I’ve Got a Proposition, Goes Something Like This: A Brief Herstory of The Big She-Bang

by Beth Puma and Kate Wadkins

In late 2003 there had been many rumblings of the girls and women in the Long Island DIY punk and activist community wanting to organize on their own. Modern Times Collective had been around for years, ideas for Freespace were quickly developing, and the Freewheel Bike Collective had really taken off. A lot of folks were engaged in a variety of projects at this time, ranging from animal rights to various social justice groups. The younger women involved in the community wanted to organize in a more direct way, to deal not only with all of the social justice issues they were fighting for, but for their own space in this creative and active community.

A small group of girls decided that they wanted to focus on self-taught, skill-share workshops as a stepping stone to self-empowerment. They began with a series of skill-shares on knitting/crocheting, playing guitar and bass, silkscreening, and bike maintenance, among others. They met in each other’s houses and in Argyle Park, Babylon. As with many other feminist collectives, their shared experience with their immediate community brought about common frustrations. Similar to consciousness-raising groups of the 70’s and riot grrrl meetings of the 90’s, they started to work from their own experience, and identify the sexism they experienced on an every day level in their surrounding community. These women named their group the Long Island Womyn’s Collective (LIWC).

The next step seemed to be a logical one. As women striving to claim space in an active and creative community, the LIWC wanted to organize an event that was focused solely on creative women. Since members of the collective attended punk shows, film screenings, panel discussions, and festivals that were run mostly by men, their first big move to reclaim their space was to book a show run by women, with exclusively female creators, artists, performers, and speakers. This event would be The Big She-Bang. The collective raised $200 for the rent and security deposit on Huntington’s Unitarian Universalist space for Saturday, August 14th, 2004. They modeled the event after many others they had attended, booking a DIY fleamarket with tons of crafters, lining the walls with art by their female friends. An array of bands played, from hardcore bands to acoustic artists. The event was generally well attended, considering it was the first of its kind. Some of the participants included: Rachel Jacobs, The Feverfew, Espada, Safe Clothes, Jane Doe Books, May Day Books, Axis of Eve, and LadyFest East. Members of the Womyn’s Collective closed the night by delivering a small panel in which they spoke up about sexism and sexual assault in the Long Island DIY community. The event created an LIWC fund. After the first She-Bang the LIWC continued to meet, though soon after, many of the women returned to college away from Long Island. The girls maintained contact throughout this time, continuing to discuss future plans and projects to work on.

The Long Island Freespace opened its doors in January 2005 in a small building across the street from the Ronkonkoma LIRR station parking garage. It was a project that had evolved from the Modern Times Collective, whose mission was to provide a space and resources to young artists and activists on Long Island. Long Island Freespace offered new opportunities for the Long Island Womyn’s Collective, with a regular space to hold meetings and events. Almost simultaneously with the opening of the Freespace, Womyn’s Collective gained membership and nearly doubled in size. Along with new members came a large influx of women attending Hofstra University and various NYC colleges. The transition was a bit bumpy at first, as the collective was loosely bound and its policies were largely unwritten. Once the bumps were smoothed out, as the older and newer members got to know each other, the collective rapidly gained momentum, and the atmosphere grew more and more exciting. The collective held many well-attended events and shows throughout the first half of 2005, including poetry slams, DIY flea markets, panel discussions, and art and music shows.

At a meeting in late April – early May of 2005, after a very successful series of events for Womyn’s Herstory Month at the space, someone threw out the question, “another She-Bang?” Organizing began right away for the Second Annual Big She-Bang. Lots of ideas were generated during the initial brainstorm. With the issue of finding a space to host the event taken care of, a core group of organizers came together with ardor and passion to create an event that would be even bigger and better than the last. The date was set for Sunday, August 14th at the Long Island Freespace.

With the long list of aspirations for the second She-Bang, a decision was quickly made to make the She-Bang a two-day event. It was an exciting time on Long Island for women in music, art and activism. Saturday, August 13th became the night of an acoustic show and a panel. Craig Jesse-Hughes, a friend to many in the collective, had conducted research into feminist organizing on Long Island. With his help, a panel was derived, titled “The Feminist Movement on Long Island: Historically and Contemporarily.” It was a panel that scanned nearly four decades of feminist organizing on Long Island, featuring Krissy Schwartz of Planned Parenthood, Annie Green of the Victims Information Bureau of Suffolk (VIBS), Lillium Juarez of the Women’s Group of the Workplace Project, Lenny Adler of the LI Womyn’s Collective, and Susan Oberman of the Women’s Liberation Center of Nassau County (1971-1983).

