“Craftivism” for Breast Cancer

Volunteers at an UWS yarn store knit prosthetic “knockers” for low-income women of color

Knitted Knockers founder Barbara Demorest (right) talks with Knitty City group in September.  Photo: Leslie Gersing


Barbara Demorest figured her cancer doctor wasn’t making small talk when he asked if she could knit. The Washington state resident learned complications from a mastectomy prevented her from getting reconstructive surgery. Her doctor said the heavy, rubbery inserts worn in special post-mastectomy bras don’t work for everyone: they get hot and sweaty, irritate surgery scars, and cost $300 to $500. He showed her a printout of a hand-made, breast-shaped pillow with a link to a website.

Demorest immediately contacted the source — a yarn-store owner in Maine who had undergone mastectomy, and got her permission to share the pattern. She then asked a friend to knit her one.

“It changed my life,” she told a gathering at Knitty City on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. “It was soft, it was light, it was made by somebody who cared, and I could wear it in my bra … and my doctor said I could wear as it as soon as I could tolerate wearing a bra.”

That was six years ago. Now Demorest heads an all-volunteer foundation, giving out at least 1,000 prosthetics a month. More than 300 groups in the U.S. and 16 countries have joined the cause, donating the inserts to women, through doctors’ offices, clinics, hospitals, breast cancer support groups, and directly, through KnittedKnockers.org.

Hand-made “Knitted Knockers” for women after mastectomy. Photo: Leslie Gersing


The hand-made “knockers” are the latest campaign of “craftivism” at Knitty City, an 11-year-old small business at 79th and Amsterdam Avenue which got international exposure last spring, making thousands of pink “pussy” hats for marchers protesting the Trump administration. Store owner Pearl Chin also donates yarn to an Asian women’s organization, holds free knitting classes during the summer in Bryant Park, and is handing out patterns to make “welcome blankets” for new immigrants.

Knitty City owner Pearl Chin. Photo: Leslie Gersing

Regulars gather on Tuesdays. However, anyone can come to the store for free patterns, help and discounts on yarn used to make the “knockers.” Chin expects Breast Cancer Awareness Month to generate even more interest in the project, which benefits LatinaSHARE, a support group serving low-income women of color in New York. When Chin brought them samples, “They looked at the colors and they said, ‘well, could you make them more colorful?’” And, they told her, cup-size matters: “’We’ll have to have them larger than that — C’s or D’s.’”

Knitty City employee Nancy Ricci with orange knitted knockers. LatinaSHARE asked for larger, brightly colored inserts. Photo: Leslie Gersing

Maria Estrella, LatinaSHARE coordinator and volunteer breast cancer patient navigator at Bellevue Hospital, says the inserts can help many women feel more comfortable after mastectomy. While “the majority opt for reconstruction,” she says, healing, chemo and radiation can delay the procedure “up to a year.”

The American Cancer Society estimates one in eight women (252,710) will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer this year, including 16,000 New Yorkers. While mastectomies are on rise, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons says, “less than half of all women who undergo mastectomy are currently offered breast reconstruction surgery, and fewer than 20 percent … undergo immediate reconstruction.”

In December, Demorest traveled to Rwanda to teach women how to make their own “knockers,” after learning reconstruction isn’t an option for most of them. They told her that some women are taught breast cancer is a curse, and were dying of shame rather than live with disfiguring surgery.

One Knitty City customer shows off a pair of purple knockers to the group, adding that she “says a prayer,” for the women who will get them. Others say they plan to attach personal messages to their finished projects. Demorest nods, telling the group she often gets asked, “Why not manufacture the prosthetics and sell them?”

“We’d be meeting one need, but we would be losing out so much on that caring factor,” says Demorest. “When you make the Knitted Knockers, you feel the sense of purpose with your knitting and your crocheting. You are making a difference in somebody’s life.”

This article was also published in the Straus News Publications’ Our Town and Chelsea News.



