The Pathology of the “East Village”

[Updated 10/10]

I started a version of this article many weeks ago, after a post on EV Grieve
ran with this photo:

eliciting this comment:

evg-heroin-tsp-0805-1635

Then recently, in an article about a memorial in Tompkins Square Park for a “crusty” who died, one commenter wrote:

evg-comment-light-violence-0919-1052 1

Comments such as these are not uncommon. There’s some troll element, to be sure, but most of it is legitimate (in that it’s not trolling). Since that time, I slowly gathered examples to demonstrate that there is a vocal faction of people in the “East Village” who are basically misanthropes. I wasn’t very active collecting this, but all of a sudden a truckload of it fell into my virtual lap!

But first, I must digress.

***

Early in the week of September 22, this sign went up in my neighborhood:

atwe4sba-anti-drug-mtg

On September 24, this story ran on EV Grieve:

evg-drug-mtg-story

I attended the meeting. My original estimation of the number of people in attendance was 35, including the representatives of the 9th Precinct and District Attorney’s office, but I was later told that the sign-in sheet at the desk showed it was closer to 50. Almost everyone had a story, of drug use (mostly heroin) taking place in their vestibules, dealers operating out of a renovated but unoccupied building, dealers having keys to the NYCHA buildings and operating out of them, members of community gardens who have all but abandoned the gardens because of drug dealing in them… They came from all through the neighborhood, from 3rd and 5th Streets as well as both avenues, even Houston Street. Many of them said they heard about the meeting from EV Grieve.

The attendees were 80%+ black and hispanic, most over 40. Some live in the NYCHA buildings under siege. Some were representatives of shelters and treatment centers in the area. Many have lived here since the 1980s and were founding members of the community gardens on the block. That might fit the demographic of people in this area who attend meetings, but it also demonstrates (spoiler alert!) that they weren’t young transplants trying to sanitize the neighborhood.

There will be a follow-up meeting October 9. In the intervening time, people with sales/use taking place in their buildings will approach the owners and try to get the building registered in the city’s Trespass Affidavit Program. And everyone was urged to call 911 when they see drug sales/use taking place. The 9th Precinct rep said that despite the number of stories people had, there have been very few calls, so they were not aware of the severity of the problem.

***

It didn’t take long after EV Grieve’s post for the rats to emerge! One response on the blog itself:

evg-drug-mtg-0925-1320

But the EV Grieve Facebook page is where the worst appeared. (Coincidentally enough, an article appeared on Slate the same day, titled “Facebook’s for Middle-Aged Narcissists”.

I divided the Facebook comments into two categories: Presumptuous; and Misanthropic.

Presumptuous

0924-0905b

0924-0936

0924-1003

0924-1009

Misanthropic

0924-0904

0924-0905a

0924-1016

0924-1025

0924-1214

0924-1323

0924-1649

One of the things discussed at the meeting is that the dealers will smile at residents, to try to ingratiate them. It’s no different than greeters in stores: it’s part of their selling strategy. To think that this demonstrates beneficence on their part is naive.

***

I don’t think there’s a single one of them who doesn’t argue from a white-privileged position. Why is it always older, white people who glorify drug sales/use? I think it’s because they know they won’t be directly affected by it — only peripherally, like the people who think Giuseppe Logan being mugged is a small price to pay to keep people they don’t like out of the neighborhood.1 They chose to live here when they could have chosen to live somewhere else.2 They see it taking place, but it’s not their lives that will be destroyed by it.

No doubt they find it romantic, or adventuresome. This is their “authentic” New York neighborhood. This is how they define themselves, as people who lived under harsh conditions and survived. There’s a song (I forget the name of it) with a line “New York is where people go to live out their fantasy of being Lou Reed.” It’s telling that no one ever imagines themselves to be Johnny Thunders!

lou-reed-johnny-thunders

***

I want to be clear that I’m not lumping together everyone who moved here in the 1970s/80s, only the sociopaths. There were definitely people who had a larger social vision, of taking back the land, of the right to the city. But these people did not view the heroin trade as positive in any way.

