From The Archives Neighborhoods NYC ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES Violence

Reports From the Tompkins Square Riots

NYC: Reports From Tompkins Square

Night Clubbing
By C. Carr

IT STARTED BEFORE mid­night with a ragged little rally directed at the park faithful — the unlucky, the unruly, your tired, your poor. Near the en­trance at 8th Street and Av­enue A, a plump balding man in tie-dye exhorted about 100 punks, politicos, and curious neighbors through a tinny speaker sys­tem: “Yuppies and real es­tate magnates have declared war on the people of Tomp­kins Square Park!” Fliers from the Emergency Coali­tion Against Martial Law covered a card table nearby, and a young man in black clothing and beret waved a black flag stapled to a card­board tube. The cops were going to shut the park down as they had every night that week. I overheard some talk in the crowd from neighbors who thought it should be shut. The crime here… the noise, some guy explained to a companion. The grim cops at the gate, the chants of “Die Yuppie scum!,” the M80s exploding deeper in the park — all added to the aura of latent violence. Even so, who could have predict­ed the police riot to come within the hour — complete with cavalry charges down East Village streets, a chop­per circling overhead, people out for a Sunday paper run­ning in terror down First Avenue. Running from the cops, who clearly regarded any civilian as a target.

At midnight in Tompkins Square, the motley demon­strators had begun trooping defiantly around the paths with their “class war” ban­ners, returning on each swing past the officers lined up along the bandshell. Most nights, the bandshell is filled with homeless, but they’d been hoovered out to god-knows-where that morning. Now it was police headquarters — focal point for 12 vehicles including vans, 11 horses, and the long blue line. One officer shone his flashlight into the lens of every photographer who tried to get a picture — foreshadowing the more ag­gressive camera-shyness to come.

Protesters marched by, chanting that hell no, they wouldn’t go. But they did go, of course. As soon as the mounted cops pranced out to Avenue A.

It was 12:30 Saturday night, a peak traffic hour on the avenue between Alca­traz, the Wah-Wah Hut, 7A, and the Pyramid — when, as a rule, the skinheads and spiky heads hang out at curbside, neighbors go to-­and-froing, and the peddlers set their tattered goods out along the park. But on this night, people were lining the park between 7th and 8th as if waiting for a parade. I could see some protesters pushing on a squad car, jerking it a couple yards closer to 7th. I could see the mounted cops in a line near 7th and the rally “leaders” in the middle of the street at 8th, black flag and card ta­ble stuffed in a grocery cart. Fists in the air, they yelled, “It’s our fuckin’ park!” as another M80 exploded at someone’s feet along the sidewalk.

Suddenly the cops had their riot helmets on and clubs out. Someone in front of a bar threw a bottle to­ward the mounted police massed at 7th Street, and the cops backed up. Protest­ers and onlookers milled around the avenue, while a long line of honking cars tried to make the turn off 8th. Protesters yelled “yup­pie scum” at bewildered drivers. Three Hells Angels drew cheers. Another bottle smashed on the pavement. And another. The mounted police backed up again. The foot patrolmen stood shoul­der-to-shoulder at the park entrance. It was 12:50. Met­al gates began to slam closed over the storefronts. Punks were jumping the fence, urg­ing the crowd to follow. But apart from them, it was no longer clear who was pro­testing and who’d inadver­tently walked into this mess or come outside to see what the hell was going on. By now the crowd numbered in the hundreds.

About 12:55, I heard an explosion and the mounted police suddenly charged up Avenue A, scattering the knot of demonstrators still in the street. I ducked be­hind a car. The policemen were radiating hysteria. One galloped up to a taxi stopped at a traffic light and screamed, “Get the fuck out of here, fuckface!” I walked toward 9th Street; unsure where to go. “Calm your men!” yelled a pedestrian near me.

At 9th Street, foot patrol­men in riot gear formed a line along the drive into the park. Across the avenue, some young men stood on the south corner screaming drunken taunts: “Faggot! Pussy! Koch’s dogs!” I was on the north corner at a phone booth. I recognized two of the patrolmen, de­spite their helmets, as the two I’d spoken to just 45 minutes earlier. Then, they’d told me courteously that they couldn’t say why the park was being closed. Now, they were charging me with their clubs raised.

They couldn’t be charging me.

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I just stood there because I was the press and I was wearing my credentials and I hadn’t done anything and this was my neighborhood and this was the phone I use to call my friend over there who doesn’t have a buzzer and… “Run! Run!” screamed a tall young black man, taking me by the arm. “We gotta get outta here!” And I felt a billy club across my shoulder blades, the cop pushing me. Cop pumping adrenaline. Cop yelling, “Move! Move! Move!”

They were sweeping 9th Street and it didn’t matter if you were press or walking home from the movies or sitting on your stoop to catch a breeze. You were gonna move. At First Ave­nue, I watched two cops on horseback gallop up on the sidewalk and grab a guy by his long hair, pulling him across the street between them. Minutes later, the same guy was down on the sidewalk in front of Stromboli’s, bleeding.

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.

By 1:30, I’d taken all the notes I wanted to take. I wanted to go home, so I walked back to Avenue A, where I was soon trapped, as were many others. “Can I cross the street?” I asked a policeman at the cor­ner of 7th, showing him my orange press card.

“If you do, you’re going to get roughed up!” he declared.

“If you do that, you’re going to get some publicity you aren’t going to like,” I spouted back.

“Hey,” he said, “you’re trying to stereo­type me!”

It had been a big night for absurdities.

Getting back to First Avenue took anoth­er half hour. And there, dancing around their grocery cart in the middle of traffic, were the so-called “leaders,” bandanas pulled up over their noses so the police couldn’t identify them. God. This was gonna take all night. I walked south. Then I heard screams. Cop attack. Panic-stricken pedestrians ran down the sidewalks, as the cops galloped, clubs at the ready. I tried to duck into a restaurant. “No!” shrieked someone at the door, slam­ming it in my face. I kept running.

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THE NEXT DAY I walked up to Tompkins Square. It’s a foul little park and a symbolic one. I’ve lived near it for 11 and a half years and have yet to experience a moment of tranquillity in its crummy confines. But I can tell you that the people who go there are, for the most part, the people who’ve always gone there. The old Ukrainian guys who play chess and the old ladies who go to sit down and the squatter kids, drag queens, Rastas, and junkies. As the neighborhood slowly, inexorably gentrifies, the park is a holdout, the place for one last metaphorical stand.

