Tuesday, March 14, 2017


Erik R. McGregor photo and caption:

Hundreds rally outside Governor Andrew Cuomo's NYC Office on March 13, 2017; to support the Albany Can End Homelessness in New York State campaign, about ten faith and community leaders commited civil disobedience blocking third avenue with banners reading "Cuomo: The Nation is Watching" & "End Record Homelessness & Income Inequality" culminating on arrests made by the NYPD. — with Eric Sawyer and Benjamin Heim Shepard at 633 Third Avenue.
I have always admired VOCAL, even when they were New York City AIDS Housing Network, with Bob Kohler, Joe, Joseph, and Jennifer supporting the right to shelter, even in the coldest days of the year. When I do actions with them I always think of all these heros, Cameron and Laverne Holley, so many heros.

NYCAHN fighting for more housing and better housing. Stalwarts Cameron, Shirlene, and Lavern at C2EA!
Bob Kohler's old friend Kate Barnhart let me know about the action VOCAL was planning to highlight the Governor's inaction around the increasing homelessness in New York City.

On the way over to the VOCAL action, all I could think of was old Bob Kohler, my old friend who used to always get arrested with me at Housing Works, City Wide, NYCAHN actions over HIV and housing, before his passing a decade ago. Bob tended to laugh and stayed impeccably neat all the way through such jail experiences.  He made the day an adventure.  We could talk for hours and hours.  He's no longer around. But VOCAL is, still fighting the same issues.

When I arrived at 633 3rd Ave at 1130 AM, a group of people were across the street, behind barricades, starting their speak out.

Elizabeth was there with a hug and smile, offering me a sign declaring: "I deserve a place to live!"  She asked me to sign a sign up sheet.  Under affiliation, she smiled and suggested, "Yours should say family."  How can you not love Elizabeth?

A bitter cold day, they kept everyone warmed up with chants, call and response.

"No more shelters, we need homes!"

"80,000 homeless!
That ain't right!"

"Cut the crap!
End the Greed!

Give the homeless
what they need." 

"Fight, fight, fight!
Housing is a human right!"

"Tax the rich, house the poor!"

"What do we want - housing!!!
If we don't get it, shut it down!"

"88,000 we ain't leaving!"

My friend Darius stood up to speak briefly, noting how cold it was out.

"What's it going to be like tomorrow for the homeless?" he asked.

Eric Sawyer, one of the founders of ACT UP and Housing Works, walked us through the argument that the median income for de Blasio's affordable housing plan was out of reach for most New Yorkers. 

Listening, my friend Kate, from New Alternatives for LGBT Youth, pointed out that the lottery for affordable housing at Stuyvesant Town started at $80,000-120,000.

Housing equals healthcare, argued Sawyer pointing that everyone benefits from housing.

"As others have pointed out, the orange one would like to build a wall," Sawyer concluded.  "But what he really needs to build are four walls and more housing."

"Governor 1%, who do you represent?" we started to chant.

Finishing the speeches, the cders were ready for action. It was cold and time to move.

So Kate, Jeremy and a few others pulled out the banners from VOCAL
that read "Cuomo: The Nation is Watching" and "End Record Homelessness & Income Inequality." And we walked out to block Third Avenue during a red light.   Cars drove right up to us and the police stopped them.  No matter how many times I do this, I always find it exciting.

The Rude Mechanical Orchestra was playing and we kept singing.

"Which side are you on, my people? Which side are you on?


Which side are you on my people? Which side are you on?


XXX is a housing fighter and she’s teaching us how to fight,

we won’t stop all day and night till Cuomo get it right!

The photographers took a few pictures.  And the police quickly moved in to disperse the crowd, arresting everyone holding the banners.  By 1:15 the plastic cuffs were on and we were in the police van, driving downtown.

Everyone traded war stories about past adventures as we made our way down to the seventh precinct, where they would hold us, hopefully for just a few hours and not overnight.  I will never forget getting down there and hearing Giuliani had sent the message: put em through the system. That was 37 hours.  Hopefully this would be shorter.  They took our information moving us to holding cells with a small toilet, a cement bench and bars.

