Category Archives: nonfiction

May Day 2014 – NYC

Free University in Madison Square Park. Five or six classes going on at the same time in various locations on various benches marked with a flag labeled ‘A’ or ‘B’ and so on. We attend ‘Student Activism at CCNY in the 1930s: Lessons for Today’ with former student activist Carol from the Professional Staff Congress at City University of New York (PSC-CUNY). Carol has archived many fascinating images and stories on the Virtual New York City website.

               Carol spoke about the many large student actions through the 1930s, many of which were the first such actions by students in the country. She spoke about the National Student League which formed in 1931. Over the hour that Carol spoke she painted a vivid portrait of a time of great activism and public awareness of public problems and the role of the government in purposefully carrying out actions and policies that hurt people. She spoke of CUNY’s President Frederick B. Robinson, who persecuted students for political beliefs and expressions without relent, and among many repressive actions invited an official delegation of Italian fascist students representing Mussolini to honor the fascists on October 9, 1934. At the assembly with the Italian fascists the student audience rebelled and made their displeasure heard and felt; a fist-fight broke out on the stage; another couple dozen students were expelled, not unusual for Robinson’s administration. One expelled student, late in his life, had told Carol that ‘that was the best day of my life.’

               One of the audience members spoke of how during lulls in activism, like the last forty years, activists still need to struggle and to present to the world possibilities for changes that could be made, to keep the radical imagination alive in public consciousness.


In Union Square there were thousands assembled and assembling. A large portion of them were immigration activists advocating ‘ICE Free NYC’ and ‘Legalization for all’ and ‘Stop the Deportations.’ Elsewhere in the park were Occupy folks, Nestora Salgado activists, anti-charter school people, $15 minimum wage activists, Hammer & Sickle flags, Bob Avakian’s RevCom members…


On Broadway we saw the myriad horns that must be the Rude Mechanical Orchestra and followed them and hundreds of others to The Children’s Place, where activists used the People’s Mic to talk about how The Children’s Place brand clothing was one of the main brands made at the Rana Plaza factory that collapsed in ‘the deadliest disaster in the history of the global garment industry.’ The People’s Mic said that they had visited the home of The Children’s Place CEO, Jane Elfers, to deliver their demand that the company pay compensation to the families of the workers killed in the collapse – 1,138 people, and 2,500 were injured. So they decided to deliver their demand to a store location of The Children’s Place, the one on Broadway & 16th St.

               A few activists went into the store, followed by a stream of police. Out on the sidewalk we all chanted ‘From Bangladesh to NYC / Worker solidarity!’ before they emerged from the store and we crossed over into the northern end of the park to end the tour. The action was the end of the Immigrant Worker Justice Tour organized by Immigrants Occupy NYC.



The marches left from the south end of the park. We intended to march with those heading west on 14th St. who intended to stop at various fast food places and show support and solidarity with the workers inside. But somehow we ended up in the march going east on 14th St. then south town 1st and over to 2nd and finally down to Foley Sq. A permitted and heavily police monitored march. Police on their police-dirtbikes (or whatever they are) lining the outside of the march between marchers and traffic; police at every street directing traffic; police on foot in the street and on the sidewalks; police in a suit played the part usually played by march organizers by instructing us to not get separated and move along which of course made us not want to do that; police everywhere looking like they wanted the march to end as soon as possible so they could go home. To be so heavily surveilled and monitored for expressing political ideas gives the impression that the marchers are the ones who commit the most violence and harm in the society. What protester ever shot Kimani Grey? What protester ever invaded Vietnam? What protester ever dropped an atom bomb?



The news on May Day always has actions in countries like Thailand and Venezuela and India that make a march in NYC look like a power-sanctioned park-walk. But the marchers showed up. Made beautiful inspiring artwork to express the often repressed and oppressed and intangible longings for self-determination and equality: posters, signs, sculptures, banners, costumes. And of course the endless newspapers and flyers and leaflets; and the music of percussion everywhere, as well as a Rara band. On the brink of environmental destruction, ever-present nuclear catastrophe, the millions of deportations, the drones, they’ve got a weekly kill list meeting for Christ’s sakes – how could one not want to get out and try to do something to get involved on the good side of things? On May Day I love everyone as I do every day, but I love those who can and do decide to come out just a little more because they are here with me, trying to do something to make something better. The best of May Day comes the next day and the days after when the people who marched and the people who saw the march get together and organize something worth celebrating.




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Waste & Sacrifice

$1.2 billion in ammunition will be wasted by the military. ‘Wasted’ is not the correct word. It is their word. Those were bullets meant for the Godless bodies of the enemy. ‘Wasted’ would not be our word. Perhaps ‘sacrificed’ would be our word. Sacrificed to Molech. Sacrificed to the opposite of labor’s purpose and promise of improving ourselves and others. Sacrificed so that it might not be spent on empowering things for people.

