Saturday, April 18, 2009

A Brooklyn Gentrification Tour to Raise Funds for The Bronx African American History Project

A Brookyn Gentrification Tour to Raise Funds for the Bronx African American History Project

Back in the late 90's when I was starting to build the Urban Studies Program at Fordham into to the premier undergraduate program of its kind at any university in New York City, which it still is today, I used to take my Urban Studies students on all day tours of Brooklyn, We would begin in Greenpoint, Brooklyn's largest Polish neighborhood, where we would eat kielbasa, then take a quick stop in Williamburgh to see the Hasidic community and pass by Peter Lugers, go through Fort Green and Clinton Hill on our way into Crown Heights, head over into Browsville where we would get beef and chicken patties from Golden Krust, drive into Canarsie where we would shoot baskets and hit golf balls in Canarsie Park, get on the Belt Parkway where we drive to Coney Island, get hot dogs at Nathan's and visit the housing project where Stephon Marbury learned to play ball, get on Coney Island Avenue where we would drive through Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods and then visit the South Asian Muslim communnity between Church Avenues and Avenue H, then head into Park Slope where we would get pastries from Cousin Johns Bakery.

Needless to say, this tour was extremely popular, even though it produced an average weight gain of 5 to 6 pounds. The sound track to the tour would be a Biggie Smalls/ JZ mixtape my son gave to me, beginning with their classic "Brooklyn's Finest. We always kept the windows open with the volume on full blast and astonished people in passing cars who looked in and saw a groups of blacks and whites, men and women led by a fifty something professor. Some cars almost got in accidents when they saw who was in the van!

Over the years, I have gotten many requests to do this tour again, but never have had the time because the Bronx African American History Project has swallowed up my time and energy.

However, I have figured out a way to do this again that will "kill two birds with one stone." Because the Bronx AA History Project desperately needs funds to pay its staff, I have decided to offer van tours of Brooklyn for 4-5 people in return for $300-$500 contributions to the Bronx African American History Project

However, in light of certain changes that have taken place in Brooklyn, the theme of the tour, and its location will change slightly, although we will try to preserve the weight gain!

In the last five years, North Brooklyn neighborhoods have been deluged with literally hundreds of new luxury condominium buildings, many of them tasteless, intrusive and completely out of touch with the architecture of the communities in which they have been located. Worse yet, a good number of these
buildings, built in the height of speculative boom, stand empty or marginally occupied Some have been abandoned when partially completed

Most people have no idea of the sheer number of buildings we are talking about. There are literally
HUNDREDS of such buildings in Greenpoint, Williamsburgh, Dumbo, Vinegar Hill, Flatbush Extension,
Fort Green, Clinton Hill Prospect Heights, Carroll Gardens and Park Slope.

No one has ever actually counted these buildings, or taken stock of what they have done to community life in Brooklyn. In joining this tour, you will be helping to tell a story that needs to be told!

Our tour will start out in Park Slope, where we will begin on 4th Avenue and 25th street and drive up 4th Avenue, with occasional ventures into side streets all the way to Flatbush Avenue, drive to see the new 30 foot high luxury towers built on Flatbush Extension near the Manhattan Bridge ( after first stopping to pick up a Junior's cheescake) then head over into Williamsburgh, where we will visit the New luxury towers being build along the waterfront, them drive over into McCarran Park in Greenpoint where perhaps the largest and ugliest concentration of new buildings have been placed, then head down into Clinton Hill, where a drive
down Washington Avenue will take us by at least 20 new construction, head down into Prospect Heights where a super expensive new luxury building, which is almost entirely empty, has been put up on Grand Army Plaza, Our final stop is Park Slope where the group will repair to my house where we will get great Chinese take out from Szechuan Delight

The Sound track for this trip will be Hip Hop from the Great Brooklyn MC's Biggie Smalls, JZ and Big Daddy Kane, along with the great Afro Cuban Mix put together by Beat Mann and DJ Charley Hustle

The tour will take place on weekdays in the Summer beginning 10 AM, at my house in Brooklyn, and ending 3 PM at the same location

Groups wanting to take the tour should email me at, or The contribution for the tour must take the form of a check made out to the Bronx African American History Project

I look forward to hearing from you. Let's make history together!


