By SUSAN LIPPMAN
On Thursday, September 25, hundreds of New Yorkers gathered on Cherry Street in the Lower East Side, then marched to City Hall, for a demonstration against gentrification. The protest began at 227 Cherry Street, where a very popular Pathmark supermarket was destroyed. A 72-story luxury monstrosity is slated to be built very near that site, at 250 South Street.
The Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side organized the event in order to protest what they describe as blatantly racist housing policies, noting that the whiter, wealthier East Village was down-zoned, so that developers of luxury housing cannot construct towers to be high-rise luxury housing in that nearby part of town.
At Thursday's demonstration, the protesters demanded the same protections that were offered to the East Villagers, namely, rezoning to protect the entire community from predatory developers, like Extell Development Company, the one that is planning to build housing for the rich on the site of the former Pathmark. The community is united in opposition against the Extell tower. At the protest, activists held up signs in English, Spanish, and Chinese, signifying the diversity amongst the residents opposed to the Extell tower. The city government claims that the community called from the passage of the proposed Extell tower, which the activists denied.
People of all ages and ethnicities joined the protest. Many folks from various neighborhoods and boroughs, all of which are being threatened with gentrification and its concomitant displacement of long-term tenants and small, mom-and-pop businesses, spoke out loudly and clearly, not only against the predatory developers, but also the politicians, especially Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-New York), who are supporting plans to mercilessly displace tenants and small businesses and replace them with luxury housing and upscale businesses, despite Mayor de Blasio's promise to build affordable housing, which just about everyone knows is not really affordable, and that he and other politicians are doing all they can to turn New York City into a haven for the rich, thereby increasing homelessness and forcing people to leave town or double or triple up in tiny spaces. Small Mom and Pop stores are also rapidly disappearing.
The Coalition is demanding that the Working Group Rezoning Plan be passed, noting that the city government refused by saying that the plan was "too ambitious." Why, asked the Coalition, was a similar plan not too ambitious for the richer, whiter part of town. It's clearly classist and racist, the activists claimed at Thursday's protest.
Indeed, were the rezoning plan put in place, luxury and private developers would not be able to build market-rate apartments. The rezoning plan would also prevent the city from selling the public housing developments of the New York City Housing Authority to private developers.
At Thursday's protest, the activists asked, "Where is Margaret Chin ?" Ms. Chin is the New York City Councilmember, who"represents" the Lower East Side and Chinatown in the municipal legislative body that has final authority over land use matters.
Activists also chanted : "Lower East Side, Not For Sale" and "Chinatown, Not for Sale."
A 96-year-old African-American woman, who is being threatened with eviction, spoke out loudly and clearly against the Extell tower. Students from Seward Park High School also spoke at the demonstration and recited political verse. Alicia Boyd, founder of the Movement to Protect the People in Brooklyn, spoke out as well, reminding people that luxury equals displacement.
Activists were visibly angry and willing to take frequent and militant action to reverse the citywide trend of building luxury housing, hotels, and fancy restaurants and bars, despite almost universal community opposition.
The Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side, the group that organized the march and rally, attempted to present a letter from the community to the Mayor's Office. However, activists representing the Coalition were turned away and not allowed to present the letter.
The Coalition also wrote an impassioned letter to Pope Francis and invited him to attend the march and rally. Here is an excerpt from that letter :
Your holiness, We need your help. Please tell the mayor to stop financing luxury developers to push us out of the community we've built.
There will be a follow-up march against displacement on October 28, which will commence again at 227 Cherry Street, the former site of the Pathmark supermarket. Once again, everyone will march to City Hall.