From the Harlem Projects to the Lower East Side Riis Projects

November 6, 2012 | Revolution Newspaper |


I was part of the effort through the weekend with the Harlem Revolution Club to bring some strength behind the NYC Revolution Club's seven demands in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. We went through some projects there in Harlem to let people know about this movement for revolution, the crime of the system's response so far after Hurricane Sandy, and the demands we're struggling to mobilize people around to unlock the resources the system has that actually can meet the increasingly intense needs of people in the areas affected by the hurricane. A form we were putting to people was contributing needed things and taking them to the Riis Projects downtown that readers of are already familiar with. We distributed a lot of printed copies of the editorial on and sold some Revolution newspapers as part of this. I can't speak for this whole experience, but here are some thoughts of my own I wanted to share:

Speaking to people in the projects in Harlem about all this you can't help but be struck by how many people are living close to or on the edge just with the "normal" workings of things. Later in the Riis Projects we spoke with people who have now been pushed beyond that. In Harlem we knocked on doors and many people showed us they have no food for themselves. At the same time a number of people were very inspired by our effort to expose the illegitimacy of this system and force it to bring the resources to people who need them right now, and some were even more inspired that for us this is part of building a movement for the revolution that can solve this madness humanity finds itself in. Some people who felt powerless thinking about taking part in just another relief effort got jazzed about taking part in the bigger thing we were doing once they got the idea. Two older Latina women who had nothing in the house came downstairs a couple of hours later with four large bags of clothes—children's clothes, coats, sweaters, etc. There were a few other stories like this, too. We collected quite a lot of food and clothing from residents of these projects and brought it downtown.

In the Riis Projects, along with the anger people feel on different levels with the system, and the joy at seeing efforts of the many volunteers organized by different community groupings to bring food and other needs, I was struck by how quickly the conversation went to the big questions, especially once they hear about revolution and BA—why is this happening this way, is it corruption, bad politicians, human nature... A young guy feeling very drawn to this revolution but feeling the weight of where others are at right now, especially middle class people who have not taken enough of a stand against what the system does to those on the bottom. Others would agree that this world could be very different, "if people would unite... if people would stand up... if..." meaning if things happened that clearly are not likely to happen. I pulled out BAsics and we talked about how the Statement on Strategy talks about moments when people are jolted, and what those of us who see the real problem need to be doing to build the movement for revolution through all this. This was clearly different than anything they had thought of before, and some wanted to get involved and learn more.

One older woman in the Riis Projects agreed that things could change and talked about changing the social security rules. She had trouble getting that we're talking about a whole different system. I pulled out BAsics again and read 2:5 and 2:6. I also pointed out the editorial's questions ("Did they...?") with the obvious answers. Then she had much exposure to relate. She said November 1 an increase in rent kicked in (she lives in the projects). Hers went up from about $500 to about $600. She now has no money at all left over after paying her bills for food. She also related her husband being arrested—before this crisis—for "trespassing" for going to a friends home in another building in the same projects.

Here's a backdrop "normal functioning" crime: A friend of mine looked up the story about the rent increase, and found an article from 2009 about the NYC Housing Authority restructuring rents and maintenance costs for public housing, which amounts to cutting personnel and dramatically raising rents of anyone who is paying less than 30% of their income for rent!

While talking with people, this really struck me: the priority the system put on getting the stock exchange up and running was about, in the midst of a disaster, getting the machinery of exploitation back on track—literally and as a public opinion point—at the vicious expense of people, including many people who are on the bottom of that exploitation. This system really is not fit to rule. We can do much better with this revolution.

I do have a suggestion: Along with really popularizing the editorial from Revolution newspaper, to bring the slogan and all seven demands of the NYC Revolution Club even more to the fore in the days ahead. Especially in areas that don't yet have power—the Rockaways, Red Hook, Coney Island, areas of New Jersey, and more—with the temperatures dropping below freezing and food a big challenge, but also in areas where people have electricity and maybe heat but still not enough food and other things. This is still a challenge. Some news (NY1) has covered the story of some volunteer efforts, including at least one volunteer describing bringing one plate of food to five hungry people, saying "it's not enough." Those demands, along with pointing to the utter failure of this system, focus up an important front of resistance many can step into. The volunteer efforts are very positive. They're also not able to be enough in the face of this, and we can't let the system off the hook as they still mainly focus on their machinery of exploitation and repression, criminalizing people with their arrests, curfews, and worse. The resources exist to meet these needs, and many many people can learn a great deal in the struggle to unlock these resources.


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