From St. Mark’s Church to CHARAS, Brad’s community expresses its love.
November 12th, 2006 – John Tarleton writes: Two hundred friends of Brad Will sang, cried, shared stories, marched through the Lower East Side and stormed a padlocked community center Saturday as they remembered the longtime activist and independent journalist who was murdered on Oct. 27 by Mexican paramilitaries.
The day’s events began at a packed St. Mark’s Church where a three-hour plus memorial service was held featuring music, poetry, homemade video from Brad’s travels, readings from his writings and a slideshow of his life set to music by folksinger Stephanie Rogers. A giant banner of Brad holding a small child in his arms hung above the back of the alter. Below, a vivid, life-sized cardboard cutout of Brad holding a video camera was mounted atop his old bicycle. Brad’s sisters Wendy Mikavich and Christy were also present.
Photos and Background on NYC IMC
“We’re here acknowledging the life of a prophet and a saint,” said Frank Morales, an Associate Pastor at St. Mark’s and a veteran Lower East Side activist. “Over the years, I saw him go from a being a very heart-on-his-sleeve kind of guy to someone who was a very centered and wise-beyond-his-years person.”
The slideshow, which featured scores of family photos, left many in tears as it showed Brad’s life unfold from a playful little boy growing up in an affluent Chicago suburb to a playful, easygoing adult who refused to turn his eyes away from injustice and oppression anywhere in the world.
“You gave names and faces to the big body counts,” said his close friend Dyan Neary, who traveled with him in recent years throughout South America.
Brad, 36, was killed by paramilitaries who fired into a crowd while he was filming protests against the much-despised governor of the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca.
Throughout the ceremony, friends wove together the various strands of his adult life—from student of Allan Ginsberg at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics in Boulder, Colorado to his frontline activism in the old-growth forests of the Pacific Northwest and the squatter and community garden struggles on the Lower East Side to his work with Indymedia.
Tears turned to laughter when video footage was shown in which Brad (who could clean out anyone’s refrigerator) stood on the side of a highway trying to compose a haiku to hold aloft for passing motorists before finally giving up and trying to scrawl “84 East” on a piece of cardboard, which somehow came out as “84 Eat”.
The final reading of the ceremony was done by Andy Stern who narrated Brad’s last dispatch from Oaxaca on Oct. 16 where he describes spending the night with the friends and family of a local activist who was shot dead by local paramilitaries while standing guard at a barricade. “One more death—one more martyr in a dirty war,” Andy read aloud. “One more time to cry and hurt—one more time to know power and its ugly head—one more bullet cracks the night—one more night at the barricades—some keep the fires—others curl up and sleep—but all of them are with him as he rests one last night at his watch.”
Besides Andy and Dyan, at least 27 other present and past members of NYC Indymedia were on hand including Amy, Ana, Andrew, Bennett, Brandon, Chris, Dan, Erin, Erin, Firefly, Fritz, Jeanne, Ida, Jed, Jim, John, Josh, Kat, Kevin, Kevin, Lauren, Mike, Patty, Priya, Sam, Tahira and Tarikh. Members of Houston, Rochester and Danbury, CT. IMCs were also present.
The Hungry March Band lead the crowd out of the church and into the cobble-stoned front courtyard where people were able to nourish themselves from a heaping table full of dumpster score—pastries, muffins, hummus, loaves of dense whole wheat bread, two chocolate cakes, four cartons of premium not-from-concentrate orange juice and baskets of fruit overflowing with apples, oranges and bananas.
A raucous funeral procession ensued as the crowd followed the Hungry March Band on a winding tour of the Lower East Side. Confused onlookers watched as the crowd roared by chanting “Brad Will, Presente”. A single cop car with flashing lights followed behind.
The procession passed the site of the former at 537-39 E. 5th St. that was demolished in Feb. 1997 despite Brad’s dramatic rooftop stand in the face of a city wrecking ball. The crowd also visited the former site of Esperanza Garden on 7th St. where Brad and others fought to stave off city bulldozers intent on clearing the land for real estate developers.
An older gardener who came of age in the 1960s recalled, “ In 1971, 1972, we thought a better world was just around the corner. We thought there would be successful revolutions in many countries around the world and in this country too. That didn’t prove to be the case. Now we know the struggle is a lifelong commitment.”
Departing from Esperanza, the procession made its way up Ave. C and turned left on East 9th St. When the crowd arrived at the former CHARAS Community Center on 635 E. 9th St., a cheer went up and then suddenly the padlocked front gate burst open and people poured into the front courtyard.
The giant five-story school building was abandoned by the city in the 1960s and reclaimed by Puerto Rican community activists in 1978. Over the next 20 years it would become a vibrant center for arts and activism in the Lower East Side before Mayor Rudy Giuliani had it auctioned off over heated protests to a real estate developer who is still embroiled in legal disputes with his neighbors.
Dozens of marchers entered the building, exploring the gutted first floor and tagging the walls with graffiti honoring Brad. Several people ventured up a dank, darkened stairwell by the light of their cell phones hoping to hang a banner from the front of the building. Startled pigeons flew low overhead crashing into windows. Unable to pry open any of the front windows, the protesters finally scampered back down the stairs and out into the fresh night air.
The procession finally ended at the Plaza Cultural Armando Perez at the corner of 9th and Ave. C where Brad’s friends planted flower bulbs in his memory in a spiral pattern on a small hillside near a willow tree. People then gathered in a circle and shared more Brad stories.
“The first time I met him, we were skinny-dipping in the Everglades and he was smoking a joint,” one person recalled. “And the last time I saw him, we were skinny-dipping in the Mississippi and he was smoking a joint.”
Another person recalled, “ I have a Prague story. Brad and I arrived super early for the convergence [against the Sept. 26-27, 2000 World Bank-IMF meetings] and he got the keys to an apartment that belonged to a friend of his who was going out of town and who didn’t know anything about the protests. Brad then managed to have a thousand gas masks shipped to that address and turned that place into a gas mask distribution depot. And then he filled the apartment from wall-to-wall with sleeping protesters. When the woman who’s apartment it was returned there was quite an argument. He had moved this whole underground world into one apartment. And he was able to convince her that this was the way it had to be, that this was the most important use for that apartment at that moment and that if she didn’t like it, she would have to go somewhere else.”
source, photos and background: http://nyc.indymedia.org/en/2006/11/79239.html