican, were displaced. Robert Moses attempted to build a freeway across Lower Manhattan directly through Soho and the Lower East Side, and these blocks were the first to be cleared. The highway was stopped, but the vacant lots remained a political battleground for decades. A rebuilding plan, reached by neighborhood consensus, is finally moving forward. This article explains why it took so long.

It’s a shocking story of corruption and racism. It centers around Sheldon Silver, the New York State representative from lower Manhattan, and one of the most powerful politicians in Albany. If there is justice in the world, it signals the end of his ignominious career.

 

New York/Zwarte Piet

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Saint Nicholas and his Servant

Since it’s all over the media, and today in the New York Times, I will briefly enter the fray surrounding the Dutch cultural icon Zwarte Piet (Black Peter).

As many of you know, I am married to a Dutch woman and lived in the Netherlands for about 15 years. My son was born there. It is a small country brimming with creative energy and industrious people. It’s an extraordinary place in countless ways. But with all respect to my Dutch friends and loved ones, let me be blunt.

The problem of Zwarte Piet is not simply that the Dutch can’t understand why outsiders are so upset about the image of a black-faced white person playing the role of Sinterklaas’s servant. Zwarte Piet is, in fact, emblematic of a deeply racist strain within Dutch culture. The reason the Dutch are so upset about foreign criticism of their tradition is because Piet exposes what they pretend does not exist. Something that goes against what they believe about themselves.

When Barak Obama was elected President of the U.S., I believed that it was proof that American society was moving beyond its legacy of slavery and racial inequality–and in some ways that may be true. But the ugliness directed at him since–that he is Kenyan, Muslim, communist etc.–that he is somehow not a legitimate president–all of that exposes the racist undertow running beneath the surface of American society. So, I take care not to single out the Dutch for their Zwarte Piet self-deception.

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Not all Dutch people are supporters of Zwarte Piet.

Seven years ago, a short time before I returned to New York with my family, I wrote the following in this journal. I was clearly in something of a funk, but I still stand by it.

It’s getting late in November and the days are growing short, the sun is low in the sky when it does show itself in this mostly dreary climate. It’s almost time for Sinterklaas to arrive on his steamboat from Spain accompanied by his Black Petes. The Dutch cling tenaciously to the iconography of Sinterklaas: the severe bearded man dressed in Catholic bishop’s attire, the black-faced afro-wigged Petes cavorting about. It’s a children’s thing, but it is promoted with what seems an almost manic enthusiasm by adults. To outsiders interlopers like me who cannot get past the racist imagery of Black Pete, the whole business is repellent–and in bad taste. It is cultural heritage as kitsch–not a uniquely Dutch phenomenon, of course–but especially egregious.

Not unique — but especially egregious.

 

New York/Statue of Liberty

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Inside the Statue of Liberty — © Brian Rose

“There must be some way out of here,” said the joker to the thief
“There’s too much confusion, I can’t get no relief
Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth
None of them along the line know what any of it is worth”

– Bob Dylan

 

 

New York/Statue of Liberty

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Inside the Statue of Liberty — © Brian Rose

New York State has reopened the Statue by paying the salaries of federal employees who have been furloughed by the Republican shutdown of the government.

Meanwhile the countdown to default and financial apocalypse continues.