Welcome to the next level challenge. In many ways I had no idea what to expect in New York: parking, people, possibilities. My dear friend Taylor Browning hosted me at her shop and her home in Bushwick, Brooklyn. This was my first time driving in NYC, let alone with a 20' trailer. Needless to say it was some next level shit.
Once I got through all the bridge tolls and traversed the roughest of roads, I arrived at Taylor's shop to find out the flag had suffered far too much stress. All the bouncing around had broken a couple welds and I was quite fortunate to be arriving at the SMART Department metal shop. Taylor generously let me use her shop & materials to beef up the flag for city life and added road durability for the long haul. Many thanks SMART Dept.
After a day of fabrication, I was ready to hit the city and get the real dirt from New Yorkers. Luckily I was accompanied by Eric, who stepped up to navigate the dense streets for me. The first day out we toured Brooklyn, searching in vain for adequate parking. What we found was a series of gauntlets, weaving truck and trailer between double parked cars, delivery trucks, bikers, & pedestrians. On more than one occasion it was mere inches to skirt disaster as we passed through the hive of daily activity. Finally we found a spot in Bushwick and posted up, ready to be relived of the intense concentration necessary for driving. It being Brooklyn, people didn't mince words, and I quickly received two identical responses, "Fuck Trump". This sentiment was repeated both on the flag and in response to my inquiry about "how do you feel about America?". The spot wasn't the greatest for foot traffic and we decided to try our luck for another parking space with better traffic. After touring all of Brooklyn, we never found suitable parking. By the end of the day my nerves were shot and I was ready to relax my focus from my mirrors and periphery.
I got jumped into everyday city life and quickly realized what the New York stereotype is all about. The close proximity of people and machines and structures squeezes your psyche, morphing your guard and personality into that big city skin, which is necessary to survive. Eric had grown up in the city, never knowing any different and even commented that he might not know how to operate anywhere else. I posit if everyone in America had to focus on simple daily existence as much as New Yorkers do, there would be a lot less complaining. You do not have time stop spend your brain power in that way, you have to focus on survival. You might get a chance to relax at the end of your day, but you must prepare for tomorrow. You might have a brief moment to hear something going on in the world and respond with a terse "Fuck that.", but you quickly move on because you got shit to do.
The next day we were determined to get a parking space, regardless of legality, and set out for Manhattan. We threaded the needle of traffic across the Brooklyn Bridge and cruised the avenues, causing a few heads to turn. Eric guided us towards busy spots in the lower east side and I felt like it was going to be another day of intense circle jerking in the city. We cut down Broadway and then, almost instinctually, I whipped the rig to the curb seeing enough space to land. We hopped out, markers in hand, ready to get the art on.
Cutting through that city skin to get people's attention was initially a challenge, but once people saw what was happening, participation picked up. There were several comments reflecting speeches from the previous night's DNC speakers. "Don't Boo, VOTE!", "When they go low, we go high", "Finally a woman". Again, Mr.Trump repeatedly received the succinct NYC assessment. Some of the best comments came from New Yorkers who had been keeping their opinion to themselves, but now given the opportunity, let it fly. One gentleman pushing a janitor's dolly looked up, got the gist, grabbed a pen and wrote "Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard." Another quick footed New Yorker dashed, "Think critically, demand evidence." There were many additions of love and respect, kindness and empathy. In some ways, the New York City stereotype is accurate- they love New York. That love gives them the strength to have respect for one another across the great diversity that is a world metropolis. That love provides them with the patience to coexist in close extremely proximity to one another. It is that love that translates "Fuck You!" to "Pardon me, I didn't see you there." Just think, if the rest of American could understand that respect is paramount to existence, we might be able to just get along.
Being in the national capitol did not disappoint for my political art project. Many thanks to Sculptor Mary Early and DC native for helping me set up so many awesome destinations. As you can see by the picture above, the flag got covered with all sorts of sentiments about America. It's been a really wonderful time.
My first stop was at Diverse Markets SW, located near the waterfront in southwest DC. This monthly event has music, vendors, food, libations and this time, political art! It was hot, it was friday, and I was getting the vibe that people in DC may not want to have anything to do with more political BS. Once the sun started to settle behind the burgeoning skyline, the party started to pick up and so did the artwork.
