Tompkins Square Park 25th Police-Riot Reunion

Today is the 25th anniversary of the Tompkins Square Park police riot.

Memories from New York
©2012 Andrew Lichtenstein

I’m not going to recount the details of the riot. The wikipedia article linked to above is not the best, but it will suffice.

I didn’t live in this neighborhood when the riot occurred. I lived in Washington Heights then, but I used to hang out down here with a friend of mine. Anything that was going on, we tried to make it to. Being in the park was an act of solidarity with the homeless encampment there, and with the larger goal of supporting housing as a human right.

All these years later, it probably doesn’t matter that I wasn’t there, unless I was fated to have been beaten up that night, in which case it’s a good thing I wasn’t there! Besides, I was already souring on the so-called anarchists. After the park was closed in 1991, they disappeared and haven’t been seen since. I’m sure the ones from that night have all gone on to work for their local Ron Paul campaigns, but the ones who adopt anarchism today still think they’re the first to discover that the police respond to provocations with violence, and that once people see this they’ll be shaken out of their stupor and overthrow the state. Hence, the preponderance of Guy Fawkes masks, smug and condescending. “East Village” anarchists were proponents of what Murray Bookchin called lifestyle anarchism, with its concern for autonomy and individualism. I’m not going to go into his arguments, or what he proposes as the alternative – it’s still a raincoat full of holes!

Anyway…

Reunion was probably not the right word to use to describe this event. I don’t think many people who were there that night came to this. For that matter, not that many people at all came to it!

Saturday
riot-reunion-01
The Bambi Killers had just finished.

Sunday
riot-reunion-02
During Iconicide’s performance.

I’m not sure three days of obstreperous noise was the best use of time and resources. Twenty five years later, is this what they still listen to? I know that many of the bands that played were around back in the late 80s, but three days of it? Even if three days was necessary, tables should have been set up around the perimeter with information, not only about that time, but current programs in the neighborhood. The Shadow1 had a table, but then they were the sponsor of the concerts, so it was more for self-promotion.

I don’t know. I wasn’t there for the planning, but then this is not the first time concerts have been held to commemorate this event, and I’ve never seen any kind of outreach at those either.

***

There was also a film festival, sponsored by the Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space, that took place at different locations in the neighborhood, from August 3 to 10.

I think the film festival was a great idea. They billed it as “1st Annual MoRUS Film Fest,” so hopefully they’ll be able to continue this annually. I’m not sure if it was meant to commemorate the anniversary of the police riot – its timing may have been – but something like this goes a long way in engaging people, something that was sorely missing from the concerts. The garden that I am a member of was to host two of them. The first one was moved to the MoRUS space due to rain, but the second one was held in the garden. We had a great turnout, and look forward to participating again next year.

morus-at-oa-01

morus-at-oa-02

=-=-=-=

1The Shadow is going to start publishing again.

Advertisements

Keep The “East Village” Weird?

Back in April, Reverend Billy came to preach in Tompkins Square Park.


 
Anyone who’s seen the show Portlandia is no doubt familiar with the unofficial slogan of the town that’s shown in the opening credits: Keep Portland Weird. It’s the slogan on over 18,000 bumper stickers1 in the Portland area, and many more t-shirts, no doubt. What people probably do not know is that Keep Portland Weird is a marketing campaign:

    Keep Portland Weird is about supporting local business in the Portland Oregon area. We want to support local business because they make Portland stand out from other cites and make it a more unique place to live. They do this by providing consumers a wide range of products that represent the different cultures that make up Portland.2

Culture is expressed through one’s purchases. The web site itself is an online shop, where KPW tchotchkes can be bought.

kpw-whats-weird

Weird umbrellas! Weird soy candles! Weird keychains! Weird stickers!
Weird refrigerator magnets!

Weird.

This campaign is modeled on a similar one in Austin Texas, with a surprisingly similar name: Keep Austin Weird. The campaign was launched by the Austin Independent Business Alliance, with the same goal of promoting shopping at small businesses in Austin.

But this isn’t about Portland, it’s about the “East Village,” and what could be the development of a similar strategy here. Reverend Billy says “We’re not the product of a corporate marketing campaign,” but to what degree is the “East Village” the product of a small-business marketing campaign? To what degree does someone “make themselves up” when all of the accessories are already on the shelves, ready to buy?

It may not be a concerted effort yet, but it’s just a matter of time. The sensibility is there, and so is the language. Key words are: sustainable, responsible, local, community. You almost never see one of these words without the others. Once you see the word “weird” in this mix, you’ll know it’s started.

***

Probably the most insidious thing about the Weird movement is its racism. A resident of Portland, Linda Ueki Absher, wrote a piece for Counterpunch called Keep Portland White!

