Britney Spears has been a lot of things – singer, songwriter, icon, pop star, tabloid fodder, actress, mom, dancer, paparazzi target and punchline to more jokes than she’s deserved.
But lately, she’s the figurehead of a movement that means to save not only her but thousands of others who have become powerless under the confines of a conservatorship. According to Wikipedia, this is legal situation where “a guardian or a protector is appointed by a judge to manage the financial affairs and/or daily life of another due to physical or mental limitations, or old age.”
One can imagine uninformed folks laughing at the “Free Britney” signs and t-shirts that showed up in Washington Square Park last week, but there’s nothing funny about the situation. Despite having completed world tours, new albums, judged a reality show and having an enormously successful residency in Las Vegas, Spears has been unwillingly under the personal and financial control of her father, Jamie Spears for the last 12 years.
While there is no doubt that incidents in Spears’ life indicated that the superstar was in need of help, more and more people are becoming aware of the fact that she is in an untenable situation. Jessica Cruz of Free Britney NYC is one of the people leading the movement to shore up support for the singer in the city. “If it weren’t for the ‘Free Britney’ movement I wouldn’t know anything about conservatorship,” she explains. “I’m 39, the same age as Britney, with CP and epilepsy. In a moment my life could be stripped away.” Growing up, Cruz was mocked for being different, but felt empowered by Spears and wants to give something back. “Evil, greedy people took her life away,” Cruz states. “She needs support and love. “
Although she could never afford to see Britney in concert – the closest she got was standing in Times Square seeing her wave from the window while being interviewed at MTV – Cruz is just hoping for the best. ” If she never performs again, if she decides to just live a normal life with her kids, that will make me happy at the end of the day .”
Teaming up with Cruz is John Fernandes, who created the “Touch of Rose Project” to bring awareness to the issue. After meeting at a rally organized by Cruz at Liberty Island, they decided to join forces and act up in Washington Square Park. “This is not just a fight for Britney Spears, ” Fernandes explains. ” It’s a fight for thousands of victims.” One of the other prominent figures he mentions is former ‘Star Trek’ actor Nichelle Nichols, who is under the control of her son. He sees the raising of awareness of the issue as a necessary step in probate reform. “If we had a probate court that actually investigated conservatorship, we wouldn’t be here,” he claims.
In perhaps a fitting manner, multidisciplinary artist Claudia Bitran injected some controversy into the rally by showing up dressed as a split personality Britney. Half of her homemade outfit was the “not so innocent” schoolgirl of the ‘Baby, One More Time’ era, while the other half relived the endlessly aired incident where the beleaguered star shaved her head in public. Bitran, who grew up fascinated by Britney as a teen in Chile, has been making art about Spears for years, including recreations of all her videos. “The costume was polemic for the fans, ” Bitran muses. “But it’s not a mockery. My intent was to visualize her pain.” While Fernandes was initially taken aback, he came to understand the empathy behind the costume. “We are advocating for a human being here,” Bitran notes, ” not a celebrity icon.”
The fans who created signs on the spot posed in front of the ‘Free Britney’ backdrop with their friends and children had something to say to the star as well. Courtney Norton, Katherine Smith and Natalia Vasquez gathered together to send this message to her: “Britney, we love you. We are here for you. We are your family and we will fight for you every day.”
Look for updates and announcements of future rallies on Instagram: @touchofroseproject and @freebritneynyc
Photos by Bob Krasner