I got a great variety of commentary on the flag, but not completely associated with the Presidential race. When I got the "Dump Trump" a gentleman immediately added "Or Hillary". I guess it's the balance of power. I was really impressed with the image above left of this gentleman with reverent face expressing his thoughts. This kind of interaction makes the work successful for me, his moment of reflection and genuine expression of whats been on his mind for a long while. And it cannot be all serious about our America because "Deez Nuts" has a platform and approval rating surpassing both nominated candidates. I see a sticker opportunity. Many thanks to Michael & Lexie & Rudy of MarketSW for hosting & helping me get there.
Saturday was another scorcher and I was partnered with Emily Arden of ReCreative Spaces DC. Her group is taking over a parking lot for the next three years to do art projects while development of the surrounding area takes place. As it was so freakin hot, there was minimal traffic in the lot for the flag, but I gladly helped out with the picnic table construction, in the shade!
I got to meet Michael, the gentleman who's company is doing the development. He gave me an amazing story of how the 22 acres south of this parking lot are all Section 8 housing and are about to be all torn down. This area of town is the "event horizon" of gentrification. Older homes across the street are going for 3/4 of a million dollars with the declining ghetto right across the street. What Michael told me next really does give me hope for our county. No, not planning a new Starbucks or "resort style city condo living, from the low 300s" but rather the development to be built will be mixed income, maintaining the Section 8 residents location. These are 3, 4, 5 generations of families who have lived here. It is their home, their neighborhood, their community. Michael tells me that the community does not believe him, that there's a lot of mistrust and doubt that this man's word will be kept. His strategy has been to engage the greatest generation, the grandmas of the community, the source of wisdom and direction for many. Even then you know it is not going to be an easy sell. I believe Michael will keep his word. I know he's got his work cut out for him between folks on both sides because neither believe he doing it. This man is putting real value in the phrase "Make America Great Again" because he sees a raising tide must raise all boats, not just for the affluent.
Many thanks to Emily for the great lunch and the contribution to my tour! It was a pleasure meeting such great people and thank you for welcoming me to your group.
I knew I had to brave the traffic and get down to the national mall. After a couple laps, I posted up nicely near the natural history museum. The response was instant. People, pictures, inquiry, hot hot hot. I passed out an entire box of cards and received amazing response. I met people from all over the world, all of whom were very curious as to what was going on. I would joke with them when I asked how they feel about america, "Maybe you've heard about us?" The response was overwhelmingly positive. "I love USA & I love Iran", "Peace to Afghanistan and America", "I love American & Cheeseburgers" Who can argue with that?
There were so many people that I barely had a chance to speak with anyone personally. One young lady quickly hopped up and wrote "9" on one of the stars. As she dashed back to her family, I asked "Why 9?" She replied that her grandmother was one of the nine people murdered in the Charleston SC church. We all think that the violence is somewhere else, that it doesn't affect us, that it is sad, but it's not here. Then you see just how close we are, how tightly American is packed together. That young lady could have ranted and spread hate as her expression, probably with good justification. But she didn't. She simply honored the loss of her grandmother and in the moment of heat & emotion I felt dizzy because I could hardly comprehend the amount of pain she must have gone through. We can be better. We Americans, all of us, we can be better.
I cannot express my gratitude to Ms.Mary Early. She has made my DC stop a total success. She got me spots to post-up and to park, given me a place to stay, & upped my social media game. She is amazing.
Thank You Thank You Thank You Mary. You made this stop a success!
ALSO!!! BIG SHOUT OUT to my friend Quay Krispy, who also put me up and assisted in my project. I love your pool (along with the rest of your neighbors!)
ALSO!!! Many thanks to my dear friend Doug Barton of Richmond, Virginia. A good ole Mizzippi sculptor who let me crash his house for a week and disrupt his neighborhood with political art. Thank you to Alison and Leyna for helping out with the project too.
Yes, you can trust us...
