News, commentary and analysis by leaders of the Communist Party USA in New York State. We discuss State politics and issues in New York City, covering developments in labor, civil rights education, housing and more.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Thousands in Harlem rally against gun violence

More than 2,000 predominantly Black and Latino working people gathered March 21 on Adam Clayton Powell Blvd. in Harlem in a militant protest against gun violence.

Organized by a broad coalition of labor and people's organizations, it was a powerful grassroots protest against the National Riffle Association and a warning to Congress that it must pass strong gun control legislation, including a ban on assault weapons.

George Gresham, president of Local 1199 of the Service Workers, captured the fighting spirit of the rally. In a message to all elected officials, Gresham said, "We are the people; do the right thing and we got your back. Do the wrong thing, we got your job."

MSNBC commentator, the Rev. Al Sharpton, addressing the NRA, declared: "We have the right to bear arms but we do not have the right to kill babies. The second amendment does not give you the right to have guns that can hold 30 rounds. We have to take back our streets here in New York and beyond."

When I asked a retired New York State Superior Court Judge-turned- community-organizer why she was attending the rally, she said, "The failure to pass a bill against gun violence is an acceptance of a policy of genocide against Blacks and Latinos by the authorities."

Leslie Cagan, who was part of the organizing team for the rally, said that the demonstration was particularly important in light of the Senate leadership having announced that day that the assault weapons ban would be left out of the legislative package. "We need Congress to find the backbone to stand up for communities and families here in Harlem and all over the country," Cagan declared.
The gathering took place in the shadow of the Adam Clayton Powell Harlem State office building and across the street from the historic Teresa Hotel where, in 1960, Fidel Castro stayed after having been offended by downtown hotels. Hundreds of workers representing many of the key unions in New York, were represented.

Among them were Local 1199, 32BJ of the SEIU. There was a contingent from Local 1180 of the Communications Workers of America. The Transport Workers Union, the United Federation of Teachers and the Professional Staff Congress were also there.

There were signs from "Nurses and Caregivers United to Stop Gun Violence. Other signs included, "Moms demand action to protect our kids," and a contingent of youth wearing t-shirts emblazoned with "I Am a Peace Movement" and "Youth Against Gun Violence."

Jackie Rowe Adams from Harlem Mothers S.A.V.E spoke with great passion about losing two of her children to gun violence. "I am in pain," she said tearfully. "Put the guns down and pick up the peace sign." There were several mothers who told heartfelt stories of how they lost their sons to gun violence.

There was also Darren Wagner, from Newton, Conn. expressing his community's full support to the people of New York in their fight for gun control.

Hazel Dukes, president of New York State's NAACP, spoke and called for the unity of black, brown and white, Jews, Gentiles, Protestants, and Muslims. "We all have to get ready for a real fight."
Shannon Watts, the founder of "Moms Demand Action," a national group of 80,000 advocating strong gun control, talked about her activities.

Michael Mulgrew, president of New York's UFT, told the crowd that his union was divesting from any stocks that have anything to do with guns.

An emergency room doctor from Harlem Hospital, Dr. Vanessa Gorospe, said, "Gun violence is second only to auto accidents as a cause of death. The number of children below five years old killed by guns are four times the number of police killed by guns."

Refusing to buy into attempts by the NRA and some other groups to scapegoat the mentally ill, she declared: "The mentally ill are four times more likely to be victims of violence rather than purveyors of violence."

The surprise guest at the rally who received a warm welcome was legendary jazz singer Tony Bennett. He spoke of how Harry Belafonte had convinced him to march in Selma and how it had a big impact on him. Bennett is now an outspoken advocate of an assault weapons ban.

The chair of the rally. the Rev. Jacque DeGraff of the Cannan Baptist Church, aroused the crowd as he introduced speakers. He emphasized, as did many other speakers, that it was necessary to keep pushing to pass Gov. Cuomo's gun control bill and that it is necessary to carry the fight to Washington. "We are going to change America, starting right here in Harlem," he declared.

There were many elected officials at the rally including two running for mayor. None were allowed to speak but their names were mentioned, John Lui, the first Chinese-American to run for Mayor, received the loudest applause.

In a related development, Mayor Bloomberg has announced that he is prepared to spend millions to run ads against those running for office who are opposed to gun control. One person at the rally told me that, in addition to controlling guns, Bloomberg needs to control the New York Police Department.

The department has come under heavy criticism for carrying out a notorious "stop and frisk" program which critics note singles out Blacks and Latinos but does nothing to control crime.

Estevan Nembhard, Manhattan organizer for the Communist Party, pointed out that "it is common knowledge in Harlem and in ghettos and barrios across the country; when the unemployment rate and drop-out rate goes up, so does desperation and violence. This rally is very important and will help but not enough was said about the root causes of violence; the lack of jobs, education, the presence of drugs and the absence of a real future for our youth."

Nembhard agreed that "Mayor Bloomberg is doing a good thing placing ads against the anti-gun control politicians across the country." But he took issue with the mayor on a host of what he considers related issues: "His (Bloomberg's) cut backs and policy of economic austerity for the working class, along with 'stop and frisk' and his sanction of brutality and high incarceration for youth instead of jobs and education, will continue to get the same negative results."

