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

Grand Jury Resistance, Banned Books, and You

Listen up, kids, this is important!  Today we’re going to talk about grand juries.  With a side of intellectual freedom.

Look, we’ve got three people — Matt Duran, Kteeo (Katherine Olejnik), and Leah-Lynn Plante — locked up for contempt out in Seattle, WA.  They’ve all refused to testify before a grand jury.

Grand juries are one of the government’s shittiest tools for squishing dissent.  They were originally intended as a way for individual citizens to bring a matter before their peers to make the government do something about it.  Today, though, they are a way for the government to intimidate and punish people who make noise, without those people having any recourse.  Folks get hauled into court, without having been accused of anything, and are asked a bunch of questions.  They are not allowed to have an attorney with them, and the room is closed and what goes on is kept secret.  They must answer the questions — the 5th Amendment, which otherwise protects us from having to testify against ourselves, does not apply.  If they refuse to testify — a choice that is usually a good idea in cases of political repression — they may be jailed for up to six months for contempt, in order to coerce testimony.  If after six months a person has not spoken, they can be sent back for another six months, et cetera, et cetera, until someone gives up.  Remember, these folks have not even been accused, let alone convicted, of a crime in the first place.  The point of a grand jury is for the government to figure out if there’s anything floating around that they can prosecute someone for.

Back on July 25, if you’ll recall, Plante and Duran were a couple of the folks in Oregon and Washington states who woke up to the early morning sounds of their doors being smashed in by federal officers.  Their residences were searched by feds looking for, among other things, black clothes and anarchist literature.  Yesterday, before Plante went back before the grand jury and again refused to testify, she wrote:

On the morning of July 25th, 2012, my life was turned upside down in a matter of hours. FBI agents from around Washington and Oregon and Joint Terrorism Task Force agents from Washington busted down the front door of my house with a battering ram, handcuffed my house mates and me at gunpoint, and held us hostage in our backyard while they read us a search warrant and ransacked our home. They said it was in connection to May Day vandalism that occurred in Seattle, Washington earlier this year.

However, we suspected that this was not really about broken windows. As if they had taken pointers from Orwell’s 1984, they took books, artwork and other various literature as “evidence” as well as many other personal belongings even though they seemed to know that nobody there was even in Seattle on May Day. While we know that knowledge is powerful, we suspected that nobody used rolled up copies of the Stumptown Wobbly to commit property damage. We saw this for what it was. They are trying to investigate anarchists and persecute them for their beliefs. This is a fishing expedition. This is a witch hunt. Since then, thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request, we have learned that this Grand jury was convened on March 2nd, 2012, two months before the May Day vandalism even took place…

As predicted, she was locked up after yesterday’s grand jury session.  Matt has been imprisoned since September 13, including time in solitary confinement, and Kteeo since September 28.  So, shit’s scary.  But, we’re all in this together, and the best way to handle this is for us all to create and maintain a loving community and to take care of each other.  Which is what grand jury resisters are doing, by they way — they are taking a hit for the rest of us.  We should all be supporting these three, in word and deed, as much as we can, since they’re going so hard to protect our asses.  Here’s some stuff you can do for Matt and Kteeo, and I’m sure there’ll be a similar round up for Leah shortly.

So, this is the Library blog, right?  Let’s bring it back home.  See up there where Leah writes about her house being searched?  What did the feds take?  Books, art.  As many folks around the internet have noted, if the FBI came gunning into any of our houses they’d find black clothing and subversive literature.

Yo, feds, Senator McCarthy called, he wants his game plan back.

Aside from the 5th Amendment mentioned above, we are also supposed to be guaranteed rights of speech and press under the 1st Amendment, and the rights to free speech and assembly include freedom of association, as clarified by Supreme Court rulings.  Now, I know some of us don’t truck with the idea of rights (Utah says, “The state can’t give you freedom, and the state can’t take it away. You’re born with it, like your eyes, like your ears. Freedom is something you assume, then you wait for someone to try to take it away. The degree to which you resist is the degree to which you are free.”), but it’s what we’ve got to work with right now.

And yet we have doors being busted down over books, and the printed word being taken away as evidence of…  …something.  That our three grand jury resisters hold certain political opinions, and know others with similar opinions, is enough to have gotten them into this spot in the first place.  Librarians, our professional association has a lot to say about the 1st Amendment.

We’ve just come off of Banned Books Week.  I hope you read something subversive!  I always hope that, actually.  I also hope that I don’t need to be too heavy-handed in drawing the lines between the FBI searching someone’s house for radical literature and the stuff we usually talk about when we talk about banned books.  It is a matter of degree, rather than kind.

