Notes on the Brecht Forum Meeting of April 16

I was caught completely off guard when I received this email:

    Date: Sat, 12 Apr 2014 11:10:03 -0400
    From: Brecht Forum
    To: Quilas
    Subject: An Ending is Also a Beginning

    Dear Friends of the Brecht Forum,

    It is with a heavy heart that we, the Brecht Forum’s Board of Directors,
    write to you, our beloved community, of our decision to close our doors.

    As many of you know, these last few years have been financially tenuous for
    us. While our space on West Street in Manhattan provided a crucial home to
    the movement over the years, we struggled to keep up with its costs, and
    the four months that we were closed following Hurricane Sandy only served
    to exacerbate our troubles. Rising Manhattan rents forced us to Brooklyn,
    but we have incurred debts and costs that are insurmountable.

    Despite your continued support over the years, the economic climate,
    combined with the realities of real estate in New York City, have simply
    made the provision of space impossible for an organization of our means.
    Unable to pay what we owe and struggling to maintain daily operating costs,
    we made the heartbreaking decision to close the doors of the Brecht Forum
    so that the larger project we all care so deeply about may survive in a
    different form.

    We know that this announcement is coming as a shock to many of you,
    particularly in light of our recent move to the Brooklyn Commons and our
    hiring of a visionary new Executive Director. We too were hopeful for our
    new beginning, but it has become clear that in a rapidly gentrifying city,
    we have been living on borrowed time, and that despite the strong support
    of our community, this configuration of our project is unsustainable. As
    the Board, we feel that we will best honor the incredible legacy of this
    organization by closing the Brecht Forum with dignity.

    Despite closing our doors, the larger project of the Brecht Forum is
    clearly not over. We believe closing only signals the need to organize
    harder and smarter, to find a sustainable way to build movement power and
    support popular education in New York City. The four decades of
    revolutionary thinking and building that took place at the Brecht Forum
    will live on in the next steps taken by all of the important individuals
    who collectively make the Brecht Forum so special.

    Each of you has played a vital role. We thank you for the many years of
    dedication, love, labor, and thought that you all have contributed to our
    community. Without you, we could not have done it. We’re also asking you to
    make one more contribution to our community.

    Please help us move forward by bringing your questions, your love, and your
    rage to a conversation on April 16th at 7:30pm at the Commons in Brooklyn
    where we reflect and begin a conversation on what kind of organization our
    movement can and will sustain in the future.

    Thank you for your years of support, dedication, and love.

    In solidarity,

    The Board of Directors of the Brecht Forum


After the shock had set in, commenting on Facebook, I wrote: “At least they had the dignity to dissolve, instead of morphing into some bizarre entity like WBAI.”

I went to the meeting. I had to. Of all of the Left institutions in New York, the Brecht Forum was the one I felt the closest kinship with. I’ve been a subscriber for at least twelve years, and was a somewhat-regular attender of classes and lectures for even longer. And! the Brecht Forum was the first place I performed publicly as a mime!* This was when they were on Leonard Street, in March of 1991. Anyway…

There were as many people there as at any well-attended event they held in the past, which is to say: about 75. I got there late but it seemed as if everything was being said repeatedly, so the gist of the first part of the meeting (What Happened?) was that they had fallen seriously behind in their rent payments to the Westbeth complex during their time there, and the management company was demanding immediate payment of all arrears and for the duration of the lease (an additional 12 months). When they left Westbeth for The Commons in Brooklyn last year, there had been an informal agreement that when they surrendered the keys and vacated, they would not have to pay the rent for the duration of the lease. These types of agreements are never worth the paper they’re printed on, and the lawyers for the Westbeth management company proceeded to demand the entire amount. At one point, the figure of $500,000 was mentioned. I don’t know if that was the total they’d owe Westbeth, including the additional year, or the total amount they owed in general, because in addition to the money they owe Westbeth, there are loans and other debts that they carry, some of them decades old.

Probably the single-most troubling lesson to emerge from this was the complete incompetence of the board. Not that they incurred insurmountable debt, but that this remained a secret for so long, that they never made an appeal for support, and the magnitude of the problem only became known after they made the decision to dissolve the 501(c)3 corporation, in order to avoid having to pay Westbeth.

