Category Archives: Privatization

Neil Smith, NYC Occupy History and the Political Geography of Revolt

I’ve wanted to mark the recent sudden and tragic death of radical geographer Neil Smith, but wasn’t sure quite how. Just now, as I was re-reading his book “The New Urban Frontier: Gentrification and the Revanchist City” I realized that I could do this in two ways. First by sharing some passages from the first chapter, which contains an account of the eviction of the Tompkins Square Park occupation in 1988 (and again in 1991) echoing the eviction from Liberty Plaza of the Occupy Wall Street encampment, and second by sharing a link to the entire book in PDF form, which is available free online from the National Technical University (NTUA) in Athens.

Neil Smith’s account of the occupation and eviction, as well as his analysis of urban class struggle are vital texts for occupiers to understand the history of resistance in the city. For those who haven’t read them, or aren’t familiar with the occupation of Tompkins Square, they will be eye-opening:

On the evening of August 6, 1988, a riot erupted along the edges of  Tompkins Square Park, a small green in New York City’s Lower East Side. It raged through the night with police on one side and a diverse mix of anti-gentrification protesters, punks, housing activists, park inhabitants, artists, Saturday night revelers and Lower East Side residents on the other. The battle followed the city’s attempt to enforce a 1:00 A.M. curfew in the Park on the pretext of clearing out the growing numbers of homeless people living or sleeping there, kids playing boom boxes late into the night, buyers and sellers of drugs using it for business. But many local residents and park users saw the action differently. The City was seeking to tame and domesticate the park to facilitate the already rampant gentrification on the Lower East Side . . .”Whose fucking park? It’s our fucking park,” became the recurrent slogan . . .

. . . In fact it was a police riot that ignited the park on August 6, 1988. Clad in space-alien riot gear and concealing their badge numbers, the police forcibly evicted everyone from the park before midnight, then mounted repeated baton charges and “Cossacklike” rampages against demonstrators and locals along the park’s edge:

‘The cops seemed bizarrely out of control, levitating with some hatred I didn’t understand. They’d taken a relatively small protest and fanned it out over the neighborhood, inflaming hundreds of people who’d never gone near the park to begin with. They’d called in a chopper. And they would eventually call 450 officers… The policemen were radiating hysteria . . .’ (Carr 1988:10)

. . .In the days following the riot, the protesters quickly adopted a much more ambitious political geography of revolt. Their slogan became “Tompkins Square everywhere” as they taunted the police and celebrated their liberation of the park. Mayor Edward Koch, meanwhile, took to describing Tompkins Square Park as a “cesspool” and blamed the riot on “anarchists.” Defending his police clients, the president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association enthusiastically elaborated: “social parasites, druggies, skinheads and communists” –an “insipid conglomeration of human misfits” –were the cause of the riot, he said. . .

Smith, N. 1996. The New Urban Frontier: Gentrification and the Revanchist City. Routledge.

First photo from Ángel Franco of The New York Times. Additional images are from Q. Sakamaki‘s book Tompkins Square Park.

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Filed under 11/15 Eviction, Announcements, Michael, Privatization, Public/Private Parks, Reference, Scholarship

Your Local People’s Library Branch

Would you like to open a People’s Library branch in your neighborhood? WNYC’s Brian Leher Show and The New York World are collaborating on a map of all the Privately-Owned Public Spaces (POP) in New York. Zucotti Park (Liberty Plaza), for example, is a POP.

One of the amazing things about the Occupy movement is how the model is open source and free. You can take what we’re doing at OWS and set it up wherever you are. That also applies to the People’s Library model. What we’ve built here is a set of practices that can be deployed wherever you are. So, if you’d like to open a branch of the People’s Library in your New York neighborhood, find a POP, bring down some books and meet your neighbors. It all starts with a few books in a box.

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Filed under Michael, OccupyLibraries, POP, Privatization, Process

Private Information, Policing and Social Media

This library is wired. We’re scanning bar codes to intake our books, we’re on Flickr, Facebook, Twitter, LibraryThing and more. We’re blogging, we’re using our smart phones and laptops and WiFi hotspots. This movement is wired. We’re using YouTube, livestreams, global voice chat, IRC, projected General Assembly notes, vibe and more. The police are also wired.  Here’s an amazing example of police communicating with the occupation in Boston through Twitter.

In another example, the Portland Police Department put a call out for the Occupy Portland movement to post photos of their officers on their Facebook page. And after the march, the page was full of thank you notes about how respectful the officers were. Compare that to the reports of those arrested at Liberty Plaza for photographing police and drawing a line with chalk to help occupiers and protesters know where to keep the sidewalk clear. However, all of this communication and sharing is going on in primarily private, corporate spaces.

And at the same time all of this online information constitutes the history in progress of this movement against corporatization. This is one of the reasons that open source information is so important. If a company like Twitter or Facebook elected to remove this content, there’s nothing we could do about it – and a part of history, a conversation and a record of the movement would be lost. Alternatively, social media like Diaspora and identi.ca are open and users control their own content. But at the moment, the battles to lay claim to territory in the media space are taking place in the commercial regions of cyberspace, where there are more witnesses, where the reporters are likely to pay attention, where the public is engaged.

As a friend of mine posted to Facebook: “The irony of #OccupyWallStreet so far: The privatization of public space allows for the public protest of privatization.”

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Filed under Cyberspace, Media, Michael, Privatization, Technology