POLITICS

Nan Goldin Leads Guggenheim Protest Against Opiod-Pushing Sackler Family, Sparking Nationwide Pushback

The venerated photographer and hundreds of others overtook the atrium of New York's Guggenheim to protest the museum's ongoing relationship with the Sackler Family, one of its largest donors. The majority of the Sacklers' wealth comes from Purdue Pharma—the primary manufacturer and distributor of OxyContin.

Visionary photographer Nan Goldin made waves in the 1960s with her raw, vivid portraits, which showed the electric underside of New York's gritty arts scene as well as the intimacies of human life and love.

Back then, her photos were protests against stereotypes; they lovingly portrayed queer culture, denounced domestic violence, and provided a window into an open kind of sexuality that was not often seen during the stultified conformity of the 1950s.

Image via Artnet News

Since then, Goldin's work has been exhibited at the MOMA and she has been recognized as one of the 20th century's most influential photographers. But in 2019, she's been occupying space in museums for a very different reason.

On Saturday night, Goldin and hundreds of others overtook the atrium of New York's Guggenheim to protest the museum's ongoing relationship with the Sackler Family, one of its largest donors. Exchanging money to support the arts certainly isn't a crime, but the majority of the Sacklers' wealth comes from their involvement with Purdue Pharma—the primary manufacturer and distributor of the extremely addictive and deadly drug OxyContin.

Image via the Forum

In 2013, Goldin was prescribed OxyContin for wrist surgery. "I ended up locked in my room for three years," she told the crowd that gathered in the Guggenheim on Saturday night. "I came to and I realized it was time to speak out." After a near-death experience with the drug, Goldin dedicated herself to taking down the Sackler Family, the group of billionaire pharmaceutical moguls who made tens of millions of dollars off OxyContin sales before the drug was flagged and criminalized for its addictive properties.

In 2007, Purdue Pharma admitted that OxyContin's branding was misinformative, but continued to distribute and profit off the product, allegedly paying themselves as much as $4 billion that year. Since then, waves of lawsuits have continued to dog the pharmaceutical company as they have continued to profit off opioid sales. In 2018, New York City won $500 million in damages as part of a suit against Purdue and a host of other narcotics peddlers, including the makers of Percocet and fentanyl patches.

None of the Sackler family members themselves have been individually targeted, though lawyers hope this may change as investigations ramp up, thanks to protests like Goldin's. Also, the sheer number of opiod-related deaths each day in America—over 130 per day, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Public Services—is a factor that's hard to ignore.

The Sacklers have filtered money earned through Purdue into thousands of cultural institutions, including the Guggenheim, which has its own Sackler wing. Other institutions that have benefitted from their donations include the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian, Harvard, and MIT. Goldin, among other activists, has been calling for the museums to stop taking Sackler money for years; her organization P. A. I. N. (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now) has staged die-ins at the Met, among other protests.

Image from a P.A.I.N. ProtestImage via ART News

That February night at the Guggenheim, protesters dropped sheets of paper resembling prescription notes from balconies high above, each printed with various Sackler quotes. One bore a phrase spoken by the late Purdue president Richard Sackler, in which he advised his employees to "hammer on abusers in every way possible," belying insidious involvement and intentional sabotage of already vulnerable populations. The quote appeared in a recent Massachusetts court filing that is accusing the Sackler family of direct, intentional involvement with the start of the opioid crisis. "It is an attractive market," an internal memo read, according to the suit. "Large unmet need for vulnerable, underserved and stigmatized patient population suffering from substance abuse, dependence and addiction."

So far, all of the aforementioned institutions have continued taking Sackler money, though the Met announced in January that it was planning on reconsidering its gift acceptance policies.

"We see museums and cultural institutions glorifying the very rich and we also see them giving them positions of power," one of the protestors, L. A. Kauffman, told ArtNews. "The Sackler family is one of many who has been able to stand outside the law because of their great wealth and we are saying: the time is up."


Eden Arielle Gordon is a writer and musician from New York City. Follow her on Twitter at @edenarielmusic.

POLITICS

There's a Green New Deal on the Horizon, and It Just Might Be Our Only Hope

This week, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey will be proposing the most ambitious plan to fight climate change yet.

Recycle. Take shorter showers. Turn the lights off.

Over the past several decades, most of us have heard these diatribes repeated over and over, and have perhaps become numbed to these mantras, which promise that tiny droplets of collective action could potentially save the planet from environmental ruination.

It's true that small changes are important, and that each person contributes to the growing levels of waste and pollution that are killing our ecosystems and raising the planet's temperatures so dramatically that Manhattan-size gaps are forming in Antarctic ice. But it's also true that 71% of carbon emissions come from just 100 companies. It's also true that the scale of the crisis has grown unmanageable, and poses an unprecedented threat to human life.

