After making my way through a gilded, marble-floor lobby worthy of Home Alone 2, I found myself at Civic Hall. The techy meetup spot and educational center is where likeminded hackers convene for “labs” and shamelessly use the kind of words (“disrupt”) that have become emblems of that heady cocktail of superiority and entitlement powering controversial profit vacuums like Uber and AirBnB. I was hardly surprised to see that Pierre Omidyar’s foundation is a sponsor of Civic Hall, as is Google. Even if the #HackHousing event had been pitched as an occasion for discussing “creative ways to empower New York renters,” I was more than a little skeptical.
It was difficult to ignore the fluttering signs at last week’s Bushwick Community Plan meeting. Sure, they were black-and-white, only about as big as two sheets of computer paper and just as flimsy, but there were tons of them. As City Council members Antonio Reynoso and Rafael Espinal touted their community-driven alternative to developer-led change, almost everyone sitting in front of them seemed to be holding a flyer reading: “EVICT THE RICH.” The rallying cry may have been more Mao Tse-tung than #BushwickBerners, but the Brooklyn Solidarity Network (BSN) couldn’t have been more serious.
Look, we don’t blame you for spending all your time worrying that Donald Trump will win the election and then rip off that Boehner-hued mask to reveal he’s actually an electric-orange lizard person. But if you really care about the future of the country, you should be aware that tomorrow, Tuesday, June 28, is the New York State Democratic Congressional primary.
A slew of city agencies and elected officials are asking Bushwick residents for direct input on how best to handle the rapid change that’s consuming the neighborhood.
“We’re here to make sure we give the people the opportunity to make a decision on what their neighborhood’s going to look like in the future,” City Council member Antonio Reynoso told the crowd at a Monday meeting at Ridgewood Bushwick Youth Center. Among the areas of concern: population growth, demographic shifts, the loss of affordable housing, an influx of luxury housing, private interests, and businesses that cater toward the moneyed. In other words, gentrification.
Later on tonight, you might be brushing your teeth and instead of that familiar googly-eyed likeness staring back at you (everyone has that problem, right?) you’ll see nothing less than an animal abuser, or perhaps even a slave owner if you choose to be really honest with yourself. Your French bulldog Greg will suddenly seem like a sullen prisoner in that skin-tight raincoat you force him to wear on the reg, even when it’s a cloudless, sweltering 90-degree July day and he’s emitting piercing, parrot-like screams as he struggles to escape. And those Bob Evans sausage griddles you chased with a tall glass of heavy whipping cream for dinner? Well, your Wienerwurst Wednesday tradition might seem, suddenly, very disgusting.
To meet with Debbie Medina, New York’s first Democratic Socialist candidate for State Senate, I was invited not to a campaign office, nor a public appearance, not even to join her on a campaigning stroll through the 18th district, but to Medina’s Williamsburg apartment– specifically, her dining room table. Here, she advised me not to take off my shoes. “You’ll ruin your socks if you do that,” she laughed.
It became clear to me immediately that Debbie Medina, who’s running her second grassroots campaign to snatch the 18th-district seat in the fall, isn’t at all like other politicians. For one, hers isn’t the sort of practiced, regal charisma that most politicos have– a perfect grin and an unerring face, both provided with extra protection from the elements by a layer of effervescent self-assurance so infectious that if you’re not careful it can briefly paralyze your capacity for doubt, and turn you into a nodding, agreeable dimwit.
The ink has barely dried on the special election for Sheldon Silver’s 65th district state assembly seat and we’re already sprinting towards the general primary in September. Less than a week after Alice Cancel won a controversial election for the seat, Jenifer Rajkumar, a Democratic district leader in the financial district, officially threw her hat in the ring and announced her campaign for the position.
In case you haven’t noticed the litany of passive aggressive, condescending, or otherwise ignorant status updates flooding your Facebook feed, it’s voting day for the New York primaries y’all! And the questions on everyone’s mind remain: Are we Cruzin’ for a Trump bruisin’? And, as Carolyn Hines, a poll station volunteer at Cooper Park Houses joked, “You wanna know if we feelin the Bern or if we Hillary Clinton? Because we can’t really say that.”
But not everyone who visited the East Williamsburg polling station today was in such high spirits, and that’s actually why we showed up on the scene. As we found out on Twitter this morning, some local voters arrived at their designated voting site at the crack of dawn (no doubt some of them hoping to cast their vote before work started this morning) only to find that they were SOL.
Bernie Sanders supporters showed up in droves today at the candidate’s Brooklyn rally, undeterred by the nippy cold weather and wind gusts that sent even the NYPD tugboat off of Greenpoint’s Transmitter Park a’bobbin (perfectly in-synch with the pump-up soundtrack’s reggae rotation, I might add). The mood was elated as the Brooklynite presidential candidate prepares to battle it out with Hillary Clinton for New York state delegates, a fight set to go down on her (sort-of) home turf less than two weeks from today.
“Have you been to one of our shows lately?” Reverend Billy asked me. The answer was– no, I have not. Not ever. In my chat with the eco-activist, author, and radical preacher who “prays to life on earth,” I was curious to know what in heaven’s name a Reverend was doing on the calendar at a Bushwick DIY venue like Market Hotel. But Billy’s explanation brought everything together for me. “They’re a little like mosh pits,” he explained. “It’s a punk gospel for life. It’s a laboratory for getting going again.”
A teaser like that is hard to turn your back on, and so is the Reverend’s larger environmental message: consumerism and “nation-state allegiances” stand in the way of our relationship with the Earth. As the effects of climate change become increasingly apparent, there’s a new kind of urgency to changing our ways, and Reverend Billy believes that calls for physical, direct action are the only way to foment radical change. But when he’s not putting his body on the line to preach against the further slaughter of the earth, the Reverend is hosting shows like the one happening this weekend at the Market Hotel. “I’m trying to preach here,” he said, exasperated. “And along with the choir, we’re trying to inspire activism in our audience.”
If you don’t know who the North Brooklyn Democratic District Leader is at this point, well, then you probably haven’t attended too many Community Board 1 meetings, and it’s also safe to say that you’re definitely not a member of the Brooklyn Young Democrats. But if you live in or around Greenpoint or Williamsburg and care to be involved in the future of the Democratic Party or the Progressive movement, rest assured there are easier ways to get to know Nick Rizzo than crashing a tedious land-use committee hearing.
For one, you could always convene with Rizzo on the Lower East Side, where you’ll find him working behind the bar at 151. It was clearly a slow night when I stopped by last week (he’d just finished doing the glamorous work of juicing some oranges), so Rizzo had some time to chat about Bernie Sanders, Elena Ferrante, and a rather awkward encounter at Vito Lopez’s wake, among other things.
Already ground zero for some of the city’s most dramatic rezonings, Williamsburg is facing yet another contentious development: an eight-story, 480,000-square-foot office complex known as the Brooklyn Generator. On Tuesday, Community Board 1 met to vote on whether or not to support the creation of a special mixed-use zone that would allow developers to move forward with the massive project. And they didn’t take the matter lightly. “This is going to affect us for the rest of our lives,” CB1 chairperson Dealice Fuller said of the board’s decision.