    But as I wander pass the organic coffee houses chock-full of thirtyish men with full-on lumberjack beards and defiant beer bellies, or boutiques filled with mock Goodwill cardigans selling for prices once considered exorbitant monthly rent, the message is unmistakable: I am not a member of the Keeping-it-Weird club.

After retiring from the Univesity of Pennsylvania – Johnstown, former Economics professor Michael Yates spent some time travelling around the country, and wrote about his adventure in a book called “Cheap Motels and a Hot Plate: An Economist’s Travelogue.” About Portland, he wrote:

    The most distressing thing about Portland, and the fact that most belied its liberal image, was its racism. A writer once called Portland the “last bastion of Caucasian culture.” It is certainly a white town; less than 7 percent of the population is African-American. Even the city’s homeless are nearly all white, as are all the young people asking for money. Blacks who gravitated to Portland to work in the wartime shipyards were housed in a flood plain of the Columbia River and were soon enough driven out by high waters. The ghettoes where they were next allowed to live were destroyed by highway construction. Today the tiny black community is scattered over several mostly poor neighborhoods. Despite the small number of black residents, whites were inordinately hostile to them.

    There is a growing Hispanic community in both Portland and the rest of Oregon. … Not surprisingly, anti-immigrant sentiment resonated in Portland. A history of racism – Oregon had anti-miscegenation laws until the Supreme Court overturned these in the late 1960s – and high unemployment made workers susceptible to immigrant-bashing.

Maybe this is a Portland thing, but the group that showed up to see Reverend Billy this day was entirely white. The neighborhood is changing. According to the always-helpful city‑data.com:

Races: White Alone
white-alone-recent

Races: Black Alone
black-alone

Hispanic
hispanic

Races: Two or More
two-or-more

If you click on the maps it will take you to the site, where you can get a better sense of things.

***

While I’m on the subject, I never cared for Reverend Billy. The whole evangelist schtick was played out a long time ago. I remember when he first went into the Disney Store in Times Square. It may have been the first time but maybe not. I have a friend who was very excited about it and went. I was curious, but for some reason I couldn’t make it. I’ve seen him all too many times since then, but I’ve never been won over.

His whole spiel is to stop shopping, but here he is exhorting people to do exactly the opposite: Go to “these small shops you can’t find anywhere else” and buy crap. What exactly can you not find anywhere else? Let’s not forget that the stuff sold here is manufactured first. It’s only then that the small shops you can’t find anywhere else stock it. There’s no factory churning out commodities that are sold in only one location, or that can’t be bought online. And Alphabets isn’t any different than Spencer’s Gifts, found in every mall.

***

Finally, while researching this piece, I discovered that KPW’s web site is a do-it-yourself mess! From “What’s Weird About Portland?”:

kpw-about

From the Soy Candles page:

kpw-soy-candles-lorem-ipsum

Is this supposed to be part of their appeal?

=-=-=-=-=

1Keep Portland … quaint?
2Keep Portland Weird

Howl, and How A Quilas Piece Comes To Be

I was walking home tonight from work, along Tompkins Square Park, surrounded by signs announcing the Howl Festival taking place there this weekend. I entered the park, and just then I heard amplified voices from the south side, so I walked over to see what was going on. (I go that way, anyway.) A group of people were on the stage, being directed by Bob Holman: “even on one side, odd on the other, there’s too many people over on this side, this is not the time to be marking your lines,” etc. I watched them for about five minutes. It seemed longer, but I’m sure that’s about how long it was. Finally they started reading.

    I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness…

Hmmm. I didn’t have it in me to listen to the entire thing — it’s hard enough to hear in my own voice! — so I left. For me, the preparation was the event. I could easily have watched that for another five minutes.

Anyway…

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything here. I’ve been busy lately, but I have been working on a new piece.

This is how it works: I have an idea, and I start writing. I add more to it, the notes accumulate and the piece gets too long and goes off-topic. I save a copy to use for a future piece. I come home tired and don’t feel like working on it, so I agonize about it instead. I lie in bed rewriting it in my head, unwilling to get up and stare into the light of the computer monitor, and I forget my phrasing by morning. Eventually, I come back to it and start hacking away at it, cutting whole sections. Then I start revising it, reading it from the beginning each time I make even the slightest change, and finally I publish it. Immediately, I feel a great relief, like a weight has been lifted off of me. Then the process begins again. The relief is only momentary.

I’m writing this now to avoid writing what I should be.

But it’s late. Off to bed!

No 7-Eleven NYC, Labor, and “Free Markets”

This past Saturday (April 6), the local small-business association No 7‑Eleven NYC (N7E) held an event in Tompkins Square Park. This is how they advertised it:

n7e-tsp-announcement

I didn’t think I was going to be able to make it — I usually have a lot of work to do on Saturdays. As luck would have it, though, my mid-afternoon appointment got cancelled, so I was able to go. This is my review.