Marlis Momber, a local photographer, has a photo called “No No Drugs 1986” that shows a demonstration winding its way through the streets of the “East Village”. A copy of it hangs in the Lower East Side People’s Federal Credit Union:

no-no-drugs-1986

Other examples:

local-east-village-momber
Photo by Marlis Momber, via The Local East Village.

villager-marlis-momber-interview
Interview with Marlis Momber, in The Villager.

drugs-demo-nyt-1983
Pace, Eric. “Lower East Side Residents Protest ‘Drug Drive-Ins’.” NY Times, October 23, 1983. [Almost 30 years to the date! –Q]

***

Looking at current movement in this area, you would think these people would oppose the heroin trade because it wasn’t local. Opium poppies do not grow locally. The processing is done outside the neighborhood and employs no local residents. The dealers live outside the neighborhood and for the most part, so do the buyers. There is nothing local about any part of it.

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1 Two days after the claim that “light violence is a small price to pay”, this story appeared on EV Grieve:
evg-giuseppi-logan-jumped

2 Rosalyn Deutsche and Cara Gendel Ryan, “The Fine Art of Gentrification,” THE PORTABLE LOWER EAST SIDE, Volume 4, Number 1, Spring 1987, 22 Jan. 2013.

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Left Forum 2013

If you’ve been reading this blog this past month, you probably noticed the announcement for the Left Forum in the right column. It’s gone now, because this past weekend was the event.

I didn’t go last year. After going every year for almost twenty years, I stopped, for many reasons. One is that it’s always the same people, saying the same things, year after year. Another is that the panels are more tepid than they were when I started going. Still another reason is that, between web sites and mailing lists, I can find just about any information I need. These conferences used to be more informational for me than they are today. (About this: during the break in Sunday’s session, I was eating lunch at Subway with a friend of mine, when an older man came into the place. He saw our name badges and started talking to us, telling us that this was the first Left Forum he’s been to and what a fantastic thing it was. He was almost ecstatic, and I realized that while I may be tired of aspects of it, there are people for whom this is a really good thing.)

Add to this the distress I was experiencing for not having completed “East Village” Ideology, that I wrote about in Howl, and How A Quilas Piece Comes To Be, and I just wasn’t motivated to go, despite having received an email wherein it was written that if people volunteered to videotape two panels, they could get in for free. (Eventually, the “free” thing won out, and I decided to go.)

I taped six panels, even though I was only required to tape two. I figured since I’m already there with my camera, why not? I’m going to put up clips of each, once I’m done editing them, but for now, the panels I chose, and a bit of commentary on them, are:

Primitive Accumulation in Light of the Current Onslaught of Austerity — One of the benefits of taping the panels was that I didn’t need to take notes. Unfortunately, that means I have nothing now to refer to. The thrust of this panel was that primitive accumulation still continues, that it’s always continued throughout the history of capitalism, and that it did not refer to one period of pre- to nascent-capitalist development, that theft and plundering have always accompanied capitalism.

Wall Street’s War to Impose Austerity — There was almost nothing about Wall Street or austerity. The majority of the discussion was about Henry George, and Henry George University (where two of the panelists taught), and Georgists. This was supposed to be about U.S. finance capital pushing the agenda that is playing out in Greece today. I agree with Michael Hudson that Marxists have no rapport with Georgists, so why were they there? It’s bad enough that they still debate anarchists and Proudhonists, as if these arguments have never been resolved, but do we need to rehash debates with libertarians, of all people?

The Future of Education Reform — The education panels are usually interesting, since I have a child in a New York public school. Even though I heard nothing new at this one (this is an example of keeping up through blogs, web sites, etc.), I was able to get information from people I’ll contact next year to arrange for speakers at my son’s school. Two of the panelists were active in the United Federation of Teachers, one of them in the MORE caucus; one was in the Chicago Teacher’s Union caucus CORE; and the fourth was a writer for the Brooklyn Rail.

Marx’s Politics of Revolution: From the Critique of Proudhon to the Critique of the Gotha Program — I chose this one because of my recent focus on petite bourgeois responses to capitalist crises, but nothing new came out of it for me. It’s one of those panels where the question “Was there an epistemological break in Marx’s writing?” picks up where it left off last year, everything said before is said again, with the understanding that they will continue the discussion at the next conference.