Richmond, Virginia has provided some great interactions, some on the flag, some face to face. When I pulled up in Carytown and parked on the street, it was only a moment before Officer Jennifer appeared on her bicycle. Initially I wondered where she came from, I turned around and bam! she was there. A brief anxiety crossed my mind, but I quickly understood that Officer Jennifer was simply curious about what I was doing, more than if I was violating anything. She explained this was her beat and that she had a bike and a car that she often had to resort to when called as back-up. New RPD policies require all police stops have two officers due to tenuous public/police interactions. I used this opportunity to inquire about the relationship between the public and police in Richmond. Officer Jennifer explained to me that RPD used "community based" approach to law enforcement, which seemed a little canned to me. I asked if there were tensions and she explained that she felt like the community and the police had a good rapport citing the local BLM (black lives matter) protest that occurred without incident. Then she produced the note, pictured above, that she found taped to her bike one morning. Hard not to have your heart warmed by teal ink and 6th grade curly handwriting. Officer Jennifer had a wide smile as she told me of other generous gestures of support she and other officers had received. It can be a thankless job cleaning up society's mess, but she has a very positive attitude and brings it with her everyday. It is imperative we as a society emulate her excellent example and bring our positive attitudes everyday. Thank you Officer Jennifer, keep up the good work.
I spent the morning at the Richmond Veterans Hospital, a vast sprawling complex of parking lots filled to the brim. I was excited to take a freshly painted flag to the VA and get the perspective of those who chose to dedicate themselves to protecting our freedoms. Fortunately I found some space way in the back, but not in a place with much foot traffic. I spent the morning watching people roam for parking and then hobble towards hulking brick promises guaranteed by their service to their country. That promise of well-being and care in exchange for ultimate dedication to our American cause is under strain and it shows on the faces of all our veterans. Stress of pain, frustration from bureaucracy, angst of our political direction, and the general disassociation they feel from the greater population. It is a lot to live with when you feel like you did your part and the rest of American just benefits from your sacrifice. I know this project might ruffle a few veterans' feathers, but I hope they grasp the crux of my mission. It is not the flag they protect, it is the freedoms it represents, the freedoms we all enjoy, and that we should be grateful we all live in such a country. Without those freedoms & people willing to protect them our ability to express our thoughts freely may cease to exist. Respect.
Lastly I spoke with Matt, who did not write upon the flag. He passed by the flag once mildly assessing its' contents, but kept his stride and direction constant. A man of discipline I suspected. When he came back by I engaged him with my project and readily had something to say. Matt is a law officer in the Richmond area and his thoughts of the flag was simple: don't listen to the media. He went on to share a recent story about a shooting that occurred in southern Virginia. His brother-in-law, a state trooper, had a man pull a shotgun on him and he defended himself returning fire and killing the man. Shortly there after the Trooper Station received a call from the Associated Press inquiring about the shooting. The AP asked the race of the victim and upon hearing the answer as "white" they hung up the phone. Not interested, not news. Matt feels like much of the angst in our nation is being stirred up by the media and its hard not to agree with him. The 4th estate has succumbed to the powers of the 5th estate, by-passing truth and integrity and going with whatever outlandish headline will get the most attention. Nowadays it is more important than ever to take in a variety of media reports and assemble your own understanding of what is going on in the world. To quote Timothy Leary, "Think for yourself and question authority" especially when it comes to what media you're feeding on.
I took the opportunity to ask Matt his thoughts on gun control. He quickly responded with "guns for all." His rationale came from the very American perspective of the old west. "If I have a gun and you have a gun & we both know it, then we've reached a peaceful equilibrium which we both respect." I let that sink into my brain instead of retorting with gun violence statistics because it does make some sense, in a long term cultural apocolyptic kinda way. I am not a gun advocate, but in applying Matt's thinking and getting past "good guy with a gun/bad guy with a gun" to EVERYONE has a gun, our societal psychology will have shifted. By changing the power dynamic of those who choose acts against society through gun violence, we may ultimately see less of those events. Conversely, other gun deaths will undoubtedly go up. Given our country is addicted to and at the mercy of money and power, close kin of guns, the full armament of our society seems much more plausible than the intelligent legislating of gun availability. What a world we live in.
