What can be done to arrest and reverse the real estate industry's enclosure of Manhattan's Lower East Side? The demolition of gardens to make way for yuppie condos, the displacement of low-rent tenants, the eviction of squatter buildings, the squeezing out of mom-and-pop bodegas and private bookstores by corporate chains, the redesign and semi-privatization of East River Park, the erasing of New York City's most diverse and tolerant neighborhood's dreams, memory and identity
what, as someone once asked, is to be done?
The Lower East Side Autonomous Zone
We have a vision. We have a vision that one day in the near future, the residents of the Lower East Side will start to meet and talk with each other in our tenements, on our blocks; Puerto Ricans and Dominicans and Central Americans, Poles and Ukrainians and Slovaks, Bengalis and Chinese and Korean, Blacks and Jews and Italians, punkers and hipsters and homeboys, artists and activists and squatters; and decide to find our common interest in reclaiming our neighborhood from the occupying forces of speculators, developers, landlords, organized crime, police and automobiles.
Community Board 3, a toothless tool of party patronage with neither accountability nor binding power, will be challenged by a Popular Community Board, which will emerge from the tenement and block meetings, drawing it's legitimacy from the genuine loyalty of active and aware Lower East Side residents.
The Popular Community Board will declare itself a body with binding power, rather than a mere "advisory" rubber stamp for policies created by the City Hall/real estate nexus. Representatives on the board will be bound to vote according to the wishes of the residents they represent, following policies hashed out in the neighborhood meetings. All representatives will be recallable by popular vote at any time.
Effectively seceding from the increasingly ungovernable entity known as New York City, the Lower East Side Autonomous Zone (LESAZ) will be declared.
Popularly known as Loisaida Libre. At a minimum, its boundaries would stretch from 14th Street on the north to Grand Street on the south, and from the East River to Bowery/Fourth Avenue.
Among the first declarations of the LESAZ will be the banning of absentee landlords. All buildings not owned by neighborhood residents will be expropriated without compensation and turned over to the tenants to be run cooperatively. NYC's own Buildings Department would, of course, be considered an "absentee landlord", and all city-owned buildings will be similarly expropriated and turned over to homeless or low-income neighborhood residents for immediate housing.
A moratorium will be declared on new businesses whose prices and aesthetics offend the traditional working-class character of the neighborhood. Funds for rehabilitating crumbling tenements will be made available from heavy taxation of those yuppie boutiques and eateries which choose to remain in the newly autonomous
hood. Such establishments would include the Gap on St. Marks Place and any other corporate chains or franchises. As for the McDonalds on First Avenue, they are simply too noxious. They will have to leave.
There will be no taxes for tenants, employees or the unemployed! But the Lower East Side Autonomous Zone will impose such heavy taxes on Avenue A's yuppie eateries that NOBODY in our territory will know want!
Jobs would be created by the tenement rehab program. After lead, asbestos and other toxins are removed from the buildings, after floors are replaced and stairs repaired, then plumbing systems will be completely revamped. Graywater recycling systems will be installed, sending wastewater from the sink into the toilet bowl to be reused, rather then straight down to the sewer. The effort to convert our tenements into decent and ecologically sound housing will create gainful employment for neighborhood residents for years to come.
Automobiles will be barred from the LESAZ, with barricades erected across the intersections leading into Loisaida Libre. Our neighborhood will become an island of fresh air as our streets are liberated from the auto-cracy of toxin-spewing death machines. The bicycle will become the predominant mode of transportation. Workshops such as The Hub on East Third Street will organize a network of bicycle collectives throughout the LESAZ, providing bicycle repair, rental and even production for LESAZ residents at reasonable rates. LESAZ-designed human-powered taxis and even buses will provide transportation within the LESAZ for residents whose personal health does not permit them to cycle themselves. The cottage industry (or tenement industry) will produce creative human-powered vehicles for export to surrounding neighborhoods and municipalities.
Tourists will doubtless flock to the LESAZ to witness the new society under construction, or simply to escape the noise and pollution of the rest of the city, much as New Yorkers now head to Central Park for an afternoon of relative sanity. Guided tours for outsiders will both help spread the ideas of the alternative Lower East Side and provide an additional source of neighborhood revenue.
