Jacob Riis Projects, Lower East Side of Manhattan

October 31, 2012 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


Two of us went to the Jacob Riis housing projects on Avenue D in the lower east side in New York City to interview people today, Wednesday, after the storm. These multinational projects are two blocks away from the East River in an area isolated from shops or the hubbub that make up the east village. It is also three blocks from the Con Ed power plant that went down during the storm. I spoke to two Latino men and two Latino women who are outraged at the conditions people there went through during the storm and are still going through. They had this to say:

At the beginning of the storm, the water rose to about four feet covering the cars parked at the projects. People went out to push their cars away from the water, and others came out to help. Several cars had floated to different spots. The water had flooded from the river to Avenue D and further east to Avenue A or 1st Avenue. We saw some men who were cleaning out their cars and I did not think much about it but there was more to it than meets the eye. Normally, rats get into cars parked around the projects by eating out the bottoms of the cars. After the storm, rats and leaves were found in some cars and the men cleaning out their cars were cleaning cars that were flooded on the inside. There were hundreds of big, drowned rats in the projects which were cleared yesterday. I got a picture of one that was not cleared. As we were talking, some guys came by inquiring about where to charge their phones and the women pointed them to a car nearby.

Across the street, some Asian and Latino people were filling up bucket and plastic jugs from a fire hydrant to take into their apartments in buildings which were about 15 stories high with no working elevators. Before the hydrant was opened, only one little water spout on the side of this particular building was available to people for water. Turning to area on the left of the entrance, the women pointed to a sink hole caused by the storm. When they questioned the building maintenance about whether the sink hole impacted the foundation of the building, they were not re-assured by the response that it was fine, which was not based on an assessment by structural engineers.

The two Latino women talked about people helping each other and collectivity. During the storm, they and others went door to door knocking every few hours to make sure people were okay. As there was no electricity, people cooked the food before it spoiled and took it around to others to share. Some people have no food and this is the only way they were able to eat. They also talked about some masked guys who knocked on doors of some elderly people and robbed them when the elderly opened their doors. A big problem now is that the city is reporting the electricity will not be up for about four days. WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO THE PEOPLE THERE WHO HAVE NO FOOD, NO WATER AND NO ELECTRICITY? There is also concern of this being the end of the month and how will people have access to their disability or other source of income, or even be able to get to a bank to get it.

We were joined by an older Latino guy who was sweeping the leaves left from the flood. He talked about each of the buildings having several people on oxygen. In his building, about 12 people are on oxygen tanks. The day of the storm, one woman was almost out of oxygen so her son went to Bellevue Hospital nearby to get it. By the time he got back, she was dead. This man's roommate had an amputated foot and needed oxygen. He went to Bellevue and was told to go to Beth Israel Medical Center another short distance away. He has not heard from his roommate since then and has run out of cell phone battery. He was angry that people are dying and will be dying of lack of oxygen tanks. He also carried a 75 year old woman to the 12th floor on his back to her home, and later carried up several gallons of water to her.

For the last storm, Hurricane Irene, people there were evacuated to Seward Park High School. This time, evacuation was not offered. Why is that?

People were outraged that, here they live three blocks from the Con Edison power station and they cannot get electricity. Not only their apartments, but the hallways and stairs have absolutely no light. They talked about seeing light in Battery Park City and how under this system, there is no regard for poor people. What will make life even more difficult in future will be the closing of Path Mark market (frequented by many tenants who walk to it with their shopping cars for food) further south, for another development for the super rich by Trump. There will be no good alternative for food.

These are the projects where the October 22 National Day of Protest against Police Brutality, Repression and Criminalization of a Generation ended the march for the last two years. The people I was interviewing remember the march and pointed to the newspaper cover saying that they supported ending stop and frisk. One of the men who spoke to the other interviewer initially, asked “what can you do” to this whole situation. I spoke to people speaking out to demand food, medical resources, electricity... He spoke to the ’60s and wanting the spirit of that versus the me, me, me mentality of youth wanting parents to buy $100 sneakers over paying the rent. He was involved in the Young Lords in the ’60s and sums up the leaders of that movement as sold out or given up for media jobs. I basically said – not true – and spoke to BA's history and his leading the revolution, and asked him to read out loud the second page blurb in Revolution newspaper, “Who is Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party?” At the part of “...and really fight to win” he paused to say, “That's beautiful.” He said he really liked the whole piece, and we will be in touch.

On a personal note, all of the news I have seen, none covers the people living in the projects or poor people. The tenants at the Jacob Riis projects are left to fend for themselves with very little resources.

As I left, one woman said, “Thank you for being our voice.”

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