Solve et Coagula expresses transmutation from base to a finer state, the perpetual goal of spiritual growth and human evolution. Sounds like a more refined idea of the statement below it!
Durham was full of stories throughout the two day stop. I’ve started to get more comfortable with my spiel, new places, knowing less people, more raw interaction with the public and I think it is showing up in the variety of conversations. I want to thank Tripp, Jolieee, and Cecelia at Vega Metals Art market for helping me while in town. I had an awesome time seeing everyone at Liberty Arts in Durham: Jackie! Denise & Mike and getting to share coffee with my long lost cousin Jennifer Hill (no known relation, just our little joke). And a special thanks to Nicole for purchasing new Krink markers for the tour!!! Just got 'em in the mail!
I had a lady in Durham break down and cry to me about our national condition. It was intense getting drawn into an empathetic moment and giving some very gentle stranger hugs (yes, you better hug a crying stranger lest you cry yourself!) Her angst came from a lifetime of trying to make American better, through the 60s and then into her later life only to see that not much has changed. She described the deception of her grade schooling, that she felt she was fed manufactured history omitting the genocide of the Native Americans. She continued with pain of the Civil Rights Movement, which she participated in, only to have incremental advancement and continued racism in her beloved Carolina. Her's were not only tears of pain, but also of frustration. She was so overcome with emotion it moved our dynamic from empathy to sympathy. I cannot understand feeling so helpless after a lifetime of activism to sense it is somehow all rolling backwards. Maybe my project gave her a little comfort and hope.
I also met another patriot on a journey- Michael Boncek and his Walk By Faith tour (walkbyfaith.today) Michael is traversing North Carolina on foot to raise money for veteran’s suicide prevention. His is a noble cause and he is a dedicated veteran helping his fellow soldiers. It was kinda funny bumping into another pitchman, his story refined and ready. And amazingly, he was not at all bothered by my project. It was a pleasure meeting another person willing to put their energy into making things better on the ground, getting out there and talking with people. I think that’s the most important element of all, getting people out of the news cycle echosphere and face to face. Happy trails, safe travels, and thank you for your dedication, Michael.
I witnessed an episode of racial dynamic between a couple of valet coworkers, some boys in their early 20s, working right next to where I was parked. The white fella got up on the flag & wrote “Greatest country in the universe” His buddy, an African American kid named Aaron, coolly looked at what he wrote and replied “I don’t agree with that.” Anglo bro says “What? Why? What do you mean?” Clearly this guys has no understanding of WTF is going on in the country at large. A few moments pass and a few more coworkers walk up to investigate, examining what the white kid wrote with mild reaction. Now with an audience, Aaron proclaims, “I cannot support or agree with what you wrote.” An awkward wave of non-response floats over the group. Everyone knows there’s a conversation to be had, one that is difficult, one that is not appropriate for Friday night, but the collective group has taken a pass on the opportunity to engage Aaron’s position. I do not know what you call this, if it is passive racism, micro-aggression, general white assholishness, or youthful spinelessness, but here in lies the problem that we’re all experiencing- disrespect. It is the disrespect of someone’s perspective that is different than our own. It is the disrespect of a friend, who’s life hasn’t been nearly as easy, to ease your own guilty conscience that your life has been an American Dream. Aaron was embarrassed, I was embarrassed for him and wanted to cuss the group. I thought there might be a back lashing on the flag from Aaron, but he didn’t want to talk to me. I caught on quick and backed away. No reason to make things worse, but we were standing next to one another for the rest of the night with the whole of what is festering within America between us.
I capped my stay in Durham with a trip down the road to Carboro to visit with sculptor, cyclist, and friend Pat Day. Always a pleasure to kick it with another artist, Pat, his cycling buddy Steady, & I sat around the informal “Pat’s Bar & Grill” breaking down all the “wtf”s of our current affairs. Rarely I think it occurs that people are able to get together and have a relaxed dialog about what’s going on in the world with folks they barely know. But when it happens, it can be really fulfilling. It is as if building a few bridges of understanding and communication are therapeutic for our taxed minds. We didn’t solve any problems of course, but we did respectfully listen to one another, taking turns and letting go of our harder notions to yield to the more enjoyable moment.
