René Pérez and the Art of Showing Up

Réne Pérez in Williamsburg photo: Carmen Ana Dávila
Réne Pérez in Williamsburg
photo: Carmen Ana Dávila

About three years ago, Malcolm Gladwell wrote something in the New Yorker about how the social media’s role in political activism was overrated, and some people got upset. Let’s not even mention where Egypt is at lately. It might be that Gladwell is one weird-looking dude, and there was a recent study that backed him up, but I’m just going to talk about this Saturday, when somewhere between 300 and 500 people showed up for a march calling for the release of Puerto Rican political prisoner Oscar López Rivera.

I’m going to testify that I’ve been guilty about not showing up. I sit around and text people while I’m out to lunch with someone I’m spending quality time with. Some of my most intense emotional interactions involve the use of emoticons. But I’ve been at marches where police batons flew past my head and I’ve walked down some of the main drags of Manhattan yelling with a cast of thousands about stuff I’m not happy about and I don’t think anything else quite matches that feeling. And nothing else gets it done like that.

That’s why when René Pérez showed up last Saturday to march with a bunch of smiling and chanting boricuas from both sides of the charco saying we had Oscar López Rivera’s back That’s right, Residente Calle 13, author of brilliant rants like “Querido FBI” and most recently collaborating with Tom Morello and Julian Assange on “Multiviral,” in the house. Mejor dicho: en la calle. Hoping to add an exclamation point to Ricky Martin’s shootout to Oscar at the end of his duet with Draco on the Latin Grammys last Thursday.

But on this Saturday on the puente between San Juan and Nuyorico, it wasn’t some celebrity thing, a We Are the World globalization philanthropy thing that puts a corporate logo on a cause. I’m telling you this was not a Transition Tent, there were no tents in sight, just a bunch of people with flags, placards, and panderetas singing about “Se siente. Se siente. Oscar está presente.” There was no tent to shelter us from the first nasty weekend of November, but you know the sun came out and everything was cool by the time we got to Williamsburg.

René doesn’t try to play outside of himself here. He’s making the effort to show up in New York, not terribly familiar territory, surrounded by a lot of people he doesn’t know, but seeing that he is here to deliver a message. The most important line he delivers is “Creo que todos los artistas deberían hacer esto sin miedo.” I think every artist should do this without fear.” This means, without the fear that Jay Z had about messing up his deal with Barney’s by speaking out immediately against racial profiling of people who shop there.

I texted people pictures. Tweeted out the video of René’s discurso. (Junot wrote back: “Que viva puerto rico libre!”) But if you weren’t there, you weren’t going to see Not 4 Prophet or Sery or Miguel or Carmen or Dave or Marina or César or Luis Garden. Standing there undefeated by some rumored cold snap. Singing “Mírala que linda viene” on the bridge halfway between Manhattan and Brooklyn. Talking about someone who has been in prison too long because he doesn’t agree with the way we live as a colony. You get to see their faces, and the way the sun hits their eyes so that, like Gladwell would say, they blink.

What could be more progressive than that?


3 thoughts on “René Pérez and the Art of Showing Up

  1. Hopefully Oscar López will be out soon. And then there are the Cuban 5 minus 1 whose anti terrorists work has been turned against them; here the equivalent of a Cuban ‘both sides of el charco’ may be hard to come about. But others who learn about it can “blink.”

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