Thursday, October 07, 2010

Michael Shenker 1955-2010

Here is a list of memorials, thanks to EV Grieve. There are many testimonials in the comments section in Colin Moynihan's fine NY Times City Room piece.


Musical program in honor of Michael
7 p.m.; music starts around 8 p.m.
At 5C Cafe, Fifth Street at Avenue C
Burt Ekoff, Michael's piano teacher, and friends will be performing.

Sunday, October 10
Time's Up Garden Party
3:30 p.m. at El Jardin Del Paraiso
Located on Fourth-Fifth Streets between Avenues C and D
Michael was a co-founder of the More Gardens Coalition and a force behind saving NYC gardens. Reverend Billy and the choir will be at this event.

Saturday, October 16
March Around the Neighborhood
Meet in the middle of Tompkins Square Park at 5 p.m.
Friends will march around the neighborhood and arrive at his funeral.

Funeral for Michael at Mary House (Catholic Worker)
7 p.m. at 55 E. Third St.

Sunday, October 24
Celebration of Michael with Eric Drooker and Eden and John's East River Strong Band.
6-10 p.m. Location TBA

I first met Michael in the early 80’s at Hunter College in the music department. He stood out not only because he seemed to be the sharpest and most knowledgeable musician among the students, but because he seemed at once to own the department and the department couldn’t quite contain him. His natural brilliance didn’t belong in the confines of the classroom or within the distinctions of faculty and student. His character fluently spanned such lines of propriety. It was an unusual environment to see him in — college is intellectually friendly but also orderly and proper, so he was welcomed, but wouldn’t stay long: he was too independent.

Later I saw him in the neighborhood where he would overwhelm me with that outpouring of political eloquence — an irresistible river let loose. I know very few who could speak so well as Michael. That’s what I really loved about him — he could speak expansively with knowledge and resonance. I always hoped to encounter him in the street or in the park just to hear him talk again.

The neighborhood back then drew many extraordinary independent spirits who thrived in this place that was so completely abandoned by money and mainstream interests. Michael was one among the brightest lights here.

For those who didn't know him, here's Chris Flash's comment from the NY Times article to give just one aspect of his significance (he was also a key motivator and tactician in the garden movement as well as the squatters movement):

[...] Michael was an intelligent caring person who put himself on the line repeatedly — he was a real doer. Thanks to Michael’s efforts, more than a dozen abandoned buildings were opened, made habitable and ultimately “legalized” under an agreement with the city that put an end to countless HPD raids and court battles.

[...] The squatters did not steal housing from anyone. Rather, it was phony poverty pimp organizations holding buildings vacant until public financing was forthcoming and the city itself, which allowed buildings to remain vacant and crumbling rather than continue the successful homesteading (sweat-equity) program that ended just before the squatters took direct action in the 1980s.

Instead of following the so-called “housing” groups’ model of creating taxpayer-subsidized units with years-long waiting lists for “moderate-income” tenants, the squatters created immediate housing for “zero-income” tenants, all at NO cost to the city. The squatters did their own labor at their sole cost. Each member paid housing dues to cover the costs of materials and all members participated in “work days.”

The squatters did not pave the way for the subsequent gentrification on the Lower East Side that was coming anyway — for close to a decade, the squatters stood in the way of yuppie ghetto developments, ultimately winning their fight for their right to remain in their homes.

Michael was in the middle of all of this, from the earliest days of squatting in the early 80s through the present. His contribution and his wonderful presence in our lives can never be fully expressed, but those of us who knew him knew and appreciated that he was special.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

any help possible. our building at 435 E 9 is being turned into a hotel for Europeans.. they are pushing us out.