Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Hollis 99 Pct Club and Occupy Queens Show Southeast Queens “This is What Democracy Looks Like”

Imagine a group of one hundred plus people marching through the streets of Southeast Queens with drums signs and bullhorns chanting “ We are the 99 Percent” and “This is what democracy looks like!” That’s what happened today, twice, when Occupy Queens and the Hollis Prebyterian Church 99 Percent Club organized a housing forum and then a protest march and rally to demand that two blocks of abandoned buildings owned by millionaire landlord Rita Stark be turned into affordable housing and a community center. Anybody who thinks the Occupy movement’s language and symbols only have relevance to young people with counter cultural lifestyles needed to be at this event. At least half of the people marching down Hollis Avenue were senior citizens, mostly African American, and their energy and passion and noise level matched that of any Occupy Wall Street march I had ever been one. But why should anybody be surprised by this. Many of the marchers were civil rights movement veterans and they were fighting for the life and health of a neighborhood that was under siege by the One Percent- not only wealthy landlords like Rita Stark who owned the two blocks of buildings being targeted- but banks that were foreclosing on hundreds of neighborhood homes. The streets of Hollis, a beautiful tree lined community, were pocketed with boarded up homes that had been recently foreclosed, and speakers at the Forum that preceded the march- representing Take Back the Land and Organizing For Occupation – had provided inspirational stories of how such homes were being occupied by activists and transferred to needy families. So the march and rally became something more than an attempt to two blocks of long abandoned buildings into affordable - it announced the emergence of a coalition that would develop strategies of transforming all forms of abandoned property in Hollis into community space that would serve needy families and individuals. It is hard to put in words how moving it was to hear longtime neighborhood residents, some of whom had lived in Hollis for 50 years, articulate their concerns while standing shoulder to shoulder with members of Occupy Queens and some of the most brilliant housing organizers in the nation It was also exhilarating to see the response of people along the 9 block line of march from the church to the abandoned buildings, who were overwhelming supportive of the group’s objectives But to me, it was the energy of the two marches that left the deepest impression. The joy on the faces of the members of Hollis Presbyterian Church In being part of a group large enough, committed enough, experienced enough and tactically flexible enough to help their community fight back against forces threatening their security and well being was a beautiful thing to be part of. I hope the pictures of this protest come out soon because in a society where democratic rights are being chipped away at daily, Democracy came alive in the streets of Southeast Queens! Anybody who thinks the Occupy movement is fading into the woodwork is in for a big surprise. The 99 Percent are alive and well and ready to make history!!

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