The Tompkins Square bandshell will be rebuilt.
As City Hall strikes back, responding to the Lower East Side's secession with the withdrawal of city services, neighborhood residents will exercise creativity to invent their own alternative institutions. Many who remember the Tompkins Square riots will no doubt be happy to see "New York's Finest" depart. The police will be replaced with neighborhood watch groups and rotating block patrols of local residents. Guns and uniforms will become unnecessary as responsibility for keeping peace in the neighborhood is decentralized and democratized. Popular self-defense classes organized by block committees, and a restoration of the neighborhood's sense of community, will evaporate the climate of fear and alienation in which violent crime thrives. The young, strong and healthy will take responsibility for protecting the backs of the elderly, infirm and disabled. Burglars, thieves, muggers, rapists and coke and heroin dealers will have to face a citizenry which directly responds to them, rather than a citizenry which cowers behind locked doors waiting for the police to arrive. Apprehended miscreants will be photographed before being escorted to the neighborhood's borders
or thrown into the East River.
As the city withdraws sanitation services, a program of total recycling will be instated. The Lower East Side Recycling Center on 7th Street, which has already turned a waste disposal site into an extremely pleasant garden, will become a model to be emulated throughout the LESAZ. Vegetable waste will become compost for community gardens. Products with excess packaging will be banned from importation into the LESAZ, and plastics will be generally discouraged. Thriving tenement industry will turn all manner of metal, wood, glass and cardboard "garbage" into useful products of every variety, from vehicles to furniture to tablewares to works of art. When markets within the LESAZ have been fully exploited, these products can be exported. Eventually, none of the neighborhood's waste will be going to the NYC Sanitation Department's Staten Island landfill. The LESAZ may even be paid to import metal "waste" from the rest of the city, and then transform it into useful products to be resold back to the city. However, entry into the LESAZ of any hazardous substances will be scrupulously banned.
To facilitate this thriving trade, docks will be rebuilt and revitalized on the East River waterfront, and a fleet of merchant barges will ply the city's waterways. Inter-neighborhood and inter-municipality trade will restore a localized, labor-intensive, ecologically-sound and small-scale industrial economy to the metropolitan area, creating a real alternative to the capital-heavy and unviable model of real estate and high finance now in place. The waterfront revitalization project, which will be vital to this effort, could be undertaken jointly with the Wiliamsburg Autonomous Zone directly across the river.
Partial, or eventually complete autonomy from the Con Edison grid could be achieved through the construction of turbines which generate power by exploiting tides in the East River.
Loisaida Libre could become at least partially self-sufficient in food as the neighborhood's vacant lots are turned over to community gardens, the soil nourished with rich compost created from organic "garbage" (coffeegrounds, eggshells, fruit and vegetable scraps, etc.), which adjoining neighborhoods will pay us to accept. Rooftop and raised-bed gardening will prevent contamination of crops with toxins left over from destroyed tenements.
In addition to growing fruits, vegetables and corn, Loisaida gardens will also grow herbs for use in the neighborhood's network of Free Clinics, which will also be funded by heavy taxation on the outside economic interests that continue to operate within the LESAZ. Taking the lead from the Lower East Side Needle Exchange and the alternative treatment advocates within ACT UP, the Free Clinics will emphasize prevention, self-healthcare and informational programs on hygiene and nutrition, minimizing reliance on antibiotics and pharmaceuticals.
However, much of our food will be imported from local organic growers in Hudson Valley and New Jersey farm communities, building on the system already used by the Union Square Green Market and the Good Food Coop on Fourth Street. Eventually these farm communities could become markets for Loisaida tenement industry products in exchange for organic produce. Revitalization of the Lower East Side waterfront will also help stimulate this trade, thereby creating a symbiotic relationship with the expansion of organic agriculture in nearby rural areas. As our country cousins work to restore local watersheds, native species and self-sufficient farm communities, the alternative economy will start to spread throughout the bioregion defined by the Hudson River Valley.
