Philip Glass, at left side of top photo, reads to the protesters, who used Mahatma Gandhi and Statue of Liberty imagery. Credit: James C. Taylor/For The Times.

As Philip Glass’ opera “Satyagraha” let out from the Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center, people from Occupy Wall Street stood in the central plaza asking patrons to come join the movement. Satyagraha is about Gandhi’s early struggles against oppressive colonialism in South Africa, and the protesters wanted the people who had seen the opera to live the opera.

Philip Glass, the brilliant composer who wrote the opera Satyagraha, made a statement that was broadcast throughout the crowd by the group, which repeated each line. He made the statement, which is a passage from the Bhagavad Gita, three times:

“When righteousness withers away and evil rules the land, we come into being, age after age, and take visible shape, and move, a man among men, for the protection of good, thrusting back evil and setting virtue on her seat again.”

An Open Letter to the Executives of Lincoln Center :

December 2, 2011

KATHERINE FARLEY, Chair, Board of Directors, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts

REYNOLD LEVY, President, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts

On Thursday, December 1, 2011, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts (LCPA) welcomed the para-military tactics of the New York Police Department (NYPD) to the Lincoln Center campus, in response — putatively — to a planned demonstration by the Occupy Museums working group of the Occupy Wall Street movement (OWS). And in so doing — by way of metal barricades, severely restricted access, and an overwhelming security presence — made violently unwelcome both the artists and audiences of LCPA, and the public at large.

This heavy-handed application of force, enacted in conjunction with the final performance of Phillip Glass’ opera “Satyagraha” at the Metropolitan Opera, painfully illuminates the history of non-violent civil disobedience in a contemporary light. Mahatma Gandhi, the impassioned subject of Mr. Glass’ opera, would no doubt object to this contradictory concurrence.

You are most certainly aware that a member of our group has, in solidarity with OWS, enacted a hunger strike starting on December 1, 2011 — an act of individual protest that will not end until our demand that LCPA and the City of New York guarantee the freedoms of speech and assembly on the city-owned plaza and walkways of Lincoln Center is met. Your prompt attention and action will ensure the long-term health of our young comrade.

As was made clear through a variety of advance communications, Occupy Museums planned to host a public General Assembly meeting at Lincoln Center to engage the arts community in a timely dialogue on a number of topics, including:

—the effects of increased privatization and corporatization of all aspects of society, and the use of nonviolent civil disobedience around the world to reclaim public space;

—the contradiction in “Satyagraha” being performed at Lincoln Center where, in recent weeks, protestors from Occupy Wall Street have been forcibly removed and arrested for exercising their First Amendment rights to peaceful public assembly;

—the striking irony that Bloomberg L.P. is one of the Lincoln Center’s leading corporate sponsors: Mayor Michael Bloomberg has stifled free speech, free press, and freedom of assembly in an aggressive campaign against Occupy Wall Street protestors in New York City that has influenced a crackdown on the protests across the globe;

—and, the reality that our commons have been stolen from us to profit the wealthiest 1%: we have lost homes, jobs, affordable education, natural resources, and access to public space, while our culture has been co-opted by a corporate elite.

Following a number of previous attempts to engage directly with the constituents of Lincoln Center, we returned to LCPA on Thursday evening, with the support and participation of Phillip Glass, to challenge the ruthless nexus of power and wealth, and reclaim our public space and common dignity. Sadly, however, we were met with the bold implementation of makeshift enclosures, boundaries, and checkpoints — all hallmarks of an overbearing security apparatus.

LCPA maintains a cozy relationship with the NYPD — identified by Mayor Bloomberg as his “army” — a partnership most clearly illustrated by the hiring of Susan Bick as Director of Security for Lincoln Center, Inc. in 2008. A 22-year veteran of the NYPD, and graduate of the FBI National Academy, Ms. Bick is now responsible for the physical security and safety of all LCPA employees, patrons, and visitors. Her cooperation and complicity with the recent activities of the NYPD demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of her most basic duties, and has resulted in irreparable harm to the community relations of LCPA.

We write to you under these unfortunate and regrettable circumstances to (1) express our outrage at the overt security response of 12/1/11, (2) hold you accountable for these deliberate administrative actions, and (3) demand that you accept, in public fashion, full responsibility for forcefully precluding the rights of the residents of New York. The LCPA campus must be made public immediately.

You have showcased your disruptive dedication to financial priorities — at the expense of public responsibility — by repeatedly granting large-scale corporate intrusions into our cultural campus (the Big Apple Circus and Fashion Week, to name but a few). We now call on you to depart from these broad patterns of abuse, and dedicate yourselves to the interests of the people. Contrary to the stated organizational imperatives of LCPA, your past actions in no way “strengthen community,” “serve the Lincoln Center campus,” or “contribute to New York City’s cultural life.”

Our brothers and sisters not-so-patiently await your response.

From across the barricades,



One thought on “Open Letter to Lincoln Center

  1. Lincoln Center has the right to control who can – and can’t – “occupy” its space. If it didn’t, then it would be impossible to have Midsummer Nights Swing in the main plaza, a fee admission-only event to those who wish to be close to the musicians and performers in this series; it is open to the public for free for those who opt to stay outside the restricted space, and then, the non-paying public’s access can be virtually nonexistent.). Given the nature of OWS protests elsewhere in New York City, both Lincoln Center and the NYPD took what were sensible precautions IMHO. Since Lincoln Center does have the right to determine who has access to its “public” spaces, I am certain that Ms. Farley will either ignore or reject your risible demands in your “open letter”.

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