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Filed under #OccupyPortland, #OccupySeattle, Free Speech, Jaime, Solidarity

What’s One of the Most Fucked Up Things Happening in Higher Ed This Month?

 

 

Hint, it’s right here, at CUNY.

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Recommended Reading

A few weeks ago we had an email come in from a Huffington Post writer, asking that we suggest some books on poverty in America for a slide show.  (I was a little confused by the slideshow part, and still am, even having seen the finished product.)  So, even though I’m a jerk and completely forgot about this thing I said I’d do until like the day before the writer’s deadline, I wrote a few words about some books.

According to their website, I’m an expert!  Anyway, it’s here.

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JOIN US: Poets For Change Celebratory Reading At St. Marks Church!

Clear your calendar and join us Friday, 10pm, September 28, 2012 at St. Marks Church for the opening night of a weekend full of events on behalf of 100,000 Poets for Change! The Poetry Project is hosting an open reading commemorating the Occupy Wall Street and the 100,000 Poets for Change communities. For those unfamiliar with 100tpc, September 29, 2012 marks the second annual global event of 100tpc, a grassroots organization that brings poets, artists and musicians (new this year) together to call for environmental, social, and political change, within the framework of peace and sustainability. The local focus is key to this global event as communities around the world raise their voices through concerts, readings, workshops, flash mobs and demonstrations that speak to the heart of their specific area of concerns, such as homelessness, ecocide, racism and censorship. This past year the Occupy Wall Street movement has been a major force diligently working for a better, more sustainable, more imaginative world, so it’s only natural that 100tpc and the poets of Occupy Wall Street join forces for the opening night of a weekend of 100tpc inspired readings (link to all the 100tpc readings happening in NYC).

In honor of the inventive spirit and the continual striving for inclusivity conducted by Occupiers this past year, the open-to-all who wish to participate reading at St. Marks Church will be held in an experimental way. The intent of this experiment is to break from the confines of routinely structured open mic nights. Instead of focusing the night on individuals confined to a time limit, the night aims to bring everyone in attendance together to create one, fantastic, long, meandering poem which encompasses everyone in attendance and focuses on the collective experience.

Upon arrival at St. Marks, poets will choose a word they feel an attachment to or a word that represents them or that they’re particularly fond of or think funny, etc – just pick a word! One word per person and one person per word (first come/ first pick). When choosing a word, please be mindful that you’re in a room full of people that also want to have a chance to read. Volunteers will ensure no one picks the same word and will prod anyone (the less imaginative poets seeking the limelight) that wants to pick a highly used word, to come up with another choice. (example words not to pick: and, or, is, the, it, your, my, a, no, yes, etc).

Choose a word that you’re pretty sure will be called. Chances are good no one will read a poem with the word glossolalia (meaning: fluent nonsense) in it, unfortunately. The word a poet chooses will be their key to read for the evening. Every time a poets’ word is read by another poet, the poet whose word was read will stand up, display their word, (which will signal the poet that was reading to stop and sit down) and then begin reading. The reading poet will continue until one of their words signals for another to begin. Please bring a range of poems and stretch that vocabulary, as every time your word is said you can/should read from a different poem or a different section of a poem already read from… the goal of the night is to get everyone reading fragments and pieces of work, with everyone’s work bleeding and melding into each others…. that said, a poet may only get one word in before the next reader begins or a poet may read 2 – 3 – 4 – 5(doubtful) poems before the next poet is signaled to begin. The amount of times and the length of time will entirely depend on the size of the crowd and words people read and chose. Hopefully this will create space for us to ruminate (in a fun and playful manner) on our interconnectedness, while we simultaneously create a completely original-communal body of work.

If someones word is never said, the poet can read a poem at the end of the night for our livestream cameras (up to three minutes// also let us know if you wish to not be filmed as we’ll have a special section of the room for you). Livestream cameras will be filming the night so people around the world can tune in. Eventually the night will be transcribed (unless a poet wishes their work be withdrawn), and the results will be posted here. However, if it’s getting late into the night and your word hasn’t been read, I’d encourage letting your neighbors know and would encourage people to create new poems as the night goes on with the words of those around you. Everyone should invest their energies into getting everyone multiple chances to add to the collective poem.

Also, as part of the night, I’m working on creating an installation of sorts, so the space has a nice feel and some decor to go along with the communal spirit we’ll hopefully all be embracing. I sent out an email to the Occupy Wall Street Poetry Anthology list serv (if you didn’t get it and want to be on the list serv please let me know – stephenjboyer@gmail{dot}com), asking poets to email me one photo of themselves or a photo that they feel represents themselves– I might use them as part of the nights installation (technology provided). So if you want a photo of yourself or one that represents you to be included in the installation (as long as everything comes together), then please email me a photo as soon as possible… I’m still accepting and hoping to receive more photos. Also on display the night of the 28th, will be a copy of the final version of the Occupy Wall Street Poetry Anthology, as well as the original versions that were in the park. A table will be set up as a communal poetry library/bookstore. Poets should bring copies of their work to give away, sell or trade (zines, chapbooks, whatever)!!! It’s up to the poet as to whether or not they want their contribution sold, shared, or for display purposes… whatever items a poet brings the night of, if it’s not gone by the end of the night please be prepared to take it home with you.

