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In the aftermath of the US elections, New Yorkers are scribbling messages of hope — on subway walls with a multi-coloured patchwork of Post-Its. Using subway walls at the 6th Avenue and the 14th Street as a canvas, commuters are writing down their feelings and opinions about optimism, tolerance and unity, instead of verbally venting them out on the streets.
“Subway Therapy” was started by a 28-year-old Brooklyn-based artist Matthew “Levee” Chavez. On his website, Levee writes: “Subway Therapy is about making people smile, laugh, and feel less stress. If someone wants to get something off their chest or has a burning question, I’m happy to be there for them. I believe that people grow and learn through dynamic conversation.”
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Originally, SubwayTherapy began as an outlet for commuters to express themselves and talk to Levee. It was an idea that struck him several years ago. Levee often thought about setting up a makeshift therapy zone in the subways to help people talk and vent their frustrations. “What got me thinking in this specific direction first was the concept of absolution,” he shares on the website. “How do people feel better when they feel bad? There are so many people walking around with extra emotional weight. I am very lucky to have family and friends that help me process events that happen in my life, but what if someone doesn’t have a family to turn to or friends to support them when they are in a bad way? What if they don’t have a community to be a part of, or access to therapy? This is a complicated problem. I’m certainly not the solution, but I want to contribute.”
Later, Levee’s Subway Therapy organically transformed into an act where the artist parked himself in a spot and invited commuters to write their feelings in a book. “More often than not, people would just talk to me instead of writing something down. It got pretty common to hear, ‘I feel so much better! This is great… like therapy.’ I heard it enough that it stuck and six months ago, Subway Therapy was born.”
Subway Therapy really took off after Donald Trump was declared the next President. New York which is a solid Blue state suffered a massive blow and countless Hillary supporters took to the streets, protesting that Donald Trump was #NotMyPresident. Similar protests cropped up in other parts of the country as well. Some of these turned violent where people were seen burning Trump effigies. In light of these protests, Subway Therapy metamorphosed into an act of writing, giving New Yorkers a platform to channelise feelings of anger, grief and anxiety and convert them into something far more powerful — hope. Notes of optimism now sprawl across subway passageways, which function as purveyors of positivity for many commuters, in what in their eyes seem like dark times.
The therapeutic note-writing is a non-partisan, inclusive act. In fact, Levee requested, everyone who was participating to be “peaceful and tolerant of each other’s perspective.” Across the wall, there are positivity reinforcing messages like, “Stay strong. You are loved. Fight for good”, “We shall overcome today!”, “Love each day. Smile a lot. Time heals all things”, as well as inclusive messages like, “We all are immigrants”. Countering these, there are a few rancid, acerbic notes too, such as “HAHAHAHA! Hillary – Killary! You suck!” Overall however, the messages are more positive.
The notes are not the only thing working towards rebuilding hope in New York. Last week, Emma Watson took on the responsibility of tucking books authored by renowned writer, poet and feminist icon, Maya Angelou in various parts of the New York subway. She tweeted, “Today I am going to deliver Maya Angelou books to the New York subway. Then I am going to fight even harder for all the things I believe in.” Watson, who is a fierce advocate for women’s rights, wrote this with regard to Trump being elected President – a man who has relentlessly berated women and their bodies.
There are now over 10,000 such Post-it notes of hope that sprawl across the subway walls and one can definitely hope that there are going to be far more.