A network of inter-dependent Autonomous Zones can begin to form an economic and political counter-structure to the existing grid of suburbanizing municipalities which surround the city. This Hudson Bioregional Confederation of Autonomous Zones, usually refered to simply as the Hudson Bioregion, will act as a solidarity network. For instance, if New York City authorities threaten to withhold water from Loisaida Libre or other autonomous zones serviced by the aqueduct system, this move could be effectively barred by our bioregional allies in the Catskill Autonomous Zones, who will be working to maintain the city's mountain reservoirs by preserving the watersheds that feed them through reforestation efforts and monitoring runoff from cesspools and lawns. As the resource base becomes increasingly threatened by ecological mismanagement, those with the vision and wherewithal to implement the sustainable alternatives will be in a position of power to negotiate with
and perhaps eventually supersede in importance
the established authorities of municipal bureaucracy and private power.
In generations to come, entities such as New York City will become irrelevant as Autonomous Zone networks become the new arbiter of political power. Similarly, New York State and New Jersey will be superseded by the Hudson, Delaware, Finger Lakes, St. Lawrence and Seneca Bioregions, roughly conforming to watersheds and sharing the mountain divides of the Ramapo, Catskills and Adirondacks. The United States of America will cease to exist, replaced by a decentralized North American Bioregional Federation. The Shasta Bioregion of Northern California and Cascadia Bioregion of the Pacific Northwest have already been mapped and declared. Those interested in identifying and preserving native flora and fauna and reclaiming a sense of place in the more developed and densely-inhabited East Coast are spreading the new idea of social organization which will eventually replace both the nation-state and the multinational corporation.
As the inevitable breakdown of nations, which is already well underway in eastern Europe, begins to spread to the West, it will be up to us to find the models and unifying principles which can create positive alternatives to the old structures and avoid nightmares such as those now playing themselves out in the Balkans, the Caucasus and Central Africa. We can already see the potential for local nightmares in such situations as the Black-Hasidic rivalry in Brooklyn's Crown Heights, where desires for local autonomy has become linked to notions of racial purity and chauvinism on both sides of the conflict. The long and proud progressive tradition of the Lower East Side, however, points to a better possibility: that of linking desires for local autonomy to notions of social justice and ecological sustainability.
As New York continues the process of political fragmentation which we can see already, Loisaida Libre is likely to become a refuge for progressive exiles from areas of the city where local reactionary forces have taken the reins
such as South Queens and parts of Staten Island. Loisaida Libre will be a haven for free thought and cultural experimentation.
The New Municipal Order
The Lower East Side Autonomous Zone's legality and legitimacy will be based on the unassailable premise that the city government's redevelopment of the neighborhood is illegal and in violation of the City Charter. Since the courts have provided no redress for these grievances, the Lower East Side has no alternative than to seize control from below through mechanisms of direct democracy.
In southern Mexico, the Maya Indian support base of the rebel Zapatista movement have declared their outlying hamlets and farming communities to be Autonomous Zones and "New Municipalities," which govern from below in defiance of the fraudulently-elected, brutal and corrupt official governments of the municipal seats. Similarly, Loisaida Libre will become a "free municipality" in opposition to the illegitimate and illegal regime in Gracie Mansion. The Loisaida New Municipality would stand in opposition to the reigning New Municipal Order in which the notion of genuine citizenship has been betrayed as surely as in the New World Order which it mirrors.
The clearest illegality has been the closure and "renovation" of Tompkins Square Park. The year-and-a-half closure of the park from 1990, and the demolition of the historic bandshell which had been a showcase for neighborhood talent for over a generation, were unilaterally decreed by Mayor David Dinkins, in violation of the City Charter, which calls for City Council and Community Board approval in such decisions. A legal challenge to the plan on this basis failed to halt demolition.
Plans now underway for East River Park are apparently even worse, with the abandoned amphitheater there slated to become a privately-owned yuppie coffee shop
which most of the residents who now use the park would be unable to afford to patronize. If efforts to halt this irresponsible plan through legal mechanisms fail, the case for a Lower East Side Autonomous Zone would become stronger.
