People's Climate Arts

Mayday for the Planet: Climate Change Resistance in Bushwick

By John Tarleton
August 14, 2014
Issue #

Tens of thousands of protesters from across the United States are expected to fill the streets of Midtown Manhattan on September 21. They will demand that world leaders take action on climate change at a U.N. summit to be held in the city two days later. More than getting large numbers of people into the streets, organizers of the People’s Climate March are turning to artists to drive home their message that pursuing business-as-usual policies while the planet burns is no longer acceptable.

The climate march will include hundreds of children carrying their own hand-made signs and banners, scientists in white lab coats, building trades workers with images of green buildings, Hurricane Sandy survivors holding aloft waves made of papier mâché, a bike bloc, a boat bloc, roving musicians, a climate march chorus, a “people’s treaty” mass public ritual at the end of the protest and much more.

“This is the place where we can show all the different ways climate change affects human life,” said Rachel Schragis, a visual artist and organizer with the environmental group

Much of the arts production for the climate march and other spin-off protests around the U.N. summit will take place out of the second floor of the newly opened Mayday community center in Bushwick, seven subway stops into Brooklyn and far removed from the wealth and power of Midtown. The space will also host working group meetings and possibly an online media center that would cover the climate mobilization.

On the first Sunday in August, the 4,000- square-foot Mayday arts space was already bustling with energy as People’s Climate Arts Team staffers and volunteers moved in donated furniture and supplies and painted colorful signs to be posted around the space. The expectation that hundreds more people will be pouring into the space in several weeks’ time was palpable.

“To see a space like this pop up feels right to me,” said Raquel de Anda, an arts team project coordinator and former curator of a radical Latino art gallery in San Francisco.

The People’s Climate March has been endorsed by more than 700 groups from across the country, including a number of New York City labor unions, faith-based groups and community organizations. The two biggest players behind the protest are and Avaaz, a global, online civic organization co-founded by

Planning for the climate march began early this year. Activists with past ties to the Occupy movement urged the protest’s leaders to put arts at the center of the event and to not make a large turnout the sole metric of success.

“For popular social movements to succeed, art and creative work must be at the core of their visions,” said Gan Golan, another arts team project coordinator.

Mayday_use me_web

Mission statement: People’s Climate Arts Team members believe everyone is an artist and look forward to working with groups across the city. Photo: Alina Mogilyanskaya

Putting art at the center of a movement, explains Golan, allows it to speak in a bold, unapologetic voice and to offer a galvanizing vision of not only what people are fighting against, but what they are fighting for.

Golan is on leave from his position as national training director for Beautiful Trouble, a network of artist-activists that trains grassroots movements in how to be more creative and impactful. In Golan’s recounting of U.S. social movement history over the past 40 years, the unraveling of the New Left and the counter-culture at the end of the 1960s prompted a shift toward more button-downed, professionalized forms of activism. This turn saw the rise of non-profits with corporate structures that focused on winning incremental victories. The cautious speech of well-educated professionals like lawyers and academics became ascendant while the utopian voice of the artist was cast aside.

That is beginning to change, says Golan, especially since Occupy’s success in bringing a vision of broad-based resistance to corporate rule into mainstream society, something others on the Left had failed to do for decades.

Occupy also helped to popularize a networked approach to organizing that creates real or virtual spaces from which people can self-organize their own actions. This approach, which Golan refers to as Organizing 3.0, is gaining more acceptance, he says, from people doing Organizing 1.0 (traditional Saul Alinsky-style community organizing) and Organizing 2.0 (Internet-based activism that relies on large numbers of people responding to appeals to carry out small tasks to achieve a larger goal).

“Each of these models is very good at very specific things,” Golan says. “Our goal is not to replace other models, but we can be the missing ingredient.

People’s Climate March leaders have committed substantial resources to the arts space, including funding for five full-time staff positions. In time, the march may be seen as a breakthrough in how activists from different organizing traditions can mesh their strengths to create a more powerful protest than any could do on their own.

“We have the perfect marriage of the grassroots and the funding of the 501c3,” said Oja Vincent, director of operations for the arts space.


Can capitalism solve the climate crisis it created? Or will addressing climate change require system change, i.e., a radical break with a socioeconomic model that values profits above people and the planet? Organizers with the NYC Climate Convergence believe the latter. They are hosting a Sept. 19-21 gathering that will feature movement-building workshops, skill shares and a roster of speakers that includes food sovereignty champion Vandana Shiva, Bolivian labor leader and water rights activist Oscar Olivera and 2012 Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein.

The NYC Climate Convergence will host a fundraiser for the event Aug. 29 at the rooftop garden of the Brooklyn Commons at 388 Atlantic Avenue. For more information, see

—The Indypendent Staff

Climate march organizers have worked to make sure that the march and the arts space reflect the diversity of the city. Grants have been made to a number of groups, including Rockaway Wildfire, Right to the City Alliance, the Sunset Park-based UPROSE and the Immigrant Workers Art Collective. Each of these groups will be producing their own art for the march with help from the trained artists as needed.

