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U R B A N A I = I = A I R S

OnOB[R 1996 $ 3.0 I

They're taking the fight out of organizing.
The city drops the ball
on East Brooklyn's
commercial comeback.
T W ( N T I ( T H A N
1 9 1 6 - I 9 9 6
Averting Hunger
There's a new welfare time limit that will start hitting
people in the stomachs-literally--as early as next
February. It's a clause in the welfare law passed last summer
requiring states to cut off Food Stamps for able-bodied men
and women after they've received them for three months,
unless they get a job or join workfare. Almost 1.4 million city
residents receive Food Stamps today. Of these, nearly
100,000, mostly men and women without children, would
lose the nutritional subsidy.
That is, unless Governor George Pataki quickly applies to
Washington for a waiver.
The city's economy cannot create jobs for 100,000 low-
income men and women by next February. The private sec-
tor generated only 30,000 new jobs during the first half of
this yea!; in what's been a modest boom in the Manhattan
business district. According to Comptroller
Alan Hevesi, these jobs are mainly in industries
demanding high levels of skill and education.
What about workfare? Mayor Giuliani is
struggling to boost the number of people in
workfare by another 40,000 before next June,
but a large number of these will be women with
children. So workfare will only make a medium-
sized dent in the list of men and women on the
verge of losing their Food Stamps.
The new federal welfare law allows states to apply for a
waiver to the Food Stamp rule if there is high unemployment
or a general "lack of jobs." New York apparently qualifies.
The only way to find out, however, isfor the governor to send
an application to Washington,fast.
Next month, we will celebrate City Limits' 20th birthday
with a gala at the Sky Club atop the former Pan Am build-
ing. We'll celebrate two successful decades spent chroni-
cling the renaissance of New York City neighborhoods and
spreading the news about grassroots innovation.
I hope you can join us the evening of November 14th,from
6 to 9 p.m. We'll be honoring a few local heroes, intro-
ducing a few illustrious guests and thanking all of our sup-
porters-i.e. the readers-who have made this magazine
worthwhile. For more information about purchasing tickets
or making a donation, please check out the back cover.
City Limits: it's reaching more readers than ever before.
And with your continued support, we'll keep growing
stronger right on into the next decade.
Cover illustration by Thomas Kerr
Andrew White
(ity Limits
Volume XXI Number 8
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the City Limits Community Information Service, Inc., a non-
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Editor: Andrew White
Senior Editors: Kim Nauer, Glenn Thrush
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Board of Directors":
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the Public Interest
Beverly Cheuvront. City Harvest
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Errol louis, Central Brooklyn Partnership
Rima McCoy, Action for Community Empowerment
Rebecca Reich, low Income Housing Fund
Andrew Reicher, UHAB
Tom Robbins, Journalist
Jay Small. ANHD
Doug Turetsky, former City Limits Editor
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No Accounting for Waste ~
In the last three years, the Local Development Corporation of East New York
has run up a $150,000 deficit, slashed its job-training programs, dodged
auditors-and flouted the IRS. Still government pumps money in while
East Brooklyn's dream of economic revival fades. By Glenn Thrush
The De-Activist
Michael Eichler has won the accolades of foundations and big business
as the guru of kinder-gentler, non-confrontational community organizing.
His critics say he's undermining activism at its phi losophical roots. By Robin Epstein
Harlem Unharmed
It took the common sense of a surgeon, an organizer and an entire community
to do what the city couldn't: prevent children's injuries. By Kierna Mayo Dawsey
Drawing New Breath ~
For a group of kids, teaching about AIDS was the key that released them
from a jail cell-and a life of death on the streets. By Tom Beer
Agents of Change ~
An historic Massachusetts law forces insurance agents to cover inner-
city homeowners. By Kim Nauer
Political Burnout
Last year, a community coalition stopped a potentially dangerous wood-
'burning incinerator. This year they almost created a privately funded
energy fund for the poor. That is, until the Brooklyn borough president
torched them. By Lisa Donadio and Kim Nauer
Head Above Water
With "Drown," short story writer lunot Diaz navigates his Dominican
soul in a sea of American words. By Kristan Schiller
See Ya, Steinbrenner
Neighborhood Repair Manual
Spare Change
Briefs 4, 5
Doris Rosenblum (1925-1996)
Pagan Sacrifices Pueblo Nuevo
Food (Stamps) for Thought
lAF's Poll Vault
Job Ads
By John McCrory
By Rinku Sen
By Kevin Heldman
Settling an old political
score, Councilman Antonio
Pagan has struck the killing
blow to Pueblo Nuevo, a 24-
year-old Lower East Side
housing group that that had
recently rallied back from dev-
astating financial scandal.