At the empty bandshell on Sunday, I no­ticed some posters pasted up by the political comic book World War 3 and the Rainbow Soup Kitchen weeks before this curfew dis­pute began. The posters feature a quote from a former resident of the neighborhood:
The uneasy spring of 1988. Under the pre­text of drug control, suppressive police states have been set up throughout the Western world. 
— William S. Burroughs, The Wild Boys, 1968\


The Tompkins Square rising has rekindled a perennial debate: What is the precise moment of gentrification? When the rents begin to swell? At the first restless kick of running shoes? Or is a gentry a nascent life form whose seeds are planted with the entry of the first artists? Mother Graffiti, founder of Loisaida Right to Lifestyle, has shared the procreative pride and nauseous awakenings of her parish as it has grown heavy with gentry, yet remains devoted to the Gospel of Art:

MG: As a human being and renter I sympathize with a neighborhood struggling with an unforeseen gentrification. But new art needs gallery space to grow in, even when the result’s an unwanted gentry. We can’t throw out the baby with the bottled water.

VOICE: Do you advocate the use of condos to prevent conversion?

MG: Trump forbid! There’s a lag between the opening of the first gallery and the arrival of first croissant shop. With the right rhythm you can pull out in time to move to redder-­lined pastures.

VOICE: But is it ever morally permissible to terminate a gentrification?

MG: Have you ever seen an aborted gentry? Its little Walkman peeking out from its tiny ears — sweatpants not quite detached from Gucci bags — did you know their bricks were exposed by the first trimester?

VOICE: We used to frequent your neighborhood to go to the clubs. Now we just get clubbed. Any consolation?

MG: Suffer the gentry to renovate thee … for such is the Kingdom of Koch.

— David Polonoff

The Boombox Wars
By Sarah Ferguson

THE PROTESTORS were shouting “Class war!” and “No more fascist police state!” in Tompkins Square Park last Saturday night, but the massive deployment of 450 officers, a police chopper, and a flotilla of paddy wagons was sparked by a much more mundane urban pain: noise complaints.

According to 9th Precinct commander Captain Gerald McNamara, the decision to enforce a 1 a.m. curfew in Tompkins Square Park was brought on by “antisocial behavior and partying in the park.” Complaints began mounting three years ago from local Community Board 3 and several resident groups, including the 9th Precinct Community Coun­cil, the Independent Demo­cratic Club, and the Friends of Tompkins Square Park. In addition, the Avenue A Block Association, com­posed of tenants living across from the park, was formed a year ago to deal specifically with the prob­lem of kids pouring out of neighborhood bars in the wee hours of the morning, playing loud music and breaking bottles in Tomp­kins Square.

Ilona Merber, a member of the Avenue A Block Asso­ciation, said her group had met with the 9th Precinct and the Community Board about the noise last summer, but the only response by then-precinct captain Ralph Zakar was “a two week blitz” of police sum­monses and boombox confiscations. When asked why the crackdown faded, Ser­geant Jack Smythe blamed a “lack of cooperation” from the Community Board. “They didn’t appreciate Zakar’s hard line; the board had different priorities,” he added.

Saturday’s riot was pre­figured by a curfew protest the previous weekend, when angry youths clashed with riot cops in the park, resulting in nine arrests and five police injuries. After the crowd swelled from 60 to 300, the police were forced to cede the field. McNamara called a private meeting the following Tuesday at Man­hattan South headquarters with local officials and resi­dents to discuss the contin­uation of the curfew. The meeting was attended by representatives of Commu­nity Board 3, the offices of Councilwoman Miriam Friedlander, Borough Presi­dent David Dinkins, and State Senator Manfred Oh­renstein, and several of the local resident groups who had filed complaints about the park. All agreed to the continuation of the curfew until the noise problem abated.

Many of those opposed to the curfew, however, were angered that they were not allowed to attend that meet­ing. “If they had allowed for the people who use the park to give their input, this probably wouldn’t have hap­pened,” said local resident Peter Le Vasseur.

After the angry crowd of persistent hecklers and bot­tle-throwers had forced offi­cers to back down July 30, the police were determined to make a show of strength last Saturday. On Friday, August 5, police were seen parading on horseback and marching in formation be­fore the bandshell in Tomp­kins Square Park, as if drill­ing for Saturday night’s confrontation. By 10 p.m. Saturday, cops had barri­cades ready at all park en­trances and were roaming the park in groups of 12 while four officers with guns looked on from the roofs of tenements across from the St. Marks entrance.

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For many of the original complainants, the police re­sponse last Saturday far surpassed anything they had asked for.

“This is not crowd con­trol. This is Central Ameri­ca,” said Maryann Terillo, a member of the Independent Democratic Club, pointing to the police copter sweep­ing down on fleeing protestors.

McNamara said he or­dered the curfew to start July 11 after meeting with Manhattan borough parks commissioner Patrick Pomposello. He said the curfew was necessary because his precinct did not have enough officers to adequate­ly patrol the park.

“We didn’t ask for this,” Terillo said. “If they spent half the money they did to­night for all this, they could have patrolled the park the whole summer.”

Ilona Merber said she found the whole riot “outra­geous.” “We wanted to get rid of noise that has been keeping residents awake for four years, but now the whole issue is lost in police brutality.”

Merber denied accusa­tions by several young pro­testers that her group was composed of yuppie gentri­fiers. “Nobody in my build­ing pays more than $400 a month,” said Merber, refer­ring to her residence at 131 Avenue A and St. Marks Place. “This is a building that’s been on rent strike for the past three years. This is not gentrification.”

Philip Lalumia, chairman of the 9th Precinct Commu­nity Council, a group of more than 100 area resi­dents, said he still supported the park curfew. “Had the law been enforced all along, this wouldn’t have happened. [The police] have been slacking off.”

But as the Koch adminis­tration attempted to put spin control on depictions of the riot early this week, several critical questions remained unanswered. No matter how many bottles and firecrackers were thrown, what possible prov­ocation can justify a cos­sacklike charge through the streets of the Lower East Side? Was the police riot triggered from above, or was it a spontaneous response on the part of street cops­ — who have endured a series of public humiliations, includ­ing being upstaged by Guardian Angels in Hell’s Kitchen, the broadcasting of the Metro North flasher tape, and their own igno­minious retreat from Tomp­kins Square Park one week before? Will Captain McNamara or any other member of the depart­ment brass be held accountable, as NYPD policy requires, for the actions of their men? And, finally, what changes in police proce­dure will the city institute in the wake of the riot?

Reverend George Kuhn of St. Brigid’s Parish, which stands on the corner of 7th Street and Avenue B, thinks the authorities have made a bigger blunder than they know. “The police have managed to do something that nobody else could do, which is to unite the community — against them.” ■

Ignorant Armies
By Andrew Kannapell

WE’D HEARD rumors all week: that the police were forcing out the homeless — who have for years used Tomp­kins as a summer residence; or that the police were clear­ing the park to protect the homeless, who were targets of beatings and robberies; or that the park closing was the result of “yuppie com­plaints” about loud music.

MIDNIGHT. We saw two po­licemen on a rooftop at St. Marks and Avenue A, watching the people below in the park. One demonstra­tor yelled, “Jump, cop, jump!” A few more joined the cry. Cherry bombs ex­ploded, making the crowd of about 200 edgier. Whistles shrilled.

