Image credit: Library of Congress: http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.music/musdcmicon.0569
REPORT FROM THE RAT ACADEMY
People’s House Basement
All chapters present
Prepared by the Recording Secretary
The Rat Academy is the premier educational institution of the City. It follows in the august traditions of rattus academies worldwide in its aim to foster the joy of learning, discourse, and fellowship in the actions of daily life. Established immediately upon our arrival, membership has always been free and automatic for every city resident. The Academy is a member of the International Association of Rat Academies (Urban).
The Chair called the Winter Session of the Rat Academy (City) to order. A warm welcome was extended to all, and thanks expressed to the Uptown-East chapter for arranging a spacious venue to avoid the regrettable tangling of tails that occurred at the Borough Bash. [Applause.] The assembly was invited to bring issues forward.
- The Rat Academy name: Member (Downtown-East) questioned the lack of action against the City’s appropriation of the Rat Academy name, especially as a tool against the community. [N.B. Refers to the courses on controlling and managing our community offered by the City’s Department of Health under the title “Rat Academy.”]
The Chair opened the floor for discussion.
- Member (Parks-Downtown): Discussing techniques of killing, torture, and surveillance in our name is insulting. [General quivering and squeaking. Shouts of “oversensitive!” from Midtown members.]
- Member (Downtown-West): The move to virtual academies by the City has made it hard to keep track of their policies and strategies. We have lost the opportunity to get accurate information about the height and material density of the City’s new garbage can designs so that we can better train young foragers.
- Member (Uptown-West): Time for a seize and desist raid. A chew-in of the wires the night before they meet would demonstrate our displeasure. [Shouts of “Citywide chew-in!” and “Control Pest Control!”]
- Member (Downtown-East): A chew-in or an overrun risks escalation into another “war on rats.” This is a principled objection to nomenclature.
- Elder (Downtown-West): No “pest control department” or its putative “rat czar” has ever won the “war on rats”—but this is only due to our vigilance. Up-to-date language training is essential. Has talk of “sighting” progressed to the term “infestation”?
- Member (Midtown-West) “Transmission” is the trigger word—it means we are once more specters of disease. [Collective quivering. Shouts of “Don’t plague us” and “Ease not disease.”] The city-wide drills should be revived. We’re lucky if the current crisis passes without us being made scapegoats.
- Member (Subway): Question whether the history curriculum has been revised. Junior members seem to be ignorant of past atrocities and are often angling for mentions in aboveground media. For some chapters, every day is a gauntlet.
- Junior Member (Subway): Political action should not be confused with ignorance or recklessness. Artists from our chapter have been intentional in their performances to attract memes. We stand for all residents of this city when our actions say: “We live here too.”
- Member (Midtown-East): Our communities have always lived with abovegrounders. Their well-being assures our well-being. They’re a resource to protect even when we protect ourselves from them. Remember the creed: Bold but discreet.
- Member (Parks-Central): We must reaffirm our core mission. Rat Academies were originally founded to put a daily spring in the step of a forager, above and below ground. Academy meetings reinforce collective wisdom and support [cheers, bruxing, and eye-boggling], but there has always been room for individual expression. Acting collectively on aboveground activity is only tactical if it directly affects the entire community.
Chair: The membership is not in agreement on this matter. If any member or chapter wants to bring a proposal forward for an action, we can discuss it at a future session. All proposals should be mindful of the concerns already expressed—disproportionate impact on some chapters, escalation of risk, tactical value, and safeguarding information-gathering potential.
Member (Subway): Move to postpone until there is a clear proposal.
Member (Downtown-West): Seconded.
Community Engagement Committee (CEC):
Parks-West chapter organized a potluck with Pigeon Cooperative West to discuss community foraging issues affected by changed sanitation truck timings. A tentative agreement was reached to share early morning hours so that elderly members of both communities can eat without disturbance. The chapter also presented Pigeons with an “Honorary Rat (Aerial)” plaque.
Research and Curriculum Committee (RCC):
The committee has approved two new courses in Elementary and Intermediate Pigeon. Conversational Pidgin for Pigeons continues to be a popular offering. The Lingua Rodentia Initiative is looking for new members to join its working groups, especially in the areas of rodentax, rodantics, and historical rodentistics. Applicants must be prepared to collaborate with squirrels and mice. Preference will be given to those with a working knowledge of Hamster or Rabbit. Speakers have been shortlisted for the distinguished lecture series “Synanthropy and Misanthropy.” The announcement will be made shortly.
Public Programs committee (PPC):
The committee is organizing the vernal chorus. This year, we will join the global event occurring on the equinox. Since the recent crisis, the City is not the insomniac it once was, making the timing of the event no longer an issue for us. The rehearsal schedule will be distributed. Altos and basses must commit to practice to avoid the Hamelin Slip. [N.B. A drop in pitch that makes the voice audible aboveground. So-called because of a medieval incident in which abovegrounders, roused by a resounding chorus of resident rats, hired a repellent piper to plague our ears. Although a temporary nuisance, it remains a cautionary tale.]
Security and Facilities Committee (SFC)/Buildings and Design Committee (BDC):
The two committees continue to work together to resolve construction issues. The central concern has been the boom in multi-aperture dwellings promising greater ground views. Based on the history of large-scale burrow demolition and the spread of dry ice plugs by the City that suffocate residents, the SFC has refused clearance for anything but dual-aperture units with entrance and bolt-hole. BDC proposes instead that the Radical Burrow Network technologies produced by insurgent academies in aboveground war zones be adapted for general urban use. The single bolt-hole/multiple bolt-holes is a deceptive binary, according to BDC. We must innovate and experiment.
[Commotion on the floor. “Hear hear!” and “We are not your lab rats!”]
Chair: Called for calm. This is a progress report. SFC and BDC have presented the contentions openly. It will be brought before the assembly for discussion when the recommendations are finalized.
Orientation and Wayfinding Committee (OWC):
Uptown and Downtown junior clubs have established a quarterly Sebum Trailway Exchange program in which members give guided tours of each other’s routes, visit historical sites, and enjoy scenic vistas. New restaurants will be chosen for each end-of-trail party. The first event will be in the spring.
Chair: Thank you to the committees for the reports. Encourage full participation in the vernal chorus this year. All members are invited to join from their parks and subways and sewers and tunnels and basements. Let us lift our voices in joy this equinox and join our fellows from other nations, representing the City but in global unison: We are here. We are still here.
The post-chorus party will be held at a new venue with a promising record of City citations.
[Cheers, bruxing, and boggling.]
This report is part of a spring 2023 Public Seminar special issue on rats, curated by senior managing editor Evangeline Riddiford Graham.
Radhika Subramaniam is Associate Professor of Visual Culture, Parsons School of Design/The New School. She is grateful to fellow rat academician Rafi Youatt for the fellowship of ratty conversation in and out of the classroom.