In August, Pagan used his
councilman's prerogative on
projects in his district, tabling
consideration of two city-
financed housing initiatives
that would have pumped mil-
lions into the cash-strapped
Pueblo Nuevo treasury-and
saved the group from certain
Nuevo enjoyed a good reputa-
tion fighting drug dealers,
building a low-income apart-
ment house from scratch and
renovating some 40 ram-
shackle buildings. Then, in
February 1995, the group's
executive director, Robert
Caballero, resigned after it
was disclosed that the organi-
zation's finances were in a
shambles and that Pueblo
Nuevo hadn't paid federal pay-
roll taxes in months.
But after a year-long orga-
nizational shakeup, Pueblo
Nuevo seemed to have its
books and institutional mission
back in order. This spring,
Deborah Wright, then commis-
sioner of the city Department
of Housing, Preservation and
Development, decided Pueblo
Nuevo was healthy enough to
proceed with both projects,
despite a still-substantial
operating deficit.
"There were concerns
about the organization's viabil-
ity, but it was apparent that
they had made some very pos-
itive changes," says Frey.
One ofthe architects of the
Pueblo Nuevo turnaround was
Lisa Kaplan, the group's former
executive director who
returned to serve on the board
as treasurer.
Pagan and Kaplan are
longtime antagonists, howev-
er. Kaplan is an enthusiastic
backer of Margarita Lopez, a
potential 1997 challenger for
Pagan's City Council seat. And
she also supported Miriam
Friedlander, the longtime
councilwoman Pagan unseat-
ed in 1991.
Kaplan claims Pagan, using
another board member as an
emissary, offered her an ulti -
matum: quit the Pueblo Nuevo
Board or kiss the two projects
goodbye. After reluctantly
accepting the bargain, she
says Pagan changed his mind.
"He figured he could get
away with killing us completely,
so he went for it," she says. "It
was that personal, that direct,
that political, that crass."
Pagan did not return calls
seeking comment. Glenn Thrush
Days after the defeat,
Pueblo Nuevo employees
began closing down their Pitt
Street office for good.
"It was held up by
Councilman Pagan," says Bill
Frey, New York City director for
the Enterprise Foundation,
which worked with Pueblo
Nuevo on one of the develop-
ment projects. "His major con-
cern was Pueblo Nuevo's orga-
nizational instability."
Council staffers say Pagan
justified his action by saying
Pueblo Nuevo was incapable
of handling the projects. But
they say he had a hidden
agenda. "Pagan requested the
item be held up in committee ...
because there were people on
the [Pueblo Nuevo) board who
were his bitter political ene-
mies," a council source says.
"That's why he really needed
to drag them through the fire."
The first project involved
the renovation of the Glass
House, the old factory at 139
Avenue D, where the organiza-
tion had planned to create a
45-unit AIDS residence. The
second project was the reha-
bilitation of a nearby 27-unit
For two decades, Pueblo
Doris Rosenblum, one of
the city's most tenacious
and influential organizers,
died of cancer August 29th
at age 71.
A passionate presence in
the Upper West Side politi-
cal scene for more than 35
years, Rosenblum worked on
issues ranging from afford-
able housing preservation to
education reform and
remained deeply involved
right up until her death. Told
in early August that she had
irreversible lymphoma,
Rosenblum still considered
attending a retreat of the
New York State Tenants and
Neighbors Coalition, where
she had been a board mem-
ber for the last five years.
She was just never able
to back away from some-
thing she believed in: says
NYSTNC's Michael McKee.
Her resume is an inspira-
tion. As a mother on the
Upper West Side in the late
1960s, Rosenblum set out to
improve conditions in her
kids' schools. In 1971, she
helped found one of the
city's first alternative
schools, the West Side High
' School. Four years later, a
political neophyte named
Ruth Messinger turned to
Rosenblum for advice on her
first run at public office: a
school board seat.
Messinger won.
Rosenblum went on to
defend rent stabilization laws
and tenant rights in Mitchell-
Lama buildings. She also
helped found the Strycker's
Bay Neighborhood Council
and, as a member-and later
district manager-of
Community Board 7, played a
central role coordinating
opposition to several huge
West Side developments,
most notably Riverside
Shortly before her death,
she told friends, chuckling,
that she was running 13 dif-
ferent coalitions out of her
apartment. That didn't
include the work she did
with children, preparing oral
histories of various neigh-
borhoods as the official
Manhattan Borough
We will only know what
she was doing when we
come to find out what's not
being done: says
Community Board 7's district
manager, Penny Ryan.
Kim Nauer
Short Shot
interns or rewrite types who once
made a crack about their editor's
as new schoolhouses. Every opportuni-
ty to solve the problem creatively has
been botched. The schools leasing
division, which should have provided
quality rented safety- valve space, has
been mired in a pit of corruption and
incompetence. And the white hat
School Construction Authority has had
an incurable case of the slows (read
all about it "Cracked Foundations."
Oty limits. May 1996).