Riding bikes around the perimeter of the park, we saw more and more cops. We stopped at 9th and B to watch the parade, with a “CLASS WAR” banner at its head, pass a hundred feet away in the park’s interior. They were chanting “DIE YUPPIE SCUM,” then “PIGS OUT OF THE PARK.” More cherry bombs. Two cops stationed at the entrance were calling each other “pig” and laughing. One told me that the homeless would be allowed to sleep in the park, at the southeast cor­ner, where the lights were. “All anyone has to do is come up to an officer and identify themselves as homeless, and they will be directed to the area where they can stay. But anyone else in the park at 1 a.m. is mine.” He slapped his stick into his palm.

“Jeez, this is like the Superbowl,” said a man in 7A Café. A drunk bellowed, “Move along, let’s move along now,” having his fun with the crowd on the cor­ner. A line of mounted po­lice faced the demonstrators, who were throwing bottles at the cops. The point of the demonstration seemed forgotten — just op­posing teams and how bad was it going to get, who’s gonna hurt whom and how much?

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1 A.M. The riot squad gath­ered at the park’s south­western corner, about 30 strong, then moved into the street, the mounted police shifting to the side. The park was cleared, the demonstrators taking over Ave­nue A. Suddenly the riot squad turned and dashed back in, and the horses charged into the crowd. (Later, a cop said a police­man had been assaulted.) Demonstrators climbed over the fence. back into the park, and the melee began.

Moments later people ran out of the park, some blood­ied. Groups of cops gave chase, grabbing one young guy who had a short blond mohawk and knocking him down. Seven or eight cops surrounded him; pinning him to the ground with a nightstick against his neck, they pressed him down, hard, till they handcuffed him and shoved him back to the squad cars. The crowd lining the streets went wild, screaming “POLICE BRUTALITY,” “FUCKING FASCISTS.” A riot squad swept down Avenue A, dispersing anyone in its way. A shove with the shield, then a blow with the stick if you didn’t move fast enough. We retreated into a café. A cop blocked the door. We couldn’t get out.

A city bus, driven by a cop, came south down A, stopping at the intersection. “They’re doing that so you can’t see them abusing the women and children!” a man inside the café ranted. “This is disgusting! They’re beating women and children back there!” Police at all the corners, everywhere, moving in packs. You could leave the demo, but you couldn’t join. A woman skipped out, exaggerating her skip insult­ingly, doffed her baseball cap to the army, skipped on.

The riot squad pushed through A again, then up 7th, gathering up more peo­ple — coming out of bars, restaurants, apartments. Some walked out into a fly­ing nightstick.

2 A.M. During a lull in the sweeps, we unlocked our bikes, trying to figure a way to get out. Police passed in groups of 20. One cop saw my bike light and took it for a flash. “Didja get some good pictures?” he sneered. We rode west on 7th Street, freaked by the voyeuristic thrill of the night. “Movie training,” said Joan. “Makes us expect this. It makes me sick, I feel like I’d be disappointed if nothing happened.”

Joan went home. Steve and I headed over to his building on 9th Street. The sound of a helicopter motor was near, loud, ominous. We looked up — where is the thing? It was so loud it ought to have been right over our heads, and then it broke over the top of P.S. 122, hovering maybe 30 feet above the building. Shit flew everywhere; we couldn’t see through the dust it kicked up.

A neighbor told us the pushes were now taking place all over the East Vil­lage, all the way out to Sec­ond Avenue. Another police sweep went east on 9th. Why east, back to the park? A caravan of 17 squad cars and police vans zoomed down First Avenue, against traffic — but there was no traffic. A crowd of cops gathered at the corner; among them stood one of the block’s longtime drug dealers, ready to work.

4 A.M. We couldn’t cross Avenue A till 7th Street. There was still a band of demonstrators, still a line of mounted police, but the face-off had moved to 6th Street. The park was filled with cops — napping, drink­ing milkshakes, hanging out. 10th Street looked like a po­lice parking lot. A clean-cut guy leaning against a wall commanded us to “Register to vote.” We didn’t see much damage to storefronts or cars, but garbage was strewn all over. The whole neighborhood smelled like horse manure. ■

There’s a Riot Goin’ On
By Vince Aletti

I WAS SITTING in my liv­ing room at 12th Street and Second Avenue around 1 a.m. Sunday morning when the loud pulse of a helicopter’s blades started drowning out the rock and roll on my turnta­ble. The copter was hover­ing low around Tompkins Square Park, after a while so low that it almost brushed the rooftops, and it stayed there long enough to draw me out of the house and east to see what was go­ing on.

The first scene of action I encountered was near First Avenue and St. Marks Place. The intersection was filled with police on foot and horseback; the sidewalks were crowded with people, mostly looking, hanging out. Just as I stepped off the corner of 9th Street to have a closer look, a group of mounted police cantered down the far sidewalk, right into the spectators, picking up speed. People fled down 9th, followed by the mounted cops shouting, swinging clubs. I froze against a mailbox, and in a few seconds it was over.

The crowd seemed to thin, and I went up to 10th Street, closed off to traffic by a blue police barricade. The helicopter was still beating noisily overhead, bringing people out of their apartments or to their windows in curiosity. A stream of at least 20 police cars and vans, sirens wailing, sped down First Avenue against the traffic toward St. Marks. But when I headed in the same direction, every­thing seemed quiet — except for the helicopter, which was hovering just above the roofline, making a frighten­ing racket and stirring up the physical and psychic at­mosphere. After a while, it moved over right above the avenue and started a storm of dirt and debris among the clumps of people. This was a typical Saturday night crowd — local fashion vic­tims, Puerto Rican kids, a scattering of drug dealers who work the corner of 10th Street, young couples not yet ready to head home or drawn out of their hangouts by all the action — mostly white, though, and mostly not activist types.

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Suddenly a group of four or five police grabbed a guy out of the crowd on the op­posite sidewalk and dragged him into the street, yelling as if they’d just captured an enemy fighter. The guy’s T­-shirt was torn nearly off his chest. Six or seven other cops rushed over and began roughing up the captive, throwing him to the ground and kicking at him, pulling him up and tossing him around among themselves. When a few people ran up to protest, the police attacked them, too. One guy screamed, “Assholes!” and the police collared him and threw him back. They start­ed to charge at people indis­criminately, running into a group that was just standing on the sidewalk, maybe as stunned as I was by what they were seeing. The police knocked bystanders down, swinging clubs at their heads and bodies. I saw one man on the sidewalk on his stomach: a policeman rushed over and stomped on him with both feet as if he were jumping into an impromptu tag-team wres­tling match. No one was ar­rested, no one detained. Even the man with the torn T-shirt disappeared into the crowd. After a few minutes, the cops regrouped (I count­ed about 20 of them) and swaggered toward St. Marks.

