Growing up, Fernando Ortiz used to travel from his home in the South Bronx to his parents’ bodega in Harlem. His native borough is bordered by highways that create an urban heat island: the nonstop, circling traffic traps hot, smoggy air in the community. The environment causes health issues for the borough, like asthma and skin irritations. To reach Harlem, Ortiz would traverse mostly-treeless sidewalks to then cross a bridge: “And I remember [being] like, ‘Oh, my God—there’s a river so close to me!’ I had never seen it, and I couldn’t even get to it,” he recalled. More →
Posts by Anna Venarchik:
After a devastating year and a bitter winter, things are looking up for the restaurant industry. On March 11, President Joe Biden signed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, which will allow qualifying restaurants to put $28.6 billion in grants toward rent, maintaining outdoor structures, and food and beverage expenses. The aid, the warming weather, and the expansion of indoor dining in New York City are timely for a sector within the sector that is eager to celebrate its biggest day of the year: St. Patrick’s Day. More →
“When we got the announcement, [we started having] conference calls every day between my production crew, the owners, my builders, my staff,” said Megan Zarnott, the general manager at The Bowery Electric, a music venue in the East Village. She’s referring to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s March 3 decision to allow art and entertainment venues to reopen at 33 percent capacity. The announcement precedes the anniversary of stage closures, and Zarnott and her team are wasting no time reuniting musicians and audiences. On Friday, the rock-and-roll hub announced singer-songwriter Jesse Malin would inaugurate The Bowery Electric’s live music return on April 2—the first day venues are allowed to reopen. More →
In a testimony published on February 24, former government aide Lindsey Boylan describes New York Governor Andrew Cuomo forcibly kissing her after a 2018 meeting in his Manhattan office on 3rd Avenue. “I was in shock, but I kept walking,” she states. It is outside this office, between E. 40th and 41st Streets, that about 20 protesters gathered yesterday at sunset. Throughout this past month, challenges to the governor’s leadership have dominated news feeds and social threads. These challenges are now being taken to the streets. More →
For performance artists across New York City, today is a turning point in recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic. Cultural institutions and entertainment venues can now begin applying for Open Culture, an initiative to revive performance arts after a year of shutdowns. “Although the COVID-19 [pandemic] has impacted the entire arts sector, nowhere has the effect been more direct, deep, and immediate than on the performing arts,” stated a COVID-19 impact analysis conducted by Argonne National Laboratory. Open Culture is a long-awaited step for the sector widely noted as the first to have closed and the last to reopen. More →
“It’s very spiritual for me to be . . . on these grounds where my ancestors walked and struggled. It’s amazing to be here on this tour,” Brooklyn native Michael Garrett said Saturday as he followed the wide-brimmed hats of New York City park rangers through Brooklyn Heights. More →
Outraged activists, distressed renters, proud union leaders, mayoral campaigners, assembly members, state senators, and at least one reporter attended Brooklyn’s Tenant Town Hall last night. The participant list blossomed around 6:45pm, and neared 270 at its pinnacle. On the virtual discussion table was a package of nine bills to address New York City’s growing housing crisis, a crisis that mass unemployment throughout the pandemic has exacerbated. As many as one million current renting households in New York are at risk of eviction if moratoriums are lifted—or if housing bills aren’t passed to protect vulnerable tenants. More →
Last February, Middle Church gathered at their 128-year-old sanctuary in the East Village to observe Ash Wednesday. Like churches around the world, Middle Church administered ashes on their congregants’ foreheads. But quite unlike other churches, the community considered the finitude of human life by commemorating the full import of the date, February 26—the anniversary of Trayvon Martin’s death. More →
On a recent Saturday afternoon in Bed-Stuy, an A-frame sandwich board on Malcolm X Boulevard advertised the offerings of Bailey’s Cafe. But there were no lattes or quiches on the menu. The “cafe” is actually an event space for local organizations, and today its sign read: “Healthcare for the People: free medical services to anyone in need.”
Inside of Bailey’s, tapestries crafted by local youth lined the wall, along with hand-painted quotes from Gwendolyn Brooks and Toni Morrison. On one of the cafe’s many couches sat Eddie Meraz, one of several licensed, volunteer health care advocates ready to provide medical assistance to anyone who visited. “Our goal and mission is to kind of… protest the health care system,” he said.
