Tuesday, February 21, 2017

My Love Letter to Immigrant Working Class New York

I may live in Artisanal Park Slope, but immigrant working class New York is where I feel most at home.
It's all because of where I grew up in the 1950's- in Lower Crown Heights, sometimes known as "Pigtown." 95 Percent of the people in our neighborhood were Jewish or Italian. The grandparents, who were mostly foreign born, spoke Yiddish or some Italian dialect, the parents, mostly American born, spoke English and we, the children, spoke the language of popular culture. The mixing of cultures, and languages created conflict, confusion, and an almost electric level of energy. Nowhere were you safe from being yelled at, threatened, instructed or hugged. There was no privacy, Arguments were in the home, the street, in the stores, even in school. But God forbid someone should come from another neighborhood to hurt us or challenge us. As much as we fought with one another, we were together when facing outsiders.
And even though none of us were rich, we had the best food, the best music, the most colorful language, and the confidence that given half of a chance, we could succeed in this strange and wonderful country which we were not only turning into our home, but were changing as much as it changed us.
This is why I love the Bronx. When I walk the streets and go into the schools, I see myself and my friends from 60 years ago-re-invented as Dominicans, Albanians, West Africans, West Indians, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans and South Asians- as crazy, confused and full of energy as we were, and making America a better place for their presence-- just as we did.

Monday, February 20, 2017

A Worse Donald Trump


During the election campaign, several of the Trump supporters I know told me not to be put off by Mr Trump's rhetoric, that he was at heart a reasonable person and would rise to the occasion and make a good President.
Although i was skeptical of their arguments, they were right in predicting the outcome of the election and I hoped against hope that Mr Trump might try to unify the country once he was President and concentrate on policies, such as job creation and infrastructure development, which had broad appeal..
Unfortunately, their predictions were wrong. Mr Trump has been a more divisive President than he was a candidate, attacking the media even more bitterly than he did during the campaign, picking cabinet members designed to elicit the maximum opposition from those who voted against him, and issuing an executive order on immigrants and refugees that was widely perceived as a direct attack on the nation's Muslims.
There is no new Donald Trump. We have the old Donald Trump on steroids, a thin skinned President determined to shove his policies down the throat of anyone who opposes him, who makes up facts to suit his arguments and who heaps abuse on anyone who dares to challenge him
He has not grown into the job, he has shrunk in stature to become the most hated President in modern history, not only in the US, but around the globe.
I am not sure if he can reverse course. If he doesn't we are entering uncharted territory

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Donald Trump's Rude Awakening


The last few weeks have been a bit of a comedown for Donald Trump. After an historic campaign where he beat the odds and attracted huge adoring crowds, he now finds himself under siege in the White House, unable to go to any large city in the US without inspiring huge demonstrations, mocked by comedians and journalists in mainstream and social media, and regarded with fear and contempt in many of the nations the US once viewed as allies.
Now you might say that Mr Trump should have expected this rage because it was his own words and actions which provoked this reaction, but it is one thing to expect this level of protest and another to experience it. Never in all his years as a developer, entrepreneur, media personality, and public figure, had Donald Trump had millions of the people in the streets denouncing him. In fact, before he ran for President, it is hard to recall a recall a single incident where as many as a hundred people picketed one of his appearances and even during the Presidential campaign the size of the crowds cheering him far exceeded the size of the crowds attacking him. No more. Donald Trump is now hands down the most unpopular person in the United States and the most unpopular person in the world.
Yes, many of the people who voted for him still support him and even love him. But for the most part, they are not the residents of the nation's largest cities, or the Washington DC metropolitan area. Indeed, in the two cities where Mr Trump now lives, the people who hate him far outnumber the people who love him and take every opportunity to show their displeasure in the most public way.
I don't care how arrogant or narcissistic you are, that can't feel very good.
is this what Donald Trump bargained for when he began his campaign for President? Or when he was showered with love during his campaign?
I doubt it. And how he is going to react, as the hostility, mockery and even ostracism further escalates is anybody's guess

Saturday, February 4, 2017

When There Really WAS "Carnage in Our Inner Cities," Donald Trump Was Nowhere to Be Found


One of the many reasons I am appalled by Donald Trump's world view are his comments about subjects I know first hand. A prime example of this is his apocalyptic promise to end "carnage in our inner inner cities." Not only do these pronouncements ignore gentrification and the suburbanization of poverty, they come 25 years too late! Where was Donald Trump when there really WAS carnage in our inner cities in the height of the crack epidemic? No where to be found. How do I know? I was there, on the ground, in the some of the most affected areas in New York City and Donald Trump was no where to be found, and had nothing to say.
Let's go back. The year is 1992. The murder rate in New York City is more than 2000 a year ( it has been under 400 for the last few years). Bullets are flying in drug wars between rival crews in many of the city's poorest neighborhoods. People are afraid to go to and from work, to go to the corner store, to send their kids to school. In one parish near Fordham, St Martin of Tours, 25 young men between the ages of 17-25 were killed in a single year. In Red Hook, a legendary principal ,Martin Daly was killed by stray bullets fired in a shoot out between drug gangs when he went into the projects to see why one of his students didn't come to school
At that time, I became involved in two anti-violence initiatives. One of them, in the Crotona Neighborhood of the Bronx, was called "Save a Generation" The goal was to provide educational and employment opportunities for out of school out of work youth who were drawn into drug crews. In it, I worked with amazing religious leaders like Father John Flynn and Sister Barbara Leniger , the great leader of South Bronx churches, Lee Stuart, and Astin Jacobo, a dynamic tenant leader and organizer with the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition. We got some help from, the NY Achdiocese, Congressman Serrano and the Bronx Borough President. for the Americorps program we eventually created. Donald Trump was no where to be found.
The other program was called "Shield the Children" and it was organized by a group called "United Community Centers of East New York" after a drug dealer in the Cypress Hills Project used a three year old in a stroller as a shield in a gun battle. East New York was the closest thing we had to a war zone in NY during those years. Five students were shot to death in a single year in the local high school, Thomas Jefferson, drug dealers had once taken hostages in the local public library, and police only patrolled the neighborhood in cars. At one point, residents actually asked for the National Guard to be sent in to patrol their streets because they felt afraid to leave their houses. Where was Donald Trump when this was going on? No where to be found. The violence was far away from the precious Manhattan neighborhoods where his buildings were being erected
THIS was real carnage. And it took years of organizing by residents, and hard work by police, to get it under control. Once the violence passed, new immigrants moved into these communities, bringing their energy, their businesses and their hope. Today, East New York and Crotona are bustling though still poor communities with far lower crime rates than they had 20 years ago. They hardly need federal intervention, especially attacks on immigrant communities which threaten the very real progress already made..

Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Steve Bannon 24/7 Campaign


Steve Bannon's dominant role in the White House is both the most frightening feature of the Trump Administration and its weakest link. It is time to launch a campaign that I call "Steve Bannon 24/7". Some of its features should be:
First, demands directed at your elected representatives that Steve Bannon - an unrepentant White Nationalist- should removed from the National Security and from any official position of government bodies
Secondly, that twitter and social media campaign should be launched portraying Donald Trump as a puppet of Steve Bannon and warning Mr. Trump that he has become the laughing stock of the nation and the world because he is being controlled by a White Nationalist.
Third, our graffiti artists and meme makers and light show experts should deluge public spaces with messages like "Impeach President Bannon" "Bannon Must Go" and "Trump is Bannon's Puppet"
The safety of the nation and the world requires Bannon's removal from any official capacity in the Government. Every public official who fails to push for this will have their reputation compromised. Bannon's influence taints this Administration and the entire nation