This is where a problem emerges. They don’t want to renege on the other debts they owe. They want to pay back the loans that were made, the salaries they owe their staff, etc. And they don’t want the mission of the Brecht Forum to stop. They want to continue in another guise, sponsor as many fund-raisers as necessary to raise the money they need for these other debts, and continue. Some of them actually seemed to think that they could do this surreptitiously, that by dissolving the current corporation and starting another with a different name but the same mission, that the lawyers couldn’t come after them. During the second part of the discussion (What Next?), one straight-thinking man (STM) told them that if the same people were involved, whatever assets they controlled could be sought by the lawyers, that they can’t stop a case from being brought, and that a judge could rule against them, no one being fooled by their subterfuge.

During this part of the discussion, ideas were presented as to what steps could/should be taken now, both in the immediate-term as well as the longer-term. Everyone agreed that the project of the Brecht Forum should continue. Proposals can be distilled into two: 1) that they continue with the current board in place, or that a new board be constituted (either soon, or very soon); and 2) that they be located in a single location, or without a single location — that they present classes/speakers in different spaces, and not just in New York City.

Some seemed to think (the board members, mostly) that they (the board members) could continue in their roles, but after the STM spoke, they were the only ones left thinking that. More than one person suggested that an interim committee be set up to start working on the Brecht Forum 2.0. The board said that they shouldn’t rush into such things, but if you ask me, this is hardly rushing – this is catching up! One participant said one reason not to proceed at this meeting was that many of the organizations associated with the Brecht Forum were not present, but I had to wonder, why weren’t they? They knew of the meeting just as the rest of us did, and not one of them showed up? Who knows what the relationship is between them now? There could be a lot of bad blood at this point.

If there’s anything I came away thinking it’s that the current board is now irrelevant. They should take care of whatever is left of dissolving and stay out of the way of what takes their place. It’s not in retribution, but because if their names are attached to any new organization, the lawyers will go after any money they are able to raise. It will stymie them for years. Given this, they are in no position to decide whether or not an interim committee is set up.

With a new board soon to be in place, it’s unlikely they will be able to continue at The Commons, which means the likelihood of their being a floating organization is great, but which also means that they don’t really exist. Any group of people can present speakers at sites in a 50-mile radius. What is likely to happen is that all of the political differences that have existed since the beginning will assert themselves and half a dozen groups will lay claim to the Brecht Forum mantle. Most will devolve to presenting in their own spaces, and the ones who don’t have their own spaces will present in other spaces. But there’s really no difference between Rick Wolff (for example) offering a class at the 92nd Street Y (for example) under the rubric of the Brecht Forum in-exile, or under that of the 92nd Street Y.

I started by saying that at least they were going out with dignity, unlike WBAI, but to WBAI’s credit, they let people know when they need money. The Brecht Forum never did; they never gave people the chance to come to their (our, as a subscriber) aid. They simply packed it in. So unless the current 501(c)3 configuration is able to quickly raise a lot of money, pay off all hostile debtors, all friendly debtors, and maintain itself in its own space, I think it’s the end of this project, and that’s sad, because it was unnecessary.


Not to lay all of the blame at the feet of the current board members — none of whom I knew, although I’ve known a few previous board members — the problem of lack of money didn’t just start with their move to Westbeth. One of the board members said this has always been a problem (as evidenced by the loan made decades ago). So there’s the problem of lack of funding, but also, specific to the Brecht Forum, the problem that this was never addressed. At no time that I remember did any configuration of the board hold a meeting to discuss the Brecht Forum itself. Not just problems or finances, but direction, membership, anything! At no time were minutes of board meetings made available. At no time were financial reports made. In fact, none of the usual reports that are required by any non-secret-society’s by-laws.

The woman who owns The Commons building was at the meeting, and she told us that four years ago she approached the Brecht Forum board and offered the building to them, at a below-market price, and even proposed financing it for them so that in 15 years they would own the building outright. She told us first of the difficulty she had determining who the board members were, but that when she did, she said that they never responded to her offer. When they finally moved into The Commons, they gave her no financial information. She was able to piece together something based on their tax forms, but they never told her about their debts. And when they talk of staying at The Commons after the dissolution and trying to raise money, she said they never approached her about that either, even though they’re in arrears with her also!


