Savitri D., normally acting as director of the Church of Stop Shopping, became a mermaid this past weekend. After marching in the Mermaid Parade on Coney Island as Queen, and attending the Ball later that night, she began a hunger strike. She now sits in a storefront on Coney Island, fasting until a scoping meeting tomorrow regarding the fate of the area. You can see her on a livecam that's been set up; she talked to us after her fast began about her cause.
How was the parade? The parade was beautiful, I have been many times but have never been IN the parade. Being in the parade on the boardwalk is like a Soul Train Alice in Wonderland Dream Come True. I felt honored to be the Mermaid Queen. The offering to the Ocean Gods at the end of the parade was wild, fruit was flying everywhere, Prince Walli was doing barrel turns and Reverend Billy was in an ecstatic trance. What fun.
Can you tell us about your decision to fast? The city of New York recently announced a change in the development plan at Coney Island. This community worked for 4 years to come up with a plan that everyone could pretty much live with, 6 weeks ago the city changed the plan over night without consulting the community at all. New York street rules: you can’t change the deal in the middle of the deal! On Tuesday June 24th there is a Scoping Meeting about the revisions to the plan, I was trying to figure out how to get people to go to a scoping meeting—as citizens we often neglect these meetings even though sometimes they actually have the greatest impact on our everyday lives. It's just really hard to get someone to go to a “scoping meeting” or get the media to care about a “scoping meeting”. I wanted to take the energy of the parade forward, and find a way to connect all that mermaid joy to this meeting, this is the only idea BIlly and I had.
How is it going? A lot of people are a lot hungrier than I am on a regular basis, but that said, Nathan's is starting to smell really good. It feels good to use my body in such a serious way. It's wonderful to be at Coney Island all day, it is truly the most democratized space I know of in NYC. Watching the rhythms of the place, the slow quiet mornings as people open their stalls and get ready and then a constant stream of people and then the surprisingly happening night life—I am really happy to be here doing this right now.
Have people outside of the storefront been responding positively? Very! A man just did a magic trick for me, earlier there were about three separate political debates going on, and there are large numbers of people smiling and waving and gesturing their support. Thumbs up, touching their hearts that sort of thing. People are bringing me water and gifts. Its really great. The people here really don’t want this to be a slick profit center for retail entertainment. The kiddie rides are open at 2 AM! That's Brooklyn, and we love it.
What kinds of things have people been chatting with you about online? Memories of Coney Island, Mermaids, what it feels like to be a Queen, the weather, the Mermaid Parade, the development plans for Coney Island and New York City generally, bad jokes about mermaid yoga (downward dog fish etc). A man in Michigan just put his young kids on and asked me to tell them a mermaid story. Another woman grew up here but hasn’t been here in 15 years, and a young girl from the Bronx said this is the only beach she had ever been to. Actually the chatting is a lot like Coney Island in its diversity.
What will be discussed at the meeting on Tuesday? The fate of amusements at Coney Island. The basic question is whether there will be 61 acres of amusements or 9 acres of amusements. We want a guarantee that fun at Coney Island does not include an expensive theme park ticket or programming that alienates or abandons people who want to have a good time without spending money.
Tell us about your ideal image of Coney Island. Coney Island is a place in motion, it has always gone through changes. I think we all need to accept that it will continue to do so. What we don’t need to accept is Coney Island changing into a place that already exists in about 50 other cities. The steroidal growth of Williamsburg is a great example of what we don’t want to happen in Coney Island.
Coney Island has an amazing history of entrepreneurship and creativity. Is it possible that the solution for Coney Island lies with the community of Coney Island? Above all I think we have to learn to love these messy places, where things are unruly and possibly unprofitable. Why does every inch of every single place have to turn the maximum profit? Why can’t a lady have a little shop that just pays her bills? Honestly though, I just want a place where people can have a good time without spending a lot of money. Its really that basic.
Please share your strangest "only in New York" story. See there was this mermaid …..
Which New Yorker do you most admire? I admire the countless(!) immigrants of this city, illegal or otherwise, who come here to do something, to help their families, themselves, to make a life, escape a life...they take a brave chance on this city. This is not an easy place to move to and I am so grateful that people are still coming here from all over.
Given the opportunity, how would you change New York? We have to alter the scope and rate of these massive all at once rezones and redevelopments and defend small businesses in NYC, which are actually the anchors of our communities so I would implement legislation that protects independent shops and protects their leases. I would put a stop to the privatization of our public parks and in general I would ask that our electeds take their governance and our citizenship seriously by not selling us out to real estate interests and their own obsessions with ‘legacy’ year after year.
I would address the problem of discretionary enforcement in the NYPD, so people of color, especially youth, don’t get harassed ( and much worse) for hanging out in a park, or on the street, or on their own stoops.
Under what circumstance have you thought about leaving New York? I never think of leaving New York, I love this city. Sometimes I need to go to the woods or the desert or a mountain, but after a while I just long for that bad joke at the deli or that tender exchange on the subway...today a couple of guys from Coney Island kept coming by with bags of goldfish and little frogs and turtles, taunting me, trying to get me to eat, couple of real jokers if you know what I mean. Where else would that happen?
Photo via nubianbitch01's flickr.