Dissent has been bubbling up more and more frequently here in the cold, snow-blown streets of New York. The other day, when it was announced that Wall Street was using its bailout funds to hand out record bonuses to its employees, I started hearing murmurs of discontent and talk of tarring and feathering stock brokers even amongst normally placid centrist liberals. There are a lot of people here in this city, and most of us are not benefiting from the economic bailouts that are lining the pockets of a few companies and their favored employees.
This afternoon, our fairly clueless mayor was having a lunch to discuss the future of New York City. The price per seat: $249. The intended guests: the elite business people of the city. You know, CEOs. Heads of major law firms. All the people that decide “the future of New York City.” The ones who decided that the present involves fat Christmas bonuses for them and theirs.
Fortunately, some of the other 99% of the city’s people with an interest in our future decided to crash the party.
You can’t hear much more on the video than “this is what democracy looks like,” but that’s precisely what the point of the disruption is. Decisions about the future of this city shouldn’t by a Trilateral Commission or a Bilderbergers forum, and we’ve already seen what happens when bankers, and bankers on the other side of the revolving door, get carte blanche to decide how to shore up
the economy their banks. The protest was organized by Right to the City, a national coalition of community organizing projects. Here in New York, that includes CAAAV (Organizing Asian Communities), FIERCE, Community Voices Heard, FUREE, JFREJ, Mothers on the Move and quite a few other local grassroots projects that you should know about. I know that one group, Picture the Homeless, has been trying for months to get a meeting with Bloomberg to get him to hear the voices of homeless people who are affected by the city’s policies. He refuses to meet with them. That’s why disruption becomes necessary.
This is what democracy really should look like: grassroots movements of LGBTQ youth of color, women who’ve had to deal with welfare, mothers trying to save the communities of the South Bronx, progressive people of faith, women of color working for low-income families, Latin@ immigrant communities, Asian women against violence, the list goes on and on. I’m proud to see this kind of action bringing together so many different movements.
Now here’s the shitty part. Bloomberg said yet another oddly accurate statement that he didn’t really mean. “That is what democracy looks like,” he said to his elite crowd dining on their $250 lunches, “in most other countries they’d throw them in the slammer.” Oops. Spoke to soon, Mr. Mayor. Although the protesters left peacefully after making their point, after they got outside a few of the leaders of the action were apparently still discussing and de-escalating the situation with building security. At that point, the NYPD showed up and did something that I’ve seen them do more than once before: grab whoever they see as being in the way, or whoever’s right in front of them, and haul them off. Eight people were taken into custody and yes, “thrown in the slammer.”
Bloomberg went on to miss the point completely by whining that it’s not nice or smart to hate on rich people or profitable businesses (Profitable? Bailout?) and that there are other ways to make your voice heard. Unless, of course, the city government has been refusing to listen to or talk to you for ages.
If you are interested in helping to get the arrested protesters released — and making Mayor Bloomberg 1% less hypocritical in his jokey comments — there is another protest planned for their arraignment tomorrow at 314 West 54th Street, starting at 8 AM. If you can’t make it there, you can call City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, whose district this took place in, at 212-564-7757 and ask her office to request the release of the prisoners. Ms. Quinn has been a good ally to some members of our communities in these types of situations before, so let’s hope she comes through again.
Update: The arrested protesters have been arraigned and released from custody as of this afternoon. A court date is set for March 13, when I’m sure there will be an action to support them and pack the courtroom. Another correction thanks to gotard: it looks like the arrests may have actually happened in Dan Garodnick’s district, not Christine Quinn’s as mentioned above.
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