Another meeting is planned for May 15, and another for June 15! (I’m not sure of the dates, but definitely one next month and another in June.) Supposedly, some of the member organizations that couldn’t be bothered to attend this meeting will be at the May meeting.

Some of those who were proposing setting up an interim transition committee suggested meeting next week (this coming week). It’s likely that some of them will, but without the Brecht Forum’s contact list, there won’t be many people in attendance, so I don’t know what sort of mandate they’ll claim.

It was announced that the party scheduled for April 24 will still take place. That’ll be festive! Also, the Summer Intensive is also scheduled to take place, as planned.

Finally, none of this is mentioned on the Brecht Forum’s web site. Not a word.


* There were four of us, and the show was called “Off the Street” — to distinguish ourselves from street mimes.

Pearl Paint Illegally Fired 39 Workers

There’s been some hubbub recently about Pearl Paint, a five-story art supply store on Canal Street, closing.

It was first reported (as far as I know) by Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York, the small-business-lamentation blog.

On Tuesday, DNAInfo reported that Pearl Paint illegally fired 39 of their workers! In his piece, Jeremiah reported, regarding the closing: “The information has not been confirmed with Pearl…” but there’s no mention of his speaking with any of the workers. He did report it on his Facebook page, but there’s no follow-up on his blog.

This is why it’s important not to be pie-eyed about small businesses. Glitter and paint cannot cover up class relations.


Yes, this is filler, mostly.

I bought some clothes yesterday. I haven’t bought clothes in years! Most of what I have is either very old, and/or bought by others as gifts, and/or given to me (new) because it didn’t fit its intended recipient. I’ve been able to make it for years with this limited wardrobe, but recently it’s become unsustainable. With the end of Winter, but not yet the beginning of Summer, I was down to two pairs of pants. At the same time, I developed a hole in the sleeve of one of my black turtlenecks, and in the sleeve of my black, button shirt. (What do you call those? A shirt with buttons.) I’m down to wearing t-shirts to work, which I don’t really like to do, even though the ones I wear are decent enough, but I just couldn’t keep alternating between the same two pairs of pants every day. So I bit the bullet, took my wife’s advice, and put the purchase on the credit card. (I don’t like using the card because it’s high and I’m trying to pay it off.)

I went to a store somewhat near where I live. I’m not mentioning the name because: 1) it’s not important; and 2) Quilas doesn’t advertise! This store has a permanent Sale section, so I knew there was a good chance I’d find something less than the original price, if not downright cheap. When I got there, I saw they were having a 40%-off sale on nearly everything. Getting to the point, I bought two pairs of pants and three shirts. I figured I could make it on four pairs of pants for now; when Summer gets here, it’ll be five.

Now I get to the purpose of this piece. When I got to the register, the total, non-sale price was $236. When I asked the woman if I got a further discount for using the credit card of another store owned by the same company (that’s probably a give-away!) she said No, but if I opened an account there, I would get an additional 30% off. Well, sign me up, I said! When she checked, she found it was only 15%, but I wasn’t going to say no to 15%. That brought my total down to $135 (I bought some socks too, which were not on sale).

But wait, there’s more! For spending over $150 (the pre-store-card amount), I received store credit of $75! Unfortunately, I couldn’t apply it to that purchase — I have to wait until mid-May to use it. I also got a 10%-off coupon that I can use any time in the next 60 days.

So, here’s my plan: I go into the store in mid-May, go to the Sale section, where 20% discounts are not uncommon, get $104 worth of stuff, minus 20%, minus 10% equals $75, making the total savings $205 — a 60% discount! You can’t beat that with a stick.

Show me a “mom-and-pop” store that can do that!