For de Anda, the work going into the march will help to build relationships among a citywide network of groups that can be activated again in the future. Bringing the People’s Climate March art space to Bushwick has also been a boon for Mayday.

“This is our wildest dream come true,” said Ana Nogueira, one of Mayday’s co-founders. “It’s a great start to the space.

Nogueira, a journalist and documentary filmmaker who co-founded The Indypendent in 2000, and Mcnair Scott, her business partner, hope to launch a bar and performance space on the first floor by the end of the year. The revenues from that would be used to subsidize an ongoing non-profit social movement space on the second floor.

“Our movements need infrastructure,” Nogueira said. “Being in a movement building having face-to-face conversations with people makes our work more fun and effective.

For now, the focus at Mayday is on filling New York’s streets next month with politically charged art. Climate change has languished as a political issue while the planet has heated up at an alarming rate. For the People’s Climate March to have an impact, organizers know that it will take a whole lot of feet in the streets as well as visionary messaging that conveys why they are there.

“This is the incubator where people are coming together to create images that will last beyond the march,” de Anda said of the art space. “If we do this right, it will last in the perceptions that people will take with them from this event.”
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Landlord and Longtime Activist Give Bushwick A Sparkling New Community Space

Just around the corner from the booming Jefferson stop — amidst the cocktail bars, organic grocery, and vintage stores — another new establishment has grown out of the dirt. But unlike some of what has started to clog up Troutman, the Mayday Space isn’t simply for the Catey Shaws of the neighborhood.

The massive, freshly renovated space (about 5,500 square feet) will be open to community activists and social justice causes that might not otherwise be able to afford a space of their own. In addition to welcoming smaller groups, Mayday is also teaming up with Make the Road, an activist organization dedicated to protecting the rights of immigrants that got its start in Bushwick and has grown into a nationwide network. Make the Road already has a facility close by, but it’ll be moving into a spot at Mayday, where it will host adult literacy programs and ESL classes.

EcoStation NY will also have a space of its own in the Mayday Space. About 3,500 square feet of terrace and rooftop will be dedicated to the organization’s “Farm-In-The-Sky” project that will recruit Bushwick youth to tend to an urban farm and learn about sustainability and healthy eating a long the way.

(Photo: Nicole Disser)

Ana Nogueira is co-founder of the Mayday project, which is split into two separate entities– the community space and a bar. Nogueira explained that proceeds from the latter will be used to subsidize the former. “Basically it’s a bar, with a really great event space that community groups, grassroots groups, activist groups, could use as fundraising space– which is sorely needed in NYC, because everything is so expensive.” Space for rent will be priced on a sliding scale.

“It’s just a place to gather,” she said.  “A very active space where people can plug into their community, plug into social justice issues, things like climate change, all that stuff.”

The project is miles away from what the rest of Bushwick development looks like these days. The community space, Nogueira said, is intentionally framed to address gentrification, which is progressing at a lightning-fast speed in the neighborhood. “We recognize that the split is there, and everyone wants to change it and bridge it, and we hope this space can be a conduit to that,” she explained. “Groups like Make the Road say that they want to make connections with the incoming population, they want to collaborate on things. It’s everybody’s community now, so it’s definitely an explicit goal of Mayday.”

Ana, who has worked as a documentary filmmaker, journalist, and activist, has certainly been around the neighborhood for long enough to see it change. “I’ve lived on the block for 13 years,” she said.

(Photo: Nicole Disser)

Though Mayday seems like a logical culmination of Ana’s work over the years and her longstanding commitment to the neighborhood. That, and some serious luck were at play– Ana happens to know a good landlord, which is something of an oxymoron in New York City, especially in rapidly gentrifying areas. “I have a good relationship with my landlord, and a couple of years ago he came to my apartment and was like, ‘I’m building a new building on that empty lot across the street, help me do something with it.’”

Ana explained that she recruited some neighbors and friends to think about the best way to utilize the space. “We helped to transform the zoning of this building, which was a church, to community use, with some commercial use and light manufacturing,” she said. Then came the idea for the bar.

“The community board is not very excited about more and more bars coming in to the neighborhood at all,” Ana explained. “But they really support Mayday because they see that we have a different kind of mission, and the bar is more of a financial engine and a cultural space to bring different communities together.”

Something about this story seemed too good to be true. A landlord wants to give something back to the community? We just had to phone this guy.

(Photo: Nicole Disser)

Turns out Iona Sita is the mystery landlord. He also owns the building that houses the Bushwick Starr just down the block. He’s not a resident of Bushwick, but he said he’s worked in the neighborhood since 1985. Though he had very little to say about the actual happenings in the space– in fact, he insisted he was not involved– Sita said he supports the Mayday project. “I work with my tenants to support them,” he said matter-of-factly. “I’ve known Ana for a long time.”