With “Participatory Budgeting,” New Yorkers Decide How to Spend Funds

By Leslie Gersing, Producer, Video Editor | May 1, 2017 | runs 1:46

On April 25, 2017, New York City Council member Helen Rosenthal announced the winners of projects to be funded with $1.27 million, as a result of voting by her constituents in the Participatory Budgeting (PB) process. See my companion print article in the West Side Rag, April 29, 2017.

For more information on Participatory Budgeting in New York City, visit http://council.nyc.gov/pb/participate/ or @PB_NYC on Twitter.


Frank McCourt High School student Austin Garcia (left), with his teacher Daniele Gates. Frank McCourt received funding for tech upgrades.

By Leslie Gersing
It’s like Sim City with real money.
Locals decided to spend more than a million bucks for library renovations, tech equipment, air conditioning and playground renovations at four schools on the Upper West Side.
The results were announced at The Center for West Park on April 25 at Council Member Helen Rosenthal’s Town Hall for District 6, which includes Central Park, Lincoln Square, northern Clinton and the Upper West Side.
The projects were chosen through participatory budgeting — democracy at the grass roots. Starting last year, numerous cultural, educational, security and other improvement projects were researched and debated for their worthiness, subjected to feasibility studies and budgeted. Any district resident or student, 14 and up, was eligible to vote for their top five choices. Eleven made the ballot during voting from March 27 through April 2.

                                     People voting for projects.

Four projects, at a total cost of $1.27 million, received the most votes, and will be part of the New York City Council Budget. Rosenthal allocated the extra $270,000 from her district budget to cover the overage. They are:

•Library Upgrades for P.S. 166 The project includes work to enlarge the library and creation of a new reading space at P.S. 166, 132 W. 89th St. Cost: $295,000 (1834 votes)

•Air Conditioning for P.S. 9 and Center School Gym Installation of a split system air conditioning system in the gymnasium shared by P.S. 9 and the Center School at 100 W. 84th St. Cost: $400,000 (1398 votes)

•Technology Upgrades at Frank McCourt High School including 11 new Smart Boards and 30 laptop computers with a cart, for use at Frank McCourt H.S. at 145 W. 84th St. Cost: $125,000 (1310 votes)

•Schoolyard Renovation at P.S. 84 Renovation of the playground, converting the asphalt to synthetic turf at P.S. 84 Schoolyard, the Sol Bloom Playground at 32 W. 92nd St. Cost: $450,000 (1304 votes)

During the last day of voting on April 2, volunteer Mark Diller said, “Every council member has a certain amount of money that they’re allowed to spend in the community. And Helen and a few other council members have taken $1 million of that and – capital things, projects and equipment and things – and made it available for the public to propose ideas and then to select among those ideas, which ones will actually get funded.”
At Frank McCourt High School on West 84th Street, 15 juniors and seniors got to experience participatory budgeting up close. Their class took part in all aspects of the process — from the initial development and research of potential projects, to serving on committees that short-listed finalists.
Austin Garcia, an 18-year old senior going to Hunter College next year, said: “It basically just helped me work with people and be more of a better asset in terms of doing group work with people.”
Garcia was pleased voters approved the McCourt High School project for smart boards, computers and other tech gear, which are needed to replace aging and broken equipment. His teacher Daniele Gates was happily surprised about the win, after losing out last year even though the entire student body voted in person. But she doubted there was any special favoritism among the class members. “They were super objective,” she said. “They were all working on different projects, so they weren’t invested in the project they were working on.”
New York City introduced participatory budgeting in 2011. This year, 31 of New York’s 51 city council districts took part during the 2016-2017 cycle, each agreeing to spend at least $1 million in the process. According to the City Council, 28 city council districts took part during the prior cycle, with 67,000 New Yorkers voting to fund $38 million in capital projects.
While many people laud the “small-d” democracy of the process, others are critical of asking voters to decide to spend council districts’ tax dollars on schools, roads, and other public services that should be funded by government agencies. In a recent New York Post op-ed, Nicole Gelinas, a senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute, called New York’s participatory democracy a “sham,” and said, “the exercise points out the city’s failure to spend money wisely, to an absurd degree.”
Rosenthal’s office said 3,111 residents voted for their favorite community initiatives this year, compared to 2,167 last year. While that’s a 43% increase, it’s still a small portion of eligible voters in the district — and comparable, to rising, but continued low levels of participation citywide. Rosenthal urged her Town Hall audience to sign up for her emails at HelenRosenthal.com to stay informed about the process.
Teacher Daniele Gates says more people might vote if ballots were mailed, or more attention were focused on online voting, or ballot locations set up where residents shop, such as grocery stores. But she has no doubt about the value of the class for her students. “They see the impact of participation. I think that a lot of people don’t engage in the process because their voice doesn’t matter and they have first-hand evidence that their vote and their voice matters.”

