SCOTT GORDON TONE OCTOBER 31, 2023
Fawzy Taylor drew on a vast network of artists and writers for the fundraiser.
As Israel began to carpet-bomb the densely populated Gaza Strip in early October, indiscriminately killing thousands of Palestinian civilians with the full support of the United States government, organizers got to work channeling desperately needed aid to Palestine. The Madison-Rafah Sister City Project turned a previously planned celebration of the olive oil harvest into a protest at Tenney Park on October 15—an event beautiful in its solidarity and heartbreaking in its necessity.
Fawzy Taylor—best known as the resident chaotic meme lord of local bookstore A Room of One’s Own—launched an online fundraiser benefiting the Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) and the Palestinian Medical Relief Society. Both organizations are working to deliver medical supplies and bolster healthcare in Gaza as Israel kills, injures, and displaces thousands of people, destroying healthcare facilities and other civilian infrastructure along the way. Taylor reached out to dozens of artists, retailers, and small businesses, who donated items for an online raffle that ended up raising $54,000.
The initial campaign ended on October 22, but is still accepting direct donations. (Other ways to help out locally: Donating to locally based organization Palestine Partners, donating to MECA via that organization’s website, and visiting several Palestine-connected vendors at the Madison Fair Trade Holiday Festival on December 2 at Monona Terrace.)
“I was just kind of at a loss and was talking to my best friend and I was like, ‘Normally I would make a zine and sell it and then donate the money from that,’ but there was no way that I had the executive functioning to make anything creative,” Taylor says. “I was feeling really hopeless and helpless. My best friend who is a trauma therapist and does online workshops was like, ‘What if you raffled off or gave away some of my spots in workshops?’”
From there, the effort quickly snowballed—not unlike Bookstores Against Borders, a campaign Taylor helped launch via Room of One’s Own in 2019 to raise money for immigrant legal aid. This time around, Taylor once again worked their contacts locally and far beyond. People started donating prints, ceramics, tattoo sessions, books, massages, tea, jewelry, and on and on. Madison-based contributors included visual artist Terrence Adeyanju (aka iampeeld), painter Rae Senarighi (aka @transpainter), and tattoo artist nipinet.
“Once I get a few yeses I get kind of emboldened… I started messaging Adrienne Marie Brown and fucking Angela Davis. I never heard back from Angela Davis,” Taylor adds with a laugh. “But I messaged Kehlani and Patti Smith, and just anyone, absolutely anyone I could think of that has shown even a glimmer of community care in their work.” Brown contributed a set of signed books. Taylor also secured donations from Jamila Woods, Hanif Abdurraqib, and Andrew Gibson, to name a few.
“I think 220 [artists] altogether contributed but then I only was able to get [about] 140 items up on the fundraising site, just because of how much labor it took,” Taylor says. More than 2,400 people donated money to enter their names in the raffle for various items. In fact, so many people reached out to try and support the campaign that Taylor couldn’t get back to all of them. Taylor is now taking some time to regroup.
Taylor points out that it’s important for different people to realize they can contribute to the cause in different ways, even if they don’t feel that direct action or placing lots of phone calls to lawmakers is their strong suit. That’s a helpful thing to keep in mind in the face of such overwhelming tragedy and rage.
“I’ve never seen genocide be streamed on Instagram,” Taylor adds. “It is really traumatic, and I’ve never seen so many dead people before these two weeks and it was clear that our government isn’t going to do anything besides give more money to Israel.”
“My birth dad is Egyptian and Palestinian, but I hope I would be doing this even if I didn’t share heritage with the people being murdered,” Taylor says.
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