Mayday still has a ways to go until it’s fully functional, and the bar is still a few months off, but parts of the building are already buzzing with activity. One activist group,, is renting out some of the space for art production in preparation for actions related to the approaching United Nations Climate Summit.

Walking around the space, Ana was in her element– she described exactly how the center would work, and painted a palpable image of what things would look like once Mayday was fully functional. As for the bar, Ana admitted she’s never run a bar of her own before, but said she’s been getting help from some “extremely supportive” local bar owners. “I’ll learn as I go along,” she said.

Upcoming: Special Climate March Issue!

Issue #199

The Indypendent will celebrate its 200th issue on Sept. 9 with a special edition providing full coverage of the People’s Climate March and the grassroots movements fighting for a sustainable future. We plan on printing a minimum of 50,000 copies and hopefully more with your support. Every $50 you give helps us print another 500 copies.

To make a donation, please send a check or money order to The Indypendent/388 Atlantic Ave., 2nd Fl./Brooklyn, NY11217 or go to

To help distribute this special issue, call 212-904-1282 or email

To take out an ad, call 212-904-1282 or email

We know the corporate media will never adequately cover mass mobilizations like the one around the People’s Climate March. But with your help, we can tell a very different story to many tens of thousands of our fellow New Yorkers.

In Solidarity,

The Indypendent

6 Ways to Raise a Ruckus at the People's Climate March

Issue #199

Participants in the People’s Climate March will use art and creativity to give expression to the myriad reasons why it’s important to take action on climate change. Here are six groups already preparing for the big day.

Kids Bloc

Children are the least responsible for climate change but will feel the most severe impacts if nothing is done to change course. At the Sept. 21 People’s Climate March, children ages 3–13 will bring their signs, messages and voices to the street — marching against climate change and its disastrous consequences as members of Kids Bloc alongside their adult caregivers.

In the run-up to the march, Kids Bloc organizers will be holding educational workshops about climate change. Each workshop will offer age-appropriate information about climate change and the opportunity for kids to make something to carry or wear at the march.

Workshops will be held on Sept. 6–7 at the Mayday Space and on Sept. 13–14 at a site to be determined. Workshop times on both weekends are 10am, 12pm, 2pm and 4pm with workshops at 10am and 2pm geared toward children ages 3–7 and 12pm and 4pm aimed at ages 8–13. All workshops will be free of charge and last less than two hours. No need to attend more than one. For more information, contact Donna Oblongata at or Patrick Costello at

Workers Art Coalition

The Workers Art Coalition is a group made up primarily of rank-and-file tradespeople, many of whom are students at the Van Arsdale Center for Labor Studies and in the building trades, who collaborate on art and movement building projects with allied artists. Working out of the Mayday Space, they will be developing creative means to show what a green building future could look like. For more information, contact

Boat Bloc

We all live downstream. That’s the message of the Seachange Flotilla, which will travel down the Hudson River from Troy, NY, to New York City over two weeks starting Aug. 30. Members of the flotilla will make the trip in papier mâché vessels they recently built (see photo caption below). Along the way, they will visit sites of current and planned fossil fuel infrastructure, as well as sustainability projects. For more, see For ongoing coverage of the Seachange Flotilla’s journey down the Hudson River, follow

Bike Bloc

Expect to see a large contingent of bicyclists at the People’s Climate March. In the run-up to the big event, members of the New York City Cargo Bike Collective are planning to build a couple of specially modified bikes. One of the them will be designed to pull around a platform for musicians to perform on. A second one will be a 30- to 50- foot long “caterpillar bike” with two sets of seats side by side from front to back. If you like to build or ride crazy, two-wheeled contraptions, see or call 347-762-4534.

Scientists Bloc

Scientists have warned of the perils of climate change for the past quarter-century with limited success, thanks to an oil industry-financed disinformation campaign. On Sept. 21, scientists will take to the streets in white lab coats to make their point once again. The Scientists Bloc is currently seeking hundreds of lab coats for the march. For more information, see If you are a scientist, science educator or science journalist who wants to sign up to join the Scientists Bloc, see


Large inflatable objects are hard to ignore. Tools for Action plans to produce lots of them for the People’s Climate March and other spin-off protests. The group’s repertoire will include 6- to 20-foot-wide “carbon bubbles” that will be bounced in the air like giant beach balls to call attention to the actions of large banks and other financial industry players. They have bet so heavily on future profits from fossil fuel extraction projects that a transition to renewable energy sources could lead to the kind of economic meltdown last seen with the 2007-08 collapse of the housing bubble. The group will also make smaller carbon bubbles for members of the Scientists Bloc. Tools for action will host a workshop on how to make inflatables Aug. 23 from 12 to 6pm at Mayday Space. For more information, contact

Many other climate arts-related initiatives are getting under way. For more, see The next mass meeting of people doing artistic production for the climate march will be on August 21, at 7pm, and will be held at the Mayday Space at 214 Starr St. in Brooklyn.