Photos by Leslie Gersing.

Rep. Adriano Espaillat holds Town Hall on future without Obamacare

By Leslie Gersing, President, Skylight Video Productions | February 19, 2017

Rep. Espaillat’s February 18th town hall meeting in Washington Heights drew an overflow crowd. The line of snaked around the corner. First-term Congressman Espaillat (D-NY), a Dominican-born immigrant, represents New York’s 13th Congressional District, one of the nation’s poorest. The Affordable Care Act has enabled many constituents to get health insurance coverage for themselves, their kids and even adult children (through age 28). Importantly, many gained health insurance through the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid. Changes proposed by Republicans and the new Administration threaten as many as 20% of the district’s residents, according to one estimate.

Occupy No More: What Zuccotti Park Is Like Now

By Leslie Gersing, Producer
Wednesday, 16 Nov 2011 | 2:05 PM ET CNBC.com
Leslie Gersing for CNBC.com

Occupy Wall Street protesters have been slowly returning to Zuccotti Park since New York City had them evicted on Tuesday.

Before dawn Wednesday, police and private guards rousted a few for lying down and otherwise sleeping.

Cops instructed private guards hired by the owner, Brookfield Properties, to clarify whether sleeping violates Tuesday’s court ruling that protesters can’t camp out in the park. Occupy Wall Street attorney Yetta Kurland said Tuesday night that nothing in the ruling prevents people from sleeping there.

A small number of people spent Tuesday evening in the park vowing to keep the Occupy Wall Street movement going.

Barriers prevent easy entry. One can only enter in middle of North and South sides of the park. The private guards examine belongings but are letting large bags in after they are inspected. They have denied entrance to some with large knapacks and other equipment.

A small library has been reestablished, but Occupy Wall Street members say books taken away during the cleanup were irretrievably damaged despite word they were saved.

The Sanitation Department opened its collection site Wednesday morning for protesters who want to get their seized belongings. Proof of I.D. is required. A Sanitation spokesman said claims forms for lost or damaged property can be filled out on site.

Patrick Koller, one Occupy Wall Street protestor seeking donations to go back home to Nashville, told us city workers took his laptop, wallet and identification. He doubts he’ll get them back and believes the eviction and harassment has ended the campaign.

A Brooklyn bystander named Dan praised Tuesday’s actions, saying people shouldn’t be allowed to occupy the park and that some demonstrators were seeking confrontation. He said he came by last night to thank the cops for their professionalism.

Rain fell by noon but didn’t dampen protestors’ enthusiasm or the growing number who showed up. Lunch got served; groups met to handle money, media and medical needs.

Some say Tuesday’s police action strengthened their resolve and energized plans for Thursday’s “International Day of Action.” According to their website, the protestors vow to shut down wall street, occupy the subways and take Foley Square.

As a popular sign says, “This is SO not over.”

Questions? Comments? Email us atNetNet@cnbc.com

Video: Venezuela’s Finance Minister on Bloomberg’s “For the Record”

By Leslie Gersing, producer | Bloomberg TV | May 2006 | 8:32

Excerpts of 3-camera interview with Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Ali Rodriguez and Bloomberg’s Kathleen Hays in Caracas, previewing the June 2006 OPEC conference in Venezuela, the policies of Pres. Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s alliance with Iran, and deteriorating relations with the U.S.

ali rodriguez and hays