On a bone-chillingly cold Sunday in November, gender nonconforming youths with Manic Panic-dyed hair, light-up flatforms, septum piercings, and retrofuturist glasses filter through the New Museum for the youth summit “Scamming the Patriarchy.” The collective of community organizers, skaters, musicians, and healers, Brujas, share a custom-built half-pipe with other skaters; the intersectional Asian group Yellow Jackets Collective welcome discussion groups into a cozy, cavernous space resembling a private bedroom; and the event organizers create a post-it wall for passersby to share post-election emotions and to set intentions for the weekend.
Along with Brujas, the event organizers include the Black and Asian activist coalition By Us For Us (BUFU), artist collective House of LaDosha, and electronic music agency Discwoman. ”We set the stage and then let them occupy that stage,” explains Johanna Burton, the New Museum's Director and Curator of Education and Public Programming.
According to a statement co-written by the groups, the programming is about “cultivating a space to turn up with women, femmes, ‘the dolls,’ and all queer kinfolk” to center those voices. The workshops are technically open and accessible to all, but inclusivity proves challenging at times, such as when regular museum visitors interrupt a discussion intended solely for women of color or a silent meditation group.
In the workshop “Reclaiming Our Histories: Decolonizing Self Defense,” Luz Emma Cañas and her son teach practical applications of capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian style of martial dance. “Like Malcolm X, I never have my back to the exit—I always want to know who’s coming toward me,” Cañas says, while showing a self-defense move to an audience of mostly teenage girls. The mother-son duo demonstrate how to swat away a gun, duck a punch, and headbutt an oncoming attacker.
“Women, don’t ever think that because you’re smaller than a man that you don’t have power,” Cañas says. She runs through drills that target an attacker’s most vulnerable spots (throat, eyes, septum, crotch) and make use of participants’ strongest parts (knees, elbows, teeth, brain). “You have so many more resources in your body than you think,” she tells the group. “Your mind is your most lethal and valuable weapon. It’ll help you plot and plan. It’ll save you.” Participants learn how to exit a dangerous situation in a zig-zag formation, hold house keys in between their knuckles to ward off attackers, and store a pencil or sharpened chopstick in their hair as a makeshift weapon.
BUFU member Frances A. Perez-Rodriguez opens up a “safety beyond policing” training by asking the participants to share what they associate with state and police violence. The responses range from poverty, cops killing kids, white privilege, abusive relationships, militarized police, to land dispossession. Wearing an armful of jangling bangles and a t-shirt repping Cop Watch, the police monitoring group that she volunteers for in Sunset Park, Perez-Rodriguez points to the Black Panthers as one of the first groups to organize cop watch work. Instead of shooting guns like the Panthers, she says, ”we shoot back with our cameras.”
Without “reasonable suspicion,” she explains, police officers are not allowed to stop pedestrians on the street. But what constitutes “reasonable suspicion?" Perez gives examples: walking too fast or walking too slow, looking directly at the cop or not looking at the cop, holding a boombox at three in the morning. Essentially, ”whatever [the officer] believes it to be.” If a cop asks to see identification or to empty your pockets, Perez-Rodriguez explains, you’re not obligated to. And if they try to search you, you can say firmly “I do not consent to this search.”
To Perez-Rodriguez, the event name signifies “really questioning the system… slyly and smartly and awesomely and badass-ly sticking it to the man.” It’s a “super dope pushback against sexism,” she says. It’s about “standing in your light, and being who you are.”
Next door, there’s a pop-up shop for Troll Hole, a Bushwick-based bookstore that sells zines made by and for queer women of color; a polaroid photo booth helmed by the artist Tschabalala Self; an urban herbalism lesson (takeaways: mugwort helps regulate menstrual cycles; roasted chicory and dandelion can serve as a coffee substitute). Throughout the day participants stretch, meditate, drink gingko tea sourced from a local park, and, as one facilitator puts it, talk about “lit shit,” like queer visibility and self-care for sex workers.
Cañas and her son’s self-defense workshop closes with a repeat-after-me, warrior healer affirmation: “Everything is an extension of my being. I have a healthy detachment to objects and situations because I realize the transient nature of things. Nothing is permanent.” A smattering of onlookers snack on free pizza in the back of the room while the participants, still in a circle, repeat: “I use my awareness to raise my own consciousness and that of my family, my community, and the cosmos. My existence is not in vain.”
Scamming the Patriarchy: A Youth Summit took place November 13, 2016 at the New Museum. Click here to learn more.