I have this deep conviction that, given the chance, most Americans would take anything that smells like art or an artist and ship it to the giant island of plastic waste in the middle of the Pacific. With that mindset it should come as little surprise the events in Troy, New York during the last week involving RPI‘s visiting artist Wafaa Bilal. Except things reached a point of the truly wrong. That the storied engineering school with the slogan ‘Why Not Change the World’ should have a hardcore club of republican students with apparent connections beyond campus (or whatever the case is) should also come as little surprise. Still, the whole thing leaves a bitter taste in the mouth as a supreme ‘what the fuck’ moment. Although officially written out of US law in 1973, federally protected free speech still held a shimmering veneer, that, in practice, anyway, seemed secure. Secure until what the application of “community standards” really amounts to in a former industrial center of the American northeast became apparent. Welcome to the scene in Troy, New York. Early March, 2008.

Across the river, mansion hill burns with the emerging scandal of now former New York Governor Elliot Spitzer’s indiscretions. In the historic district of downtown Troy an untarnished hero of the people is roasted for doing what was clearly the right thing at the right time. Steve Pierce is a saint. A champion of the empowering possibilities of media placed in the hand of the common man. He should be held in the same regard as other such far-thinkers as Rick Prelinger and Kevin Kelly. His most recent passion, The Sanctuary for Independent Media was callously shut down by the City of Troy, New York this week in a blatant flexing of cronyism.

Here’s Steve’s official statement from last night:


Perhaps you’ve heard the news that the City of Troy, citing code violations, has shut down The Sanctuary for Independent Media effective immediately.

This happened the day after a top Troy official, who is also a Rensselaer County legislator and a constituent liaison for Senator Joseph Bruno, organized a protest condemning Wafaa Bilal’s work and our decision to present it on Monday night.

We have been working on our building since we first occupied it and throughout have been in close communication with the city about our plans, so this sudden closure-following the censorship of Wafaa’s work by RPI last week-came as quite a shock.

You can hear the phone call from the City of Troy at www.MediaSanctuary.org, along with a clip from Wafaa Bilal’s talk, and make up your own mind about the motivation behind the City’s action.

We have contacted the Center for Constitutional Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, and private practice attorneys for assistance on the First Amendment aspects of this situation.

This crisis has created an urgent need to raise funds for building improvements: if you can manage it, it would be greatly appreciated if you could make a secure online financial contribution at www.MediaSanctuary.org, or send a check payable to The Sanctuary for Independent Media to PO Box 35, Troy NY 12181.

Under the circumstances, the remaining three programs in our “Art, Freedom, Democracy” series are in jeopardy as is the rest of the Sanctuary season. We will let you know shortly whether our presentation of The Yes Men next Tuesday, March 18 will proceed as planned, and if so, where.

Many thanks for your support in the past; if you can offer further help in this moment of need, please let us know by emailing info@MediaSanctuary.org.

Hope to see you soon!

–Your Friends at The Sanctuary for Independent Media

Here is Wafaa Bilal’s videotaped statement on the incident:

Interview with Wafaa Bilal on We Make Money Not Art

Virtual Jihadi main page

Article on Wired

Wikipedia entry on Bilal

YouTube Channel with coverage of the event

Still on the fence? Cast your vote… would you waterboard a dog or this Iraqi?