This issue cuts to the heart of whether we contemporary urbanites live in a democratic culture. Parks are supposed to be neighborhood meeting places, public communities and, when necessary, forums for free speech and protest available to anyone, regardless of income or social status. Private administration and heavy policing is antithetical to this vision. Tompkins Square may be cleaner and prettier now than before the renovation, but nothing can ever compensate for the destruction of the bandshell. The Tent City shantytown which established itself in the old Tompkins Square may have seemed unsightly, but the whole point was to say NO, we CANNOT continue to ignore and shunt aside the homeless.
In Tompkins Square, for the last century and a half, renovations have been scheduled to defuse working class movements and unrest in the neighborhood
after the Civil War anti-draft riots, after bread riots in the 1870s depression, and most recently following the August 6, 1988 riot and subsequent Tent City and related protests. In the evolution of the city's parks we can follow the decline of urban citizenship: from the utopian populist vision of Frederick Law Olmsted to the standardized machine politics of Robert Moses to the yuppie New Enclosure of semi-private groups like the Grand Central Partnership, a power nexus of midtown business which has its own goon squad that routinely rousts and assaults the homeless.
Such groups boast of parks reclaimed from drug dealers and anti-social scum. This demonization of the petty criminals at the bottom of the social hierarchy masks, as always, a slide into a police state
increasingly, this time, a private-sector police state where those disenfranchised from the New Municipal Order of Real Estate/Finance/Big Media are squeezed out of one of the few physical and social spaces still open to them. Bryant Park behind the New York Public Library on 42nd Street, policed and maintained by the Grand Central Partnership, is a study in post-Orwellian private-sector totalitarianism. Appropriation of public space by Business Improvement Districts and private foundations is a part of the New Enclosure.
Even the city's security forces are not immune from the New Enclosure. The privatization of the New York Police Department is already underway, with a new precinct under construction in the Wall Street area being funded entirely by local BIDs, and officers being offered for hire as rent-a-cops at the high-class functions of the city's elite.
This agenda has, of course, dramatically advanced with the election of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Mayor Giuliani's agenda for the city is spelled out in the position papers of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, a right-wing think tank on municipal policy. The 1992 Giuliani campaign's top economic advisor Stephen Kagann is a top contributor to the Manhattan Institute's "prestigious" City Journal, which was apparently a "hot book" at Giuliani for Mayor HQ in 1992. Recent articles in the City Journal propose that New York sell off its public hospitals and transportation lines, and dramatically cut spending on social services. True to form, Giuliani has turned vast areas of the city over to Walt Disney and even proposed privatizing the Brooklyn Bridge.
The Manhattan Institute also published The Dream & The Nightmare, a book by Fortune magazine writer Myron Magnet which argues that "pathological poverty came into being not in spite of, but because of, the cultural shift that began in the '60s." In one gem of right-wing victim-bashing rhetoric, Magnet writes that "cockeyed ideas of economic victimization got mixed up with an appropriate horror at racism to produce the belief that the state had to compensate the poor, especially poor blacks, for their plight. That compensation turned out to be welfare, which has become a machine for perpetuating the underclass by
undermining values and supporting the most blighted family structures."
Not surprisingly, bigshot investment banker Felix Rohatyn stepped down as chairman of the city's Municipal Assistance Corporation just as Giuliani was coming in. Rohatyn's MAC had long had de facto veto power over the city budget, reining in spending on public services in the name of "fiscal responsibility." Although they weren't called such, these MAC-enforced cuts were essentially "austerity measures" of the same type that the World Bank and IMF impose on India and Brazil. Rohatyn's departure from the MAC, which he had headed since its founding in the fiscal crisis of 1975, indicates that the city's financial establishment
the so-called "permanent government"
finally has a man they can completely trust in City Hall.
The only role for low-income neighborhoods in the New Municipal Order is as a toxic dump site. Giuliani (like the outgoing Dinkins, after he flip-flopped on the issue) , supports construction of the Brooklyn Navy Yard trash incinerator, which would spew deadly poisons into the air of the Latino and Jewish immigrant neighborhood of Williamsburg (and is being underwritten by Lazard-Freres, Felix Rohatyn's investment firm). Due to aggressive neighborhood organizing efforts and environmentalist opposition, it now appears that incinerator will not be built. Instead, however, Williamsburg appears slated for the equal and opposite nightmare of rampant gentrification, as the yuppie wave from the East Village rolls across the river to Brooklyn, just as it had rolled in from the West Village a generation earlier.