Public Resource Theft: Lessons of New Orleans Public Housing for NYC — Again, nothing new, but I did get more contact information. Except for the people from New Orleans, everyone in the room was from my neighborhood and focussed on the NYCHA Infill proposal. A demonstration opposing this is being planned for October 19. I’ll post more on that when the time comes and I have more information.

Dialectal Materialism vs. The New Physics — Far and away the most interesting panel of the weekend! As soon as I saw this title in the program, I knew I had to attend. What is “the new physics,” and how is it counterposed to dialectical materialism? (My nephew just graduated from Carnegie Mellon University with a degree in Physics. I asked him if he knew anything about this antagonism. He didn’t. Perhaps it’s a graduate-level discussion?) By “new,” it turns out they meant 20th-century physics! Mike Gimbell spoke first. There were two main tacks taken in his talk: 1) the political — “Relativity theory was thrust forward in the ruling class’s fight against Communism;” and 2) the scientific — “Relativity Theory is an attack on basic physical laws.” Instead of describing it, I will show you a clip:


 
(Auto-focus isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be.)

Defending Neighborhoods

When people say they’re defending their neighborhood, what exactly are they defending, apart from what currently exists? Generally, people defending their neighborhoods are people who cannot afford to move somewhere else. All over the world, people are defending their neighborhoods, whether they use that word or not. Most probably say they’re defending their homes, or their communities.

Neighborhoods these days are “commodities”. (I use quotes because, of course, they’re not real commodities; they’re not reproducible.) They’re delimited (packaged), they’re given names (Nolita, East Village), and they’re marketed to people as life-style choices (oftentimes leading to confusion among those who oppose gentrification). And as something new, they’re being sold to newcomers, not to the people already living there. Newcomers with the requisite cash, that is.

Quality of urban life has become a commodity, as has the city itself, in a world where consumerism, tourism, cultural and knowledge-based industries have become major aspects of the urban political economy. The postmodernist penchant for encouraging the formation of market niches—in both consumer habits and cultural forms—surrounds the contemporary urban experience with an aura of freedom of choice, provided you have the money. Shopping malls, multiplexes and box stores proliferate, as do fast-food and artisanal market-places. … Even the incoherent, bland and monotonous suburban tract development that continues to dominate in many areas now gets its antidote in a ‘new urbanism’ movement that touts the sale of community and boutique lifestyles to fulfill urban dreams.*

We need to go beyond simply defending what exists vs. something worse (displacement, privatization). Defending our neighborhoods means deciding what the neighborhood should be, not just what the storefronts should look like. More people live in cities every year, as the distinction between urban and rural diminishes. We’re all bound up in this. We can’t just be shuffled from slum to slum.

Between 2011 and 2050, the world population is expected to increase by 2.3 billion, passing from 7.0 billion to 9.3 billion (United Nations, 2011). At the same time, the population living in urban areas is projected to gain 2.6 billion, passing from 3.6 billion in 2011 to 6.3 billion 2050. Thus, the urban areas of the world are expected to absorb all the population growth expected over the next four decades while at the same time drawing in some of the rural population. As a result, the world rural population is projected to start decreasing in about a decade and there will likely be 0.3 billion fewer rural inhabitants in 2050 than today.**

So just as I’m writing this, I discovered that the New York City Housing Authority has a plan to lease playgrounds and community centers on public housing property for luxury high-rises! David Harvey:

We increasingly live in divided and conflict-prone urban areas. In the past three decades, the neoliberal turn has restored class power to rich elites. … The results are indelibly etched on the spatial forms of our cities, which increasingly consist of fortified fragments, gated communities and privatized public spaces kept under constant surveillance.*

=-=-=-=-=

* David Harvey, “The Right to the City”, New Left Review, 53 (Sept./Oct. 2008),
5 February, 2013.

** World Urbanization Prospects: The 2011 Revision, United Nations, 2011,
5 February, 2013.