People at the rally like most New Yorkers, seemed to agree that good jobs and good quality education for all are necessary steps to ending gun violence on the streets.

NYC elections hold promise of change


The New York City Nov. 5 elections can mark a turning point. During the last 20 years of the Giuliani and then Bloomberg administrations, the living standards of the 99 percent have steadily declined, while the wealth of the 1 percent has risen. It is now a city of stark contrasts. Seventy billionaires live in the city as well as several thousand additional millionaires. At the same time, one-third live below the poverty line. Twenty percent earn $9 to $11 an hour, while unemployment is back up to just under 9 percent, higher than the national rate.

Conditions for the 400,000 people living in public housing are acknowledged to be abominable. Housing costs are a major problem for most, as many people must spend 50 percent of their income on housing. Hospitals in poorer neighborhoods are being closed. Public education is under attack with many schools being closed, charter schools pushed into public school buildings with staff being reduced. These are especially sharp conditions for the 70 percent of the city who are racially and nationally oppressed people.

The economy and the politics of the city has been run by and for the developers, real estate interests, Wall Street, and insurance industries. They seek to feed off the public trough and radically increase their profits, while driving the poorest section, especially the racially and nationally oppressed, out of the city. Thus we see a decline in the oldest racially-oppressed communities, African American and Puerto Rican, who no longer can afford to live in the city, though they still remain very important populations in the city. Newer racially oppressed move in by doubling up with relatives. Public spending goes toward the top 1 percent, tourists and some in the upper to middle income strata, while services and conditions for the poor are made ever worse.

But with elections, a different direction can begin. After all, the population of the city is heavily registered Democratic and Working Families Party; it has nearly a million trade unionists, and is heavily people of color. It has a significant women's equality movement, and large numbers of students and other youth, all of whom, given a chance, vote even more in a democratic direction than does most of the rest of the country. If these class and social forces substantially unite, campaign and vote together, candidates seeking to move in a democratic, progressive direction, can begin to impose that direction.

The Republican candidates for mayor (and the Independence Party), Joseph Lhota and Adolfo Carrion, represent more of the same and maybe even worse. There are four significant Democratic Party candidates. Unless one of them receives 40% there will be a runoff of the two highest. Probably both the first and second primary election rounds will be September.

It is widely agreed that the politics of the four range from Christine Quinn, toward the right, to Bill DeBlasio, to William Thompson, to John Liu on the left. Council Speaker Quinn's politics are similar to Michael Bloomberg's but still better than any of the non-Democrats. Yet her election would hardly change the direction of the city. While appealing to some because she would be the first woman and first openly gay mayor, her positions on issues go against their interests. She continually slows down and compromises all pro-working families legislation, such as holding up a vote on sick leave. She joins the Republicans in pledging to reappoint Ray Kelly as police commissioner, despite his stop-and-frisk policy. She has strong real estate developer financing.

Liu is widely considered the most consistent person towards the left. He calls for an $11 an hour minimum wage, and calls for ending stop and frisk entirely. But his poll numbers are the lowest of the four, 9 percent, probably because of the smear campaign run against him around apparent fund raising violations by a couple people on his campaign. The government admits they cannot indict him. Liu is an excellent campaigner but virtually no one thinks he can win.

William Thompson was the president of the Board of Education, and a good one, before Bloomberg made the board a department of the city government. He was then comptroller and ran against Bloomberg who narrowly beat him. Thompson calls for ending the present educational system and going to one that is responsive to the parents and teachers, and opposes the closings of the schools. He calls for firing the leadership of public housing. As an African American, he is sensitive to the issues of his and the other racially oppressed communities, while seeking the support of liberal whites, such as the city's large Jewish community.

The other Democratic candidate, who along with Thompson has a shot at coming in second after Quinn, is DeBlasio. He is the current public advocate, and tries to appeal both to moderates and liberals, without taking a clear-cut position either way on key issues. He presents himself as a champion of small business and a friend of labor. His record with regard to big development projects is that he begins as a supporter of the developers and then moves as opposition builds.

Both Liu, who is the comptroller and is Chinese, and Thompson, promise to sign contracts with public workers and opposed Bloomberg on his anti-labor policies.

The possibility for a turn in direction also depends on the outcome of the city council elections, where there is a substantial Progressive Caucus led by Melissa Mark Viverito and Brad Lander. Viverito will seek election to the powerful post of speaker and has a real shot at it. There are also progressives running with serious shots at victory, such as Letisha James for public advocate and Ken Thompson for Brooklyn district attorney. Robert Jackson is running for Manhattan Borough president. All three are African American.

Serious relief for the lives of the poor and middle income people requires big funding at the expense of the big corporation, the millionaires and billionaires, and that needs political will. Victory for a turn in direction will depend on the activism and unity of the labor movement, the many organizations in the communities of the racially and nationally oppressed, women, youth and a section of the white liberal community. Turnout will be exceptionally important in the initial round and possible second round of primaries, which usually have small turnouts. Thompson was able to strongly challenge Bloomberg in 2009 because of just such a coalition, which he built both in the primaries and in the general election, starting from his African American base.