Editor: We asked our writers to pick the stories they wrote this year that had the most impact on them personally and on those around them. Katie Cusack broke the rules and chose four of her own stories and someone else’s. Katie could well have picked five of her own given that she’s carved out a beat covering Albany’s flourishing basement scene while penning some of the most adventurous and daring features we ran this year.
The striking workers at Momentive Performance Material in Waterford held the line for three months. They gave up holidays and family obligations to post up at stations along the highway and plant entries around the clock in a fight to regain fair pay and a solid benefit plan–one that had been continually slashed by MPM since 2009. Until a contract agreement was reached in mid-February 2017, they stood their ground and tracked the company’s every slip up while it continued operations with trucked in scab workers. Operators like Bill Johnson kept a careful, tense eye, wary that most of the machinery inside had taken them decades to master. Craig Finigan regularly documented spills and accidents, monitoring whether each of spills were reported to the Department of Environmental Conservation. I spent just one full day–along with some scattered visits–on the line with the workers who had been out in the cold for over 100, and heard from people who had dedicated their entire lives to the company– often in dangerous roles– as a generation or two of their families had before, only to be further disregarded: “The risk vs reward is a huge factor for people. It’s a risky business to be in but we were always rewarded and they’ve been chipping away at that, contract after contract, where people start wondering, ‘Is it still worth it to work at a chemical facility? Is my health worth it?’” one chemical operator Kellie Rossner said. Of the many news reports on this strike, The Alt’s feature caught a significant amount of attention because, the story, primarily, was about these people, their sacrifices and frustrations, and all that was at stake.
Femme on the front:facing gender oppression in the music scene by Katie Cusack
The music scene in the Capital Region is thriving right now and a lot of the people leading the way–and bringing new people into the spotlight–aren’t middle-aged white guys, which seems like a feat in itself. There’s a whole new scene being built right under our noses, with artists like KATANI who crush predispositions of patriarchy and misogyny in hip hop or Taina Asili dominating as a queer frontwoman of colo–a beacon for so many repressed or unrepresented artists of color and gender identity. Rock and indie artists and show organizers are diversifying their lineups and making safe venues a priority and a requirement. But despite their growth, they still face off with counterparts and venue authorities who look to dominate, sexualize and underestimate them. In this piece, local artists shared their most common roadblocks in pursuing a career and passion in music, speaking out against those who try to hold them back and organizing a community of support to propel their fellow female, femme and gender nonbinary artists to the front.
Unapologetically beautiful: Albany in drag by Katie Cusack
Local artist and filmmaker Adam Van Buren premiered his documentary, “Empire State Queens” in June, giving a whole new storytelling platform to the local drag queens who have spent years perfecting their acts and struggling to bring their art form into the spotlight. There are seasoned matriarchs who are protective of the traditional style of drag that dominated Albany’s LGBTQ scene since the ‘80s, there are budding avant-garde performers who are turning the scene on its head and breaking all of the rules. There is strength and pride here, fueled by hours of costume design, choreography and creative transformation by a network of fiercely intense and dedicated queens, guiding and training up-and-comers into their microcosm. It’s like stepping into a wonderland.
Burlesque is an art and a surprising local tradition by Katie Cusack
To Noelle Reign, Persephone Pomme and Teasy Roosevelt, organizing the monthly burlesque sets as the Pop Culture Provocateurs is like showcasing a gallery of people’s fantasy selves. In the midst of all the glitz and glamour, it has become a focus of empowerment for the performers, often providing a sense of self-realization, courage and healing. “I can be a size 22 and I can take my clothes off and no people judge it? People are excited about it? That’s a feeling I like to give somebody, like, ‘I can do that too,’” Roosevelt said in the February feature. “All types of bodies all types of colors, that’s what’s exciting about burlesque. It’s not just identifying with one type.” It’s not just stripping your clothes off so someone throws you a bill or two. Performers are creating a work of art through movement and design, its comedy, drama and horror, satire and farce–yet still much more than that. Burlesque gives its performers the freedom to express themselves in an encapsulating way in which dance, design or musical theater can’t reach.
Binalakshmi Nepram won’t be silenced by David Howard King
In a powerful story of survival and strength, David Howard King spoke with an author-activist who gave up everything in her home of Manipur to speak out against a state of violence. “When a child grows up in a violent war zone they don’t think it’s war, they think it’s normal. I remember the military coming to our home, checking kitchens, checking our cabinets, checking under our beds with bayonets. I remember there was a massacre one day and we couldn’t go to school and thought it was normal,” she said. She wrote books and poetry and used the money to provide the families of gun violence victims money for food, clothes and seed money for new businesses so they could not only survive, but thrive. Nepram even helped the families file legal actions against those who murdered their loved ones–ones which included the Indian government and rebel groups. For this, she was targeted and forced to flee the country, but she doesn’t plan on being silenced:
“We’re all connected. These greedy people are flooding our communities with guns and we must make them feel shame. They need to see what they are doing to us. I must do something. We must do something and it can’t be a candlelight vigil. They fade from memory so quickly. They don’t change anything. I’m ready to work with whoever I can to make real change.”