Talking and listening with these gentlemen I continue to gain a better understanding of the anxiety that continues to creep into the American psyche. The unknown change that is approaching us as Americans threatens the good lives that the majority of have enjoyed. Many of us have lived in a prolonged period of general security without want or even need for our basic livelihood. The future is always unknown, but Americans have become accustom to knowing there is bread, shelter, protection as well as Yellow Fin Tuna, Hummer SUVs, gluttonous television entertainment, and cheaply harvested year-round vegetables . Not everyone in our country is afforded all of the above, but the thought of losing any perceived advantage kicks in a primordial survival reaction. It is as if we cannot conceive of things changing for the worse and that we will be woefully unprepared. This is when anxiety mutates into fear; fear of the future, fear of the unknown, fear of the others, fear of your neighbors, fear that swallows you whole. We cannot be lead by fear or we will destroy our grand experiment in governance for the people, by the people. It is a personal responsibility to overcome one's fear, but often requires a hard look in the mirror to know exactly why you are afraid.
As I make my way on this artistic journey, it is really gratifying to have the support of fellow artists like Pat Day and his friend Steady. In some ways I feel like I am out there promoting tolerance & patriotism for a great number of people who don’t want to give in to fear, people who know the importance of our collective evolution as a society, people who really do believe in an America for all. Progress isn’t perfect, but it is paramount and it starts with each one of us choosing respect and love over fear and othering. Many thanks to the guys at “Pat’s Bar & Grill” for the enlightening dialog and welcoming environment. I'll be back!
Today I was generously accepted into the French Broad CoOp farmers market in downtown Asheville. Upon the direction of my hostess, Jane, she knew there was an empty lot, but did not know that Wednesday's was market day. I luckily pulled in before the space was filled with pop-up tents and merchants selling their wares. A quick conversation with the outreach coordinator, Clare, at the CoOp and I was accepted for the day. Many thanks to the great folks at the French Broad CoOp, you made it easy for my art to happen and I thank you!
Downtown Asheville is a crossroads of tourists, locals, and folks coming in town. A cosmopolitan city I surmised, hoping for a wide geographic/demographic input on the flag. Instead, the challenge today was hustling people to engage with the art work. Nothing more than simple location and presence, my flag was back away from the sidewalk of vendors, creating a spanse of 20 feet which many chose not to traverse. This presented a choice of either get out and bark to involve people, or sit back and easily observe who chose to interact. Given the chronically slow syllable lingo of native Asheville hippies, I chose to allow people to interact on their own. It was like....whoa....!.......!!!!......faaaar out....man.
One of the first people to share on the flag was Michelle. Truly engaged with all that is happening, Michelle informed me of many conspiracies that are about to come to fruition. This is my first encounter with someone who has a higher understanding of what's going on. She intimated to me that the whole system is rigged (yes), that Hillary is going to be president (yes, go on), that then she will be assassinated (Oh, really?) to leave our political system in such turmoil, and with Justice Scalia out of the way, Obama will sit a third term (No shit?). I asked if she thought maybe President Obama is ready to complete his term and move on to something else, "Oh, no. He loves the power too much, he wants to stay and I'm so happy if that happens." That last part was a bit of a trip for me, thinking that for all the stands of this conspiracy, Michelle must not like the President. Who would have thunk it? I think she wants to give the guy a raise!
Through out the day, people would approach and present themselves in front of the flag reading all the other expressions, only to decline to participate. One young lady, pictured above left, readily took up the pen and wrote "I love our Troops, #Merica" Of hispanic descent, I wondered if her brother was enlisted in our military. So many people come to our country for a better life and in gaining that life improvement have tremendous gratitude for being in the United States. Why is our national gratitude so bitter when we all have so much? That's a hard one to pin down.
The center image is of a lovely pair of ladies who felt that some of the colorful language on the flag need to be embellished. This way people may not see the word in the same context, but they refused to mark it out completely. It was an interesting lesson in tolerance and censorship and what you can do within your own power to change meaning. Maybe there is a tool kit for tolerance that could be developed that combines respect with self-assertiveness to be the change in the world, without infringing upon others?