In the New Municipal Order, the city only owes police protection to the affluent
not services to the poor. Only those who cannot afford private hospitals would go to the nightmarish HHC hospitals. Giuliani's agenda is to follow the national trend towards privatization of city services
further squeezing out access for citizens not among the yuppie elite. Giuliani's envisioned New York is strictly a "global" city
a city for high finance, high art, big media, international diplomacy and trade. It is not a city of neighborhoods and working people. The labor is cheaper in Mexico and Guatemala, and with the trade barriers going down there are no obstacles to exploiting that labor. Cities like New York and LA
where Mayor Richard Riordan was just elected on a similar agenda
are now merely centers for elite global management and electronic paperwork. New York's working class has outlived its usefulness. It only remains to be driven out of town
or, when that is not an option, behind bars
by a wave of privatization and repression which will make life untenable for all but the monied management class.
Robert Fitch provides an excellent analysis of the cycles of New York politics in his book The Assassination of New York. The corrupt, entrenched Democratic machine generally holds sway, until a fed-up populace votes in a Liberal-Republican "fusion" candidate once every few decades
last time around, as the New Deal Republican strongman Fiorella LaGuardia; this time around in the law-and-order get-tough-on-(smalltime)-crime guise of the incumbent schmuck. Giuliani was elected on an openly reactionary platform, playing to white racists, while the Machine pols rely, to greater or lesser degrees, on the "minority vote" (remember, whites are the real minority in this town) that they control through their system of patronage. Eventually the Machine recoups its losses in the voting booths and the cycle begins all over again.
The Giuliani regime represents a distinct 1990s version of the Fusion phenomenon. Beginning in the 1950s and climaxing in the 1970s, New York was subject to "white flight" as the middle class fled to the suburbs. Then, in the 1980s, suburban offspring of the generation which had fled started returning to the city to reap the gains of the booming stock market
the yuppie class. Giuliani is the candidate of this new generation. He grew up in Long Island's Nassau County, and has returned to govern a city which he manifestly sees as threatening and alien. He represents the suburbs' revenge on the city; the paradoxical suburban colonization of the decayed urban center. This is especially obvious in the turning over of 42nd Street and other vast pieces of Manhattan Island to the Walt Disney company.
The naked racism which lay at the root of the "white flight" syndrome is no less evident in the suburban recolonization regime. Without hyperbole or exaggeration, Giuliani can be characterized as a proto-fascist. The holster-sniffing cop-glorification and contempt for democracy is there. The drunken police orgy at City Hall back in the campaign against Dinkins recalled Hitler's 1923 Beerhall Putsch, while echoes of Hitler's later designs can be heard in the forcible internment of thousands of Haitian refugees in a de facto concentration camp at Camp Krome, FLA, that Giuliani headed up when he was number-two man in the Reagan Justice Department. When the refugees sued, Giuliani made a little junket to Port-au-Prince where he got schmoozed up by Baby Doc Duvalier, and came back giving his torture regime an entirely predictable clean bill of health. All those human rights violations
em! Them boat people just want a free ride in the US of A.
Giuliani now rules New York City by decree, his executive mandating the destruction of tenements with no notice to the residents, privatizing community gardens to real estate developers, opening the parks to billboard advertisers
all without regard for legal requisites or public oversight.
In short, whatever pathetic facade of neighborhood democracy existed under the Democrat machine is being rapidly dismantled. The era of looking to bureaucrats for solutions is definitively over. Citizens will only be able to make their power felt from below. Ultimately, how much of the New Municipal Order agenda Giuliani will be able to get away with will be decided in the city's streets, schools, tenements and workplaces.
For the Independent City-State of New York!
Another basis for declaration of the Lower East Side Autonomous Zone is New York City's failure to consider secession from New York State! The June 1997 battle in Albany over the rent control laws provided ample evidence that such a move is long overdue. With upstate and suburban legislators demanding the rent laws be sunset, New York City leaders had a responsibility to at least threaten secession. Not a one rose to the occasion.
