By Dee Knight
October 31, 2011
The People’s Assembly at Hostos College in the Bronx, N.Y., scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 5, has the ingredients for a unifying moment, bringing workers’ and communities’ struggles together with the mushrooming Occupy Wall Street movement. Outreach in the Bronx has focused on postal workers’ unions, parents’ associations and tenants’ groups. People are excited to know they will be encouraged to speak up for themselves as well as hear from others with the same problems.
Members of CASA, a large tenant organizing group serving 5,000 residents of formerly abandoned buildings in the Highbridge neighborhood, responded to a call to make their knowledge and experience in fighting landlords available to other tenants throughout the city.
The presidents of parents associations in District 12 of the South Bronx are mobilizing their members to participate, focusing on all the issues that concern working people. Free child care will be available at the Assembly.
“Woodlawn is Wall Street”
In the Bronx, the embattled Band of Brothers — workers at Woodlawn Cemetery — are waging a determined fightback against racist abuse and anti-union intimidation, and have called on the Wall Street occupiers to join them. “Woodlawn is Wall Street,” declared Rick Coss, steward of Teamsters Local 808 at Woodlawn.
A march and rally at the cemetery’s main gate, slated for Nov. 12 — one week after the People’s Assembly — is part of a “Bronx protest marathon” that includes a campaign to save the Postal Service and an ongoing struggle against poverty and violence. On Oct. 29, a March Against Poverty and Violence will take place in the superoppressed Mott Haven neighborhood — an area made famous by Jonathan Kozol’s book, “Savage Inequalities.”
The call to “Occupy the Bronx” came to life on Oct. 22, as hundreds of people rallied at Fordham Plaza, in the heart of the Bronx and about halfway between the South Bronx and Woodlawn Cemetery.
Community struggles are at the center of the Bronx movement: the people’s right to decent housing, quality education, health services and jobs. A fury is brewing at the threat of massive job cuts and shutdowns of the Postal Service in the midst of the current crisis. Organizers have begun a survey of post offices and their surrounding neighborhoods, to determine which should be primary targets in the expanding “occupy” movement.
Plans for action
The People’s Assembly will be about action, according to South Bronx Community Congress organizers. A march for jobs with union rights and benefits is planned for Nov. 17, called by the New York Civic Participation Project of SEIU 32BJ. The march will start at the High Bridge, which spans the Harlem River between Manhattan’s Washington Heights neighborhood and University Heights (near Bronx Community College) on the Bronx side. This target highlights the need for a massive program to revive crumbling infrastructure — an effort that requires a large-scale public works program like the Work Projects Administration of the 1930s.
“Food Is a Right” is another key demand. About a third of the 1.4 million residents of the Bronx qualify for food subsidies under the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. They face threats of service cutoffs, while the program’s complex and contemptuous application program effectively bars many from receiving benefits. Hundreds of people have mobilized to fight for their right to food, and a bigger campaign is in the works. Community Congress organizers are also discussing moves to increase food self-sufficiency like those pioneered by the Black Panthers and Young Lords in the 1960s and 1970s.
The concerns of youth — and their right to a future — are high on the agenda. The New York Police Department’s “stop and frisk” program is a daily personal reality for most youth who live in the poor neighborhoods of the South Bronx, Harlem, Brooklyn and Queens. The message is clear: “If you’re young, nonwhite, and walking on a public street, you’re a suspect.” The People’s Assembly will take up how to turn the tables and put the system on trial for its many crimes against youth, and struggle for real change, focusing on the rights to decent jobs, debt-free education, and a future with better alternatives than prison or war.
A movement for people’s power
The People’s Assembly will focus on building people’s power and building links between the communities of working and oppressed people and the “occupy” movement. There is a deep desire to respond to the call of the people-of-color working group at Occupy Wall Street, and “build a racially conscious and inclusive movement.” The People’s Assembly will prioritize communities of color — including immigrant, undocumented and low-wage workers, prisoners, LGTBQ people of color, marginalized religious communities such as Muslims, and Indigenous peoples, and those whose responsibilities do not allow them to participate in the occupation. The goal is to make the movement accessible to all, and thus become a real movement for people’s power.