2017-09-27 / Front Page

Justice For All Resumes For Fall 2017

By Thomas Cogan
After a protest parade and rally was staged in Queensboro Plaza in late June, the Justice for All Coalition’s cadre suggested there might be a meeting in the summer.  It didn’t occur, but last week, by the time of the September meeting at the Jacob Riis Center in Queensbridge Houses, some good informational literature and strong proposals had been produced, to the profit of those in attendance. 

The meeting heard from not only Long Island City/Astoria activists but also a couple of speakers from Brooklyn and the Bronx.  Both of them chided the Queens group, warning that (a) many meetings full of many complaints are obviously futile if there is no plan for action beyond them; and (b) turning out to protest only in small numbers will show your adversaries you needn’t be taken seriously.  Instead, you must organize and aim to make your protest an organization containing hundreds or thousands of members.  

Stanley Moss was the activist from Brooklyn.  He warned the meeting that the threats to stability there are similar to threats everywhere else.  He said that developers where he lives are “years ahead of us” and have performed such feats as buying 19th century houses in Bedford-Stuyvesant at $200,000 and selling them at $1.5 million.  “This isn’t going to change by just sitting around talking,” he said.  “You must engage with your communities or else you’ll lose them.”  The work at hand includes knocking on doors and making phone calls, he said, and asked for volunteers, gaining a few.

Fitzroy Christian, a Bronx organizer who spoke to a Woodside on the Move meeting last October, said that up there rent stabilization is being undermined and there are plans for moving whole neighborhoods out, replacing them with high-rise buildings, many with waterside views.  There’s a large body of people who can pay for them but an even larger one that will be left to find other places to live—as if such places were plentiful and affordable.  “They can pick us off in the Bronx,” he said, because the people are too isolated.  The remedy, he said, is to coalesce with labor and faith groups and make it plain to politicians that if they ignore or patronize such a coalition they might pay dearly at election time.  A voice in the audience said, “There are more of us than them.”  It was then that Christian said small numbers won’t succeed when hundreds or thousands are needed.

One of the groups he talked to was the Department of City Planning, which at one point displayed a variety of community improvement plans and asked his group which one looked best to them.  The group turned them all down, saying they weren’t going to follow professional experts after forming a coalition of seven unions and making visits to many schools, hospitals and churches; and also knocking on a total of 17,000 doors to ask local residents what they needed and wanted.  Community residents, he said, are the community experts, able to tell DCP what is needed and wanted.

There were replies to those who complain that social activism groups sit around and talk and talk but never get anything done.  Claudia Cogar from Astoria Houses said she has organized for decades and knows that rather than gripe about futile activity it’s better said that the work’s never really finished.  When she and others recently persuaded a developer to make considerable space for a supermarket on the ground floor of a residential tower he was building, she counted it as a victory—a small one that helps as bigger ones are sought.  Mary McCleary of Queensbridge said that she has talked and worked through years of success and disappointment but is determined to continue, and that’s why she was here at this latest meeting.

The coalition has drawn up a list called Principles for Equitable Rezoning in Long Island City.  There are seven of them, with lengthy explanations beneath each one, but even when shown without such elaboration they tell a story.

  1. Real permanent low income and affordable housing targeted to current incomes of residents of LIC and Astoria.
  2. Good careers for local residents.
  3. Protection of small businesses and manufacturing jobs.
  4. Needed repairs and just development on public housing.
  5. Anti-harassment and anti-displacement policies to protect residents.
  6. Robust and meaningful public input to shape the plan.
  7. Smart infrastructure improvements for a growing community.

 

The first principle includes an objection to the sale or leasing of public lands to private developers, as is currently proposed on 44th Drive at the East River, demanding the opposite instead.  “The city must use our land, our resources, to build 100 percent affordable housing on any public land.”  The third principle demands passage in the City Council of Intro 402, designed to protect small business owners against harsh rent increases by offering arbitration between commercial tenants and landlords.  A statement in the fourth principle declares:  “As the administration considers development on public housing property to generate needed revenue, we must assure that any development on the property benefits the current residents and includes them in the decision-making process.”  And the sixth principle, calling for robust and meaningful public input, tells it plainly:  “Nothing without us is for us!

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