In the saturation of feel-good free-market landlord propaganda it is forgotten that the rent laws were passed for a reason. It is absolutely obscene that decontrol is even an issue, given that homelessness has been , when "the homeless" was a fashionable liberal issue. Now we're all supposed to be suffering from "compassion fatigue," and the legions street-dwelling refugees from rent-gauging and "planned shrinkage" have returned to their conveniently invisible status. But we tenants are going to have some heavy karma to pay for this insensitivity and betrayal of human solidarity.
Look at how much ground we've lost. "If you can't afford to live in New York City--move!" is the message, succinctly summed up by our former Mayor Ed Koch. We say: Fuck that! This is our city! Let Disney and Starbucks decamp for California and Seattle! Like those damn Hollywood crews that are setting up shop all over the sidewalks of the East Village, treating the surly locals with undisguised contempt. What an insult!
There were, and remain
for the rent laws will come up for renewal again in 1999
two surefire tactics to oppose any erosion of tenant protections:
- Credible threat of a city-wide universal rent strike if the tenant
protection laws are at all eroded in Albany. Start organizing your tenant
strike committee now!
- A movement for the Greater Metropolitan Area to secede from Upstate.
If New York State is going to gut New York City's rent regulations, New York City should secede from New York State.
We city-dwellers are not the constituents who conservative upstate legislators like State Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno (who led the battle against rent control) has to answer to in the voting booth. Therefore our opinions mean nothing to them. However, the landlords who oppress us are free to lobby Joe Bruno and his ilk
and make donations to their campaigns. This is inherently unjust.
It is criminal that they got away with rent deregulation in Boston, where in 1994 Massachusetts voters decided in a referendum to do away with all rent protections statewide. Since then, Bostonians have been paying the price. The Boston Herald reported on Dec 26 1996, "Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino yesterday blasted 'greedy' landlords who have begin issuing
astronomical' rent increases to elderly tenants about to lose their rent control protections.
We're hearing about $1,000 [a month] rent increases for elderly couples
.' said Menino".
Now, why should someone in Amherst or Great Barrington get to vote on the lives of Bostonians, we'd like to know. Similarly, why should Joe Bruno get to vote on the lives of all us Jews, Negroes, faggots and welfare-cheats down here in the Big Apple?
A new housing study, commissioned by the Rent Stabilization Association (RSA), an Orwellianly-named landlord group which seeks to do AWAY with rent stabilization, finds that if rent regulations were abolished, rents in stabilized apartment buildings would rise by up to 51% in some neighborhoods.
The assumptions and methodology of the study are being questioned by tenant activists because the purpose was ostensibly to allay fears of even greater rent increases. So the rent increases listed by the study are probably entirely to optimistic from the tenant's point of view (or pessimistic from the landlord's point of view). The rent increases by neighborhood would be:
- 51% on the Upper West Side
- 30% on the Upper East Side
- 30% in Greenwich Village
- 21% in Chelsea
- 16% in Stuyvesant Town
- 10% in the Lower East Side/Chinatown
- 5% in Harlem, Morningside Heights, and
Outside of Manhattan, the report predicts that rents would rise 8%, with increases ranging from 0% in Staten Island to 19% in Queens neighborhoods. Even these increases would mean the difference between precarious month-to-month housing and eviction for countless families. Households which are now one pay-check away from eviction would be pushed over the edge.
If we can't afford to live in New York, move? Where are we supposed to go? All those upstaters who support rent deregulation because they think we are all whining minorities looking for a hand-out certainly wouldn't want us moving into their backyards! A few letters making this point from NYC residents with obviously "ethnic" last names to the newspapers of Albany, Kingston and Rochester might be appropriate. Don't forget Rensellaer, Bruno's home turf.
Joe Bruno showed his true colors in the 1994 budget battle in Albany, when he attacked those he sees as truly responsible for breaking the state's budget: "It is the lowest-income people. It's the blacks, the Hispanics, and I only say that because look at the numbers;
90 percent of those people support him [meaning Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver of the Lower East Side]
Why? Because they are people that got their hands out. They are the ones fighting for welfare."