And finally! Volunteers are needed to make this night happen! All volunteers will be loved forever. And don’t worry– volunteers will fully be able to participate in the reading, so volunteers don’t have to worry about missing out on any part of the night. In fact, volunteers will have the honor of knowing they’re essential to making the night run smoothly. If you’re interested in helping with setting up the space the night of the 28th, or helping with livestream, or helping people pick/assign words upon entry, or looking after the book table (sales/distribution/ensuring books that aren’t to leave remain at the table) or if you’re available to help paint a few things a few days before the 28th or if you want to send me some ideas or moral support –please email me at stephenjboyer@gmail{dot}com.

St. Marks Church is located at 131 East 10th Street between 2nd and 3rd avenue in the East Village (google map). The reading starts at 10pm on September 28th and (crowd permitted) will run till around midnight… Really hope to see you there! And remember to wear something fun ‘cuz the night is going to be viewed by people from all over the world! There is an $8 suggested donation (helps support the Poetry Project), but no one will be turned away for lack of funds! Invite your friends! All are welcome.

And in case my explanation of the night is really confusing, here’s a more visual example of the way the night will proceed:

The following text excerpts are from the OWS Poetry Anthology -except for the second Adrienne Rich poem, which is from an article in The Nation. This was put together for example purposes only and isn’t intended to be an actual representation of the poets whose work was used.

Poet A (Adrienne Rich / chosen word is mother):

Ankles shackled
metalled and islanded
holding aloft a mirror, feral
lipstick, eye-liner

Poet B (Stephen Boyer / chosen word is eye-liner):

gazing into my crystal ball

Poet C (Jeffrey Grunthaner – chosen word is ball):

ad execs of the busyness where L-U-C-K’
s godly, & death’s even possible
by imbibing kitty emetics. O, the miser-
able remnants left on the aortic sidewalk!

Poet D (Filip Marinovich – chosen word is sidewalk):

You lose everything except your S.U.V.
even your children all 8 of them murdered
8 infinity symbol stood up straight
8 double-headed lariat noose cut loose
I fit my Gemini heads through two yellow loops
flying through deep space to meet Mother

Poet A (Adrienne Rich – chosen word is mother):

Saw you walking barefoot
taking a long look
at the new moon’s

Poet E (Ama Birch – chosen word is moon):

Dear President,
Leader of the free world,
Remember who pays your rent
Is wisdom’s pearl.

White House
Turned Brown
Cherry blossom mouse
Cheering sound.

Chopper, Chopper.
Swirling winds.
Marker, Marker.
Light ray blends.

Eggs are laid on the lawns.
You must protect your pawns.

Sincerely,
Ama Birch

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Filed under Announcements, Free Speech, Party time!, Poetry, Stephen, Time Travel

Labor Notes: Which Side Are You On?

Good morning!  To update my last post, the Chicago Teachers Union — some 26,000 teachers and support staff — has gone out on strike today.  They are striking for themselves — for previously promised raises and decent health coverage, against being overworked by longer hours and larger class sizes — and also for their students — for “elective” courses such as art and gym and music, and for educational support such as librarians and social workers.  You’d bet that mayor Rahm Emanuel’s children and the children of the Chicago School Board members attend schools that have all that and more.  All of Chicago’s public school students certainly deserve the same.   (Rahm, by the way, should be ashamed of himself.  His mother, a union organizer, is probably rolling in her grave.)

If you are in Chicago, join a picket!  Some handy person has mapped them all out, but I hear you can’t swing a cat in Chicago this morning without hitting some striking teachers.  If you don’t have the time, but maybe have some financial resources, donate to the strike fund.  Or stop by a picket with coffee and snacks.  I’m sure the teachers will appreciate it.  Also, as my fellow people’s librarian from Chicago, Rachel Allshiny, herself an unemployed teacher, notes on Twitter (follow her: @allshiny), “My parents raised me to never cross a picket line. But for some of these kids it’s the only way they’ll get breakfast.”  And lunch, for that matter.  Emptier schools will make for a more effective strike, so if you have folks in your neighborhood who need childcare, or kids who take free or reduced price meals at school, step up and help out.  If supporters could take in children for weeks and months during the Lawrence textile mill strike a hundred years ago, you can surely make a couple sandwiches.

