The passing of Dara Greenwald left gaping holes in her worlds. Prior to being diagnosed with cancer in 2010, Dara and her partner Josh MacPhee had been on the road a lot, traveling with their exhibition "Signs of Change: Social Movement Culture, 1960s to Now," described on the hip-hop blog Political Poetry as "a bull's-eye sharp exhibit, spinning webs of history, knitting years of yarn, spitting pure and rare movement history through posters from movements spanning 39 countries and 4 decades."
Greenwald, who worked her way through two master's degrees and a doctorate in electronic arts by teaching and curating, focused her insatiable curiosity and laser-sharp gaze on so many aspects of rebellion that her life's work becomes impossible to classify. There's the JustSeeds Artists Collective, the Pink Bloque radical women's dance troupe, the Linoleum Fest of Alternative Animation she curated in Moscow in 2007, the masses of titles she added to the collection of the University of Chicago's Video Data Bank. Through her lens, we can experience squatters in Spain, or what happened when Dara and friends organized the United Victorian Workers and demonstrated in costume during the annual Chamber of Commerce Victorian Stroll in Troy. (Via a video of the event available at DaraGreenwald.com: "I thought you guys must have hired them!" says a surprised cop to an aggrieved Chamber member. "It's good stuff they're doing, it's really kind of cool!")
"I was so intimidated at first to talk to her," recalls Abigail Satinsky, program director at threewalls in Chicago, on her blog Bad at Gym. "What a badass she was. And when I would see her over the years intermittently at different art/social organizing efforts, she was secretly my barometer of whether what we were all sitting around a circle talking about had any merit. At the same time that she was so no-bullshit, she was warm, funny, and just whip-smart."
Dara's mom, Rosendale resident Betty Greenwald, will admit that Dara's education may have been somewhat unusual from the start. "When she was small, we lived in a community—not a commune but a cooperative community organized by a man who was a follower of Gurdjieff—and we had our own school. So she was always exposed to people who all looked out for each other and worked together." From that early cooperative schooling, on to Oakwood Friends School, Oberlin, the Art Institute, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and beyond, Dara Greenwald was a whirlwind. "I was blessed to come to art and cultural production through punk and feminism," she told the folks at the 2009 Creative Time Summit, in a presentation that spanned centuries and continents. The goal? "To make resistance visible."
Dara would have been 10 years old when a woman named Gale McGovern moved to Ulster County in 1982. Though extremely active on the New York scene in the sixties and early 1970s—McGovern worked on Bella Abzug's first congressional campaign and pulled off many an action as a core member of both the Daughters of Bilitis and the Gay Activists Alliance, occupying things like school board offices and the editorial suite of Harper's magazine—she'd given up organizing, or so she thought. As things turned out, she'd just been resting up. She would go on to found and lead WEB (Women Escaping Batterers), the Coalition for Lesbian and Gay Youth, the Coalition for an Ulster County Human Rights Law, Friends of Comadres, People Against Racism, the Ulster County Global Warming Project, and People for Medical Secularity. Her organizations, and others she supported, played roles in the Kingston Hospital merger, the New Paltz gay weddings of 2004, the preservation of the Rosendale Theatre, and dozens of other local and national issues. Her winning lawsuit against the Town of New Paltz sought no money, but resulted in the town court being made handicapped accessible.
Not many of her works are recorded on the Internet. Gale came of age in the era of envelope stuffing, when petitions needed pens and paper and shoe leather. Yet her resistance was elegantly visible—when, for instance, she arranged for the Lesbian Visibility Project to adopt a section of highway that contained the driveway of an extremely homophobic politician. Or the time when she and her small, intrepid band carried a peace banner in a Welcome Home parade for Gulf War troops. They were placed, she recalled at the time, between the horses and the pooper-scoopers. "We thought it was so funny, we didn't argue. Parade watchers variously cheered us, screamed viciously at us, threw firecrackers at us. Others joined us."
Gale's life is recorded in the National Women's Hall of Fame Book of Lives and Legacies, the archives of local newspapers, and the hearts of hundreds; Dara's website is a collation of assorted projects, a bit like an overstuffed filing cabinet drawer.
"If she believed in something, she poured everything into it," said New Paltz village justice Judith Reichler of Gale. "We all owe Gale. Not like a monetary debt; not like something she would ever want to collect. But a real, honest-to-goodness debt, something that can never be repaid." Reichler's words might well fit Dara. Satinsky's description of the warm, funny, whip-smart badass might well be a description of Gale. As 2011 slipped into 2012, they both went on ahead of us, leading as ever, lighting the way.