When I looked around, most of the people on my side of First Avenue had frozen where they stood, usually as close to the build­ing walls as they could get. I walked to St. Marks and Second Avenue, where there was only one cop, stationed in the intersection, directing traffic away from the east and down the avenue. People were throwing trash at him and taunting him from the crowded corners, but there was also a neighbor­hood guy in shirtsleeves out there directing traffic along with him. Farther away, I heard a woman call out, “Was anybody shot?” And near 9th Street a man yelled, “Go home!” I didn’t hear the reply that prompt­ed him to shout back, “I am home! What are you doing here?” At Rectangle’s, an outdoor cafe on 10th Street, young patrons sat and talked, having a snack at 2:30 in the morning.

An hour later, I could still see the helicopter from my window, hanging low over the avenue. ■

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Leaflets From Nowhere
By Jeff Salamon

WHO ORGANIZED last Saturday’s demonstration? Nobody is owning up to the responsi­bility. Although leaflets were passed out in the days before the rally, no political group took credit for them. Neighborhood activists in­sist that the protest was a spontaneous response to gentrification and the newly enforced curfew.

“We were trying to show the power in numbers,” says John Potok, a self-described “revolutionary squatter” and one of four people arrested at the previous Satur­day’s near riot. Potok, who had a table outside of Tompkins Square Park to pass out political literature, says he doesn’t know who promoted the rally.

A number of people learned of the march during Jim Marshall’s Saturday af­ternoon show on WFMU. Marshall, a Voice contribu­tor and an East Village resi­dent, says that he had wit­nessed the tail end of the first demo and heard about the new action through neighborhood word of mouth. He thought a protest was a good idea and went on the air with it.

Frank Morales, a squatter activist controversial even among housing organizers, acknowledges that he hand­ed out leaflets announcing the demonstration but says he doesn’t know who print­ed them up.

Nine months ago, Mo­rales helped lead the now­-defunct Emergency Coali­tion Against Martial Law, which organized a rally in November that ended up in Washington Square Park. The coalition’s leaflet, enti­tled “Washington Square Park: The Police State Is Here,” shares an illustrated human figure with the leaflet that promoted the Tompkins Square Park pro­test. The leaflets also share similar targets: “At mid­night,” the Washington Square leaflet reads, “[the authorities] barricade the entrances and this once vi­brant and diverse neighbor­hood dies… They have spread their fascistic off­-the-streets policies to other open spaces as well, most re­cently beginning a similar crackdown in Tompkins Square Park.” ■


March for Our Lives Treads on Conservatives’ Toes

Saturday was the March for Our Lives, a set of demonstrations against the NRA and in favor of gun control, spearheaded by survivors of the February 14 gun massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Florida. The event was massive, drawing hundreds of thousands of supportive marchers across the country.

The conservative reaction to the march was similar to their reaction right after the shooting, when Stoneman Douglas kids like Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg faced down the NRA and its dogma. But this time the reaction was a little more amped up: While earlier the brethren had been combative, now their rage was barely coherent.

There was also some straight-up denial. Organizers and USA Today put attendance for the Washington, D.C., march at 800,000 — I was there and think that’s a good guess — but CBS reported it at 200,000, giving the Daily Caller’s Kerry Picket leave to proclaim attendance “Well Below Expected and Initial Reports.” “Attendance at Student March for Gun Control Less Than Half of Expected Crowd,” repeated Breitbart, and other right-wing sites carried the message, ignoring march attendance in dozens of other cities like New York (175,000), Los Angeles (40,000), Chicago (85,000), and Atlanta (30,000).

“There’s was nothing historic about the March for Our Lives,” insisted Samuel Gonzalez at the Last Tradition. “It’s just another one of many Lib marches that have come down the pike since the 60s” — you know, like MLK’s March on Washington and the Vietnam Moratorium: just some hippie bullshit.

Some pleaded for civility while visibly shaking with rage. The American Conservative’s Rod Dreher had vapors because David Hogg implied Senator Marco Rubio’s “price tag” had been met by the NRA. Imagine, saying a politician had been “bought” by a special interest! “That is the horrifying moment that the anti-gun movement lost the chance of ever winning me over,” tsked Dreher. (Spoiler: There was never any chance of winning Dreher over.) Then, to show how seriously he took his own civility argument, Dreher called Hogg a “disgusting little creep.”

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Some made an effort to play it cool with their adversaries, but lost their composure, usually after a few column inches.

Matt Vespa of TownHall started out conciliatory — “there are areas where gun control activists and the pro-Second Amendment camp can meet” — then turned premonitory: “But we’ll never get there. It’s all a trap.” Vespa cited as an example of gun-nut good faith “bills that strengthen the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS)” — an extremely feeble concession which Congressional Republicans aren’t serious about passing anyway — then professed outrage that Stoneman Douglas student Delaney Tarr said at the rally, “When they give us that inch, that bump stock ban, we will take a mile. We are not here for bread crumbs. We are here for real change.” And after everything they’d done for her!

“This is not just a fight over the Second Amendment,” Vespa warned People of the Gun; “after they’re done with the Second Amendment, the great progressive campaign to shred the Constitution of its institutional mechanisms that prevent mob rule through transient majorities will begin.” Transient majorities! Forbid it, almighty God!

Vespa bade his fellow trigger-ticklers “use their hate to motivate you; head to that voting precinct on 2018 and don’t check that box that reads ‘Democratic.’ ” When the Democrats lose the support of all those NRA members who’ve apparently been voting for them for some reason, they’ll know the People of the Gun are serious.

“It was more irritating than anything else,” began Vespa’s colleague Kevin McCullough, that if you merely criticized the Stoneman Douglas kids, “there was an immediate lashing out in response.” So uncivilized! But as he went on, McCullough couldn’t resist a little “lashing out” himself at the “uber-rich and hard-left celebrities” who were paying off these brats; he called Douglas spokesman David Hogg a “maniac, cursing vulgarity with hubris unchecked”; foamed over the “belligerent band of media hyped know-nothings”; and eventually accused the students of trying to “put more children (like mine) at greater risk in years to come.”

Finally McCullough pulled his ace: “Hogg reminded everyone on Saturday that the hashtag for their cause is #NotOneMore. He then cited 96 gun deaths per day in America (not just of kids but of gun users of all ages.) Meanwhile in abortion clinics across America each day.…”

Some scholarly types whipped out their pro-gun slide rules. “March for Our Lives: Gun control ideas sound good, but are deeply flawed and won’t save lives,” noted right-wing gun scholar and sock puppeteer John R. Lott assured Fox News readers. “Supporting gun control is now the ‘in thing,’ ” Lott actually wrote (the explanatory quotes may be an editor’s fault); though “stars such as Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus tweet their support,” Lott continued, it was all so much goldfish-swallowing, streaking, and rainbow-partying, because “only 47 percent of Americans between 13 and 17 believe that more gun control could reduce mass public shootings.” Of course other polls show that 67 percent of Americans want more gun control anyway, but never mind — Lott was willing to meet the kids halfway, or actually negative 100 percent of the way, advocating “more armed law enforcement officers and security guards in schools.”