Mark Naison

Professor of African American Studies and History
Fordham University
Principal Investigator
Bronx African American History Project

Friday, April 17, 2009

Republicans Are Doing More To Publicize Socialism in the US Than Anyone Since Karl Marx

Republicans Are Doing More to Publicize Socialism in the US Than Anyone Since Karl Marx

Dr Mark Naison
Fordham University

As a historian of the American labor movement, I have long been aware that socialism has been far less popular in the United States than it has in other industrialized nations. There has never been a Social Democratic or Labor Party in the US which has competed for power on the national scene, as it has in Canada, Germany, Britain or Scandinavia and most working class Americans, even in the height of the Great Depression gave their votes to Franklin Roosevelt rather than Socialists or Communists as their way of supporting measures which strengthened organized labor and created a safety net for the nation's most vulnerable people.

The absence of a socialist presence in American life continued even during the next wave of political unrest during the 1960's. A few activists in the civil rights, anti war and women's liberation movement became converts to Socialism, but failed to sway the vast majority of participants in the era's social justice causes. Since that time, the only place in the society where Socialist ideas have had any currency has been on university faculties, where they have remained marginal and isolated due to the extraordinary indifference of American university students to ideas which might challenge the functioning of the American economic system

But now, with the American economy in a state of collapse, and companies like Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, General Motors and Chrysler having failed or on the brink of failing, "Socialism" in the United States is gathering a level of interest and attention not seen in generations.

Ironically, the source of this interest and attention has been conservative Republicans, who have labeled everything they don't like in President Obama's program, from progressive taxation, to investment in mass transit, to bailouts of failing companies, as "Socialist."

This anathemizing of Barack Obama as "Socialist" began in the late stages of the Republican Presidential campaign, when earlier attempts to mock him as a "community organizer" or brand him as a Muslim or terrorist backfired failed to gain currency with the American public. Republican Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin made warnings about Obama's Socialism a fixture of her rallies, and while such rhetoric failed to sway Democratic and independent voters, it had tremendous popularity with Republicans in Middle America who now had a way of demonizing Barack Obama without referring to his
race. It even generated a new conservative hero in Joe "The Plumber" Weltenbacher, who denounced Obama's plans to heavily tax incomes over $250,000 as an attack on small business and the American way of life.

While one would have expected a resounding election defeat as well as common sense would have put an end to these charges, they have resurfaced with renewed vigor in the aftermath of the passage of President Obama's Stimulus Plan, and his bailout of AIG and Bank of America, which Republicans are now denouncing as moving the US down the path to Socialism.

Though most Socialist thinkers, past and present, would be astonished see a policy that involves giving hundreds of billions of dollars to insolvent banks to spend they see fit described as "Socialist" (especially when these funds have been used to purchase other banks and give million dollar bonuses) conservative Republicans have continued to use this charge as the centerpiece of their strategy to mobilize Americans to resist president Obama's economic policies

But though many conservatives seem excited that they have a new epithet to replace "liberal" in demonizing those who fight for the rights of minorities and a more equitable distribution of wealth-- their recent "tea bag" rallies were filled with signs that said "Stop Socialism"-- an unintended consequence of their
rhetoric is to make more Americans look favorably on Socialism! A recent national poll showed that 23% of Americans had a positive impression of socialism, a far higher number than even the most wild eyed Marxist teaching at Berkeley or Harvard would have dreamed of seeing

But if you think about it, it makes perfect sense

If you spent the last six months hearing some of the most aggressively ignorant public figures in American history- Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Chuck Norris, and "Joe the Plumber"- denounce policies designed to reduce hardship and pain among ordinary Americans as "Socialist," wouldn't that start to make you look more favorably on Socialism ?

Just think about it- if progressive taxation is Socialist, if investment in mass transit is Socialist, if developing clean energy is Socialist, if developing an affordable national health care system is Socialist, than maybe what America needs is a good dose of Socialism?

So Sarah, Rush, Chuck and Joe, as a longtime student of Socialism, who thinks the Socialist tradition has a lot to offer America at this historic moment, thanks for doing my work for me!

You have no idea what Socialism is, but if you are against it, than many Americans will be for it

To hit home my point, I will close with a story taken from the life of the great Irish American Labor Leader Michael Quill, when he was running for the New York City a predominantly Irish district in the south Bronx Quill, who worked closely with Communists in building the Transit Workers Union, which organized workers on New York City buses and subways, was making a campaign speech from a
soapbox when a heckler asked him

"Hey Quill, tell the truth now, are you a Communist/"

Without hesitation, Quill replied

"If you knew the difference between Communism and rheumatism, I would tell you."

