By SUSAN LIPPMAN
While Mayor Bill de Blasio gave his State of the City address at the Performing Arts Center at Lehman College in The Bronx on Thursday evening, a few hundred people protested outside the venue.
Activists were outraged by Mayor de Blasio's refusal to allow the public to enter to hear the speech and to express their concerns. Prior to the State of the City speech, it was reported by The Wall Street Journal that Mayor de Blasio was asking for only his political supporters to be allowed entry to the Performing Arts Center.
There was also outrage amongst the protesters regarding Mayor de Blasio's so-called affordable housing plan, which the activists called an "affordability scam."
The crowd of activists was quite diverse. There were people there from all over the city. The young, the old, the black, the white, the Latinos and the Asians were all there. Many were members or supporters of various organizations throughout the city, all fighting the gentrification of virtually every neighborhood in New York, affecting all but the rich, but especially devastating for low-income Blacks, Latinos, and Asians. Some of the placards read, "I make $30,000 a year. I cannot afford your ‘affordable housing,’" and "de Blasio has a Latino problem.”
People chanted, "Hey, hey,ho, ho, de Blasio has got to go," and, "Lower East Side, not for sale, South Bronx, not for sale, Harlem, not for sale, Bed-sty, not for sale," and so on.
Representatives of various organizations spoke out.
Amongst the speakers were : Alicia Boyd, founder of the Brooklyn-based Movement to Protect the People (MTOPP). She distributed flyers, which explained why Mayor de Blasio's so-called affordability plan is beyond the reach of most New Yorkers.
It read, in part, :
- Mayor deBlasio's Affordable Plan in Action!
- 80% of affordable housing for (annual incomes of) $82,903-192,970.
- No affordable housing for (annual incomes of) $0-$25,900 and $42, 151 -$69,050
- 4% of affordable housing for (annual incomes of) $34, 520-$43,150.
Another speaker, Nellie Bailey of the Harlem Tenants Council, explained that since Columbia University has encroached on the Harlem community, rents have gone up 90%, and small pop and bom businesses have been replaced by corporate behemoths.
There was a speaker representing Chinatown, opposing the development of monstrous luxury housing in their communities, while pointing out that Mayor de Blasio’s zoning policies largely protect the wealthier and whiter parts of the Lower East Side from upzoning.
Another speaker and community organizer spoke about police harassment of New York City Housing Authority tenants, especially young men, who often are arrested for trespassing and other frivolous charges, simply for hanging out right outside of the buildings in which they live, thereby threatening the housing of their families. People with arrest records can be thrown out of public housing.
The speaker explained that "stop and frisk" is alive and well in New York in communities of color, despite Mayor de Blasio's claims to the contrary.
Another activist spoke of the need to protect community gardens from the depredations of developers, who often bulldoze open gardens and build luxury units in their stead. He explained how important community gardens are, and how they are effective poverty reducers.
The community garden activists said that in these times many people spend more than half of their income on rent. If gardens were available, tenants could eat and cook for their family from the produce grown in the gardens, thereby often eliminating the need to choose between food and rent.
A representative from Brooklyn Anti-Gentrification Network (BAN) also spoke out, indicating that people are organizing and will no longer tolerate the destruction of their communities by wealthy real estate developers.
The activists emphasized the fact that the real estate industry essentially controls the politics of our city, and that has to change.
Although there was universal agreement that the situation is dire, there was also a sense of hope, because various groups throughout the city are joining together in coalitions to defeat the developers and to take back our city.
One of the protest organizing groups, BAN, also led an online Twitter campaign using the hashtag #ThePeoplesResponse. Some of the activists' tweets accompanied the Mayor's Office's approved hashtag, #OurCity, and served to interrupt the mayor's online messaging with activists' protest statements.