Volume 74, Number 16 | August 18 - 24 , 2004

Villager photo by Talisman Brolin

From left, Benjamin Griveaux, Petra Hanson (a.k.a. “Bell Hypocrisy”), Christian Herold, Kendra Durand and Charli Valdez outside Café Esperanto on MacDougal St. on Tuesday, where they were going over plans for their Aug. 28 Ground Zero anti-Bush bell-ringing rally.

For whom the bells toll: Anyone but Bush, please!

By David H. Ellis

In a dimly lit room in the back of Café 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 less than two weeks remaining before Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former Mayor Rudolph Guiliani and Senator John McCain deliver primetime speeches to kick off the opening night of the G.O.P. convention, 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,” said 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, claims he has received positive feedback regarding the event from the city’s Police Department, and says his group does not plan on obtaining a permit. If necessary, the protestors will create a picket line march, which, Herold says, would legally protect their unlicensed rally.

In keeping with the theme of ringing, organizers will amass the participants around Ground Zero, along Vesey, Church and Liberty Sts., although what the rally will do with the western edge of the site has not yet been determined. If protestors are blocked from the sidewalk along the West Side Highway and Battery Park City, Herold said that a contingency plan is in place to put bell-ringing kayakers in the Hudson River. Organizers are also currently hoping to curry favor with St. Paul’s Chapel to use their church bells to start the ceremony.

Even though the RingOut event might not have attracted the same amount of media attention as the Aug. 29 United for Peace and Justice protest, which is expected to have 250,000 individuals in its march, or the satirical pull of “Paula Revere’s Ride” down Lexington Ave., sponsored by the Greene Dragon organization, which will warn residents “The Republicans are coming!” on Aug. 24, other participants in the bell ringing believe that the event might help the image of 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, said that was why he decided to participate in the Aug. 28 RingOut event.

“I don’t feel like protests especially at this kind of event should be dominated by those kinds of people. I think it’s important for people who are everyday New Yorkers to be out there as everyday New Yorkers,” says Ela, who had 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 protests in New York and encouraging a nationwide adaptation of the event, Herold believes the positive feedback and e-mails he has received from across the country indicate that all signs are pointing up for the demonstration.

“Absolutely,” said Herold. “Because they’ll be so many people in town who care so passionately about the election, about peace, about justice and the election”

The RingOut bell ringing is scheduled for Aug. 28 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. For further information, go to www.ringout.org.

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