Today, Conservatives in the Republican party don't know the difference between Socialism and rheumatism, but in attacking everything the Obama administration does as Socialist, they are giving Socialism in America
something it hasn't had in a very long time- a good name! .

Friday, April 10, 2009

"Isabella: Life Deserved" Advertisement for a Brooklyn Condo Epitomizes the Unthinking Arrogance of America's Economic Elites

“Isabella: Life Deserved" Advertisement for A Brooklyn Condo Epitomizes The Unthinking Arrogance of America’s Economic Elites

Dr Mark Naison
Fordham University

For the last year, as I have sought to avoid traffic on Flatbush Avenue on my journeys to and from Fordham, I have spent a lot of time driving through Fort Green, Prospect Heights and Clinton Hill and have been astonished and appalled by the amount of new luxury housing being constructed in these once African American communities.

On Washington Avenue alone, I have counted over 15 new buildings that have gone up in the last two years on a mile and a half stretch between Eastern Parkway and the Brooklyn Queens expressway, ranging in size from three story glass fronted town houses, to six story apartment buildings to a 20 story tower, still under construction, that adjoins the BQE

But it is not just the speed and intrusiveness of the new construction that has grabbed my attention, it is the unthinking arrogance with which they claim their identity as luxury buildings in neighborhoods which have large concentrations of public housing and still contain many working class black residents.

The advertising slogan on "The Isabella" an eight story condominium on Washington Avenue between Atlantic Avenue and Fulton Street, which was completed only a month ago, epitomizes the arrogance and insensitivity of the economic elites whose reckless financial practices have brought the world to the brink of economic disaster

Less than a block from Black Brooklyn's major thoroughfare, filled with bodegas, hair braiding salons, dollar stores, and small evangelical churches, less than one hundred feet from two large African American churches, and only a half block from an "A" train stop, a twenty foot sign on the second story of the building proclaims "Live Magnificently! Live Isabella."

To hard working, struggling residents of the neighborhood who have to walk by the building each day when shopping, going to school or work, or attending church, one can only speculate what emotions that enormous sign inspires

One thing is clear, in a neighborhood where less than twenty years earlier, the crack epidemic took a terrible toll, and where economic survival, rather than "Living Magnificently" is the goal of most residents, the sign proclaims that Clinton Hill is about to be deluged with wealthy outsiders, many of them white, and that the days of Clinton Hill as a place where black working class people can feel at home are coming to the end

But that is not all. Right next to the huge "Live Magnificently" sign are two smaller signs which read "Isabella: Life Deserved"

It’s bad enough that the Isabella’s developers broadcast the message that the building they have constructed is only for those people who have enough money to “Live Magnificently”- they are also saying that the wealthy people about to descend on Clinton Hill, DESERVE their good fortune, and by implication, that the neighborhood people walking by the building deserve their life of scarcity and hardship.

To me, this message epitomizes everything that has been wrong with our economic system in the last twenty years

It is one thing to say that extreme inequality is an unfortunate by product of rapid economic growth, and to try to mitigate the consequences through social policy, it is another thing to say that people at the top of the system deserve everything they get, and that the wealt h the acquire is a sign of superior talent, even superior virtue

Tracy Chapman described this ideology brilliantly in her song “Mounains O Things”

Sweet lazy life Champagne and caviar
I hope you'll come and find me
Cause you know who we are
Those who deserve the best in life
And know what money's worth
And those whose sole misfortune
Was having mountains o' nothing at birth

It was this overwhelming sense of entitlement, that impelled the leaders of failing companies to use government bailout money to give themselves .huge bonuses, and then defend those bonuses in Congressional hearings as the reward for a job20well done.

The idea that wealth and poverty are distributed logically through some form of “moral economy,” and that the accumulation of great wealth benefits everyone, can no longer be sustained, not in a time of layoffs and foreclosures, bread lines and unemployment lines,

In this time in American history, the redistribution of wealth should be the major imperative guiding social policy

As for the Isabella, where not one unit has been bought and rented, it is prime space for conversion to affordable housing,

After all, don’t the working people of Fort Greene and Clinton Hill deserve the opportunity to “Live Magnificantly/”

Mark Naison
April 10, 2009