On March 17th, 2011 I got the opportunity to participate in Pop-Up Magazine’s event, held in collaboration with San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art (MOMA).
The event was an evening dedicated to wine, corresponding with the SF MOMA’s ongoing wine exhibit. The event went from 6pm to 10pm, with performances beginning at 9pm. Performance is a term I use lightly, due to the English language’s lack of a term that would properly identify what exactly Pop-Up Magazine does…
Imagine: the same magazine you get delivered to your doorstep ( The New Yorker, Men’s Health Digest, Jet, ect…) and then imagine those articles on those pages getting up and walking around your house, the moment you bring that periodical into your domicile.
It’s magic: the author of the article goes on stage, and recites their piece live…and the article gains a heartbeat. And then they strategically interweave videos, audio, and photography into each authors performance to create a multi-media performance unlike any other.
That’s pop-up magazine: In your face and walking around your domicile.
The performances were about everything wine related: interviews with German scientists about the chemical compounds found in wine, homemade versions of the now discontinued “Four Loko” energy drink that resulted in Yoo-Hoo based wine, and even a story about a man turning his wife’s placenta into a 3-course meal… served best with a white wine.
A lot of the pieces were comical; laughter oozed from the large audience, which aided the flow of wine at the museum’s bar … or vise-versa.
My piece served as the anchor; although I started my prose with a joke… My piece proved to be no laughing matter… It was about Oscar Grant.
I’m a little embarrassed to admit it, but I initially learned the story of Passover from the Nickelodeon cartoon, “the Rugrats.” The episode was called, Let Me Babies Go.
In due time, I researched the story for myself, and I read about the Pharaoh and how he enslaved the Israelites. I learned about the ten plagues, and how God had brought them upon the Egyptians to force the Pharaoh to free the Jewish people. I learned the significance of the last and worst plague, “the plague of the first-born”; until the slaves were freed, the first-born son in every Egyptian family would die. The Israelites marked their doors with lambs’ blood to save their sons from that fate.
On the morning of January 1st 2009, America was on the verge of inaugurating its “first black President.” But this new era came with an all-too-familiar sight: a black man gunned down in Oakland by an officer of the law.
Using camera phones, passengers recorded transit officer Johannes Mehserle firing his pistol into the back of Oscar Grant. And the video spread like mad that New Years morning.
People were outraged. And I was one of those people.
I was raised in Oakland, but I watched the entire saga unfold from my college campus in Washington DC: the shooting, the riots, all the way until the trial.
That began last June. I was back in Oakland for summer break and working for Youth Radio as an intern. The trial had been moved to Los Angeles, so I headed out to see what was happening in the streets of Oakland, and how local business owners were preparing for the verdict…..
NARRATION FROM VIDEO: “So once the word got out, that we were putting up these posters and displaying our support for Oscar, a lot of businesses in downtown started to come by, they saw us on the news. They were asking for posters. They wanted to put up posters of their own so their property wouldn’t get damaged. So that they could show their support. We’ve probably had over 100 businesses come by in the past week buying posters.”
The sight of my city boarding up was frightening: was this verdict going to push the citizens of Oakland to rise up in violence?
Back in Youth Radio’s newsroom, our conversation turned to the L.A. riots, back in 1992, when Korean store owners boarded up their buildings and wrote the words “Black Owned” on their storefronts.
And then we made another connection: the story of Passover. Like the lamb’s blood on the door frame, business owners in downtown Oakland were plastering their store windows with images of Oscar Grant, hoping this mark would spare them from the wrath of Oakland’s enraged citizens
Oscar Grant’s killer got involuntary manslaughter—the conviction carried a modest two-year penalty, with a deduction for time served. Later that night, people broke some windows and stole some stuff, but most of the people arrested came from outside of Oakland.
I can’t help but feel like all of this will happen again.
In the modern Jewish celebration of Passover, during Seder, it’s customary to recite the ten plagues in order. With each one, you dip your pinky into a wine glass and spill a drop of wine onto your plate. The wine symbolizes joy diminished because of the Egyptians’ suffering. But there’s a newer version of the ritual, where you drop the wine on the palm of your hand instead. It’s a reminder that as long as people aren’t free, everyone has blood on their hands…
I came off of the stage to a thunderous applause. A number of good conversations sprouted as people came up to me, introduced themselves, and told me that the piece had resonated with them.
It was a great experience all around.
Thanks to: The Oscar Grant Foundation, Youth Radio, Pop-Up Magazine, and the San Francisco MOMA.