Behold the great mermaid tail
Coney Island’s annual Mermaid Parade isn’t usually a place for broad political messages, except when reclaiming pasties as a symbol of women’s empowerment can be considered political. These aren’t normal times, however. Last year, as the battle over Thor Equities’ plan for beachfront condo towers heated up, the “Save Coney Island” section was a small contigent of the festivities; at this year’s parade, stepping off tomorrow at 2 pm, expect it to be the major theme.
First off, it will undoubtedly be the first time that the hundreds of thousands of gawkers there to take in the sights will be handed flyers for a city scoping meeting. The first step in the city’s move to rezone Coney Island to limit outdoor amusements to a strip along the boardwalk, with retail and hotels starting one block inland, it’s scheduled for next Tuesday at 6 pm at Lincoln High School. “We want to represent what the true spirit of Coney Island is,” says Dianna Carlin, owner of the Lola Staar Boutique and co-founder of the Save Coney Island coalition. “What better way than to get a bunch of mermaids to come and testify?” (For those unable to attend Tuesday’s public meeting, Save Coney volunteers will have postcards on hand to send to local pols.)
As for the parade itself, it should be a tipoff that the official poster features not just the usual topless sea-maiden but a set of placards bearing such slogans as “Rides Yes! Shopping Malls No!” (Coney Island USA, the parade’s sponsor, is headed by another Save Coney co-founder, Dick Zigun.) This year’s honorary King Neptune and Queen Mermaid, meanwhile, are the everpresent rabble-rouser Reverend Billy and Savitri D, director of his Stop Shopping Choir. Savitri, taking her name seriously, will be going directly from the parade to the front window of Coney Island USA’s new street-level bar, where she will stage a public fast for the three days leading up to the zoning hearing. (For those not planning a trip to Surf Avenue, her hunger strike will also be webcast at revbilly.com/mermaid.)
Savitri says she decided to get involved once she saw that Zigun, the self-proclaimed “mayor of Coney Island” and a major neighborhood presence for 25 years, had turned from cautious support of the city’s rezoning plan to quitting his seat on the Coney Island Development Corporation board in disgust after the CIDC slashed the size of its proposed amusement area by 44%. “What’s most disturbing about all of this is that a totally diverse community came up with a plan that everybody could live with, and then the city changed it overnight,” she says. “Coney Island is a place where people of all races and all classes can hang out together, and there’s like two of those places in New York right now – and I can’t think of what the other one is right now.”
Her goal, says Savitri, is to get Coney lovers to turn out en masse to “this otherwise dull scoping hearing,” which “could determine the fate of this democratized amusement zone that we all know and love. But while we can love it all we want, we have to show up, and love it on the record.”