On October 27, 2006 my friend Brad Will was in Oaxaca, Mexico filming the intelligentsia uprising of a grass-roots movement to remove the local Provence of a bullshit governor.
On October 27, 2006 my friend Brad Will would wake up, as any other day, put his shirt on as he did any other day and go to work. Brad didn't work in an office or a factory. Brad didn't work to pay bills or develop habits that most of the other folks around him would. Brad worked to collect information, to shape it, to document. Brad was working for other people. For the people that for the most part had been ignored or drowned-out by louder voices and politicos, corporate industrial noise. He would walk with like-minded comrades. He didn't know he was being followed, filmed, watched. He didn't know, or maybe he did. It wouldn't have deterred him from anything.
On October 27, 2006 my friend Brad Will was filming, camera in hand. Not a gun. Not a rock. Not a harsh word. Silently watching with eyes for everyone in a boxy extension of his hand.
On October 27, 2006 my friend Brad Will was shot dead.Brad was carrying a camera when he died. In his last footage he documents his assailants. They would later be named, Oaxaca government officials.Brad was wearing an Indymedia tee shirt. The "i" surrounded by double parenthesis. A black shirt. White screened logo mark. A perfect target.Brad was shot two times in the chest. He did not die immediately. Brad hardly knew Spanish. Brad hardly knew anyone in Mexico. Brad made quick friends.
Brad made fast enemies.
Brad's friends' enemies were quick to murder my friend.
Brad was a good friend and activist that I have known since 1991, in Boulder. Last I saw of him was 2000-2001 in Prague, where he was part of the communications crew during the protests surrounding the IMF protests, codenamed s26.Brad utilized my flat in Prague as a center of information and to house much needed gas-masks during an unruley protest climate via the anti-globalization movements finest hours. Brad was one of the finest examples of the new-activism since Seattle in 1999. When I found out he was assassinated by corrupt Mexican government officals in Oaxaca while filming the teachers' uprising and standoff since six months before, I knew I would have to be at his memorial. I knew he would have one. His personal reach was far and a well deserved tribute would happen.
I got to St. Mark's Church, right as the memorial service was ending. So many people in this hall at St. Mark's Church in The Bowery. More than I had expected. Brad's personal items lain out to take - like parts of the WTC after 9/11 - people would search for just that small piece that memory demanded, a hat, tee-shirt, his Press Pass, or armband, anything personal. Anything intimate, that would connect them to everyone's friend, everyone's hero.
Talked to a few luminary friends I hadn't seen in at least 5 years, some as long as 13 - strange that this man, this friend would bring us all together like this (again). Talked to Anne Waldman, cofounder of Naropa University's Kerouac School, director emeritus of St. Mark's Poetry Project now in it's 31st year. Visited Ginsberg's marker in the garden, shed a last tear for the old Lower East Side resident, my teacher and friend. Last I saw of Allen alive was there, in that garden and on Avenue A. Last I saw of Brad was Prague, Allen's history there - Kral Majales (King of May,1965) Brad and I visited Narodni Trida (National Street), to pay homage to Allen there. Told Anne, Brad and my teacher at Naropa - Allen's self professed "spiritual wife" - she had been seeing her friends die for so many years.. now she's watching her "kids". Something no mother, even of the cultural-sort, should have to see.Followed the funeral procession, with marching Band, up into Alphabet City. We snaked the streets. Up A, B, C. Down 1, 2, 3. Stopped at the old 5th Street squat location. Saw the City had tore it down, now high priced condos. Spiraled over the 9th street Bario/CHAPAS old community center - been there since 1965. Nuyorican inspired, now bought by a little man that shut down the community activities that made the site great. Broke the padlock. Wandered in. Some tagged "BRAD WILL PRESENTE!" or a circle A. The lock was replaced with our lock. Fitting. Reclaiming the community.
Ended at the 9th Street community garden, where folks gave talk of Brad. Saw people that I barely knew, but had been in my flat in Prague during IMF protest S26 y2k. Heard legendary stories. Mostly true. Grandiose notions of a man that was kinda what they said. Heard 13 years of friends talk about how this reaction. How people who barely knew him were inspired by an idea of who he was. And made me think how much he would have liked that. Fitting legacy. Spoke, said he was a "catalyst" and that he was, still, after death.
Went to Times Up on Houston. Critical Mass location/organization center. After-party there. Got closer to the variety of people that knew Brad. A filmmaker from LA, activists from Dreamtime village, Indymedia folks. Kids. Elder anarchists, old gardeners. Watched projected films of Brad speaking of his pirate radio show, singing protest anthems, being drug away by police for protests and raising arms triumphantly on top of a squat as it was being torn down. I drank a bottle of cheap wine from a discount wine shop. Didn't get drunk. Walked past locations changed. Saw that a Saturday Night in the Bowery is the young upwardly mobile, with money and the artists, musicians and friends have all moved away (Williamsburg? Lower Losaida?).
I walked down Avenue A at 3AM and not once got stopped for money, not ONCE did I hear the familiar "smoke, smoke". It was safe, too safe. I could walk around with my money in my hand, iPod in my ear. No fear. Disheartening somehow.
My old teacher and Lower East Side denizen, Allen Ginsberg, had written a poem about this place, "Charnel Ground" [download poem here], about the Lower East Side. His loft apartment on East 13th Street near First Avenue, he was in many regards an unremarkable figure, an old man with a relaxed gait and a bearded, bespectacled visage that looked ever so familiar. But to those who could put a name to the face, Mr. Ginsberg was larger than life, a bridge and throwback to the illustrious history of a place that he, as much as anyone else, had helped put on the cultural map. How this place is never hermetically sealed, things are building on the waste and rubble of the last burnt offerings. How the creative energies cannot be contained, and the organic revitalization of this city-of-cities life-force center of creative juice is ongoing until the Kali Yuga - in the pantheon of India's many religions, the end. The city has done a great deal to contain the Lower East Side and it's luminous residents. I feel it will never be the same. And in this… I am sad. Is it the end? A beginning?
And with Bradley Rowland Will, a martyr for the cultural work, maybe a new starting point emerges for the neo-mainstream. The fringe of an integrated journalism, art, and cultural activism has an icon of sorts. And who better than the smiling, laughing face of a documentarian-poet-cum-videographer and journalist who would never back down when he thought a story was unheard or a injustice was perpetrated on people doing "the good work". May we all be as fearless, act small and be as large.