Mayday2k - New York: report and update
May 7th 2000
For two and a half hours last evening, nearly 200 guerrilla gardeners reclaimed a fenced in, garbage strewn lot under the Manhattan bridge on the Brooklyn side. With garbage bags, plants, seeds, puppets and maypoles, they turned the lot into a garden and made a Mayday demonstration into a party.
Mayday activities began earlier in the day, centered around the Undocumented Workers March from Union Square to City Hall. The NYPD was on full alert, outnumbering the protesters at Union Square, shutting off whole areas of Wall Street ("Because the WTO is going to march and shut down the Stock Exchange" one officer explained) and somewhat mysteriously occupying Tompkins Square Park, removing trash cans in a 2 block radius.
The police acted aggressively early, arresting 18 men and 1 woman Black Bloc anarchists, ostensibly for wearing masks; two others for openly carrying Leatherman tools (I'm not joking); a 16 year old boy for writing with chalk; and two more later at Battery Park for walking/riding their bikes.
As the Immigrants March made it to City Hall, guerrilla gardeners began meeting at Battery Park... as did the police. Leaving in small groups to shake off the NYPD, the gardeners reconvened in the subway station and took the subway (after the usual chaos and confusion) over to the action site.
Another group of protesters, with large puppets from the SF group Art and Revolution, headed over the Brooklyn Bridge, with police and news vans in tow. Amazingly enough, both groups reached the site at about the same time, around 6:30, with the puppeteers brilliantly managing to shake their auto bound escort.
Underneath the Manhattan bridge, in a Department of Environmental Protection site long promised (and never delivered) as park land, the marchers met the RTS advance crew who "opened" the site. Gardeners were greeted by a 40 foot banner emblazoned with "Free the Land" that hung from the Manhattan Bridge, facing the site.
Then the fun began. Garbage bags were passed out and people filled over 25 of them with garbage. A vegetable patch was dug and seeds planted. Maypoles went up and a maypole dance began. A bulldozer pinata was knocked down. Drummers drummed. People danced. And squad after squad of riot police surrounded the site.
After a pretty tense stand off, we asked our lawyer if she could talk to the police, letting them know we were peaceful and planned to leave before 9pm. Perhaps because they were out of site of Rudy and Wall Street, perhaps because news crews were there and they would of looked ridiculous arresting a bunch of folks picking up garbage, perhaps because the threat of the "WTO marching on Wall Street" hadn't materialized, and perhaps because - at some level - they approved of what we were doing, the NYPD agreed to our request and promised not to arrest anyone if we left in small groups by 9pm.
The white shirted officers even posed for pictures with protesters and offered to arrange with the Sanitation Department to pick up the bags of garbage we had collected.
As the sun fell over the site, and the lights of the Manhattan skyline came up, the garden party wound down. By 8:45 we had all left and made our way to a local bar where we drank beer with undercover cops who cheered our arrival.
What we left behind were seeds that will sprout and grow. What we took with us was that great spirit that comes from a hope filled, creative demonstration that everyone made happen. My last vision of the liberated site was the NYPD EMS squad brilliantly lighting up the banner with their searchlight as they tried to figure out how to get it down. "Free the Land" it read.
Congratulations to all of us!
Below is a copy of the final press release:
-- NEWS UPDATE -
Contact:William 917-449-4094, Jon 212-219-2015, Louis 718-387- 1223, Mark 718-369-4848 For Immediate Release: May 1, 2000
200 GUERRILLA GARDENERS RECLAIM DEP LAND TENSE STANDOFF WITH RIOT POLICE ENDS PEACEFULLY
New York City: Today, Monday, May 1st, Reclaim the Streets/New York City, along with over 200 urban gardeners, reclaimed empty Department of Environmental Protection land under the Manhattan Bridge on the Brooklyn side. Beginning at 6pm, guerrilla gardeners entered the fenced in area, bringing with them garbage bags, plants, seeds, gardening supplies, banners, musical instruments and large puppets.
They then set about picking up garbage, then planting plants and seeds. While riot police lined the perimeter of the area, gardeners erected a Maypole and danced underneath. Meanwhile a 40 foot banner reading "Free The Land" was hung from the Manhattan Bridge, facing the site.
As squad after squad of riot police arrived, lawyers for the organizers negotiated a peaceful settlement and gardeners were allowed to leave after 3 hrs without incident. THe space was cleared by 9pm. The NYPD, in an act of good will, even arranged to have the Sanitation Department pick up the 25 bags of garbage that had been collected.
Reclaim the Streets picked this site because it has long been promised to be made into a park, yet this has not happened. Meanwhile the City is destroying community gardens and taking away our precious greenspace.
In New York City there are more than 11,000 vacant lots. There are only 600 community gardens. Yet time and time again the city passes over truly vacant lots and opts to sell off precious green spaces to crony developers building luxury housing.
On Mayday, RTS/NYC will reverse this corrupt policy: reclaiming a vacant lot and turning it into a garden. As RTS organizer Cindy Greene explains, "We will pirate a neglected space in the city and make it bloom. We will plant the seeds of our future society within the husk of the old."
We picked May 1st as the day for this celebratory action as it is rich in symbolism. In Germanic mythology, the last night in April is when the gods Wotan and Freya drive out the sterile demons of winter. May 1st kicks off the Celtic festival of Beltane, celebrating the triumph of sun and fertility.
And Mayday is the International Workers Day, a day that against the power of corporations that dictate how we work, how we play, the food we eat and the air we breathe. Just as we will be joining the undocumented workers marching for their rights earlier in the day, we are calling for all people to join us in securing basic rights for a living and livable environment.
What is Reclaim the Streets? Born in London in 1995, RTS is world- wide movement, with local branches throwing road parties as both a protest against the corporatization of public space and a living, dancing example of what public space could be.
For more information on RTS/NYC go to www.rtsnyc.org; RTS International: www.gn.apc.org/rts/; New York City's community gardens:www.interactivist.net or www.panix.com/~jaynedoe
Disclaimer: this information is reproduced for information purposes only. Urban75 has no connection whatsoever with any of the groups