These days, it feels like I have two neighborhoods. The first is Prospect Lefferts Gardens, my Brooklyn stomping ground, where I’ve lived happily since 1993, and which I’ve gotten to know intimately not just by walking the streets but by working in our neighborhood association. PLG is (still) a predominantly black but decidedly mixed low-rise neighborhood dominated by row houses and prewar apartment buildings; it is undergoing rapid gentrification and consequent “bleaching” of the population, although it has thus far been spared some of the more spectacular juxtapositions of luxury and impoverishment visited upon other areas of our city. The second is Zuccotti Park, which has given me a crash course in lower Manhattan as a geographical and cultural entity. Before Occupy Wall Street, I always avoided the financial district, since I found its vibe distinctly uncongenial on the few occasions when I had business in the vicinity. Going there every day to read poetry has not only gotten me much more familiar with the immediate area around Zuccotti Park, but has prompted many walks over the Brooklyn Bridge, thus giving me a far more specific spatial feel for the Wall Street area as a place physically related to my home borough. (And this, in turn, has reminded me that “Wall Street” is not first and foremost a place where the Stock Exchange is located, but rather a place where land and sky and water meet in an extraordinary nexus.)
Events at Zuccotti Park, combined with the fact that in the past week I’ve attended two neighborhood association meetings, have focused my mind on the parallels between the two primary physical locations for my sense of home and possibility. There’s a lot to be said about all of this, but right now I want to talk about how Prospect Lefferts Gardens (PLG) exemplifies so many of the processes that the Occupy movement is trying to highlight. Truth is, Zuccotti Park and Home seem to me like reverse images of each other: the OWS encampment representing a sliver of “realness,” of insistence on what is raw and heartfelt and urgent and unformulated, struck into the heart of the capitalist penchant for slick packaging; and PLG representing a substantial geographical tract of everyday lives and struggles–a long history of unglamorous but deeply sustaining livingworking connectedness–now besieged by the forces of unfettered Capital, in the form (for instance) of “predatory equity” as practiced by landlords who are not even interested in being ruthless landlords in the old sense of the term (i.e. business people whose profession it is to maintain residential buildings that can be rented out at a profit–which historically, in the case of “slumlords,” resulted in the exploitation of a fairly homogeneous class of poor and working tenants), but instead have entered the real estate market expressly for the purpose of skimming whatever monies are to be obtained by driving out the current low- and moderate-income tenants and replacing them with far higher-paying tenants, thus rapidly changing the entire class character (and often the racial/ethnic character) of neighborhoods, and indeed the city as a whole.
That last sentence was too long because the PLG situation is sooooooo complex–yet it nevertheless cries out to be described in some detail. This I will attempt to do in the days to come. Meanwhile, I want to mention that on Monday, November 14, I’ll be timing my OWS poetry reading to let me take in a talk by Michael Zweig of U.S. Labor Against the War. Mike describes it like this: “I will be doing an invited “author talk” at the OWS library – N.E. corner of Liberty Park – tomorrow (Monday) at noon on the second edition of my book The Working Class Majority: America’s Best Kept Secret, due out from Cornell Univ. Press next month. Who are the 99%? Mostly the working class. Who do we mean when we target the 1%? The elite of the capitalist class. The ideas, data, and examples in The Working Class Majority bear directly on the issues raised at OWS and in the Occupy Movement around the country.”