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Others went for something a lot less reasonable.

At the Federalist, Stella Morabito had questions that she demanded “Mass Schooling Survivors Need to Answer Before Hyping Gun Control.” Morabito found kids getting shot to pieces less concerning than the menace of formal education — in previous columns Morabito said public school “promotes the semantic fog that allows for mind rape”; see also her “13 Ways Public Schools Incubate Mental Instability in Kids” and similar ravings.

This, explained Morabito, is why the mind-raped Stoneman Douglas kids allowed themselves to be “used as political pawns, marching in lockstep for an undebated opinion” — they had been warned, possibly via mind-rays, that they’d be “socially rejected” if they didn’t “conform to certain attitudes and behaviors,” which, you gotta admit, makes school radically different from any other area of American life. However, if the kids showed sufficient “mass conformity” to their schoolmasters by objecting to being stalked by heavily armed madmen, they would be rewarded with “glossy cover stories” and “celebrity status.” Why else would they protest?

Morabito fired off a number of questions for the kids, like “Do you see signs of relational aggression in your school?” (by the time they look it up, she’s left with their lunch money!) and “Do you know the difference between a developed personality and a persona?” before the men in the white coats stuffed her into a waiting van.

Morabito wasn’t the only one who smelled lefty conspiracy — nor even, and it surprises me to say this, the craziest. “The Left’s move to now intimidate, marginalize, dehumanize, and shame anyone who disagrees with them on this issue is Groundhog Day for every totalitarian regime in history,” frothed Nina May at Laura Ingraham’s LifeZette. “In Nazi Germany, it was Jewish people who were marginalized and forced to wear yellow armbands of shame — and ridiculed for their ‘despicable’ crime of being who they were and not something else.” Similarly, Emma Gonzales might not take a gun nut to prom. It’s 1933 all over again!

You’ll be hearing a lot more of this kind of thing from the brethren — more Hitler Gun Control stories, more unconvincing statistics, more savage denunciations of the Douglas Stoneman kids, as well as more “haw, you called a magazine a clip!” and other variants of gun-nut palaver. That’s because the pressure to come up with something more than thoughts and prayers on gun violence is, despite their fervent wishes, not going away, and eventually it’s going to sink in with the guys that, in order to keep the NRA cash flowing, they’ve bargained away the youth vote for at least a generation — and, unlike with LBJ and the Civil Rights Act, history won’t be kind to their bargain.

Protest Archives THE FRONT ARCHIVES Violence

‘The Adults Failed Us’

“The adults failed us and now seventeen people are dead,” said Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School junior Meghan Bonner from a podium on Central Park West on Saturday morning.

On February 14, Bonner had hidden in her classroom in Parkland, Florida, while shots rang out in the hallways outside. “Kids I saw every day from elementary school to high school are never going to live the life I have the privilege of living,” Bonner told the gathered crowd on Saturday. “This will never leave me.”

As part of a nationwide day of March for Our Lives actions organized in the wake of last month’s shootings in Parkland, close to 200,000 students and adults marched from Central Park West to midtown on Saturday to warn politicians that the nation’s youngest voters will not tolerate a pro-gun agenda. Protestors demanded universal background checks, raising the minimum age for gun purchases to 21, and banning assault weapons and bump stocks.

“Politicians first of all need to listen and not undercut us because of our age,” said 18-year-old Emma Brownstein, a senior at Bard High School Early College Queens in Long Island City.

“You don’t need to shoot thirty shots per second to kill a deer, if that’s the reason you have a gun,” added her friend and classmate Anais Fallait, 17. “There’s no reason to have a killing machine like that.”

Teachers also derided a GOP proposal endorsed by President Trump to arm teachers in classrooms. “From my perspective as a government teacher, a weapon is not civic engagement,” said Erik Branman, 46, who teaches at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Performing Arts in Manhattan. “I feel very strongly that my job as an educator is to educate, not to shoot or kill anyone for any reason.”

High school students marched alongside adult survivors of other mass shootings, and their allies: Gays Against Guns, who fought for gun control in the wake of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, in June 2016; survivors of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December 2012 and the Route 91 Harvest music festival shooting in Las Vegas last October. Since the Columbine High School shootings in 1999, the Washington Post recently found, more than 187,000 U.S. students have directly experienced a shooting at their schools.

“I had hoped that the deaths of twenty six-year-old children and six of my co-workers would have been enough for my country to decide that something needed to change, but it wasn’t,” said Sandy Hook survivor and teacher Mary Ann Jacob. Now, though, she said, “the ripple effects of every mass shooting are becoming so widespread that those ripples are beginning to touch each other.”

March for Our Lives demonstrators shouted demands for an end to gun violence and school shootings in Manhattan Saturday.

Throughout the day, volunteers weaved through the crowd registering young people to vote. Among the new voters was Angelique Torres, an 18-year-old senior at the Bronx School of Government and Justice, who carried a sign that read “I Should Be Writing My College Essay, Not My Will!” She said the shooting in Parkland has turned her into an activist.

“My school made it their obligation to get involved and just to help other kids in the school understand the severity of what’s been going on,” Torres said. “We just need to voice our opinion a lot more. All of the incidents that have occurred brought everybody together to just, you know, make Congress understand that this is a problem.”

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But some teenagers were more cautious with their optimism, even as aerial shots of hundreds of thousands of marchers flooded Twitter from across the country. An 18-year-old who gave his name as X marched down Fifth Avenue carrying a yellow sign with a picture of Stephon Clark, a 22-year-old black man from Sacramento, California. “Black & Brown People Fight for Our Lives Against Racist Police Terror!” it read. “Disarm the Police!” Two police officers fatally shot Clark twenty times in his grandmother’s backyard on March 18. They later testified that they believed Clark was holding a gun; it was actually a white iPhone.

“Police is out here killing people,” X told the Voice. “Especially black lives. They need to chill with the guns and shit.” So far this year, 244 civilians have been fatally shot by police in the United States, twelve fewer than this time last year. X added that he’s not sure if the march will help his message reach politicians. “I don’t know,” he said. “We’ll see at the end.”

Angelique, a senior from the Bronx, said she registered to vote the morning of the march.

A few hours earlier, Samirah Nizam-Poon had leaned on a barrier at Central Park West holding a sign with two bright-red dripping handprints and the words “Am I Next?” in block letters. She and her friend Donna Gobie, both 16-year-old juniors at Forest Hills High School in Queens, said their school went into lockdown for several hours on March 15, one day after their school-wide walkout in solidarity with Parkland students. Someone had written a note on a desk about shooting up the school.

“They basically told teachers to lock the doors but keep class going,” Nizam-Poon said. “It made me feel scared. I was like, should I text my mom? Should I tell her what’s going on?”

No one ultimately fired a gun, but the experience left Gobie feeling anxious. “You hear about these proposals from politicians but do you really see anything happening?” she said. “You don’t see anything happening.”

