Volume 17 • Issue 14 | August 27 - September 02, 2004

Protestors to ring bells and form ring around W.T.C.

By David H. Ellis

Downtown Express photo by Talisman Brolin

Members of RingOut, planning a protest at the W.T.C. From left, Charli Valdez, Kendra Durand, Benjamin Griveaux, Christian Herold and Petra Hanson.

In a dimly lit room in the back of Cafe Figaro on Bleecker St. on a recent Sunday afternoon, Christian Herold and nine other individuals were getting down to details.

Sitting at a table with a tarnished brass bell with a worn wooden handle as the centerpiece, Herold and the other members of the group RingOut touched on everything from permits to rendezvous points to contingency plans for their bell-ringing event planned for Aug. 28, which will commemorate the victims of Sept. 11 while protesting the arrival of the Republican National Convention in New York City.

“We’re just going to prepare the best we can,” said Herold, the founder of the group, to his fellow participants.

With only a few days remaining before Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former New York City Mayor Rudolph Guiliani and Senator John McCain deliver primetime speeches to kick off the G.O.P. convention on Aug. 30, RingOut is among dozens of organizations putting the final touches on their protest activities surrounding the Republican nomination of President George W. Bush.

Certain of a deep well of anger among New Yorkers at the Republicans’ decision to come to the city, Herold, 47, formed RingOut this spring. Combining his professional background in sound artistry, and enlisting the help of renowned avant-garde composer Pauline Oliveros, Herold organized the group’s two-hour event, which will be divided between a memorial to the victims of the World Trade Center attacks and a performance of a composition by Oliveros entitled “Ringing for Healing,” in which at least 3,000 people are expected to ring school, sleigh and cowbells.

“Bells are beautiful and powerful and interesting,” says Herold, a Village resident, about his decision to use this medium of expression. “They are filled with different kinds of meaning and very evocative — bells are used as alarms, for tolling, for a town crier and as church bells.”

For Joshua Spahn, a resident of Clinton and a software developer, the singularity of the event immediately attracted his attention.

“The fact that this was not rhetoric but symbolic, really appealed to me,” said Spahn, 50, who has helped enlist members of his community garden to attend. “It’s about participation for me — I didn’t want to participate in mainstream politics, but this was a way of saying I have a voice, and why not spend my energy trying something new?”

Herold, a New York University adjunct professor in drama, said he has a permit from the Port Authority to occupy the streets it owns surrounding the World Trade Center site.

In keeping with the theme of ringing, organizers will amass attendees around ground zero along Vesey, Liberty, Washington, Albany, Church and West Sts. Members of the cycling advocacy group Times Up!, also plan to participate in the Saturday, Aug. 28 ceremony set to start at 5 p.m. and conclude at 7:45 p.m.

Even though the RingOut event might not have the same media attraction as the following day’s United for Peace and Justice protest, which is expected to have 250,000 individuals in its march, other participants in the bell ringing believe that the event might lend credence to protesting, an activity which has been recently criticized for eliciting violent behavior and property destruction.

Jed Ela, a 29-year-old artist living in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, decided to participate in the RingOut event because he thought it would be less confrontational than some of the other demonstrations.

“I don’t feel like protests especially at this kind of event should be dominated by those kinds of people, but I think it’s important for people who are everyday New Yorkers to be out there as everyday New Yorkers,” says Ela, who pinned a miniature bell to his shorts’ pocket. “It does not necessarily have an angry tone, but a commemorative rather than overtly political ring to it and that’s a way to draw people in that wouldn’t normally go to a march.”

While RingOut is contemplating later bell ringing ceremonies in New York and encouraging a nationwide adaptation of the event, Herold believes the positive feedback and e-mails he has received about participating from across the country indicate that all signs are pointing up for the event.

“Absolutely,” says Herold. “Because there will be so many people in town who care so passionately about peace, about justice and the election.”

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