From Orwell’s 1984:

The essential act of war is destruction, not necessarily of human lives, but of the products of human labor. War is a way of shattering to pieces, of pouring into the stratosphere, or sinking in the depths of the sea, materials which might otherwise be used to make the masses too comfortable, and hence, in the long run, too intelligent. Even when weapons of war are not actually destroyed, their manufacture is still a convenient way of expending labor power without producing anything that can be consumed. A Floating Fortress, for example, has locked up in it the labor that would build several hundred cargo ships. Ultimately it is scrapped as obsolete, never having brought any material benefit to anybody, and with further enormous labors another Floating Fortress is built. In principle the war effort is always so planned as to eat up any surplus that might exist after meeting the bare needs of the population.


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Gene Stavis, RIP

Handout received this sad news from filmmaker CJ Gardella, regarding the death of professor and film collector Gene Stavis, who was interviewed by Handout in 2012. CJ sent this memoriam in Gene’s honor.


My dear friend Gene Stavis has passed away. I regret sharing this news, but want to take a moment to share a little about him for those that knew him or maybe didn’t.

He LOVED film. He discovered a lost student film by Orson Welles at a library in Greenwich, CT. called “The Hearts of Age.” He confronted him over the phone while he was at a hotel in Las Vegas, “excuse me Mr. Welles, I have a film that belongs to you.” Welles: “It’s a fake, burn it.” Gene: “But Mr. Welles, you’re in it.” He worked with Henri Langlois at the Cinémathèque Francais in the 1970’s. Langlois asked him, “Stavis? Is that short for something?” Gene: “Stavisky.” The name of the notorious French gangster immortalized by Jean-Paul Belmondo. Langlois: “I knew there was a reason I hired you.” Gene served as the American representative for the cinémathèque and travelled with Langlois while he was in the states to accept his honorary Oscar. Gene got to meet the likes of Jean Renoir, Fritz Lang, Alfred Hitchcock, Groucho Marx and many more. He said Parisians would often take he and Langlois for brothers. Gene would screen movies in his apartment from his collection of 2000 16mm film prints for everyone; a screening of “The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T.” for the kids in the building or a print of “Little Caesar” for Douglas Fairbanks Jr. He was the end all of film knowledge and above that he was one of the most earnest, standup human beings I’ve had the privilege of knowing for the past 12 years. Our friendship began with Ernst Lubitsch. He showed me every Lubitsch print he had in his collection, including “Broken Lullaby” Lubitsch’s only foray into drama and allegedly James Dean’s first onscreen appearance. From there we became fast friends. We worked together to put legs under the SVA Theatre, Gene’s own cinémathèque!! His love was sharing films before an audience. It was his passion. He loved the splash of the movie studio logo on the red curtains as they parted to reveal the screen. He enabled me to make my own movies and fed me lunch and showed me movies when I was broke. I love the man and will miss him dearly. It’s not often that someone of such genuine originality and humor comes down the pike. He was a person of great humanity and wisdom.

Above picture: Gene (center) with Langlois & director George Stevens.  

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same as the old boss: rock n roll & the corporate revolution




Midway through their set at last summer’s Celebrate Brooklyn show, Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy commented to the crowd that we smelled like bacon. I laughed, thinking he was referring to security, typical of the Celebrate Brooklyn festival. But his follow-up comment about the wafting smell revealed that he literally meant bacon: the smell of which enveloped the park, being emitted from the concession stands on either side of the stage.

A ticket to the show cost $45. The Bowery Presents security guards searched my bag and patted my pockets. Walking past many groups of security and police officers and onto the grounds itself, we were greeted by the many concessions for French fries, burgers, beers, sodas, snacks, etc. Advertisements for Google Plus and Vitamin Water.

The food line itself was wonderfully efficient. How the young people taking orders, making orders and handing out orders were able to keep that massive line moving and serviced seemed more work than organizing the whole show could have been. I wondered what hungry percentage of the show’s proceeds they would be making.

The band played, and the crowd talked. And talked and talked and talked. Few people seemed interested in actually listening to the music. A constant stream of new food and beverage purchases held aloft passed through every chorus or so.  Because nothing says rock and roll like French fries and expensive beer and talking while the band plays at a corporate event that you got searched just to get into.

Each distraction, whether it’s a burger or a phone or a conversation, distracts not only the one eating or talking but those around the eater or talker. Your distraction distracts us all. When you are distracted from the thing we are all here to partake in, it removes your commitment to and love for the thing. And we need yours, the thing needs yours. Don’t let it be taken away, from you or us.

Part of the corporate revolution has been to convince us that we should not care about where our money goes to, or where our products come from. Don’t worry about what slave made your shoes, just concern yourself with their look and price and what this will communicate about you. Don’t worry about the wait-staff and kitchen that makes and serves your food, just worry that the restaurant has a ‘cool vibe’ or is ‘cute’ and the food is delicious and affordable.