Nizam-Poon added that she was frustrated when the school held a meeting to debrief parents on the lockdown, but not students. “We want change,” she said. “And change starts with us.”

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Scenes From the March for Our Lives


New York to Trump: Grab Him by the Midterms!

While our Nazi-coddling reality TV producer–in-chief marked his one-year anniversary as POTUS by shutting down the U.S. government (and ineffectively trolling protestors), New Yorkers took to the streets on Saturday to show our continued resistance on the anniversary of the single largest day of political protest in U.S. history.

New York’s massive turnout of 200,000 women’s marchers (along with 500,000 in Los Angeles, 300,000 in Chicago, 100,000 in San Francisco, and many thousands more in Washington, D.C; Austin, Texas; Denver; Philadelphia; Seattle; Oakland, California; St. Louis; Park City, Utah; Charlotte, North Carolina; and even Palm Beach, Florida, home to Mar-a-Lago) was tinged with women’s anger, humor, and resilience. “New York hates Trump, he was stuck to the bottom of our shoes first,” declared one sign, punctuated by a poop emoji. “Fuck you, you fucking fuck,” blared another.

Near the front of the march, the woman’s drumline FogoAzul NYC lent samba and reggae rhythms and an infectious energy, while white, Black, Latina, and Asian protestors shouted “Dump Trump!” to the beat as they passed Trump Tower. Women in wheelchairs participated alongside dancers. Men showed up in support of gender justice, holding babies on their shoulders. Children in Wonder Woman costumes and “Boys will be boys good humans” shirts carried posters announcing, “In 11 years I vote!” and “The future will be nonbinary,” while grandmothers in their eighties and nineties expressed disgust that they still had to be out in the streets advocating for reproductive justice, freedom from sexual violence, and equal pay. Young women marched for an intersectional platform, including gender and racial justice, trans rights, protection for immigrants, and an end to poverty and wealth inequality. A “Please note the lack of Nazis at our marches” sign made clear which side of history we were on.

Protesters’ experiences were heavily shaped by when they were able to arrive. The front and middle of the march were reportedly loud, boisterous, and full of life. The latter half was…less so. Folks who (like me) got screwed by the MTA and showed up only a half an hour early not only missed the rally, we ended up in a crush of humanity barricaded into Giuliani-style “protest pens,” waiting endlessly to be allowed to get on with it. Lacking drummers for energy or speeches for inspiration, marchers toward the back made a quieter procession, though a few folks with cowbells added levity, and a handful of unique chants bubbled up, including, “We need a leader, not a creepy tweeter!,” “The people are sick! The people are tired! We the people say, ‘You’re fired!’,” and my own offering: “Racist, sexist, narcissist! We have had enough of this!” Mostly, though, the back of the march felt a little less like a disruptive revolution than a chill stroll with 25,000 of your closest friends.

Regardless of where we lined up, New Yorkers made spectacular use of visuals. There were Handmaid’s Tale outfits, a giant cardboard penis asking, “Why are the Republicans such dicks??,” a cartoon of Trump in a crown and sash as the winner of the Miss Ogyny pageant, the Hamilton logo and quote “Immigrants, we get the job done,” and someone who spent the entire march inside a huge dinosaur costume, declaring, “Patriarchy should have gone extinct.”

Anti-Trump sentiment was a unifying force, of course, but the issues motivating us were as varied as the marchers ourselves. Holding my camera up as high as I could and snapping a random crowd shot resulted in a heartening array of posters supporting clinic access, Black Lives Matter, trans rights, Dreamers, a Martin Luther King Jr. quote critiquing capitalism, and a promise that “feminism includes all genders, all races, all sexualities, and all abilities” (a crucial reminder to white women who insisted on wearing the contentious pink “pussy hats” despite being seen by some women of color and trans women as a symbol of exclusion at last year’s marches). There was a sizable #MeToo and #TimesUp presence, and classic feminist hot takes such as “If my uterus shot bullets it would be less regulated.” Some used Trump’s vitriol against him, stating, “The news is real, the president is fake,” and demanding we “make America not racist for the first time.” Approaches ranged from devastating specificity, as in this list of scourges affecting our “shithole country,” from racist militarized police and attacks on press freedom to daily mass shootings, toxic water, and a broken healthcare system, to just plain fed up (“Boy bye!,” “It’s not okay!” and “I know, I know, I am such a bitch!”). One Broadway fan rewrote Rent lyrics in homage to Trump’s “525,600 tweets.” Quotes from Audre Lorde, Shirley Chisholm, and Malala Yousafzai appeared alongside quips from comedians Samantha Bee and Hari Kondabolu.

Notably, New York feminists stared down 2017’s horrors with humor and creativity. Responding to reports that Trump once asked a porn star to spank him with a copy of a magazine featuring himself and daughter Ivanka on the cover: “I guarantee that Forbes magazine did not give consent.” Questioning the new normal: “This episode of Black Mirror SUCKS.” Challenging the hypocrisy of Trump’s fundamentalist base: “What would Jesus do? Probably not Stormy Daniels.” Evaluating the corporate cronies appointed to dismantle the departments they now lead: “Ikea has better Cabinets.” Mocking the fact that Trump speaks at a fourth-grade level: “I know signs. I make the best signs. They’re terrific. Everyone agrees.” And hitting the president right in his spray-tanned vanity: “Learn how to blend your concealer.”

This mammoth show of progressive force in New York and around the country proves that, as Lin-Manuel Miranda might remind us, this is not a moment — it’s a movement. One that has the power to “Grab him by the midterms.”


Scenes From NYC’s May Day: “The System Is What Brought You Trump”

Text by Nick Pinto. All photos by Jessica Lehrman, except where noted.

Because May Day holds special significance for labor unions, the immigrant rights movement, and socialists, communists, and anarchists of all stripes, it is tempting to treat its observation in New York City as an annual glimpse of the state of health of the city’s often Balkanized left. Given the upwelling of opposition to President Trump, one might have expected this to be a banner year for May Day’s festival of dissidence, but in most respects, that wasn’t the case; turnout for the day’s march didn’t come close to the tens of thousands who mobilized five years ago, and the coordination between the left’s various splintered factions that marked that year’s parade was largely absent.

The morning’s events included a picket outside B & H Photo on Eighth Avenue near 34th Street to protest the company’s plans to relocate its warehouse operations and some 300 jobs from Brooklyn to South Jersey. The B & H workers have been demonstrating outside the store regularly for months, but yesterday, their ranks were swollen by May Day participants, including United Auto Workers, Communication Workers of America, CUNY students, and members of the Democratic Socialists of America. As press thronged the picket, Mike McKeen, a spokesman for B & H, tried to buttonhole reporters to get the company’s side out. Workers’ outrage at the move was either disingenuous or misinformed, McKeen said. The company’s warehouse lease in the Navy Yard is up, and can’t be renewed, and the state of New York real estate being what it is, B & H had no choice but to look further afield for warehouse space. The company has given employees generous notice of the move, and every current employee is guaranteed a position at the new location.

