A Protest in Brooklyn

I ran into a protest in Brooklyn in November. On my way somewhere else, I heard a commotion down a small neighborhood street. I could see police and a sectioned off area, people holding signs. Fortunately, I had my camera; unfortunately I had an almost empty battery and no back up (lesson learned).

The protest was on the issue of homeless housing in area. The protest demanded a stop to “warehousing” homeless people in hotels, which is not a long term solution, nor a cost-effective one. They argued that hotels were being built in their neighborhoods that had no tourism, but were going to look to take advantage of City money for housing the homeless, effectively becoming for-profit homeless shelters. But there was also a very conservative vein to this protest, when the protest demanded the abolition of the New York City law that mandates the City house any homeless person seeking assistance. The fear was that this encouraged the homeless to take advantage of local tax-payers, something explicitly mentioned in the video. A discourse that echoes what we often hear in discussions on immigration.

These seem to offer contradictory positions, with wanting to help the homeless with long term solutions, using available and vacant houses, and wanting to end the City’s commitment to help for fear of outsiders taking advantage of this. The question of gentrification is also present. On the one side people are fearful of getting priced out homes through particular forms of development. On the other side the (conflicted) attitude towards the homeless and the resources they require suggests that people also want to preserve their neighborhood’s appearance, protecting it from potential “degradation” by accommodating welfare cases and institutions. They appear to want to keep the neighborhood as it is, for the middle (or working) class.

The protest also offered a series of creative visuals both expounding on what people thought was the issue, and in some cases with a degree of humor. These signs also connected to wider social concerns in the US. The “stop the war on the middle-class”, for example, was widely used in recent elections by almost all candidates, and reflects the importance of the middle class in liberal capitalism, where it is seen as source of stability, while also undermining broader worker solidarity. As such, it is a conservative discourse, and suggests that some protesters saw this protest as being (also) about their standard of living. Another sign, however, suggested this was an attack on the working class.

Others expressed resentment by attacking the politicians themselves (“the dope of Parkslope” was sung repetitively and also on some signs). The diversity of opinions and at times contradictory messages was however secondary to the appearance of unity, with a clear, vocal presence focused on the single question of opposing the “warehousing” of the homeless.

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