Lastly I met a young man towards the end of the day who wrote "DISIDENTIFY" on the flag. I'm pretty sure he has now coined the term, I was confused as to what it meant. When I inquired, replied that he agreed "we're all fucked." I couldn't help but wonder what his angst was. I got the impression that I maybe talking to someone who is of the alt-right perspective. My interpretation of his chosen expression linked "identify" and our on-going cultural expansion of LGBTQ rights, where the term "identify" is an active function of daily life. Did this young man feel that he (or we as Americans) have nothing worth celebrating that we should disown our identity as Americans? I appreciate this honest expression because there are many people in our country who maybe feel like America is not their country anymore, but they should.
Finally, if you're in Asheville on a Wednesday, you should make your way to this farmer's market for one thing only: fresh baked bread. The other vendor in the back with me was Tom. A soft spoken fella, Tom has been a baker for more than 20 years. He has a small wood fired oven and bakes sourdough, rustic baguette, and focaccia. Everyone wanted some, many repeat customers. Tom said he used to back commercially, working working working all the time, but now, just on Wednesdays. We chatted throughout the day and Tom told me of the changes that has come to Asheville. Each time he pulled fresh bread from his oven, someone was there to buy it. I caught on quickly and nabbed a delicious load of focaccia. We both agreed there is a lot to be gained from a "less is more" perspective. We didn't talk too much politics, but by the end of the day, Tom wanted to give his perspective. "If Trump is elected, he'll do all the stuff Hillary has already done." Pretty shrewd assessment, but Tom really doesn't care, he's just going to keep sharing whats good in life with good people in Asheville- his fresh baked bread.
My second day in Asheville took me to West Asheville where much of the local vibe resides. Tight street and unique places were abound. I lucked out when I discovered an afternoon farmers/makers market and found a near-by parking space. I inquired about joining the event impromptu, but the directors felt my project was a little too political for their mission statement. Understandable. They were very helpful in passing me around the community of people to perhaps find a better spot, something on the street and more visible. Sure enough, there was an empty lot on the main drag and I prepared to move my rig.
Before going I had a nice stream of visitors walking to the market who engaged my project. Everyone was really excited about it and the energy continued from the night before. Except, as I was pitching my story, I noticed a blue-collar gentleman watch all this from the parking lot, a disgusted look on his face. This was not my first encounter with disapproval, but I felt it necessary to provide explanation. Then the bottom fell out of the clouds and summertime thunderstorm gave Asheville a healthy shower. I waited out the rain sitting in my truck, a good 45 minutes. As the rain let-up, I saw the mechanic walking past my trailer towards his shop. I instinctively hopped out and went to talk to him.
Upon approach I asked if he would like to know what's going on. He turned, facing me squarely said, "No. I know what's going on." I noticed his embroidered name in the classic oval, "Robert". I said, "My name is Robert, too" hoping to find a quick commonality. He folded his arms in a just manner and asked me if I was ex-militiary. "No sir." I replied. "Then I have no reason to talk to you." With that he walked off and I thanked him for his time.
The rain began to fall again, running me back into the cab, where I had the opportunity to digest what just went down. I had many thoughts about the way military people feel unappreciated by the general populace and the idea that our freedoms are provided by these people. This is misguided, but cannot be investigated in the minds of our national militia because you are never going to convince them of their function vs their perceived role. I knew I was going to encounter this, even anticipate getting punched or tires slashed out of anger for what I am doing. But I realized, with my pile of fresh stickers, Robert just proved my example. He showed tolerance for an idea that he disapproved. In that moment, we traversed free-speech, being offended, confrontation, and peaceful resolve. I have great admiration for our military personnel, which grew even more today because of meeting Robert: mechanic, veteran, patriot, American.
Driving into Asheville I came across a bridge and saw great swaths of graffiti on old factory buildings. I knew there was a brewery somewhere near-by. After a few double backs I found what I saw, The Wedge. A string of shops and restaurants with a nice beer garden gravel parking lot. I paraded my rig past the happy hour crowd, much to their curiosity, and luckily found enough parking space to post-up right at the end of the beer garden. Hoping out of my ride after a grand entrance required my pitch to primed. A small cluster of friendly folks passed me a smile I made my way for introductions.