Don’t worry about what rights-violating searches you have to go through; what advertisements you’ll be forced to endure; what incredible profits will be made on concessions – and how all of those profits will be divied up (a lot to the owners, a little to the workers). Just concern yourself with the band you want to go see, and the awesome time you’ll have seeing them, and singing along. Maybe they’ll do a cover. “Meet the [munch, slurp, munch] new boss [munch munch, swallow] / Same as [burp] the old boss.”

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Think Different – But Not Persian!

Remember that time an Apple employee in the U.S. state of Georgia refused to sell a computer to a woman he had heard speaking Farsi because ‘our countries have bad relations’?

Well me and the 29 other people who signed the petition do!

But then Reuters produced a confusing story: ‘Despite sanctions, Apple gear booms in Iran.’ Aside from the obviously unintended but still kind of vulgar and insensitive pun, the headline illustrates the deep divide between the picture of Iran and Iranian people as vastly different from us and worthy of sanctions and bombing, and the reality that Iranians are human beings like us who need to piss everyone off with their annoying thoughts on the Internet while looking down on non-Apple users.

Iran and the US, after all, have many things in common: they hated the Shah because he was a brutal dictator supported by the US, and we hated the Shah when he failed at being a brutal dictator.   They have lots of oil, we love oil. (Fancy that!) They suppress freedom of speech and political activities, we are awesome at that, too!

Besides, the Europeans who took over America were originally from the mountains of northern Iran before they were from the halcyon forests of Germany, as the story goes, so it would make sense that we have the same taste in consumer products!

Iran, really, we have so much in common. We’re just burning for you, like an American, or Persian needing an iproduct.




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circle k branded

From: Handout

To: Customer Service 

Subject: Circle K


Why is this store called CIRCLE K? Why not O K? Or just K? Where did CIRCLE come from? Thanks.



From: N——-, Mark 

To: Handout 

Subject: answer to your specific question.


Hi Handout,


Circle K originated with the purchase of three convenience stores call “Kay’s Food Stores” in the early 1950s…

The buyer (Fred Hervey) changed the name to “Circle K”…. and the name has lived on..




Mark N——

Director of Human Resources and Training

From: Handout

To: N——, Mark 


Hi Mark,

Thanks so much for your reply. I’m just wondering WHY he chose CIRCLE. Why not SQUARE or RECTANGLE or any other shape? or even TRIPLE K or POWERFUL K? Were the stores located in a geographical circle in relation to each other? Did Mr. Hervey already have the logo and so took the name literally from the logo? Thanks for satisfying our curiosity.



From: N——, Mark 

To: Handout

Handout…. As we understand it….


The three original stores were located in El Paso, Texas and the branding Iron used on cows was part of how it originated or the idea of Circle K was derived. In the Original Circle K’s if you would envision a Branding Iron Circle and the K in the center. The original look was truly a Red Circle around a K and the new version that has the red square around the white Circle and the letter K evolved in the early nineties.



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Why We Sing

by Huy Dao


Karaoke.  I’d even do it sober; but that’s starting at the end.

There’s something that happens to people the first time they hear themselves amplified.  Some recoil, some close their eyes and revel, some need to do it again just to make sure they heard it right.  From cheesy late night Asian phenomenon to mainstream activity via video games, karaoke has become a cultural force in some circles.  In my circle – a circle that deals with brutality, crime, and advocacy – it’s become more: stress relief.  Shouting out the day’s or week’s misery has served to bring people closer, even those who just watch, and has reinforced the notion of tribe.  We do this work, we face these pressures, and, perversely sometimes, we let it out on the ears of strangers.

The local karaoke joint is, of course, also a bar.  We call it the Second Office.  We take our clients there:  people who served time for crimes they didn’t commit.  We invite our friends there, the brave ones who would step into our tribe to sing.  We go there to be anonymous to everyone but ourselves, because strangers at karaoke rarely ask you why you’re there.  We don’t have to explain it to ourselves.  We don’t care if you can sing.  We don’t even care if you sing, but if you do, we care more about how you sass the mic. We clap for your enthusiasm, not your pipes.  We may wince, but we’ll cheer you when you’re done.

What started out in my living room as a party-ender has become a way of life at work.  The transformation was not conscious, but did seem to follow a trajectory.  That is, in a small non-profit, it is easy to move across the blurry lines between people you work with, people you hang out with, people you call your friends – and people you’ll sing with.  There is a dropping of the curtain, a revealing vulnerability when you decide that singing “Endless Love” in front of coworkers is all right.  Like any after-work time at a bar, there is the requisite complaining session, expressions of weariness, and sometimes office intrigue, but eventually your turn comes up and you get up to perform.  To do that, you need to get something out of some other (often ridiculous) place inside, something you won’t see in the office.

