Who is Ari Spool and why is she running for Mayor of New York City? She's certainly been quite busy this year in between the challenges of a rigorous adult undergraduate academic career, her invaluable work with The New School's Archives, and the added venture of running a write-in Independent campaign unlike any other.
It began with an expression of frustration with the corruption of the current political system via social media, and a follower's subsequent off-the-cuff suggestion that perhaps it was Ari who belonged in the office if we wanted to truly see change. Thus, eureka; the funniest and most rights-of-the-people-driven mayoral campaign with the most glorious campaign website in the history of New York City was born. And the interest came nigh, in New York and around the states, ranging from radio interviews on WFMU (click to listen), a bewildered Wall Street Journal, a political character study by The Stranger's Slog, an invitation to speak to the budding young minds of a local high school's history class, and definitively winning the spot of the darling on Stocking Blue's mayoral race coverage.
Ari's platforms and promises, ranging from those in the video above to proposals to place farmer's markets in housing projects where residents will eat for free, to instating Public Enemy in curricula, have been called anything from a joke to a brilliant nod to the #Occupy ideologies to self-aggrandizing to Performance Art. (You may complain about the sensory overload of Mayor Spool's website, but perhaps this too is a performative work of performance art that may eventually lead to the overhaul of Times Square's epileptic nightmare toward a gentle pastel palette.) As one respondent to The Stranger write-up articulated, "This doesn't sound like a joke to me. Will she win? No. Does that mean she's being deceitful? No. She's using the election as a platform to bring attention to issues that continually threaten our culture and livelihood (wait, isn't that what elections are supposed to do?) and if that brings attention to her sense of humor as well, then good for her. I trust a person who allows their personality to show more than I trust script reading vote beggars. It's probably the most sensible campaign platform I've read thus far. Who are you voting for?"
The Wall Street Journal paints Ari as a silly hipster, for of course what other way to paint a creative response to an inherently flawed system? Not least of which includes the pervasive and perverse monopoly of Wall Street. "Aren't you tired of having the richest man in New York tell you what to do?" writes Ari in an op-ed for The Media, citing the power-hungry, stagnant, capitalistic greed of traditional primary candidates. "Perhaps you think anybody would be better than this Wall Street Napoleon." Indeed, one of the key components of the Write-in-Spool campaign is that she is not accepting any financial backing. "I'm not a narcissist though," says Ari, "despite what CUNY professors and Zoe Ligon say about me in the Wall Street Journal. I'm already really bad at small talk, and this giant, glaring personal announcement has made it more difficult. But it's not the worst thing to ever happen–one of my goals in running for mayor was to talk to a lot more people about politics and the way they work in my home, New York City, and also about ways we can change the way things work by using only the power of our brains working together, and that's been happening a lot." In her Labor Day campaign speech at The Silent Barn, after giving a sampling of just some of her ingenious campaign promises, Ari decreed that "until November 5th, I will be asking for more and more promises that I can make, just like how regular candidates ask for more and more money."
On October 21st, Ari and Executive Dean David Scobey co-moderated a conversation with writer and activist Paul Rogat Loeb, as part of The New School for Public Engagement (NSPE)'s Engaged Lives series, which you can watch here on the New School YouTube Channel, and I highly recommend that you do. This series features New School alums discussing their work in civic engagement and writing for social change—a concentration which Ari is studying in the Riggio Honors Program for Writing and Democracy. Bringing her ever interactive senses of humour, society, and history, Ari's writing and orating in and out of class cover crucial topics ranging from gentrification; race, gender, and class relations; sociopolitical infrastructure; agriculture and food issues; international and local policy; and more. Ari is also a Public Engagement fellow, a collaborative initiative in community leadership and public service, which is only one way in which she puts her priorities into practice. And the fact is, she's not the type to toot her horn about these things (unless it's done funny, of course), but as she posits in the video interview above and the aforementioned op-ed for The Media, perhaps it's high time that a civilian—"that anybody" who would be better than the "representative democracy" that defines the office—stepped in to offer a direct democracy, from the people to the people (hence the nod to the #Occupy movement). "I think that politicians are, at best, Ouroboros, right? They’re just creatures of their own creation. They eat their own tails, they swallow them, their tails crawl down their digestive system and they come back out their butts. I feel like that is what happens in the world of politics." But with Spool in office, ye shall ask, and ye shall get. Ye shall at the very least be listened to.
After the engaging (yes, yes, we love this word here at the School of Undergraduate Studies) panel with Loeb and Scobey on the challenges of political hope, social movement participation, and the nature of grassroots work in the Vietnam War era versus now, Ari headed over to deliver an Expressive Ribbon Cutting at Scissors Please: a night of readings and video screenings at Bushwick's Silent Barn. First polling the audience on whom amongst them still believed in the future, (to which a Tweeter followed up with "Vote for Ari Spool, subsidize the future!”), Ari delivered a speech titled "How Do You Tell Your Dad You Are Running For Mayor?” In this rare treat of a personal essay by Ari, who tends to write more of local issues illustrated beautifully through narrative rather than her personal life, she recounts being raised on "deep and silly political satire" which was influential in her campaign and the challenges of having to tell people she's running for mayor when, unlike traditional candidates, she isn't seeking attention. "I think it would be easier to run for mayor if we all ran for mayor, all the time. I'm not very smart or crazy for doing this, honestly. It's not a huge leap...If we all ran for Mayor, or city council, or whatever, I would get what I really want: smart, constant engagement about our generation's values and goals."
And after all this, Ari went home to work on her research in preparation to address the issue of usability of Svalbard's "Doomsday Seed Bank" in the Arctic! Okay, so I lied a little. Although homework was indeed next on the menu, that particular (awesome) assignment preceded that event. But who else in this race, or any other, is so committed not only to the pressing social issues of today, but also in protecting you in the event of an apocalypse? No one, that's who.
So don't be a fool, write in Spool. And on November 5th, I'll see you at the Victory Party of the century.
Bean Haskell is a writer, an interdisciplinary scholar of the arts and social movements in the Riggio Honors Program: Writing and Democracy at The New School for Public Engagement, and the Poetry and Art editor of 12th Street, and an avid supporter of Mayor Spool.