We all crashed for an hour or so, snores filling the cells, before the hard cement floor started to catch up with us.

I started looking at the words on the wall.

"If you read this, you're never leaving," the graffiti someone had written on the wall.

"Be the change you want to see in the world," "Vicky's Vodka," "Occupy," "Fuck the Police," "FTP."

As the hours wore on the police seemed to slow down, eating pizza, taking breaks, telling jokes, taking pictures of us one at a time, anything but getting us through the process.

Walking around the small cell, I thought about Keith Cylar who once said, 'If I count the cracks on this wall one more time, i'm going to kill myself," as we sat in jail. 'Get me out of here.'  I thought about the twenty or so of these moments I've been through this, when Giuliani use to hold us over night, Bloomberg followed the precedent, and de Blasio tried to go back to the Dinkins model, of desk appearance tickets for civil disobedience actions such as this, getting us out before we have to spend the night.

Jesus was getting hungry.  I was getting antsy.  We talked between cells, cracking jokes, laughing, anything to pass the time.

"Do you think they'll have pizza for us when we get out of here?" Darius asked.

"No probably sushi and steak," Jeremy retorted.

"I gotta get out of there."

"The shift is changing.  They are leaving," I noted, worried and hungry, thinking about dinner at home.

"If we stay over night, they are going to keep us for two days because of the storm," someone else kvetched.

And finally around 542, they started calling, "Shepard..." and we were out there.

VOCAL had pizza for us.

They always do the work.  Earlier in the day, they sent out a press release about why we were there.

Citing NYS' record homelessness under Governor Cuomo, and worst income inequality in the nation, faith and community leaders denounce the Governor as fiscal conservative, not the national, progressive leader he claims to be

Speakers will point to progressive tax policies as critical to resisting the Trump and GOP agenda and budget cuts that will impact New York State, and those already announced cutting NYCHA funding

WHAT: At a rally outside the Governor's NYC office to support the Albany Can End Homelessness in New York State campaign, faith and community leaders will commit civil disobedience blocking third avenue.

WHEN: Monday, March 13 at 12PM

WHERE: Governor Andrew Cuomo's NYC Office, 633 3rd Ave, NY NY.

: Rally of hundreds. A dozen people committing civil disobedience with banners reading "Cuomo: The Nation is Watching" & "End Record Homelessness & Income Inequality"

BACKGROUND: A statewide coalition of faith and community organizations have led an unusually aggressive campaign during the state budget season calling on Governor Cuomo to tackle New York's record homeless crisis, and adopt three progressive tax policies. The specific tax policies would generate ample resources to end that State's historic homeless crisis, as well as to confront a myriad of other ills that have long plagued New York. As the state braces for the potential loss of billions of dollars in federal revenue brought by the Trump Administration and Congressional GOP, faith leaders and community groups have stressed the need for progressives revenue as ever more urgent.

The coalition has pointed to New York State's record high homelessness as a true indicator of the values of Governor Cuomo. While New York remains one of the richest in the nation - home to Wall Street, a multi-billion dollar real estate industry, and some of the world's wealthiest individuals - over 88,000 people sleep in shelters nightly. Faith leaders and community groups affirm that despite Governor Cuomo presenting himself as a progressive champion, the state's glaring income inequality illustrates the Governor's priorities and lack of commitment to truly address the needs of poor New Yorkers.

With over 88,000 people homeless across the state, New York is currently facing the worst homeless crisis on record. Between 2011 and 2015 the state’s homeless population increased by 41%. Read more about the coalition's platform to support progressive tax policies and end homelessness: Albany Can End Homelessness in New York State. Find additional information on New York State's homelessness in this 2016 report Rising Homelessness in New York State

And then we were out by 5:42 PM  in time for dinner.