Rosanna Rodriguez, co-executive director of the Laundry Workers Center, which helped the warehouse employees unionize, finds this gloss on the situation hard to swallow. “This is union-busting,” she said. “They are definitely moving the warehouse to try to break the union.” Telling the warehouse workers —who already work long hours — that they can keep their jobs if they’re willing to commute two hours each way to work is an empty offer, she said. “This is a dirty tactic.”

Across town, outside the New York Public Library, a group of demonstrators organized into color-coded squads agitating for animal rights, student rights, immigrant rights, indigenous rights, and the movement for black lives found their demonstration quickly interrupted by police, who used an LRAD device to inform them that they were in violation of a state law from 1845 that forbids more than two people in a public place to wear masks at the same time.

The group began a meandering march through Midtown, trailing a robust escort of police, including officers on bicycles and motor-scooters, as well as representatives from the Strategic Response Group, the Technical Assistance Response Unit, the Disorder Control Unit, and the NYPD legal bureau. Police arrested at least three people in the course of the march.

Downtown, in Washington Square Park, immigrant rights and labor groups kicked off a tour of New York businesses where immigrant workers are organizing. A few blocks away, In Union Square, immigrant rights groups, anarchists, and various communist factions enjoyed the good weather. The Revolutionary Communist Party erected a booth touting the published works of Bob Avakian next to the corner generally occupied by Hari Krishnas.

James Lane, a Green Party candidate for congress in Staten Island, noted that the day’s events, which encourage a systematic analysis of social and economic problems, wasn’t drawing the same numbers as the protests that marked the early days of the Trump Presidency. “The system is what brought you Trump,” he said. “But when you have a May Day event, people don’t seem to come out the same way.”

Around 1:30, a group of rightists and Trump supporters, including members of the Proud Boys and Latinos for Trump, arrived in Union Square, decked out in riot helmets and body armor. Anti-fascists in the square promptly moved to eject the provocateurs, leading to a skirmish that culminated with someone discharging a fire-extinguisher, dusting everyone in the area with retardant powder. Police intervened, and eventually persuaded the Trumpists to resettle in a fenced-off area across the street, from which perch they brandished a Gadsden Flag and hurled insults at the leftist. “Speak English! They yelled when a group of Puerto Rican nationalists arrived in the park.

Max Hare, a 25-year-old New Jersey native who works at the Port Authority and recently joined the Proud Boys, “because I wanted more intellectual people in my life,” insisted the group aren’t Nazis, but merely Western chauvinists. “We believe the west is the best, and the free market is more fair than any other system there is,” he said. “

The disparate parties celebrating May Day finally came together late in the afternoon, as immigrant groups and unions mustered in Union Square, joining the far left groups before everybody marched south towards Foley Square in Lower Manhattan.

A conspicuously large portion of the march was made up of members of the Democratic Socialists of America, whose New York chapters have more than doubled in size since Trump’s election, drawing a mix of radicals looking for an organizational vehicle and liberals disenchanted with the Democratic Party.

When the anarchist bloc chanted “This! Is! Class! War! Eat the rich! Feed the poor!”, the chant was taken up by the adjacent DSA marchers. When the anarchists chanted “Fuck the police!”, nearby DSA members laughed nervously.

Police held the march up near 8th street, and many of the anarchist marchers, already skeptical of joining such a tightly regimented march formation, spontaneously veered out of the march, pursued by members of the NYPD’s Strategic Response Group through Washington Square. Police repeatedly used a portable LRAD to broadcast an announcement that the wearing of masks while part of a group is against the law, and ordering the demonstrators to remove any masks they were making. Officers tackled and arrested at least five people before the group left the park and turned south to rejoin the main march.

By the time the protesters made it through the cattle chutes of police barricades and into Foley Square, it was beginning to get dark. A giant sound system blasted the performances of musicians on a permitted stage, but most participants appeared to have had their fill, and the crowds soon dissipated.


Saturday: March For Science While We Still Exist

Tomorrow is Earth Day and, around the globe, supporters of science — including scientists, politicians, and average citizens — will take to the streets in order to defend the planet they rest on.

The March for Science will take shape in the form of more than 500 demonstrations in every corner of the world, from Hawaii to Finland, from Alaska to Uganda to, of course, New York City. The main event will be held in Washington, D.C., where organizers hope to blanket the nation’s capital with demands that the government fund, support, and rely on scientific research to make important policy decisions that impact not just Americans but people worldwide.

This latest iteration of what has become a season of large-scale political protest comes as the Trump administration continues to lean into its disregard for demonstrable, widely accepted research. But organizers say characterizations of the march as partisan and left-leaning are inaccurate.

“The reason we advocate for research to inform policy is because the scientific method exists to try to reduce biased interpretations of the world,” said Caroline Weinberg, one of the march’s organizers, in an interview with Scientific American. The march has been criticized by some for its overt entrance into what some consider a politically charged debate. “Science works to give you answers that transcend partisanship — and so everyone should be behind it. Painting science as specific to one party is how we ended up in this situation,” she said.

Despite the agnosticism of the scientific method, the field has long been necessarily partisan, even more so as the Trump administration has demonstrated its dangerous indifference to research, beginning with the president’s sordid love affair with the coal industry (which will kill us all) and the miners to whom he’s promised jobs that aren’t coming back. Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency who spent much of his career suing the agency he now leads, continues to question humans’ role in climate change and has characterized a cleanup of Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay as “federal overreach.” And he has staffed his office with like-minded folks such as Steven Milloy, who called the EPA finding that greenhouse gases are hazardous to human health “the original climate sin.”

Early in his tenure, Pruitt rejected the findings of his own agency that had, in 2016, led to the recommendation that the EPA ban a commonly used pesticide that causes neurological damage to children who are exposed to it in utero. Dow Chemical, a primary manufacturer of the pesticide, gave $1 million to Trump’s inauguration committee, and its CEO leads a presidential advisory committee. Trump has proposed major cuts to the EPA’s budget, signed an executive order eliminating former president Barack Obama’s Climate Action Plan, and threatened to pull out of the Paris Agreement on climate change. And while Trump makes frequent visits to Mar-a-Lago, 70 or so miles north of Miami Beach, which is literally drowning, his associates in Congress are providing handy assists.

Trump’s attacks on science often begin with the environment, but they don’t end there: He has suggested that data scientists at the Bureau of Labor Statistics aren’t to be trusted, rejects data that shows the wide array of health services other than abortion that make up the majority of Planned Parenthood’s offerings, and undermined the Congressional Budget Office’s findings that the Republican health care bill would spell disaster for Americans.