I guess the first thing I’d say is that N7E is undisciplined. They were supposed to begin at 1:00pm, but none of them arrived on time. Reverend Billy, an invited guest of theirs, paced back and forth waiting for them. They finally showed up around 1:10, carrying their signs and Wheel of Fortune.

I will discuss their activities in another post (perhaps). Today, I’ll just limit myself to their writings. This is the flier they handed out (I commend them for printing double-sided; at least they don’t waste paper):

n7e-tsp-flier1 n7e-tsp-flier2

Don’t strain your eyes trying to read it; I’ll enlarge the points I want to discuss.

n7e-tsp-flier1-blurb2

This is just deceitful. 7‑Eleven employs between seven and ten people per store (depending on the location), up to three-times more than a bodega.

The labor issue is probably the most significant one when comparing 7‑Eleven with bodegas. I’d like to point out something that happened just last week:

The workers at fast-food restaurants across the city went on strike. This is something that could never happen with bodega workers, for a number of reasons, the most important of which is that bodega workers are fragmented. Concentration of capital can enhance the solidarity of the workers, as more are brought into cooperation with each other by working in bigger firms.

On their web site, N7E’s propagandists insists that, in addition to employing more people, bodegas are, for workers, superior to chain stores, because bodega owners will hire convicted felons. I would love to see the statistics on this claim! However, on a more relevant note, they ignore that bodegas are exempt from most labor and health & safety laws:

  • Unemployment Insurance – Employees are paid in cash, so there is no record of their employment.
  • OSHA Requirements – If you have fewer than 25 employees, your penalty is cut by 60 percent. If your business has fewer than 10 employees, you’re exempt from many requirements that obligate you to report workplace injuries.
  • Discrimination Laws – Federal laws against discrimination in the workplace do not always apply to small businesses. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act apply to employers with 15 or more employees. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act applies only to employers of 20 or more people.
  • Employee Health Insurance – Beginning in 2014, employers will be expected to pay a “shared responsibility fee” for health insurance coverage under the terms of the Affordable Care Act. Small businesses are exempt from this rule. If your company has fewer than 50 employees, you have no healthcare responsibilities.1

Because bodegas workers are paid in cash, no taxes are withheld, leaving them with a large tax liability at the end of the year, and with no Social Security credits. Bodegas also frequently hire undocumented workers, whose protections are nil. Not only can they be fired for no reason, they are oftentimes threatened with deportation if they raise any objection.

nelp12

***

N7E claims that 7‑Eleven’s presence in the neighborhood threatens the “free market”.

n7e-tsp-flier2-blurb1

I’ve already discussed this claim with an N7E ideologue in the Comments section of another blog, but I will point out to them, once again, that rather than it being threatened, this is exactly how the “free market” operates:

    The battle of competition is fought by cheapening of commodities. The cheapness of commodities demands, [all else being equal], on the productiveness of labour, and this again on the scale of production. Therefore, the larger capitals beat the smaller. It will further be remembered that, with the development of the capitalist mode of production, there is an increase in the minimum amount of individual capital necessary to carry on a business under its normal conditions. The smaller capitals, therefore, crowd into spheres of production which Modern Industry has only sporadically or incompletely got hold of. Here competition rages in direct proportion to the number, and in inverse proportion to the magnitudes, of the antagonistic capitals. It always ends in the ruin of many small capitalists, whose capitals partly pass into the hands of their conquerors, partly vanish. [Emphasis mine]

I’m certainly not against fighting the “free market,” but people who know better can see N7E doesn’t know what they’re saying. A real grassroots campaign would be up-front about wanting to subvert the “free market” in their effort to establish the type of neighborhood they desire. They would understand that there’s no way that could be avoided. They would advocate for the people who work in the bodegas, instead of for the owners. They might even want to restrict the number of bodegas, as even they realize there is an over-abundance of them:

n7e-tsp-flier1-blurb1

***

The same organization that works to protect the rights of undocumented workers has an unfavorable assessment of bodegas as places to shop, as well:

nelp23

***

So this was an assessment of parts of their most current flier. I addressed their main fallacies. In the second bullet-point on page two, they claim that there is a ban in New York City on the sale of sodas over 16 ounces, which isn’t true, but isn’t worth the time to refute at any length.

I shot some video of the event. I have to watch it again to see if I want to comment on it. I might just upload it to YouTube and post a link to it.

=-=-=-=-=

1Small Business Exemptions
2Good Food and Good Jobs for Underserved Communities
3Unregulated Work in the Grocery and Supermarket Industry in New York City

Next Newer Entries