Asheville is a welcoming, friendly, and aware city. People quickly grasped my concept and readily ascended the stairs and express their patriotism. How often do you have a regular after work gathering get invaded by contemporary art? I have taken to calling my practice #popuppatriotism and in our current times people are ready to talk about America, what's going on, what can be done, and why is it all happening. Today American Expressions was catalyst for instant current events roundtable.
This is the beginning of my Asheville stop and the initial community input was great. Many folks posting messages of love. One love. BIG LOVE. Love one another. LOVE WINS. It is not cliché and cannot be overstated. It is what we need and people know it. There were other comments of political persuasion decrying one toupeed candidate. One youngster penned "Kill the poor" (a Dead Kennedy's song). I immediately inquired about his post only to be instantly millennially-butted for not knowing this obscure reference. Ahhh...I get it, ironic. The power of words somehow doesn't always succumb to the influence of context. No one who reads that will think anything other than exactly what it says. We might debate pens and swords, but by god we all better start using our brains because words matter, no matter how cool you are.
I had the pleasure of meeting Scott of 103.3 AshevilleFM, a volunteer run radio and news organization. An older gentleman with exquisite lapidary rings of his making, he quickly reminded me of my iron casting mentor Skip Van Houten. We hit it right off because he wanted to know about that big ole flag. After giving him my pitch, he requested to interview me for the radio. We walked down in front of the flag as people were writing on it and put on the recorder. What a great experience. His questions and my answers about what and why I am doing this flowed so well. I am eager to hear the recording and will certainly post it here. Our dialog continued into other areas as Scott told me about a program in Asheville called "Building Bridges". As the name says, it is a program bringing different races together to get a sense of what its like to be black, to be white, to be a policeman, to be a veteran. He described a great method employed in the program where participants fill out a questionnaire about their life experience. For example, "have you ever been refused service because of your race?" All answers had a numeric value attached and once completed, the values were totaled. Then everyone was to line up, physically, on the scale from 0-100. Scott said the human graph depicted a cluster of white folks in the upper range and the cluster of black folks in the lower range, with a large gap in between. That's powerful stuff. That's the kind of stuff we need going around everywhere right now. We all got to see that the "pursuit of happiness" isn't equal, not by a long shot.
Getting to crash the party in grad patriotic fashion brought up everything that's happening, despite the wishes to wash away the day. I waved at a couple ladies to come sign the flag and they nodded yes, but it didn't transpire. Later on I saw them about to leave and offered again. They had to go, but told me they spent the last 90 minutes talking about the state of our country. They took the time to go over the current events and expression their concern with one another, perhaps even conjured plans of action. That there is the art at work. That is the idealistic license that artists have to interject their ideas into people's minds. It is the purpose of this trip, to get people thinking, talking, sharing, and hopefully changing that which is not right around them. Best of luck, ladies, you too are an inspiration.
Finally! Big ups to my new friends Better Dayz & ShammanEthan. These are a couple of my new dudes and they treated my like family. Time to go to West Asheville and get down.
American Expressions tour stop in Dalton, GA was purely social because it is the home to my longtime friends, Chad & Sonny. This does not mean that the political dialog was not in full force. You can't show up at someone's home with a big ole flag and not have a discussion of current events. I am very grateful for their hospitality and friendship, but I knew we were going to chop up the issues and have to clean up the floor.
Over the course of the evening we discussed race, class, identity issues, religion, we covered it all. And this time, unlike the other occasions when I interact with the public, I get to have my voice and not simply listen. Truth be told, it is Sonny and I who have banged heads in the past. This time around, our shared gratitude for one another kept the dialog respectful and exchanging, thanks in part to Chadwick's colorful commentary.