At first I thought of it as just the bar around the corner from work.  The drinks were weak, the food and the crowd unpredictable, but we went there anyway and we sang anyway.  Then the bar burned down.  So we tried the other bar down the street.  Not just any bar, though.  Now it had to have karaoke.  It became a thing, the default.  Singing became the default after-work activity, the thing people thought to do on particularly hard days.  Then it became the place to have celebrations, to lay it out in front of (and encourage the participation of) people who had spent years inside, wrongfully.  How does that compute?  I don’t know, but it just makes sense now.  Of course we should sing.  Who doesn’t want to sing?

Sociologists, psychologists, maybe anthropologists could do a better job explaining the cultural forces at play.  We are often too weary, or too bleary, to understand what is so satisfying about getting up in front of office mates and strangers on a Tuesday night to sing power ballads. Or attempt the high harmony of a Heart song.  There is a sense about it, though, that explaining it would be impossible, that we couldn’t be explained by this activity.  That may be the psychology of a junkie.  I’ve often heard, and said, “I need to take a break from the whole karaoke thing.”

They always come back, though.  I always go back.

For us, as our own audience, we perform for each other in some vague but important way.  Dedications are not uncommon, but imagine a karaoke session where the words actually mean something.

Underneath the cheese, a current of shared memory in familiar songs, reasons you don’t have to explain.

True or not, at the base level, we know we understand.  We know why he’s singing that one again; we know who she’s singing about.  Group therapy in the weirdest guise.  I would never have predicted the odd office  following, that someone other than me would choose to do this instead of going home or out elsewhere if there was a choice.  You see, there’s no workplace reward for coming, no career punishment for not coming, no automatic friendship if you come, no hard feelings if you skip.

You come when you need to come, sing when you need to sing.  And if you sass the mic, we’ll support you, and maybe even sing along.  Brilliant.

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Bloomie Zones: A Social History of NYC Architecture

by Ann Carroll

New York City waterfronts were centers of shipping and industry for much of its history, but as trucking and air transport began to rival shipping, manufacturers abandoned waterfront neighborhoods for cheap and convenient suburban, or foreign, locales.  Seen as “seedy no-man’s land,” the waterfront was long ignored by city officials and developers alike. Some waterfront neighborhoods, like north Brooklyn’s Greenpoint, maintained enclaves of light industry along with a thriving upland residential community, but did not escape the waterfront decay that came with industrial exodus. Sorely lacking in parks and public space, neighbors fought for access to the large tracts of underutilized waterfront land. Throughout the 1980s and 90s, the Greenpoint waterfront was hotly contested, with Greenpointers fighting to secure the space for community use, and rallying against proposed plans for a power plant and other noxious uses.

Assuming office in 2002, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration launched ambitious plans for waterfront revitalization. The plans largely imagined the waterfront as a site for luxury high rises and public parks. In order to facilitate the radical shift in waterfront use, rezoning was necessary. The seemingly benign objective of the project was the repurposing of long fallow land into thriving residential and commercial zones. Critics of the massive project argued that the rezoning would displace existing low-income communities and threaten light manufacturing. Neighborhoods, like Greenpoint, resisted rezoning, countering the mayor’s vision with community generated 197a plans that outlined strategies for growth while prioritizing existing communities and industry. For Greenpoint, the local efforts were largely unsuccessful; in 2005 the neighborhood was rezoned. Large tracts that were once zoned for manufacturing were shifted to residential or mixed use.

Using the history and evolution of Greenpoint, I will contextualize and explore the way the Bloomberg administration has consistently undermined manufacturing through the use of rezoning and weak zoning, recognizing their waterfront initiatives as a strategy to bolster their realization of a postindustrial city. While Bloomberg presents himself as a pragmatist, whose common sense policies eschew ideology for practicality, Julian Brash, among others, challenges the innocence of the “Bloomberg Way,” arguing that it is “ideological, class-based, and deeply political (Brash 16).”

With this in mind, I will begin my study by examining the mayor’s waterfront vision and his aggressive support of redevelopment. Narrowing the lens, I will situate the Greenpoint waterfront within the larger narrative, giving particular attention to the impact of rezoning on the neighborhood’s native industry. Coming under fire from advocates concerned about the future of manufacturing in New York City, the mayor has implemented measures, including the creation of Industrial Business Zones, purporting to protect industry. I will examine the durability and effectiveness of such measures. Throughout, addressing




the effects of Bloomberg’s policies in Greenpoint, and the city at large, I will argue, along with Brash, that far from being apolitical, such an approach is “deeply political, in that it represents an effort on the part of a specific social grouping to bring urban governance and the physical shape of the city into accord with its interests and desires (Brash 3).”


Bloomberg’s Development Agenda

Winning election with a campaign that highlighted his persona as a no-nonsense CEO, Michael Bloomberg lost no time identifying what he saw as the city’s inefficiencies. During his inaugural state of the city address in January 2002, the mayor lamented the “inaccessible and neglected” waterfront, calling for “legislation that will allow old industrial waterfront sites to be converted into housing, parks and other developments.” The inclusion points to the central role of the waterfront in a development strategy that advances sectors in finance, real estate and tourism while turning away from industry.

Much of Bloomberg’s early waterfront strategy galvanized around an ambitious 2012 Summer Olympics bid. Engendered in the private sector, NYC 2012 was the pet project of Dan Doctoroff, who brought the plan to the Mayor’s office when he was appointed Deputy Mayor for Economic Development and Rebuilding. A number of new large-scale projects were incorporated into NYC 2012, many of which had been on the wish lists of developers for years. By tying them to the time sensitive Olympics bid, Doctoroff and the elite coalition who shared his enthusiasm, hoped to jumpstart “an array of stalled or wished for urban development projects that had as their raison d’etre the increase of property values in certain areas of the city (Brash 144).” Some inland, some on the waterfront, these projects had in common their scope and the image of the city they projected—a new New York: competitive, postindustrial, and global.

While the Olympic bid was unsuccessful, the swiftness, scope and ethos of the project define Bloomberg’s approach to development. His projects imagine the city as a luxury brand, meant to draw “the best and brightest” with state of the art entertainment complexes, well-designed parks and public spaces, plentiful well-located office space, and luxury apartments. His policies give cohesion to years of ad hoc efforts on the part of elite developers, bankers and other powerful stakeholders to reshape the city into a wealthy bastion of privilege. This strategy distances itself from the city’s industrial past, and in the process, from the middle and working class New Yorkers who were able to survive and succeed because of relatively well paying manufacturing jobs.

Recognizing a city-wide decline in manufacturing is unavoidable, but it is bad policy to ignore the small, yet thriving, manufacturing that remains. Such an approach is fueled by a “philosophy that holds that the city’s future prosperity lies in the expansion of pricey residential enclaves and office districts, and that many mixed-use neighborhoods…are undergoing an inevitable, unstoppable transformation that entails the dispersal or disappearance of their industrial land uses (Wolf-Powers 1).” This philosophy is at the heart of the mayor’s massive rezoning of the Greenpoint-Williamsburg waterfront, except that rather than reflecting this inevitability, it insures it.

The administration’s approach to industry, especially around the period of the Brooklyn rezoning, imagined manufacturing of any kind to be incompatible with the city they were shaping and marketing to the world. The city was either to be a decaying relic of industry, or a shining entirely postindustrial beacon. City planning advocates at the Pratt Center for Community Development take issue with this assumption, arguing “in a city of the size and diversity of New York, economic development need not be seen as a zero sum game where the ability to take advantage of growth opportunities in one sector is inevitably tied to the demise of other viable sectors (Pratt xi).” Rather than threatening new sectors of the economy, local manufacturing is convenient, and sometimes necessary, for their operations. Light manufacturing thrives in Greenpoint-Williamsburg partly because its goods are easily accessible to clients in Manhattan.






















Greenpoint’s Industrial History

Serving as a home for decades to heavy industry, Greenpoint has a long and dirty history. The neighborhood manufactured plastics, built ships and was a center of porcelain and glass production. Over the years, the city burdened the north Brooklyn neighborhood with more than its fair share of service facilities, including a sewage treatment plant, multiple waste transfer stations, and a garbage incinerator. Add to that an underground oil spill that ranks among the worst in history, and Greenpoint has a well-deserved reputation for being one of the most toxic areas of New York City. Residents of the neighborhood have struggled for years against toxic uses, fighting to remediate polluted land and improve the quality of life for its residents. Neighbors built grassroots alliances to successfully challenge a proposed power plant and to insure that the garbage incinerator, shuttered during an accident, remained closed.

Though residents fought to be free of the noise and pollution that came from heavy industry, they embraced light manufacturing. Small, successful manufacturers including specialty food, fashion, and furniture producers increased steadily in the area throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Serving as models of creative, design-oriented manufacturing and providing local jobs, these businesses illustrated that “Greenpoint-Williamsburg is just the type of neighborhood in which light, clean, specialized industry can thrive—helping to make the city’s economy more diverse and competitive overall (Wolf-Powers 1).” The area showed that, protected by zoning and supported by the community, a vibrant, mixed-use neighborhood was possible.

Working off of the solidarity and momentum generated during the power plant opposition, neighbors came together to create a 197a plan. The 197a process, added to the city charter in 1989, allows communities, through their community boards, to submit locally generated plans outlining their priorities and vision for the future of their neighborhoods (Angotti 154). Submitted to the City Council for approval, the plans are meant to “serve as a policy to guide subsequent actions by city agencies (Angotti 156).”

Approved by the City Council in 2001, the Greenpoint 197a plan identifies as “major objectives:” the revitalization of Greenpoint’s historic waterfront, including accessibility to the public, and the need to build upon Greenpoint’s historic mixed-use character. The plan highlighted environmental concerns and included the interests of the most vulnerable in the community, stressing the importance of affordable housing.  Job retention was emphasized, especially through “encouraging clean, non-polluting industry to remain in the neighborhood…by identifying areas as industrial sanctuaries and continued designation as M zones (CB1 41).” The plan explicitly sought to “lay the groundwork for rezoning…in Greenpoint (CB1 2).”

Unfortunately, two years later, when the Department of City Planning began to outline their proposal for rezoning the Greenpoint-Williamsburg waterfront it was clear that there were no real provisions to preserve light manufacturing or ensure affordable housing. The rezoning was prompted by Doctoroff’s Olympic bid, which included a major aquatic park on the Williamsburg waterfront. Once again, the community joined forces to resist the proposed plan, arguing that it would end local manufacturing, and displace low-income residents. The community board forcefully opposed the proposal, contending “the question that the city fails to address is how to protect the existing community, comprised predominantly of working class families…and small businesses, from development that encourages displacement and threatens to reduce rather than improve the quality of people’s lives…” (CB 1 2)

The board took aim at the city’s proposal to designate some areas where existing manufacturing remained as “mixed use” or MX zones. This new designation creates neighborhoods that can include both light industrial and residential uses. MX zoning allows the property owner to determine land use, giving them the opportunity to convert former manufacturing spaces into higher rent residential and commercial spaces. The community board argued that MX zoning “favors residential development over industrial…development,” and so “is not effective for maintaining a mixed-use neighborhood (CB 1 7).” Rather than acting to protect industry, the designation is “more accurately seen as a transitional area out of which industrial users are gradually being priced (Wolf-Power 21).” To counteract the negative impact of MX zoning, they recommended a modified MX district that would include detailed provisions intent on protecting light industry. After months of struggle and negotiation, the community was able to gain minor concessions, but overall, the 2005 rezoning of Greenpoint-Williamsburg resembled the city’s original proposal. Vast tracts of M zoned land were converted to residential and commercial use.

Illustrating the Bloomberg administration’s disregard for community based planning, the rezoning “sent a message to communities that even after more than a decade of community meetings and a couple of years of negotiating changes to the plan with DCP, the principles of the community plan could be abridged. DCP would be free to use its zoning powers as it saw fit and disregard community plans (Angotti 168).” By neglecting to incorporate the interests of the community into the overhaul of their neighborhoods, Bloomberg’s administration clearly signaled whose interests they serve-the consortium of elite stakeholders who stand to profit from development of waterfront land, and those who can afford to live, play, and operate businesses there. Community Board 1 recognized they were not alone, seeing Bloomberg’s strategy employed throughout the city, they characterized their apprehension as “a concern that not only focuses on this rezoning proposal but exposes the overarching problem that is slowly creeping into many communities throughout New York City, namely, that communities are being disproportionately reorganized rather than equitably revitalized (CB1 2).”

Weak Zoning

The vibrant mixed-use quality of Greenpoint-Williamsburg throughout the eighties and nineties was due in part to a type of mixed zoning enacted in the late 1970s. The City Planning Commission designated Special Districts in which manufacturers and residences were allowed to coexist, but encroachment on the part of both was limited. This was the type of detail-oriented zoning that the community sought during their pre-zoning negotiations. Instead, the administration insisted that an unregulated, market driven approach would determine the “best use” of the city’s land. The policy demonstrates the mayor’s neo-liberal philosophy, which essentially defines “”good” governance at the municipal level…by the ability of formal government to assist, collaborate with, or function like the corporate community (Hackworth 11).”

Critics of the mayor’s postindustrial policies did finally elicit response from the administration when the Mayor’s Office of Industrial and Manufacturing Businesses was created in 2005. The office created Industrial Business Zones (IBZ), areas designated to protect clusters of existing manufacturers. Incentives like tax credits were offered to encourage manufacturers to relocate within these districts, and grants and training assistance were offered to promote and protect businesses. Sixteen IBZs were established throughout the city, including two in the rezoned Greenpoint-Williamsburg. Seen as concessions to manufacturing advocates, the IBZs cover 22 of the approximately 180 formerly M-zoned blocks (Angotti).

Supporters of manufacturing fear the mayor’s actions are basically “too little, too late.” The administration pushed through several huge rezoning projects before engaging in any substantial studies of the affected areas. IBZs are seen as a step in the right direction, but they have several weaknesses. Most importantly, because they are not protected by legislation, they are vulnerable to alteration or elimination by future administrations. Without robust legal protection, the zones lack the kind of security needed to attract businesses.

In addition, the designation allows for the development of several non-manufacturing uses in the zones, including hotel, office buildings, and “big-box” stores. Problematic for multiple reasons, these uses often garner higher rents, making them more attractive to land owners. Studies show that ““Big-Box” retail establishments have adversely impacted manufacturing activity because they increase competition for space, pay marginally higher rents, and increase traffic. At the same time, they leverage far fewer jobs (Pratt 1).” Hotels present a particular problem because “they create…a quasi residential use which starts mitigating against manufacturing because people complain and there’s conflict, and that can take an area down the road to where it becomes less useful to manufacturing (Lander).” This kind of conflict arises in the new MX zones, as well, with the same kind of pressures put on manufacturers.

With the MX zoning designation and the implementation of IBZs, the Bloomberg administration gives the appearance of protecting industry, but the measures lack real muscle and are impermanent policy moves. Seven years later, some of the promise that manufacturers saw at the inception of the IBZ model has diminished. Funding and staff for both the MOIMB and IBZs have been slashed and little attention is given to manufacturing as the Mayor continues to push forward with his waterfront initiatives. It is clear the Bloomberg administration is not as dedicated to preserving manufacturing as it is to promoting his own pro-development agenda.

Brash argues that “the city’s Olympic bid was driven by a class-bound imagining of the city as a place of ambition, meritocracy, competition, and internationalism (Brash 53).” Bloomberg may have lost his Olympic bid, but he did not allow that to slow the momentum of his development strategy. In a relatively short period of time, the CEO mayor has transformed neighborhoods, altering their physical and cultural fabric. In a city the size and density of New York, even small changes in land use can have profound impacts on communities. In order to create the kind of luxury city that would attract Bloomberg’s “best and brightest,” he launched “ an aggressive transformation of (New York’s) physical form in order to produce an environment appropriate to the needs and desires of well-educated professionals and those businesses in the financial, media, and business services sectors that employed them (Brash 121).” In the process he effectively closed the door on manufacturing, and the blue-collar middle class jobs it provided New Yorkers.

Bloomberg’s sweeping rezoning and development agenda consistently disregards the voices of existing communities, in favor of drawing potential new elites to the city. In lieu of community-based plans, the administration allows developers and bankers to determine land use, prioritizing profit over the needs and wishes of long time residents. Cloaked as common sense, his approach asserts a neoliberal agenda that serves the interests of an elite minority, and chips away at the regulations and institutions that protect the poor and middle class. The result is a politicized restructuring of New York into a less vibrant and inclusive city.

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Just Like Sister Ray Says, a Lou Reed Appreciation

When Kurt Cobain died I was 13. I wore his suicide on my sleeve for several years. I identified with him and it, and wanted to preserve his timelessness, not make light and deflect. I learned from his work to accept people lovingly, as they are as they were as a trend as a friend…

When Syd Barrett died I was 25 and was temping at Bear Stearns doing accounting tasks that I did not understand but somehow accomplished anyway. I wrote an “appreciation” and posted it on my website, and sent it to my dad. He had written a brief prayer on the night John Lennon died which I have read many times and I thought he would empathize with the loss of a hero. Barrett made awkward beautiful. Timeless forgotten graspings. The sea isn’t green / and I love the Queen. Puddletown Tom was the underground.

When Elliot Smith died I was 23 and standing on Broadway between 157th and 158th streets, about to go underground to the train. My brother-in-law called me and asked if I’d heard. I hadn’t. He told me. I laughed. Not that I thought his personal horror and tragedy was comedy – but because I had learned to be distant from my heroes. At least the ones that I did not know personally. I was working at a dog kennel and was a blistering painful confusion following distant lights of inspiration and patience.

I thought of Dan Bern’s song, “Kurt.” “If you want my tears tell me your name / Give me your hand let me feel your pain / But for Kennedy and Jesse James / There’s Joan of Arc and Kurt Cobain.”

When David Foster Wallace died I was 27. I called my mom even though it was past 11pm, because we had read Infinite Jest together after I had spoken so highly of it to her. She is a minster’s wife and no stranger to the deaths and tragedies of people. I then climbed the fire escape to the roof of our apartment building where friends were drinking and informed them. I returned to the apartment and started reading Infinite Jest. But I had never read Beloved.

When Gore Vidal died I was 31 and had been anticipating it for years not at all in a macabre way. He, along with some of the living that I won’t name for kindness, was the reason I checked the obituaries. I opened his United States essays and began reading. I heard someone say that he was a “vicious sexist” and asked why she’d said that and she showed me an article of Vidal saying nasty things about Roman Polanski’s teenage victim.