Recent Coverage:

VOCAL photos of the rally:

"Cuomo: The Nation is Watching" and "End Record Homelessness & Income Inequality." 

Voices Of Community Activists & Leaders (VOCAL-NY)
March 2 at 2:33pmWe're in a fight for the heart and soul of New York--to end homelessness, end poverty, protect our healthcare, invest in the education of our children, and to t...ax Wall Street and the wealthiest New Yorkers so everyone pays their fair share. New Yorkers are tired of waiting for the policies they need!
  1. Read our platform and take a stand with us! Then join us for a rally in NYC on March 13th.

  1. New York State currently has over 88,000 homeless residents -- more than there have ever been in our state's history. Homelessness has risen by 41% since…vocal.ourpowerbase.net

I stand with the 88,000 homeless New Yorkers.

New York State must end homelessness.
New York State currently has over 88,000 homeless residents -- more than there have ever been in our state's history. Homelessness has risen by 41% since Governor Cuomo took office, and is showing no signs of slowing down.
New Yorkers deserve better government and better leadership.  I'm pledging my support for a New York that:
  • Fully funds and creates 20,000 units of supportive housing. Supportive housing breaks the cycle of homelessness by pairing permanent housing with on-site services for people with a history of substance abuse, and/or who have mental and physical health needs.
  • Fully funds the Homes Stability Support (HSS) Program. HSS is a new statewide rent supplement for low-income families and individuals who are facing eviction, homelessness, or loss of housing due to domestic violence of hazardous conditions.
  • Renews and increases funding for civil legal services to ensure all New Yorkers have legal representation in housing court to prevent evictions and combat discrimination.
  • Provides rental assistance for all low-income HIV+ New Yorkers statewide.
Right now billionaires, multi-millionaires, Wall Street and big corporations don’t pay their fair share of taxes, and working people pay more than our share. With the right tax and budget policies, we could tackle homelessness, turn the tide on income inequality and poverty, ensure adequate legal representation for all poor New Yorkers, and invest in our future.
I won't wait for Cuomo to decide that the most vulnerable members of my community matter. I'm calling on Gov. Cuomo to:
  • Extend and expand the Millionaires' Tax to capture explosive income gains amongst the super-rich, a law proposed by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and the Assembly Majority Conference.
  • Close the carried interest tax loophole that only benefits hedge funds and private equity billionaires through state legislation introduced by Senator Klein and Assembly Member Aubrey.
  • Support the New York City "Mansion Tax" proposal, to tax the sale of luxury condos and homes worth over $2 million.
These common-sense tax measures would raise nearly $6 billion in new revenue to pay for critical housing and homelessness-prevention programs and address other root causes of poverty. Investing money in meeting the needs of poor New Yorkers will grow our economy, improve our communities and demonstrate real leadership for the nation.
It's time to take a stand for a truly progressive New York.
ENDORSING ORGANIZATIONS OF THE ALBANY CAN END HOMELESSNESS IN NEW YORK STATE CAMPAIGN: ACT UP NY, Alliance for Quality Education, BOOM!Health, Bridging Access to Care, Citizen Action of New York, Churches United For Fair Housing, Community Voices Heard, FIERCE!, GMHC, Greater NYC for Change, Health and Education Alternatives for Teens, Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen, Housing Works, Hunger Action Network of New York State, Interfaith Assembly on Homelessness and Housing, Labor & Religion Coalition, LGBT Faith Leaders of African Descent,  Make the Road New York, Met Council on Housing, MFY Legal Services, Neighbors Together, New Alternatives for LGBT Homeless Youth, New York State Coalition for Homeless Youth, New York State Council of Churches, New York Communities for Change, New York Harm Reduction Educators, Nobody Leave the Mid-Hudson, Partnership for the Homeless, Peer Network of New York, PUSH Buffalo, Strong Economy for All, The Brooklyn Anti-Gentrification Network, Three-Quarter House Tenant Organizing Project, VOCAL-NY, Washington Heights Corner Project, Working Families Party

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