Sonny describes herself as "true blooded, Christian American Republican." God. Country. Party. We quickly moved through who we're going to vote for in the upcoming election, an obvious division. I inquired what has made our country so deficient of quality political candidates, kind of a rhetorical question since I am not sure any really exist. I then asked a most daring question, "what do you think about how Obama's done?" Boom. I knew I was in the listening seat for a good 20 minutes. What I heard was mostly about money, Obamacare making things worse financially, and the amount of welfare fraud (people getting handouts). I told them that I finally have healthcare because of the ACA. A mild look of shock passed across Sonny's face. I was not one of those "other" people. I then inquired about if they knew how President Obama tweaked the Clean Water Act to allow fracking to proliferate and the subsequent cheap gas and oil independence we now enjoy. We all agree fracking is bad. But none of us could absolve our love of cheap gas. See? We can agree. Thanks Obama!
As our discussion carried on, we continued to bounce off the idea there are many people benefiting from the expenditures of others. Tis a common theme in our political right. This is where I was happy to share my opinion: the political rights' morality is in conflict with its policy. Pro-life but not pro-healthcare for all? No more hand outs to the poor, but restrict women's health options to the poor? I asked Sonny "How can the Republicans lead our nation when their message is exclusive and contradictory to the common good?" Again, maybe a rhetorical question, but one that is not missed on a great many voters.
The conversation often veered back to Sonny's passion, teaching her 4th grade class. There is not a more passionate and dedicated person for this responsibility. She told me about how her teaching platform revolves around environmental stewardship and her students lead the lessons with their questions. I know teachers deserve vastly more resources, but Sonny is doing more with less and making things better for all her students. Why? Because she believes in America. She holds her students to a high standard, teaching them to hold themselves to a higher standard. Despite our political differences, Sonny invests values into her curriculum that are broad based and non exclusive. Everyone can do it, and you will do it too. I have a tremendous respect for Sonia Elkins because she is making America better, one 4th grader at a time.
We didn't solve any problems in our discussion, but we didn't cause any either. Perhaps after 8 years of congressional gridlock, the American populace can learn something from a bad example. We are nation of differing opinions and ideals. But we are also a nation of families and friends. Despite our differences, we can work together, we must work together. I think that if I and Sonny had to solve one problem, we might bang heads a few times, but we wouldn't let it stop us from being a great team. RTR.
My sincerest apologies to all my friends in Atlanta for not being able to bring the flag to town. Your community is strong and is leading the way for peaceful change. Atlanta you are making the nation proud. I hope to one day return the flag to your door and collect your American Expressions.
4th of July! The beginning of American Expressions 2016 tour was accompanied by fireworks and fanfare. Starting in Birmingham, Alabama provided a great occasion to celebrate our freedom and independence. AE visited Vulcan Park and was well received by visitors. Everyone was eager to expression their positive feelings about our country, of course, because you shouldn't talk shit on someone's birthday, it's just not proper. Many expressions invoked God to continue blessing us. Makes me curious if our faith shouldn't be placed in our abilities to compromise & coexist versus the higher power who is originally decreed as "separate" from our state.
Overall the crux of this project was well reflected in the 4th of July celebration. It was a spectrum of people all engaged in the freedom we cherish. I met families on vacation, enjoying our freedom of movement throughout our nation. A group of bikers who came along and added some colorful & pointed commentary to the flag. And there was Nick, who is from India, via Texas. He came to Birmingham and owns a convenience store off 1st Ave North. His gratitude for being in America was evident by his wide smile and eagerness to share his story. As we became friends, listening to the tale of each other's lives, I confided that I was now "homeless" since I was touring this project. Nick may have gotten my joke, but regardless, he quickly offered up a place to stay at his store. It was a really kind and thoughtful gesture not because he believes in my project, but he really believes in America. He's been given an opportunity and he wanted to "pay it forward". I hope this project inspires many people, like Nick, to take stock of all the great opportunities we have and invest in the future of their communities and this great country.
Today I departed my long time home for idealistic adventure. For the next 4 months I'll be listening to American's gripes, fears, hopes, and loves of our country. Many believe we are at a crossroads and I too see our future in polarized prediction: are we coming together or coming apart? My artistic aspirations for this journey are to simply put our collective existence into the largest context possible. To publicly demonstrate our differences matter less than our communal respect for one another. I hope our ability as free citizens to come together IS more important than our selfish desires to come apart. And to recognize the precarious tipping point we maybe upon. As my friend April succinctly put it, "RESPECT EXISTENCE or EXPECT RESISTANCE"....