The only drawback is that I now have a new bill. Putting the purchase on my regular credit card would not have affected my monthly payment, since I would have just paid the elevated amount due, as usual. Now I will have an additional bill of $135. As luck would have it, I recently reduced my bi-monthly expenses by that very amount, so there will be no difference in the pittance I have left after paying bills, but I was hoping to have that extra money to fix the Wii, which has needed repairing for as long as I’ve needed clothes.


There is an anonymous blogger who goes by the name of Jeremiah Moss. His blog is Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York.

I’m not a regular reader of this blog. The first time I read it, he was lamenting a pawn shop on 23rd Street(?) closing. I commented to the effect that pawn shops, along with check-cashing places, were scourges of poor neighborhoods, but he didn’t approve it.

It’s mainly a nostalgia blog. I put it in the realm of the sites I’ve commented on, tirelessly advocating the position of the small business owners of the city.

He recently got a bit of extra notoriety for a piece he wrote on “hyper gentrification”. To his credit, he claims to take the position of Neil Smith. Unfortunately, he represents Smith poorly. For Neil Smith, gentrification was a class issue. Gentrification occurs when a working class neighborhood is turned into a non-working-class neighborhood. Once the area in question is no longer working class, gentrification stops. The job is finished. There are no “levels” of gentrification. There is no such thing as “hyper gentrification”.

To try to define gentrification as a steady process of “upscaling”, as a commenter here once commented, is to remove the class nature from it. By this definition, gentrification occurs any time land is capitalized. When the conversion of a working class neighborhood is seen as the same thing as a $10,000,000 penthouse being raised to $50,000,000, then it becomes synonymous with change itself. This is the position of the real estate industry.

This puts Moss squarely on the same side as Spike Lee, despite his claim to differ. Spike Lee does not think that he was a gentrifier, because he’s Black. For Lee, gentrification is a racial issue that started when the first gentrifiers found themselves priced out of their neighborhoods. It’s the same for Moss.

Nowhere in Moss’s piece do you find the word “worker”, or “working”, or “class”, or “Volume 3″. For Moss, and so many like him, gentrification is bad because it affects small business owners and their “buy local” customers, not workers.

To his partial credit, he writes:

I want to make one thing clear: Gentrification is over. It’s gone. And it’s been gone since the dawn of the twenty-first century. Gentrification itself has been gentrified, pushed out of the city and vanished. I don’t even like to call it gentrification, a word that obscures the truth of our current reality. I call it hyper-gentrification.

Gentrification is not over. Gentrification is not a one-time event. It’s over in some neighborhoods, but it’s still going on in others. There are slums in India that are being gentrified, due to their proximity to wealthier areas. The favelas of Brazil are also being eyed by real estate interests there. And cities like Detroit and Cleveland are already in the sights of developers, waiting for circumstances to change in their favor.

I’m not saying that there’s no reason to track the increases in wealth inequality, just that the problem doesn’t start when the first round of gentrifying small business owners are affected.

Robert Ashley, 1930–2014

He works with forwardness, and backwardness. He works with what things are ahead of us, and with what things are behind us. I guess the other kind would be… to work with things that are along side us.

Yesterday (March 4), I learned from WFMU’s tweet that Robert Ashley died.
(The link in the tweet is to Peter Greenaway’s documentary on Ubuweb,
“4 American Composers”, that includes a segment on Ashley.)

I first came to know Robert Ashley (’s music) through my then-girlfriend, back in the mid-1980s. She had a Master’s degree from UW-Madison in Piano Technology. I mention the degree only because, for her recital, she was permitted to play a prepared piano, “like John Cage and Robert Ashley”. She had a cassette tape of her favorite pieces from Ashley’s “Private Lives” that I listened to often.

Eventually, I no longer had access to that tape. Time passed, and one day in the early 90s I decided to buy the opera on CD. Quite by coincidence, it was in 1991 that it was first made available on CD! (I must have sensed it.) I went to J&R Music, and when I couldn’t find it, I asked the sales guy if they had it.

“Oh, that’s Lovely Music,” he said.

“Whatever you might think of it, it’s not lovely,” I thought to myself. I didn’t know that Lovely Music was the publisher!

They didn’t have it, but he was able to give me the address of Lovely Music’s office, which was not too far away, on West Broadway. I walked over there and bought a copy from them.