Later that evening there were acoustic performances by The Feverfew, Julie Rose, Donna and Carly, Nicole Schneit, Hop Along, Queen Ansleis, Jenny Owen Youngs and Nicole Monroe. It was a quiet night, but a comfortable and safe space. The excitement for the next day’s event was brewing.

On August 14th, She-Bang attendees were met with blueberry pancakes and other fine potluck items. The art of Kate Wadkins, Gabrielle Moisan, Rachel Rubino, Beth Puma, Justine Kelly-Fierro, April Rose, Loreto Caceres, Saki Sato, Natalie Iovino, Cristina Razzano, and Michelle Arcila was displayed on the walls. The pieces included sculptures, photographs, paintings, drawings, collages, and mixed media.

Several workshops took place that day covering a wide variety of topics pertinent to the organizers and the community of attendees. Krissy Schwartz and Jess Bennett discussed herbal birth control methods and various healthy uses of herbs. Kristen Freeland from the Urban Justice center traveled from New York City to discuss the Sex Workers Project. Billie Lane conducted a workshop on dispelling the myths about sexual assault and rape. Gabby Moisan taught attendees how to knit, while more experienced knitters shared projects and techniques. The spirit of the skill share was alive – all the workshops were about peers sharing and building their collective knowledge.

Music had a large presence as well. Musicians included Rachel Jacobs, Cynthia Schemmer, Ivana, Rounded Edges Don’t Snag, Dancing About Architecture, The Vibration, Rollerskate Dreamdate, Ciara Giannico, and Danyell Thillet.

The 2nd Big She-Bang accomplished what it set out to do. It carved out a space for women to showcase their projects and share ideas. The Freespace saw an estimated 300 visitors during the two-day event. Many of the women involved felt that it was the single most impressive project they had worked on at that time. Momentum was still high, and the Womyn’s Collective was reimbursed for all the money spent on the occasion, along with a fairly large profit. The LIWC continued to meet for the rest of the summer, booking more intimate shows & movie viewings, along with stitch n’ bitches and a sexual assault speak out. Activity tapered as summer turned fall, and a large group of the women involved moved back to their respective colleges. At this time it was becoming increasingly apparent that the Freespace as a physical space might not stay afloat. The grant money was running low, the energy of the core group of volunteers had waned, and the income from shows and events was not enough. The Freespace closed its doors in September of 2005. In many ways the 2nd Big She-Bang was the last big affair at the Long Island Freespace.

At this time, Womyn’s Collective continued communication, though meetings were sparse and there were few plans for the future. Some of the LIWC women attended Purchase College and worked for the Purchase Women’s Alternative Health Clinic organizing an event called Women Out Loud. Some of the women at Hofstra organized Take Back the Night on Long Island. The LIWC continued supporting each other’s projects, as the Collective itself seemed to begin to fizzle out.

The Collective did fizzle out, seemingly simultaneously with the untimely end of Freespace, and the women’s return to other projects and locations. All of these women stayed active in their respective ways, whether it was with feminist projects through colleges, feminist projects with each other, or other creative endeavors. They stayed in touch to varying degrees, some formed closer relationships than others, and some had more intersecting lives than others. In the end, they still supported and caught up with each other whenever possible.

Then in July of 2007, the Long Island DIY community suffered a great loss. Jodi Tilton, an integral and important organizer for the Long Island Womyn’s Collective and Freespace, passed away, with many friends and comrades by her side. This passing brought many of the community members together again, mourning the loss of such a shining and positive force. They met in Prospect Park on July 26th, sharing their thoughts and feelings, remembering what an amazing presence Jodi had brought to each of their lives.

The women of Womyn’s Collective were scattered; dedicated to various projects. Team Colors, “a collective engaged in militant research to provide ‘strategic analysis for intervention into everyday life,'” came forth with publications that examine the experiences of Freespace, Jodi, her passing, on a larger contextual scale – addressing this and many aspects of movement activity.

The women of the LIWC and the surrounding community, though fractured, wanted to dedicate themselves to a project in commemoration and celebration of Jodi. In late 2007, two core members of the Long Island Womyn’s Collective decided that summer 2008 was due time for The Big She-Bang 3. As this project had been so important to Jodi, and she had dedicated so much time to it, another She-Bang seemed like the perfect way to celebrate and continue Jodi’s efforts.

Now located in Brooklyn and Queens, a few ex-members of the LIWC and newly involved local women began planning for the Big She-Bang 3. It is the desire of the organizers to continue in the spirit of the Big She-Bang and continue the spirit of Jodi – her ardent desire to learn, grow, evolve and share. Holding events like these was a large part of Jodi’s life. This She-Bang is in the spirit of our fallen comrade and friend, as well as a challenge for the future.

— Beth Puma & Kate Wadkins, July 2008.

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