Here in NYC, we’ll be gathering at Union Square at 5pm this evening for a show of solidarity.  (And inspiration?  A girl can dream.)

Along with the start of the school year, it’s also the start of football season.  I love football!  If you google hard enough, you might be able to find pictures of yours truly at age 12 in pads and jersey and with a ponytail hanging out the back of a helmet. (As a side note, I especially love the Green Bay Packers, which is the only community-owned pro sports team in the US.   And the only one to release all its financial information every year.  And it’s against NFL rules for other teams to organize like this.)  But if you’ve been watching pre-season games or this weekend’s season openers, you may have noticed that the calls were less than stellar.  The NFL’s regular referees are locked out, a tactic I’ve previously written about that is being used by owners against workers with more and more frequency.  In their place, the league has hired scabs up from Div II & III college ball, high schools, and sundry other leagues.  (It just kills me that Shannon Eastin, the first woman to ref in the NFL, is a scab.)

There’s a lot to be said about this — how meeting all the refs’ demands would cost the league very little money, how the replacements’ collective lack of experience may endanger the players of a sport that has been paying increasing attention to long-term dangers of concussions and other impact injuries.  Other people have spilled a lot of ink over all that.  I’ll just say that I won’t be watching any games, and neither should you, until the refs’ demands are met and the lockout is over.  If any NFL players happen to be reading, especially any Packers, or from teams in other old union towns — I’m looking at you, Detroit Lions, Chicago Bears, and Pittsburgh Steelers — I suggest you get on the right side of history and start vociferously supporting your referees.

Here in New York we had an important victory just last week.  On the Upper East Side, Hot and Crusty fired and locked out a couple dozen workers after they unionized and won improvements in wages and working conditions.  Rather than not being a jerk, the owner closed up shop.  Workers and allies occupied the place until the cops showed up and arrested a few people.  Then they started picketing, running a cafe on the sidewalk, and holding a tough line against half-assed offers.  As of now, workers’ demands have all been met, and Hot and Crusty is scheduled to reopen; let’s all keep an eye on this — the picket will continue until the owner follows through.

Last, but not least, some of New York City’s car wash employees are getting organized.  Like the Hot and Crusty employees, many car wash workers are immigrants, often undocumented, which makes it easier for owners to exploit them, through fear of la migra.  Let’s be ready to step up and lend some solidarity as these workers, too, start demanding their rights and dignity.

ETA: In international news, more and more miners, now more than 40,000, are striking in South Africa.

ETA: As of Wednesday, 9/12, teachers in Lake Forest, Ill., a suburb to the north of Chicago, and not part of the Chicago school system, have also gone out on strike.  It sounds like they’re having a rough time of it, so any support from folks out that way would be appreciated, I’m sure.  Lake Forest has a very different demographic profile from Chicago, being very white and very wealthy.  With a median household income about three times that of the national average, residents should probably STFU about teachers wanting to be well-compensated for the valuable work they do.

 

ETA: It’s still Wednesday, and I’ve got more labor news!  Workers at a warehouse in Mira Loma, California, that subcontracts with Walmart — and we all know how shitty Walmart’s labor record is — have walked off, after Walmart wouldn’t even come to the table to discuss wages, working conditions, and retaliation for previous organization attempts.  In coming days they will be walking the 50 miles to Los Angeles to take up the issue with Walmart’s executives.

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You’ve heard me say it before…

…but, I love a good strike.

 

 

ETA: Strike starts Sept. 10 unless a contract is negotiated in the meantime.  Go read some more of the CTU blog, as well; it’s got lots of good stuff, such as advice that Teach for America teachers can strike along with their comrades.

 

 

And as the new school year approaches, it looks like Chicago’s public school teachers and other educational professionals (like school librarians, ahem) might be going out. Tomorrow they will file their 10-day strike notice. That doesn’t mean that they’ll definitely strike, but it does mean the option is definitely on the table.  90% voted to authorize a strike earlier this summer. 

Wages, hours, and conditions of course.  In this case a main issue is that the same number of teachers were being asked to cover an extended school day and larger class sizes.   They seem to have made headway on that, but contract details have not been all straightened out yet.  Also up for discussion are student services and what some might call elective or non-essential courses and activities — music, art, recess & P.E., libraries, etc. — aspects of education that are seen as essential to wealthy and high-performing schools, but somehow are always negotiable in poor schools.  This, my friends, is one of the many way in which the playing field is not level, in which equal opportunity is not available, and in which inequality is perpetuated.

So, let’s see some support for our sisters and brothers in Chicago, trying to maintain fair working conditions in their public school system, so that they can best serve their hundreds of thousands of students.

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