Nov 092011

Monday nights, 10:00 P.M.

By Northrupp Center

“It is said that all games of bocce begin and end with a handshake.”

—Maxim printed on the rules to a bocce set purchased in 2001.

Guerrilla bocce is an anarchist variant of the popular Italian lawn game that dates back to ancient Roman times. The game is simple. Players take turns throwing two balls at a smaller ball, known as the Jack or the Pallino. Points are earned based upon proximity to the Jack: 2 points are awarded to the player whose ball is closest; 1 point is awarded to the second closest ball. Games continue until the winning player reaches 11 points.

Aesthetically, Guerrilla bocce is closer to Free Range bocce than to the more staid and traditional Courted bocce, which is played by teams of two on courts of crushed oyster shells that run to ninety feet long. In Guerrilla bocce, players walk their environments, rolling their balls on a variety of public, quasi-public and some just downright no-trespassing green spaces. Hooting and hollering is often involved, though it holds no official place in Guerrilla bocce rules.

Over the past decade, Guerrilla Bocce Leagues (GBLs) have begun to spring up throughout the globe, as people increasingly seek to reclaim under-utilized, stolen, or otherwise privatized public space. Fledgling leagues have started in Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Madison (WI), Las Cruces (NM), and Lake Martin and Guntersville (AL). Players have also been spotted globally in Amsterdam and Oulu (Finland).

North of Center editor Danny Mayer, current non-commissioner of the newly formed Lexington Guerrilla Bocce League (LGBL), first heard about Guerrilla bocce from some friends playing in Georgia. “I’ve been a fan of bocce for a long time. I’ve got a mini-court in my backyard. Several years back, a couple Georgia rollers told me an apocryphal story of a group calling itself the Columbus Guerrilla Bocce League, which played a couple rounds on the grounds of the School of the Americas [a U.S. training facility for Latin American dictators and their militaries that is housed in Georgia nearby Fort Benning]. As the story goes, the military wasn’t too happy—Columbus GBL got several dictators to join in the fun and temporarily stop studying how to oppress their people—and so the military slapped League players with 20 year sentences in the stockades.”

“I never looked to see if the story was true, but it got me out playing in Lexington. I learned that Guerrilla bocce is just plain fun. We walk the city, playing green spaces, and hoot and holler. Last week, we ended up at SideBar for a league nightcap. It’s sport, it’s activism, it’s exploration.”

Occu-bocce and two educators’ moral imperative

Though the LGBL has roots running several years back, things started really coming together last month when community members began occupying the JP Morgan Chase Bank Plaza on Main Street in downtown Lexington. Mayer and his colleague-friend Michael Benton, both Bluegrass Community and Technical College faculty members who teach writing, film and community engagement, began to think of ways to get complacent Lexingtonians to participate in the movement.

“After the chaotic and thrilling initial push to establish the occupation here in Lexington, we began to think of how we could offer steady contributions to the movement. To do our part, pull our weight,” Benton says. “We both have full-time jobs, our own community initiatives we contribute to and a free bi-weekly print paper we help publish and distribute, among other things. Our time is limited, but this is an important moment in world history making. There’s no sitting on the sidelines.”

“We also felt that, as college educators and faculty members, we had a moral imperative to contribute,” Mayer continues. “We are fortunate. We don’t make bankster money, but our state jobs provide us flexible schedules, good retirement plans and decent health care. We get a month break in December, nearly three months (unpaid) in the summer, plus all federal holidays. As employees of the state, we’re tasked with bettering the Commonwealth. We have an obligation to contribute, to make time and justify our jobs.”

Benton continues. “Plus, we teach at a community college. So our obligations are also to our local communities. Unlike professors at the University of Kentucky, who increasingly teach the sons and daughters of wealth, we daily interact with people who have been screwed the most by our nation’s economic, social and political choices. So while we teach more than UK professors, have more administrative duties than UK professors, are afforded less resources than UK professors, and make significantly less than them, we feel a greater sense of responsibility to our students and our community.”

To ensure their participation, the two BCTC teachers decided, in a sense, to Occupy Mondays. To begin, they committed to spending Monday nights at the occupation. Mayer again: “Michael and I noticed that only a few people were spending the night at any time, and those people were put in the position of having to spend many nights there. They were getting exhausted. It was an immediate place we could contribute.”

“Right now, Danny and I show up by 10:00 P.M. and leave around 7:00 A.M. We stay up all night to help give the other regular overnighters a break. I’m 47. He’s 36,” Benton says. “We’re not young, and we’re committed drinkers. It kills us, but it’s one night. Nobody said changing the world is easy.”

Around this weekly commitment, the two have started to work on other ways to encourage people—particularly college educators from UK who have not had a significant presence at the occupation—to make their own regular time commitments to show up. Mayer started a People’s Media on Mondays (5:30-7:30) with BCTC film-certificate holder Ramona Waldman. Benton is in the process of organizing a regular Monday teach-in. The two do camp clean-up while staying overnight on Monday.

Mayer calls Monday nights “Community night” at Occupy, and has solicited participation on this night from BCTC faculty, staff and students (past, present and future). “Can they drop by for an hour on Monday, offer something to teach, a game to play, music or art to make? Can they spell us Tuesday morning from 7:00-9:00, when traffic comes through town? Those are the sort of small participations this movement needs.”

He’s also challenged UK faculty to pull their weight, though he hasn’t seen much traction from the resource-guzzling State University. “They may be helping, I don’t know. If they are, they need to do a better job of publicizing it. They hold a lot of cultural capital in this city and state.”

Lexington Guerrilla Bocce League

As an outgrowth of Community night at the occupation, Mayer started bringing his bocce balls to play quick games around downtown. Sports, he says, also need to be occupied and re-asserted as a public right. High cost, low access, privatized spectator sports like UK basketball need to be challenged and undermined. The city needs better alternatives and models for gathering together and blowing off competitive steam. The model is less “gold standard” SEC sports teams, and more “community participation” activities like roller derby, bike polo, disc golf, ping pong, chess and checkers.

Out of this, the Lexington Guerrilla Bocce League has been formed.

Unlike privatized sports, league play for the LGBL privileges not only “winning” matches, but also regular participation. Players move up in the league standings partially based on how many “points” they score, irrespective of whether they won a match. Show up regularly and participate, and you’re already a winner.

“Let’s get this straight,” Mayer says on the night I interview him, “I don’t really expect anybody else to actually join in. This is Lexington, after all, the big town with the lazy mind and a detached state university. People are late coming to things here because they’re so uptight, just puckered assholes all around.”

As he turns from me and walks away toward the 12 people (out of a city of 300,000) collected together to assert their rights as citizens at Occupy Lexington, he pauses briefly. “But who knows. Maybe lightning will strike and people will join the fold. They’re certainly invited. Stranger things have happened.”

Currently, the Lexington Guerrilla Bocce League convenes at the JP Morgan Chase Bank Plaza, Main Street at the corner of MLK, on Monday nights at 10:00 P.M. If you have them, bring your bocce balls to share. If you don’t, show up anyway and we’ll find a pair for you. Drinks afterwards at nearest bar for those interested in such things.

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