Saturday, July 19, 2008

Saturday in Bed-Stuy: The Third Annual Gender Equality Festival in Von King Park

From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Herbert Von King Park in Bed-Stuy (back in our day it was Tompkins Park) was the site of the Third Annual Gender Equality Festival, sponsored by Girls for Gender Equity (GGE), featuring over 100 community artists, organizations, and local politicians coming together to celebrate girls, arts and everyday activism, offering performances and important information.

We got to the park early, getting in our morning walk all the way from Dumbo Books HQ in Williamsburg (hey, maybe we made better time than we would have on the weekend G train) before it got way too hot.

Actually, we made it so early that the Festival hadn't begun, so we had the privilege of watching an exciting Inner City Little League game featuring excellent pitching, some skillful base stealing, a well-executed sacrifice fly and power hitting from both teams.

The bottom of the sixth was pretty exciting, as the Mets had the tying run at the plate with two outs, but in the end the Giants triumphed, 10-7, and will be back in the league's World Series for the second year in a row.

We did notice on Gender Equality Festival day that all of the players on both teams were males, but there were a number of girls on the roster of the Angels and Nationals in the next game. Girls for Gender Equity, through its commitment to the physical, psychological, social and economic development of girls and women, has among its many programs lots of sports activities for girls.

Seeing the Festival was well under way on the east side of the park, we wished the Little Leaguers good luck and went over to see the booths and the action from the amphitheater. We watched a well-performed and informative series of skits on HIV-related stigma from kids in the programs of CAMBA, the Church Avenue Merchants Business Association, the lead agency for the local HIV care network in our old neighborhood.

We also heard interesting and inspiring talks by representatives from MIC-Women's Health Services and were thrilled to see some young poets from the New York Writers Coalition programs such as little Najaya Royal, who stole the show at last year's Fort Greene Summer Literary Festival with her tale of how a tidy neighborhood cat used bleach to clean out the heart of Mrs. Poopyhead, a woman so mean she’d eaten her own husband one Halloween night. (See our 2007 report at Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn.)

There was lots, lots more from many dedicated individuals and organizations, such as GGE's Sisters in Strength,for teen women ages 15-19 learning to be agents of social change by deciding on, planning, and implementing a grassroots organizing project. They also participate in skills-building workshops to receive assistance in applying to college, increase their financial literacy, and become more informed about political and social issues that affect them.

And like other organizations present, Sisters in Strength fights sexual harassment in New York City's public schools and elsewhere, trying to educate people about the seriousness of this problem.

We also spent a long time walking around the many tables from terrific community-based organizations, associations, and programs, from the Audre Lorde Project (named for the great writer whom we had the privilege of teaching with at John Jay College for Criminal Justice), a vitally important community center for gender variant people of color, to Turning Point, which addresses the needs of Muslim women and children through culturally competent crisis intervention, individual and group counseling, advocacy, outreach, education and training.

We feel bad that we can't mention every one of the wonderful groups that had tables at the Festival. All of them do good work in helping make our community a better place, and you should support at least one organization that empowers the girls and women of Brooklyn and makes life better for all of us.

It was getting hot for us, but we were grateful that we got to participate in this year's Gender Equality Festival. As we walked to the corner and caught the B43 bus back to Williamsburg, we reflected on another summer day in a New York City park where a 19-year-old boy from Brooklyn witnessed an earlier generation's struggle for gender equality.

Here are a couple of pictures we took at City Hall Park on the morning of August 26, 1970, the fiftieth anniversary celebration of the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment guaranteeing women's suffrage. It was a historic day and it opens Gail Collins' recent magisterial history of the American women's movement.

Here's fiery Manhattan Congresswoman Bella Abzug, well known for her floppy hats and her fighting liberalism.

Abzug would never win her primaries for mayor or senator but remained in Congress for a number of years. Next to Speaker Tip O'Neill, she was probably the most well-known member of the House.

In the pic above, she's talking to New York City Consumer Affairs Commissioner Elinor Guggenheimer (who the previous year had finished fifth in the primary for city council president, managing to beat only Norman Mailer's ticket-mate, the incomparable writer Jimmy Breslin).

Above is Guggenheimer talking to the press (Ralph Penza of WCBS-TV and others) in City Hall Park at the start of the rally. New York Mayor John Lindsay (for whom we'd worked the previous year, in his unsuccessful June Republican primary and for his winning general election campaign as candidate of the Liberal Party) refused to grant a permit for a march up Fifth Avenue at first, and there was a standoff that later got resolved.

To Guggenheimer's right in the photo you may recognize Betty Friedan, whose book The Feminine Mystique, in which she discussed "the problem with no name" that American women faced, really launched second-wave feminism in this country.

The lady below seemed to be fighting for her own rights, though we're not sure of the relevance to women's liberation:

Here's a protester more in the spirit of the day:

We can remember that placard really well: Male Chauvinist, You Better Start Shakin', Today's Pig is Tomorrow's Bacon!

We've got our diary entry for that day in our forthcoming book, Summer in Brooklyn: 1969-1975. Lots has changed, in Brooklyn and the world, since those days.

Well, we feel privileged to have been even just a witness at 1970's Women's Liberation Day, just as we feel privileged to see the daughters and granddaughters of second-wave feminists at Von King Park today.

Isn't life wonderful!

No comments: