Riding through Bud Stuy at Mary Lee Ward’s apartment this morning, I passed by Atlantic Yards, where 5th Avenue, its bars, and much of Ft. Green is being consumed into the super shopping big box expanding from Ratner’s unpopular project. Throughout Brooklyn, regular people of the borough are fighting off dynamics of a global urban experience, uneven development, speculative gentrification, displacement, police brutality, long seen in Manhattan. The Battle of Brooklyn is a struggle to help keep what is distinct and rich about Brooklyn, its streets, distinct neighborhoods, and people. While, it is the fourth biggest city in the United States, it has long resisted elements of the homogenization steamroller exorbing other cities – big box stores, chains, and high-rises. The people of the borough fought to preserve their brownstones. Yet, today the battle is changing. While certainly some of the renaissance taking place in Brooklyn is a good thing, growth is paradoxical. Today, the Battle of Brooklyn is a struggle against the sea of identical details, Wallmart, Stadiums, out of place buildings, and displacement of long time residents. Certainly, this was the battle August 19th, 2011 at 8 AM as I rode from Carroll Gardens to Mary Lee Ward’s apartment in Bed Stuy, where she was facing eviction from her long time apartment. Of course, the people of Bed Stuy have long endured hardships of banking. Red lining was practically born in the neighborhood, where bankers once drew lines around the map of the district and denied bank loans for those in the area. Today, many of these same people are facing the foreclosures. Yet, they were also fighting back.
Word on facebook all week was about Friday’s eviction defense action: “Stop the Eviction of Mary Lee Ward! Eviction Blockade” to take place at “Ms. Ward's Home in Bed-Stuy.” The facebook invite provided background on the scene:
Mary Lee Ward, an 82-year-old grandmother and resident of the Bed-Stuy community for 44 years faces eviction from her home due to the deceptive practices of bankers and speculators.
Predatory lenders like the now defunct Delta Funding, Inc. and real estate speculators like 768 Dean Inc. are targeting and destroying diverse communities of color like Bed-Stuy, intentionally stripping them of their equity, wealth and homes!
We, the members of Organizing for Occupation (O4O) www.o4onyc.org, a citywide network of concerned NYC residents active in the struggle to make housing a human right, can no longer sit back and watch the destruction of our communities!
Stand in solidarity with Ms. Ward this Friday morning, August 19, 2011!
Stop the eviction of Ms. Ward from her home!
EVICT THE SCHEMING BANKERS AND SPECULATORS FROM OUR COMMUNITIES!
Organizing for Occupation
Riding down Tompkins toward Ms.Ward’s home, I heard roars of the crowd, cheering after countless cars and trucks honked in solidarity, followed by more cheers in a reciprocal display of neighborhood support. “Housing is a human right, fight, fight, fight!” The crowd cheered. Members of Picture the Homeless were there, many locked inside Ms Ward’s home, ready to physically resist the marshals. Activists from neighborhood organizing, as well as global justice circles were there in support. My friend Beka, who fought the rezoning over the Brooklyn waterfront, was there. TV cameras, politicians, undercover police, participants in the Doe Fund program down the block were there. I looked up to the second floor window of Ms. Ward’s apartment and Seth Tobocman and Frank Morales watched. Tobocman is author of War in the Neighborhood, a graphic novel on squatter battles of the 1980’s and 1990’s, when residents fought displacement from the East Village. Then as now, the message was the same: housing is a human right. Black and white signs hung from Ms. Ward’s apartment: “Evict Speculators=Not Grandmothers” and “Predatory lending = Racism and kleptocracy.”
We were all waiting for the marshals to come make an attempt to take Ms Ward’s home. “Hey, my people. We have a story. Tell the whole wide world this is people territory,” people began to chant, clapping along. “Defend the block.” And that they did. More and more people filled both sides of Tompkins Street. “They are not going to come today,” I commented to a friend. “Too many camera crews.” Evictions don’t tend to take place when everyone knows about the plans, too many cameras. Those involved in such unsavory activities thrive in secrecy.
By 9 AM, people were coming in and out of the apartment, where activist film crews sat along with the activists ready to fight the eviction. And out come a lawyer, who notified the crowd that local politicians were working with the “landlord” to work out a deal so Ms Ward would not be displaced from her long time home. Everyone roared. As the morning went on, it started to look like the marshals would not come today, that the eviction blockade had worked, and Ms. Ward would remain at 320 Tompkins. Sometimes activism works. The combination of the mobilization of social networks, legal coordination, direct action, as well as neighborhood leadership all helped provide a show of strength for the neighborhood. Yet, the battle is far from over. And a rally is planned for Monday in front of the speculator’s office. More info TBA.