– Simon Gaines.
Today, my alarm woke me up bright and early at 7:45, and I was ready to start my day. Well, not quite ready, as I decided to roll over and get a few more minutes of sleep. When I next awoke, I realized the time to be 8:50 am, which was startling, as we had to be downstairs ready to leave at 9:00 am sharp. So, after a frantic couple of minutes, my roommates and I made it downstairs (with time to spare) and were truly ready to start the day. I am from Manhattan, and the hotel we are staying at is actually right near my neighborhood—however, my experience of New York City today was extremely different than usual; I was in NYC as a tourist, not a resident. Today I realized how big my city truly is after having visited cities like Dodge City, KS, or Laramie, WY.
Anyways, the Etgar group, moving as a giant clump that took up the entire sidewalk or an entire train car, made its way to the JCC on the Upper West Side. There, we met with Ruth Messinger, a very notable figure in the world of NYC politics (being a formal mayoral candidate and borough president). Messinger spoke with us about her experience as an activist, touching on the importance of tough conversations, storytelling, fundraising, and joining organizations. I found Messinger’s advice to be extremely helpful, especially in the way that it differed from other speakers we’ve met with. While other speakers have spoken about more vague and general strategies, Messinger dove into the very specific, nitty-gritty aspects of organizing and activism. My favorite part of the conversation was when one of my cohorts asked Messinger how she had managed not to burn out after her decades of tireless work. Messinger replied with “Chocolate.” An important reminder that she, too, is human and that work should not totally consume you. It also reminded me of a quote Billy loves: “Fighting fascism is supposed to be fun.”
After our meeting with Messinger, we hopped on the subway and went downtown to the West Village. We went to MacDougal Street, passed the iconic Washington Square Park, and had lunch in the village. My friends and I had great dumplings.
After lunch, we walked uptown, where we met with members of the Jewish Youth Climate Movement (JCYM). We heard about their work, the history of climate policy, and what intersectional activism looks like. Best of all, the JYCM representative who gave us the presentation was one of Etgar’s own! Lio, who is on this trip with us, did a great job giving the presentation, and it was very inspiring to see how someone my age was already hard at work making positive change in America. Activism does not have an age requirement!
After our climate talk, we picked up our completed laundry, returned to the hotel, and had free time. My friends and I walked around the area, and it was very fun to show my city to people who had never been to it before.
After our free time was over, we again went uptown, where we reunited with Scott Fried! We had previously met with him in Vegas, and he was such a joy; it was wonderful to see him again. Fried spoke to us about the AIDS epidemic and the various forms of activism that came from it. From that conversation, I not only learned that Fried was the basis for a character and song in Jonathan Larson’s iconic Broadway musical ‘RENT,’ but that activism can come in all shapes and sizes. It can be major, like an open casket funeral or having your ashes spread on the White House lawn, or it can be as simple as people wearing a pin at the Tony Awards despite not knowing what it meant.
My main takeaway from today is that there are no constraints to what activism is. Anything one does, even slightly, to spread the message is important and worth it.
After all of our meetings, we went back to the hotel, where my friends and I had a pretty chill night where nothing eventful happened. Good night.