The New York rally will begin at Central Park West at 62nd Street at 10:30 on Saturday morning. The march, which starts at 11:30, will encompass Central Park West from 72nd Street through Columbus Circle, from where it will head onto Broadway and finish at 52nd Street. Dress for the weather, attach your signs to soft handles (no metal or wood — these are considered weapons by the NYPD), and think green: Bring reusable mugs and water bottles for breaks and take mass transit, carry your trash with you, and don’t ditch your signs in the street, recycle them.


Spot Check: The Ides of April

1 P.M. Bryant Park, Manhattan.

In a month dominated by military action in the Middle East, murky entanglements with Russia, and infighting at the White House, the topic of paperwork doesn’t make for the most scintillating of headlines. But on Saturday, some 45,000 people gathered near Bryant Park to call for the release of President Donald Trump’s tax returns: documents critics see as a smoking gun for fraud, deceit, and conflict of interest within the administration. Though Trump had previously promised to make his tax returns public, and MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow was able, in March, to obtain a single 1040 form from 2005, so far the former businessman has failed to follow a norm established by President Gerald Ford in the 1970s.

Planned for April 15, the typical deadline for submitting federal tax returns, the Tax March drew tens of thousands of demonstrators across the U.S. In New York, the protest was less about the president’s financial dealings and more an airing of grievances over the sexism, xenophobia, and secrecy that’s been associated with the Trump administration since the campaign. Holding signs that read “Grab Him by the Taxes” and “Show Me the Money,” the crowd made its main objective clear: transparency within the country’s highest office.

Text by Jackson Connor; photography by Luc Kordas for the Village Voice.


Striking NYC Cable Workers Say They Are Up Against “The 99 Million Dollar Man”

Ava Collesso, 58, is among the 1,800 warehouse workers, dispatchers, service technicians, and fiber optic specialists currently striking against Charter Spectrum, as Time Warner Cable is now called after its recent acquisition by onetime rival Charter Communications.

“They’re trying to break us but it ain’t gonna happen. It’s definitely not going to happen,” she told the Voice outside Spectrum’s Greenpoint facility, where the company stores a fleet of its vehicles and where 700 of the striking workers are ordinarily employed. “Not on my clock. Not on Ava Collesso’s clock.”

Charter’s CEO, Tom Rutledge, was paid $98.5 million last year, making him the highest paid CEO in America. Rutledge makes twice as much as the next-highest-paid CEO, Estee Lauder’s Fabrizio Freda, who made $48.4 million in 2016, according to Money magazine.

“Rutledge is the 99 million dollar man,” says Derek Jordan, a spokesperson for the union that represents the technicians, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 3. “He profited last year off our workers’ backs. Now he’s going after the benefits that we fought hard for for years.”

Jordan told the Voice that since 2013, first Time Warner Cable and now Charter refused to bargain with the union, despite multiple legal agreements with the city of New York requiring it to do just that: recognize the union and negotiate. “Their proposals are all givebacks,” Jordan said, referring to the contract concessions demanded by the company. “We’re willing to sit down with Spectrum and negotiate, but they have to come with something decent. We want to maintain the benefits we fought for and move forward.”

A spokesperson for Spectrum, John J. Bonomo, said that the company was offering “our field technicians a pay increase larger than the union has demanded, along with competitive and robust healthcare and retirement benefits.” He also said that Spectrum has been “abiding by the details” of a ratified but unexecuted contract the union negotiated with Time Warner in 2013.

Spectrum’s Greenpoint facility, where the company stores a fleet of its vehicles
Spectrum’s Greenpoint facility, where the company stores a fleet of its vehicles

The strike started at dawn on March 28 and has since featured picket lines at Spectrum facilities throughout Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and Bergen County, New Jersey.

On Tuesday, when this reporter visited the Greenpoint picket line, scores of workers wearing protest signs and bright orange IBEW hats were walking up and down the street in front of the facility. A lone police officer sat in a marked patrol car. Across the street, union financial officers handed out strike paychecks to workers. Whenever a Spectrum vehicle drove past with a replacement worker at the wheel, strikers yelled, “Scab!”

Francesco Camporese, 29, of Brooklyn, was walking the picket line. He said the main reason for the strike is that Spectrum seeks “to take everything away that the unions got for us.”

Anthony Grella, 33, of Queens, another striking Spectrum worker, told us, “They want to cut our health benefits. They want to reduce or eliminate our pension plan. And they want to change our contract to allow them to subcontract all the work we do and lay us off, so they won’t have to pay city income tax.”

To Camporese and other strikers, the replacement workers were a source of scorn.

“They’re not even supposed to be here,” Camporese said, referring to a binding legal agreement between the city and Spectrum that, union members say, requires the company to employ New Yorkers. But, they say, Spectrum is bringing in workers from other states, including California, Florida, Illinois, Texas, and North Carolina.

Jordan, the Local 3 spokesperson, said, “Now, because of the strike, they’re bringing in people from everywhere. They’re out-of-state contractors. They go wherever the money is.”

“We reached out to the mayor’s office” for help, Jordan added. “The message is that we have the mayor’s support, but we don’t know yet what he’s going to do.”

The franchise agreements between Spectrum and the city, which Spectrum needs to operate, function as a fulcrum of administrative power that the city could use to force Spectrum into negotiations, and perhaps to even shape the company’s negotiating position with the union, but the city has yet to actuate its authority under the agreements.

The city bureau charged with administering the agreements is the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT). The Voice asked DoITT’s assistant commissioner for communications and external affairs, Kate Blumm, whether the agreements prohibited the use of out-of-state workers and, if so, why the city hadn’t enforced them against Spectrum.

Blumm said that, according to DoITT’s lawyers, the agreement requires Spectrum to draft a plan to hire local workers, but it doesn’t mandate the hiring itself. Because of this, she said, the agreement does not categorically bar the employment of out-of-state workers.

However, when asked if a plan had actually been drafted by Spectrum or its predecessor, Time Warner, Blumm declined to provide an answer, much less a copy of the actual plan, which the Voice also asked to review.
Blumm did say, however, that “the city’s Franchise Agreement with Charter allows for collective bargaining by workers. We support the exercise of that provision and hope for a swift conclusion that’s fair to the hardworking New Yorkers that help power this company.”


Seven Arrested At “No U.S. Bombs On Syria” Protest

Over a hundred protestors gathered on the southern steps of Union Square Park last night to express their anger and disgust over President Trump’s decision to launch nearly sixty missiles into Syria on Thursday and, more generally, the destruction wrought by the actions of the American government.

After an hour or so of speakers and chanting in Union Square, the rally stepped off for a march, supposedly to Federal Hall. But instead of going down Broadway, the crowd took to the streets and headed up Park Avenue South, blocking traffic and attempting to shake their NYPD escorts as they wound around Gramercy Park.

The police blasted warnings over an LRAD and created scooter barricades, but they mostly kept their distance until the march arrived at Madison Square Park, where suddenly the officers charged the crowd and began arresting protestors, sometimes violently throwing them to the ground.

An NYPD spokesperson said that seven protesters were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct.

After the arrests, the march fizzled out.