Dear Friends and Readers,
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” — Margaret Mead
“Be the change you wish to see in this world.” — Gandhi
For many of us from an older generation—who joined the Global Climate Strike on Friday, September 20 (three days before the UN Climate Summit), which staged over 2,500 events scheduled in over 163 countries on all seven continents—we can never forget the first time we saw the photograph (taken by the Apollo 17 crew on their way to the moon on December 7, 1972) known as The Blue Marble: how we came to recognize our planet Earth as a small, vulnerable, and fragile sphere nonetheless capable of radiating life force against a lifeless, pitch black void; how the image became a universal symbol that helped launch our modern environmental movement.
It’s equally impossible to forget the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill on January 28 that killed tens of thousands of seabirds, dolphins, seals, and sea lions and led to the first Earth Day in 1970, when over 20 million people in middle schools, high schools, colleges, universities, and non-academic communities demonstrated together to call for environmental reform. Some of us are pondering at this moment if there is a self-evident connection between Denis Hayes (the coordinator of the first Earth Day and founder of the Earth Day Network), who is now 75, and the 16-year-old dynamo Greta Thunberg. What would happen if they, representing both the older and the younger generations, were walking hand-in-hand on the street together? Would this potential unity strengthen greater solidarity, hence garnering wider media coverage, among other social media mobilizations? Unlike the Occupy Movement which, as Michael Levitin observed in 2015, was “a moment constrained by its own contradictions: filled with leaders who declared themselves leaderless, governed by a consensus-based structure that failed to reach consensus, and seeking to transform politics while refusing to become political,” we now have a young and fierce leader who was inspired by the March for Our Lives movement, and in just one year has galvanized world wide action and framed essential, urgent, and critical issues in simple terms with other well-known environmental activists by her side. For example, together with George Monbiot (founder of The Land is Ours campaign), Thunberg made a 4-minute film on the climate crisis with three tangible actions required: to protect, restore, and fund. The film spells it out simply: to protect our tropical forests; to restore the damaged ecosystems of our planet; to fund projects that help to protect and restore nature, rather than destroy it.
It’s also impossible not to recognize other youth lead activism in the last year: March for Our Lives (created by Alfonso Calderon, Sarah Chadwick, Jaclyn Corin, Emma Gonzales, David Hogg, Cameron Kalsy, and Alex Wind after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting). This brings us to think of adolescence as not just being the transitional stage from childhood to adulthood, but also a period that can be both disorienting in commitment and exciting in self-discovery. In this instance, we wonder why college students and their professors—who throughout the decades of 1960s and 1970s were responsible for countless protests, demonstrations against the Vietnam war, fighting for the Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, and Gay Liberation movements, among other causes—seem to have disappeared during the US intervention in Nicaragua, the Iran-Contra affair, the Salvadoran Civil War, the Invasions of Grenada and Panama throughout the 1980s, then the Gulf War, the Somali Civil War, the Bosnian War, the intervention in Haiti, the Kosovo War in the 1990s, and the list continues in the 21st century, beginning with the war in Afghanistan that led to the Iraq War, which consequently lead to the present war in Syria, Yemeni Civil War, Libya, all of which are considered a part of the War on Terror, and most recently with the 2019 Persian Gulf Crisis.
As many of us are aware, the Golden Age of Photojournalism came to an end in the 1970s as many photo-magazines ceased publication while young and future intellectual leftists entered academia. This enabled the right to successfully—by isolating the university along with its politics of recognition—maintain the left through perpetual distraction from the issues of war, class, and money. How and what will motivate the left to be swift on its feet? Will they need to theorize before they protest? Perhaps the young generations are prone to execute as quickly as the right’s effective deployment of speed in everything it does, as with Donald Trump’s executive order to loosen the regulatory reins on fossil fuel industries while withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement. Moreover, it’s their future that they’re fighting for with real urgency. This is the time for artists of all disciplines to join together in a spirit of solidarity.
On the occasion of the Rail’s 19th-year anniversary we intend to bring our two concurrent exhibits—one as a collateral project at this year’s Venice Biennale, Artists Need to Create On the Same Scale Society Has the Capacity to Destroy: Mare Nostrum at the Chiesa di Santa Maria delle Penitenti, and the other, Occupy Colby: Artists Need to Create On the Same Scale Society Has the Capacity to Destroy, Year 2—back to New York City and combine them into one exhibit. We’d like to invite more artists to the roster while curating works of art to the exhibit’s unity and coherence. We’d like to call forth various foundations, private funders, friends among friends to support this monumental undertaking. For those who recall the epic 2013 Come Together: Surviving Sandy, Year 1, expect nothing less of an event to be remembered in 2020.
In solidarity with love, and courage,
Phong Bui & the Rail
P.S. This issue is dedicated to the profound contributions our two friends made to our culture: photographer, filmmaker Robert Frank (1924–2019) and artist, poet, writer Steve Dalachinsky (1946–2019). Both painted compassionate views of their fellow human beings from afar, while close-up they nurtured the ecstatic bohemian lives, which served as an inspiration to all of us who are committed to cultivate and protect the spirit of counterculture (which we desperately need in our current social and political environment). We send our deepest condolences to their partners: the painter, sculptor June Leaf and poet, artist Yuko Otomo, along with the respective members of their families and admirers here and around the world.