NEW YORK CITY, April 12 — Hundreds of Harlem residents and their supporters formed a human chain across several long cross-town blocks and then marched on the NY State Office Building, battling the gentrification of East, Central, and West Harlem, which will displace thousands of working-class residents and many small businesses. The cops tried to pen the demonstrators into a small area on the street, but they immediately broke through the barricades and took over the sidewalk. Almost all the passing motorists honked in support.
Having recently approved the take-over of West Harlem by Columbia University, the City Council’s zoning subcommittee has now voted to rezone Harlem’s main thoroughfare, 125th Street, and two surrounding blocks all the way across Manhattan, for luxury housing and businesses. Central Harlem is home to mostly low-income and working-class African-Americans, averaging below $25,000 annually. It’s also a cultural center, home to generations of black writers, performers and artists. East Harlem (El Barrio) is a mainly Latino neighborhood, also providing housing for mainly low-income workers. This demonstration marked the first time in recent history that groups from all these areas have marched together.
For two decades, gentrification has been underway, with the renovation of old brownstones and houses, attracting African-American professionals and a growing white population. As local property values rise, Harlem can be totally gentrified within the next decade. Tenant activists estimate that half of all Harlem residents may be forced to move.
Although this show of militancy and unity was heartening, a weakness of the movement has been its looking for “good “politicians to turn things around. Some hope the new black governor, David Patterson (who replaced Eliot Spitzer), will protect their interests. But Patterson is closely tied to the other prominent black NY politicians, ex-mayor David Dinkins and Rep. Charles Rangel, who are deeply embedded with developers. Some hope City Council members will carry their banner, but the Harlem representatives have long supported gentrification. A few involved fighters are nationalist, and see this attack as only against “their own group.” Most have welcomed the support of all.
Several comrades have been active in a Harlem church and community groups. We’ve pointed out how only a movement of rank-and-file workers and students can be relied upon to have our interests at heart, and that all politicians can only survive by doing the bidding of capitalist profiteers.
This attack on all of Harlem is based on racism of the foulest sort, hoping that not only will all NYC workers not back Harlem’s struggle, but will even welcome “racial cleansing.” We emphasize the role that racism plays and the necessity of multi-racial unity.
Most importantly, we must win our friends to see that gentrification, like the housing and financial crisis, the growing income gap and widening war and fascism are all part of capitalism, and therefore all our efforts should be linked to the fight against this racist system. We will continue to distribute CHALLENGE and bring some new friends to May Day.