The damned impertinence and arrogance (not to mention undisguised racism, anti-Semitism and homophobia) of these upstate politicians! They demonize us to their constituents as a bunch of whiny minorities with our hands out! Meanwhile, who is raising the lion's share of the tax revenues for Albany's budget? It sure as hell ain't Buffalo!
What interest do we have in sticking with New York State any longer? Let's see how long they can get along without us.
The rent struggle could provide the spark for the secession movement. Let the City Council pass new, more restrictive legislation if the state rent regulation laws are ever allowed to sunset. Let Albany try to fight it in the courts if they so choose. If Albany wins in the courts, we secede!
From the USA, if need be.
This is the only realistic position. However, since our elected leaders are too bound by the confines of mundane conventionality to utter even a peep of such notions, we have no alternative other than go beyond the media-hyped spectacle of American "representative" democracy, to a kind of democracy which is grassroots and community-based and radically participatory, and secede on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis
with the Lower East Side in the vanguard.
Secessionism and local autonomy need not remain the domain of the redneck right and cowboy militia types in Texas and Montana. Our Republican and radical-right enemies are giving anarchy a bad name; we have to reclaim our turf. Traditional leftist notions of class struggle without any sensitivity to questions of local autonomy have brought such nightmares as Stalinism. Contemporary Republican and radical-right bluster about local political autonomy without any opposition to the vast class disparities and centralizations of economic power will lead to the equal and opposite nightmare of direct Corporate Rule. The so-called "decentralization" of those who oppose welfare and rent control laws is just a pseudo-populist sugar coating on the final dismantling of the last remnants of the New Deal order, a weaker federal state in the interests of greater centralized power for global capital. In other words: Meet the new boss.
Don't be fooled again! On towards the Manhattan People's Soviet!
(for Adam Purple)
Close to a house on a piece of ground
For the growing of vegetables, flowers & fruits
On fertile well-developed land
Is a delightful place or state, a paradise
Often a place for public enjoyment
Where grows the alyssum to cure our rage
Oriental night of the careless developers
Carpet of snow of the drugged landlords
Basket of gold the city's confused
Royal carpet of its bureaucracies,
Bored with bombs
Political ones of the complicated governments Now stick up the very orb
For its nonmetal yet golden remains
Competing with the larval corn borers
The salaried test-borers
Imminently lead anti-sexually down to the foundation
Of the annihilation
Or a circular garden in which live members of
The mustard family
The tomato or nightshade family
The poppy family
The geranium family
The aster family
The mint family
The thistle or aster family
The violet family (heartsease)
The lily family
The cucumber or gourd family
The rose family
The composite or daisy family
The parsley or carrot family
And other families
(I don't think the pokeweed family lives there,
It earns too little or too much money per year)
We are told to swallow not a rainbow
But like the celandine the juicy proposal
That the lemon balm of low income housing,
Applied like ageratum to the old Lower East Side
(As early matured as the apricot)
And probably turned by deeply divided leaves
Like a rape of grapes before it's all over
Cannot coexist with the gleaming black raspberries
In an ancient abandoned place
Around Eldridge, Foresight and Stanton Streets
We're asked not to think, like pansies do
That the pinnately compund, ovate, lanceolate, non-linear, lobed, compound, toothed, alternate, opposite, palmate, heart-shape, stalkless, clasping, perfoliate, and basal rosette-ish leaves
Can heal like the comfrey
And cause to grow together
The rough hairy leaves of the city's people and the rough hairy leaves of the sublimity of a gardener's art
Made with vegetarian shit & free as cupid's darts
If all our eyes had the clarity of apples
In a world as altered
As if by the wood betony
And all kinds of basil were the only rulers of the land
It would be good to be together
Both under and above the ground
To be as sane as the madwort
Ripe as corn, safe as sage,
Various as dusty miller and hens & chickens,
In politics as kindly fierce and dragonlike as tarragon,
Revolutionary as the lily
Originally published in Avant Gardening,Autonomedia 1999.