I never get tired of listening to this. Every now and then it goes back into rotation. This is one of those CDs I still quote from. I even use it on my Flickr profile page:



Robert Ashley was probably the first of the contemporary classical composers that I became familiar with. And as much as I liked “Einstein on the Beach” or “Music for 18 Musicians” or “Dolmen Music”, “Perfect Lives” resonated with me in a way the others didn’t, quite possibly because: 1) it has lyrics; and 2) it tells a story; and 3) sometimes it’s laugh-out-loud funny.

In the preface to the libretto, Melody Sumner writes:


There is an absoluteness to surprise, he thinks. He applies this simple thought to the problem of how to move the shot. Incredibly slowly our view begins to slide, but “begins” is a problem. We are enchanted by the park and all its details: timeless, broken on the right edge by the body of the person, very close blur, moving rhythmically. How can it begin to change? How can the beginning go unnoticed? How can we pass from one state to another? Is it possible, if one already has a certain experience of life, to start directly on the path, or is there danger involved in trying to do advanced practices without having the proper foundation? And they came to believe that, unless one has actually gone through the preliminary experiences, conclusions may be drawn on the basis of insufficient information, and that these conclusions may produce just the opposite effect of the one which is intended.

In other words: one never knows.

I do this. It’s probably a Midwestern thing.


You had to know I would include a video clip at the end of this! I thought about putting the last movement, which is my favorite, but I decided against it. It’s the conclusion of the journey by one of the characters, and her transformation should not be your introduction. The introduction should be your introduction! So here is the introduction to Robert Ashley’s “Private Lives”:


You might think that a moment like this would be a good time to contact my then-girlfriend. I had the idea, but I’m not going to. It’s not that we don’t speak, we just don’t keep in touch.

Six of one… two times three of one… five plus one of one… nine minus three of one… half a dozen of another.

She’s Midwestern too.

Promoting Ukrainian Fascism – Part 2

I hope this doesn’t have to become a regular series.

Here’s a quick look at some headlines from the past week from sources outside of the “East Village”:


The Daily Beast

Time Magazine


So, how is this being presented in the “East Village” you ask?:

EV Grieve

The Villager

La Mama, via DNA Info

To their credit, The Lo-Down and Bowery Boogie have not been propagating this. It waits to be seen if The Shadow will write anything in their next issue.†

* * *

A musical about current events is not necessarily a bad thing. The San Francisco Mime Troupe had a musical called Steeltown, about the rise and fall of steel-worker jobs in this country. And while searching other blogs for this piece, I came across something The Lo-Down wrote last January about The Living Theater’s performance of “Here We Are” (from their promotional material):

    In the show, the international (and multi-generational) company “visits the Anarchist collectives of France, Spain and Ukraine [Emphasis mine–Q] for the 19th and 20th centuries, and finds (them)selves transported to an immersive and participatory underground outdoor/indoor crossroads of our present moment. The ensemble and the audience work together to manufacture and perform the potential creative possibilities for a post revolutionary world of beauty and non violence.”

Of course, that’s not what this performance is about.


Headlines like:


And then! In a flash of total-recall, I totally recalled this, from an EV Grieve piece written last January:


Socialist post-modernism? It’s fine to dislike Avalon buildings, but to throw in “socialist”, when socialism had absolutely nothing to do with the topic (1st meeting of the No 7-Eleven group), makes his position then, and now, all the more suspect. Interestingly enough, this was written at the same time of the performance of “Here We Are”.


† After a ten-year (?) hiatus, The Shadow recently published a new issue. I meant to write something about it but I haven’t got around to it yet. I even paid a dollar for the paper! I don’t remember ever having to pay for The Shadow before.

Promoting Ukrainian Fascism

I woke the morning of February 21 to see that local blogger EV Grieve had posted this:


Signs posted outside the Ukrainian National Home list three sponsors: Ukrainian Congress Committee of America; Organization for Defense of Four Freedoms for Ukraine; and Federation of Ukrainian Student Organizations.

A bit of history:

    During the rise of European fascism after World War I, some Ukrainian nationalist groups tied their hopes to fascism as an ideology, and then collaborated with Hitler and Nazism in World War II.