As Meraz and his colleagues at Callen-Lorde, a local community health center, labored throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the barriers keeping many New Yorkers from quality medical care became overwhelmingly apparent to them. “The health care system as it is now is an unsustainable and inequitable model,” Meraz said, citing insurance challenges and other limitations, including lack of trust, access, stability, and education. “So our protest is against the health care model while also providing a service to the community.”
Healthcare for the People believes that health care is a right—not a privilege. This belief informs the simple service they provide: free medical care every Saturday from noon to 4pm. They began on September 19 in Prospect Park, and on November 7, they saw a record number of approximately 40 patients. And November 14 marked their continued growth as they gathered at Bailey’s for the first time, where they’ll continue to meet as winter sets in.
For equipment and supplies, they created a GoFundMe that generated approximately $10,000 within the first two days. Their pop-up check-in table, folding chair waiting room, and blue medical tent may at first glance appear to be a robust family picnic. But the purpose of their presence is clarified by the bright, green caduceus (the universal symbol for medicine) emblazoned on their tent, masks, and signs. Like the traditional caduceus, the symbol is entwined with serpents—but in keeping with the spirit of protesters, their symbol culminates not in a staff, but a raised fist.
Anyone passing by the park or cafe can receive services including STI screenings, pregnancy tests, flu shots, blood pressure screenings, wound care, and overdose prevention training. And as their volunteer base expands, so does the diversity of their care opportunities—a Reiki healer, mental health specialist, and even veterinarian have volunteered their services. Insurance and paperwork are never required, and to eliminate as many barriers to care as possible, patients aren’t even expected to provide their names.
“One of the things that’s been really interesting for me,” said Ronica Mukerjee, who serves alongside Meraz on the organization’s board of directors, “is seeing that my acupuncture skills are in demand more than my Western medicine skills.” She’s been an acupuncturist for 17 years and a nurse practitioner for 13. When she noticed that the volunteered services were primarily Western medicine, she decided to offer acupuncture though she didn’t expect to have many patients. “And it’s been incredibly popular, which makes you realize, we actually don’t know what communities want,” she said. “It’s a popular service because people who get access to preventative or more gentle forms of medicine are often people who have a lot of money and resources.”
While Mukerjee is passionate about providing often-inaccessible forms of care to any patient, she and Healthcare for the People also want to recast patients’ expectations of medicine. This requires both adapting to community needs and presenting abundance instead of scarcity. “I think a lot of health care systems that work with poor patients really make patients accustomed to a thinness of care—like they’re only going to scratch the surface of what their needs are,” Mukerjee said. “How many people do you know leave [their medical provider] and are like, ‘I had an amazing experience. Deep in my core I feel better—I felt heard.’ People do not get that experience, and that’s really a big problem.”
As she spoke, the door opened. Mukerjee recognized the patient and said, “I’m so glad to see you!” The patient replied with a laugh: “I brought a friend!” Together, the two friends made for a total of five patients to have visited Bailey’s within the first two hours—three of whom visited for acupuncture. “That’s awesome. Why don’t you guys have a seat?” Mukerjee said. “I’m excited to see you both.”
Healthcare for the People has considered the possibility of opening a permanent clinic, perhaps even—eventually—one in all five boroughs. And with a base that has drawn nearly 60 volunteers in only two months, the opportunity to maximize their services to New Yorkers is promising. But Meraz keeps their work in perspective: “We are one of the wealthiest, if not the wealthiest nations on the earth. Yet here we have health care providers who are volunteering on a Saturday to provide medical care in a park,” he said. “So our best-case scenario isn’t success in expanding: our best-case scenario is universal health care where people can actually access care. That’s the protest that we want people to see—why does this even have to happen?”
As the problems of America incited protests across America, the streets of New York City became well worn by those demanding more for their country. Shouts and chants weren’t the only sounds comprising the din of the city’s demonstrations. There was a marching band, jazz trio, vocalist, string orchestra, and tap dancer heard within these movements, and they are a movement unto themselves—they are The Blacksmiths. More →