NEW YORK CITY, Dec. 1 — Today, about 30 people held a militant march in Harlem demanding that the Manhattanville Clinic, once a NYC Dept of Health Child Health Clinic, be re-opened. The city closed it in 1999, supposedly for renovations, and then spent $5 million redoing the façade while leaving the inside untouched. Meanwhile, the health and access to health care of the black and Latino residents of Harlem remain dismal.
The demonstration was an important breakthrough. It was initiated by parishioners at a nearby church, who began the effort under CHALLENGE readers’ leadership, and was led by Sunday School youth carrying a banner linking the issue to expanding war and racism. It was co-sponsored by the Coalition to Preserve Community (CPC), the group which has been fighting Columbia University’s expansion into Harlem.
Also present were Columbia students, who had just completed a 9-day hunger strike against racism in the curriculum and the expansion, and other students from the City University of New York. These combined forces, involving workers and students of all ages, ethnic backgrounds and occupations, have great potential to build a militant anti-racist movement in Harlem.
The demonstration’s size was limited because the same groups had been busy all week protesting at City Planning Board hearings, where the Columbia plan was being voted on. Although the hearing room had only about 75 seats, mostly filled by Columbia, dozens of opponents were standing around the edges.
As soon as the cops tried to evict the standees, they began chanting and making continuous speeches. One pointed out the conflict of interest on the Board, with one member being an ex-Columbia dean and another having University construction contracts. Many of the others, especially the chairwoman, are the super-rich, which one protester illustrated by displaying a picture of her in a gown in her gilded apartment. The cops gave up trying to evict the protesters.
Of course, the Board voted almost unanimously to support Columbia, as the whole plan was agreed to long ago by the mayor and City Council President. In this age of endless imperialist wars and huge racist cutbacks, only a massive militant student and community opposition could really have a chance of blocking the expansion and begin to fight for the jobs, health care and housing needed in Harlem.
But this movement cannot rely on any politicians and must understand the nature of the present period. While we in PLP fight for larger-scale actions involving rank-and-file workers and students in Harlem, this is why we also build CHALLENGE networks that fight for our communist politics.
Already we have expanded CHALLENGE circulation in the community around the church, but we must involve this base in more actions like this demonstration. In the anti-Columbia expansion movement, we will continue to build ties with members of all groups while we discuss the need to dump this whole rotten society and build a communist world.