    One Ukrainian nationalist group was the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) which split into two organizations: a less militant wing, led by Andrew Melnyk and known as OUN‑M, and the extremist group of Stepan Bandera, known as OUN‑B. The Nazis preferred the radical nationalist OUN‑B. During the German military occupation, the Ukraine witnessed terrible atrocities against Jews and other groups targeted by Nazi policies. The OUN‑B organized military units that participated in these atrocities. With the collapse of the Third Reich, many Ukrainian collaborationists fled their homeland.


    The Ukrainian Congress Committee of America (UCCA) [emphasis mine] is described as heavily influenced but not totally controlled by the OUN‑B. Supposedly an umbrella organization of Ukrainian-American groups, there are groups within UCCA that are complete OUN‑B fronts. (For example, the Organization for Defense of Four Freedoms for the Ukraine (ODFFU) [emphasis mine], according to confidential interviews with OUN members. Ukrainian Review is published in the U.S. by ODFFU and the editor is Slava Stetsko†.)

    The UCCA has also played a leading role in opposing federal investigations of suspected Nazi war criminals since those queries got underway in the late 1970s.1

In July 1952, the preliminary steps toward the formation of the Federation of Ukrainian Student Organizations (SUSTA) began with an initial organizing meeting held at the time of the UCCA convention in New York City.2 They promote the same aims, presumably without the baggage of their elders.

Yesterday morning, the fascists took control of Kiev. By the end of the day:


    The Ukrainian nationalists see a Ukrainian state under their control as having “ethnographic borders,” as was originally proclaimed by a OUN‑B Manifesto in December 1940. Put more simply, the OUN‑B sees Ukrainians as a separate, classifiable race that have a right, when in power, to exclude others from the Ukraine’s borders. The realities of that formulation were made blood‑chillingly clear to the Poles and Jews in the region when the OUN‑B had temporary power six months after the Manifesto was issued.4


† Slava Stetsko: OUN-B member, married to Yaroslav Stetsko, who briefly established himself as a pro-Nazi premier of the Ukraine under German military occupation.5

1Russ Betlant, Old Nazis, the New Right, and the Republican Party (Boston: South End Press, 1991), 69-71.
2SUSTA The Federation of Ukrainian Student Organizations of America” last modified February 8, 2014.
3Ukrainian rabbi tells Kiev’s Jews to flee city
4Russ Betlant, Old Nazis, the New Right, and the Republican Party, 73.
5Russ Betlant, Old Nazis, the New Right, and the Republican Party, 67.

Veselka Supports Fascism in Ukraine

This past Sunday [February 9], a friend of mine and I ate at a restaurant called Veselka, on East 9th Street and Second Avenue. When we were finished and leaving, I noticed this sign:


Since most “East Villagers” don’t know anything about what’s happening in the world, for their benefit, I will introduce “Euromaidan” to them:






That’s it, in a nut shell. Connect to the articles footnoted below for more information.

So here it is, in the heart of the “East Village”, an open advocation of fascism, and what do you suppose the local reaction is? Well, as I already said, most people don’t even know what it means. But of those who do? Or should? Newspapers, and the like? This is how The Villager soft-pedaled efforts here to advance the fascist effort, in a January 20 article:


An “awareness campaign”!

It’s not surprising that The Villager either doesn’t know what “Euromaidan” is, or worse, supports it. The social composition of fascist movements have historically been the small capitalists that they champion.

So on February 12, I posted this photo on Twitter, and @’d local news organizations/bloggers:

(Cue crickets.)

OK, not crickets exactly. EV Grieve posted something about Veselka yesterday:



1The Ukrainian Nationalism at the Heart of ‘Euromaidan’
2Euromaidan: The Dark Shadows Of The Far-Right In Ukraine Protests
3The Ukrainian Euromaidan: The Solution to Putin, or Just Another Fascist Political Coup?

N7E Pays Tribute to William Burroughs?