That's where the Green New Deal comes in.

Image via The Intercept

"It's the only plan that matches the scale of the crisis," said Naomi Klein of the proposal, speaking on livestream yesterday night to thousands of activists tuning in across America. The livestream was hosted by the Sunrise Movement, a millennial-founded organization dedicated to supporting and fortifying the Green New Deal, especially as it's proposed in Congress in the coming week. Klein is the author of This Changes Everything, a book that argues that impending climate catastrophe actually presents an extraordinary opportunity to revamp the world's economic systems for the better. "I believe we were born for this moment," she told viewers.

Named after FDR's New Deal—which revolutionized the entire country on a tremendous scale, planting three billion trees and establishing hundreds of national forests in addition to catalyzing widespread economic, agricultural, and social reforms—the Green New Deal seeks to implant reforms on an equivalent scale in a time when it seems like there is no other option.

Image via Vice News

The plan has gone through several phases, but the one that's being proposed in Congress this week focuses on several fundamental points. First: achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2030, and transition to renewable energy on a huge scale through initiatives like the creation of a nationwide electrical grid. Second: institute a living wage for all, in tandem with the creation of unlimited numbers of green jobs. These are the plan's main tenets, but its ideological aspirations stretch much further. It hopes to generate thousands of jobs in the form of start-ups and maintenance, and to start a wave of international trade in the renewable energy sector.

The original plan focused on a switch to 100% renewable energy by 2030, but a recent five-page draft obtained today by Bloomberg didn't mention this point, perhaps as a nod to moderates, though the omission is still subject to change. The draft proposes large-scale investment in green technology, the restoration of threatened lands, waste removal, and "massive growth in clean U.S. manufacturing, removing pollution byproducts and greenhouse gas emissions from that sector as much as technologically feasible."

The term "Green New Deal" is not a new one, though it has been going through different iterations since its inception. It was coined in a 2007 column by Thomas Friedman, and Barack Obama included it in his 2008 platform. Britain also took note, but a surge of Republican/Tory victories stymied its momentum.

Image via theintercept.com

The GND has found new life in Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Bronx electorate whose rise to political success has been accompanied by widespread social media fame. Ocasio-Cortez showed up in person to support a Sunrise Movement sit-in in Nancy Pelosi's office, demanding the creation of a committee dedicated to developing and pushing the GND, and since then she has become one of its biggest proponents. Now she will be proposing it in Congress this week, alongside Massachusetts senator Ed Markey. The plan has also garnered support from Rep. Ayanna Pressley, as well as 2020 presidential candidates Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, and Bernie Sanders.

The Sunrise Movement began in 2015, when it was founded by climate activists Sara Blazevic and Varsini Prakash, and quickly gained momentum, taking notes from the heady drive of the 1963 civil rights protests of Birmingham, Alabama. Its founders gathered activists, reached out to politicians, and pulled together the finer points of the Sanders campaign and other recent social movements; the successful Pelosi sit-in was the product of months of organizing.

The movement is appealing in a narrative sense: the vision of young people fighting against bloated fossil fuel behemoths has a definite draw to it. There's also the fact that science says the fate of the entire world requires unprecedented global change over the next few years, otherwise catastrophes like Hurricane Sandy and the California wildfires will become the stuff of the everyday.

Image via theinsurgent.com

But the GND is still just an idea, and it could remain that way. Its lack of specific policy has been subject to criticism, though an official draft has yet to be unveiled, and conservative news sources have labeled it as a hoax, an amorphous idea without policy to back it.

While the GND might seem like an impossibly ambitious proposition, humans have revamped and reshaped the world before a hundred times over, and we are nothing if not creative and adaptive. We've created technologies that connect the globe and turned empty landscapes to highway-lined cities in a matter of years. Now—unless you like the idea of joining Elon Musk's exclusive Mars colony—it's time to turn all of our collective energies towards the future of the home we share.

70 leading Democrats have signed on in support so far, and momentum is building for its official proposition. The Sunrise Movement is planning on facilitating office visits to congress people across the country this week, as well as a rally in Washington on February 26th.

In an age of doomsday threats and constant headlines about plastic oceans and refugee crises facilitated by environmental droughts, the idea of a Green New Deal—something that could actually, genuinely make a difference that touches every aspect of life—seems like a light at the end of the tunnel. Now it's just a matter of getting there.

Image via radioopensource.org

Environmental crisis affects the poor and vulnerable at disproportionate levels; it catalyzes mental and physical illness, economic decline, and overall devastation. Irreparable damage has already been done—but the fight is not quite over yet, though time is running out.


Eden Arielle Gordon is a writer and musician from New York City. Follow her on Twitter at @edenarielmusic.