When Lou Reed died I was 33. I was working on writing some songs of my own and opening the web browser for a video I use to tune the guitar when I saw the headline. I heard in my mind “Hey hey hey hey busy suckin on my ding-dong.” I imagined myself at 21, having just purchased my first Velvet Underground with White Light/White Heat, leaving the low-wage convenience store parking lot with “Sister Ray” bludgeoning the drive home into an ecstasy of circles that are wound and wound like springs and you don’t know if you are traversing up or down.

I can think of dozens of more eloquent lines from Reed’s catalogue to quote, but that’s the one that surfaced in my mind. Perhaps because I’m a gross pig. But perhaps because the lyrics’ crudeness and oddity are so memorable in the 17-minute song about sex, drugs, love, murder and the foreboding of the wolf (in this case, the police) at the door.

Reed’s Ecstasy includes the 18-minute “Like a Possum.” Another of my favorites of his circles of songs, and again crude and sexual. Some pop masters like Brian Wilson or the Beatles kept their gummiest ditties short, repeating a chorus only once before fading out instead of repeating until the listener could grow weary. But every time “Sloop John B” fades out, I always want more. Reed’s pop could satisfy this more primal desire to be lovingly lost in the song with no end.

The freedom in proclaiming sexuality that Reed employed startled and excited me in the same way Nirvana’s “Moist Vagina” had when I was 13. There were very few lyrics, but what they amounted to was sex, drugs and rock and roll in a song which added up to a proclamation of freedom (at least to those denied even knowledge of these things) just as “Surfin’ U.S.A.” had decades before. It was as Timothy White wrote of the Beach Boys, “a purity of purpose in the honest expression of pleasurable needs.”

These needs often lead to nowhere good. But more often it is the stifling of these needs that leaves people worse for the wear.

Reed’s catalogue has much to offer, and what I’ve mentioned here is only a miniscule portion. I just wanted to make sure someone stuck up for long droning songs with the strange lyrics – for me they often held firm a collapsing circle, for 17 minutes.

And of course not knowing him personally, my Lou Reed will always be with me. The one I discovered long after the recordings had been recorded. The recordings etched into the grooves in my brain. Just as Wallace’s books have not disappeared. They are as alive to me as Homer or Emily Dickinson.

All of the dead memorialized here are white males. Me too. I don’t know where I was when Tupac or Biggie died. I was 28 years old before I heard of MOVE being bombed by the authorities in Philadelphia. But I just finished The Autobiography of Malcolm X and he is alive to me now. When I think of how long my heroes were only white males then, like Scrooge, I beg to be forgiven for the time that I’ve wasted. And I cannot expend important energy and time mourning those who are still giving unto me, while I have so much to give unto others.

And for Lou Reed and Jesse James / There’s Joan of Arc and Kurt Cobain.

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Self-Immolation in Washington, Not in the New York Times

Self-immolation is a very profound and meaningful act. By definition, the word “immolation” is bound to the concept of sacrifice. When Tibetan monks do it is very fit to print. The New York Times has already run eight stories in 2013 on this topic.

But when it happens on the National Mall in broad daylight with a camera set up to film it, its fitness vanishes. This is what happened when John Constantino, a sixty-four year old black male from New Jersey, committed self-immolation, after a salute to the Capitol, on 10/4/13.

In the period from 10/4/13 to 10/14/13, there were close to 40 news stories in US media about the story, but none from the New York Times. Even then, the story was only covered by a small handful of publications on 10/4/13, including the Monterey County Herald and the Topeka Tribune.

The Los Angeles Times picked up the story on 10/5/13 along with the Daily News (NY), and the Bismarck Tribune. On 10/6/13 the Bangor Daily News thought it fit, as did the Hilltop, the student paper of Howard University.

On 10/8/13, Constantino’s family issued a statement through their lawyer Jeffrey Cox, who explained that, “His death was not a political act or statement, but the result of his long battle with mental illness.” After this non-political answer was provided, the path of easy, non-confrontational explanation to the event was opened and stories appeared in USA Today, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, and even the student paper of Seattle University, The Spectator.

The story was even international, covered by the Qatar News Agency on 10/5/13, and the New Zealand Herald on 10/9/13. But still not the NYTimes.

Of much interest was Margaret Kimberley at Black Agenda Report on 10/9/13, “Freedom Rider: Aaron Alexis, Miriam Carey, and John Constantino”, writing, “All three of these people were black.”

As respectful as we must be of Constantino’s survivors, this was clearly a political act.

As Allison Kilkenny said of the story on the podcast Citizen Radio (although not in response to the family’s statement), “When you label someone mentally ill, it’s a way of silencing their grievances.”

What were Constantino’s grievances? Looking around at the USA of 2013, it is not difficult to hazard a guess or two. Whatever his self-immolation was a sacrifice for, we would do well to find it fit to find out.


Perhaps it is too harrowing to note that on the same day as John Constantino’s self-immolation on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., a man in Islamabad, Pakistan attempted to commit the same act outside of the Supreme Court, but was stopped by police.

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