On the occasion of what would have been his 100th birthday, the people over at No 7-Eleven NYC paid tribute to William Burroughs this morning:

Screenshot taken 8 Feb 2014, 09:37:09

So, in Quilas fashion, I will pay tribute to him also.

William Burroughs and Karl Marx

What’s that?! William Burroughs and Karl Marx? Yeah, the internet is a funny place. I did a search for images of William Burroughs, and up pops one with Karl Marx beside him. Naturally, I followed the link. Now you can too!1

Maybe they meant Burro President?

Burro and Karl Marx

Burrow President?

Burrow and Karl Marx

Who knows?

How do they expect people to take them seriously when they think the city is divided into Burroughs?



1Short Approach to the Notion of Commodity for William Burroughs and Karl Marx

Class Struggle on First Avenue

On August 22, 2013, a week before the first national fast food workers walkout, Saru Jayaraman wrote in the New York Daily News:

    “Throughout his life, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders spoke out for racial justice and economic justice — seeing the two as inextricably bound together. When King was assassinated, he was in Memphis supporting striking sanitation workers, who were demanding a living wage, safe working conditions and an end to racial discrimination on the job. The fast-food workers staging walkouts across the United States today are the inheritors of that legacy.” 1

On the occasion of Martin Luther King Day, I have a story about this very struggle taking place in the “East Village”.

I was walking home from work last week, and I found myself walking eastwards on 7th Street. I don’t remember why I was this far west this evening — I’m usually at least on Avenue B by this point — but as I was crossing First Avenue I heard a lot of shouting from in front of the McDonald’s at 6th Street. It didn’t sound like frantic shouting, and remembering the walkout of December 5, I thought there might be something related taking place. So I walked down to see.

Outside McDonald’s, First Avenue, NYC, Jan. 14, 2014

There were about a dozen protesters outside the door of the McDonald’s. I stood back a bit, took my picture, and then asked the nearest person holding a sign if they had just walked out. I don’t know if she didn’t understand me, or just didn’t want to answer questions from someone she didn’t know, but one of their group came over and told me they were there to demand the job back of a worker who had walked out on December 5. We talked for a couple of minutes, I gave him my contact information so he could let me know of other events taking place, and I continued home.

As soon as I got home, I tweeted and emailed this photo, with a description of what was happening, to local bloggers and newspapers, those who routinely post information they receive about events taking place in the area. The only response was that one of them “favorited” the tweet, but did not retweet it. None of them reported it.

* * *

This is the neighborhood where workers are routinely vilified, when not ignored. Before the 7-Eleven opened on Avenue A, blog commenters wrote that they had no sympathy for the people who worked there, who would soon have to clean up the messes that they intended to make inside the store. As soon as it opened, they began to accuse the workers of harassing business owners in their vicinity, as I wrote about in Class Struggle on Avenue A, and later this:


Fantasy aside, this is a neighborhood that prides itself on desecrated restroom walls!

Mars Bar2

Meanwhile, in Washington Heights, when workers at Domino’s Pizza were fired after the walkout, local residents came out to support them, and the local newspaper reported it!

Domino’s Pizza, West 181 St., NYC, Dec. 9, 2013 3

* * *

At the same time, there seems to be no end to the reporting on the woes of Jerry Delakas, the owner/operator of a news stand at Astor Place. Over a dozen posts combined, this month alone, with appearances by CB3 representatives, City Council representatives, even the new Mayor granted him an audience! Of course, it’s all crass opportunism. It’s easy to come out in support of one individual, whose victory, if he wins, will not resonate any further. Whereas if one nameless worker’s rights are recognized and this worker is reinstated, the precedent will be set for the reinstatement of all of the workers who walked out, and walking out to protest low pay and unsafe working conditions will have the sanction of city officials. That’s not something that’s going to happen in this neighborhood!

This is the kind of story they have to be careful about covering. On the one hand, they’d like nothing more than to use low pay and arbitrary firings as a cudgel against a chain restaurant like McDonald’s, but they have to be careful not to actually advocate for workers, because the small businesses they champion engage in worse practices.


1Fast-food workers carry King’s dream
2I am endlessly haunted by a sense of saudade and sehnsucht…
3Dishing it out at Domino’s

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