York's daily papers suffered collective
amnesia when they began whelping
about the suddenly shocking school
overcrowding crisis last month. That's
because the story first broke on
Christmas Day, 1992. And as anyone in
the business knows, the only reporters
who work on Christmas day are either
Joe Fernandez released a report pre-
dicting an avalanche oflOO,OOO new
students by decade's end, the loss of
50 school buildings each year thanks
to neglect, and the need for a $20
billion school construction program_
AND THE TABLOIDS have kept an eye
on the truly seminal education stories
of our day: teacher-student love
affairs, chancellor-mayor fights and
the apocalyptic specter of gym teach-
ers handing out condoms.
An alliance of activist com-
munity organizations best
known for the disciplined
mobilization of citizens on jobs
and housing issues is striving
to build a clean political
Metro IAF, the umbrella
group of the eight neighbor-
hood-based affiliates of the
Industrial Areas Foundation in
New York City, has kicked off a
nonpartisan voter turnout drive
for the November elections.
The group plans to identify vot-
ers and register them when
necessary. But most important-
ly, it will do what all effective
electoral organizations must
do, organizers say: It will move
its voter base to the polls en
"We're committed to seeing
if we can significantly and con-
sistently increase voter turnout
in the neighborhoods," says
David Fleischer, an IAF organiz-
er in Brooklyn who is working
on the campaign.
West Siders Together
(WEST), one of the IAF affili-
ates, hopes to get 5,000 voters
to the polls, and create a pro-
fessional electoral structure
with a neighborhood agenda.
WEST plans to recruit 100 to
150 "captains," choosing the
get-out-the-vote operatives
from among IAF's member con-
gregations and organizations.
Latino voters are among those
the group is targeting.
"This election gives us an
opportunity to see how disci-
plined we can be in terms of
turning people out," explains
Jim Drake, a senior organizer.
"We have no intention of
endorsing anyone," Drake
adds. Down the road, he says,
after Metro IAF has established
its voting presence, it will
develop an agenda which will
likely include school reform,
improving city services in low-
income neighborhoods and
creating more jobs.
IAF's member organiza-
tions have no plans to run their
own candidates. But WEST
sees this year's campaign as a
warm-up for some serious
muscle-flexing in the 1997
mayoral race.
"It's a shifting reality out
there," says Vonda Brunsting,
WESTs lead organizer. "When
you go into an elected official's
office and they have a map on
the wall color-coded by block
according to the voter turnout
rate, then you know that unless
you're voting, you're not on the
map. Literally. "
Robin Epstein
Governor Pataki will block
nearly 94,000 poor, unemployed
New Yorkers from continuing to
receive food stamps if he fails to
apply for a waiver available to
many states under the new fed-
eral welfare bill, according to
the Community Food Resource
Center (CFRC).
Under the welfare overhaul
signed into law in August,
"employable: yet unemployed
adults can only receive food
stamps for three months in any
three-year period before their
benefits are discontinued.
"If [Pataki) doesn't [submit an
application) before November 22.
then under federal law, he must
send notification to affected peo-
ple that the three-month clock
has started ticking for them,"
says Liz Krueger of the CFRC.
But there's a way out-if
Pataki chooses to take it
An obscure provision of the
huge law gives states the right
to obtain exemptions from the
food-stamp term-limits if they
can prove they have "10 per-
cent unemployment" or a gen-
eral"lack of jobs for the people
who want them.
Advocates for the poor think
New York fits that description
and say the state Department of
Social Services ought to send in
the waiver application in a hurry.
"I could make a case [for the job
shortage) just by looking at the
classifieds and how many of
those jobs require high school or
years of experience," Krueger
says:There is about a zero rate
of employment offerings for peo-
ple who receive food stamps.
"Yes, they are 'employable.'
But we don't have jobs for
them: she adds.
Will the state file the appli-
cation? "It is under considera-
tion," says DSS spokeswoman
Theresa Wescott.
Kiana Mayo Dawsey
Work Experience
Program partici-
pants protested
Mayor Giuliani's
workfare policies
at last month's
Labor Day parade.
They marched with
Local 1180 of the
Workers of
is creating a "pervasive culture of
dependency?" Nuh-uh. A new nonpar-
tisan report by the Population
Reference Bureau in Washington
reports that welfare accounts for only
one-fourth of the poor's income. The
IInderdass needs to learn the value of
work? Nearly half their income is from
wages and other work-related activi-
ty, PRB says. Non-Hispanic whites
make up the overwhelming majori-
ty-48 percent-of the poor. The
most damning stat is this: ainton-
Dole "Workfare" sermonizing aside,
only 10 percent of the welfare budget
goes to education and training pro-
grams. For "A New Look at Poverty in
America," call 202-483-1100.
Learn how to do it yourself-the right
way. Years in the making, one of the
most comprehensive and practical
nonprofit how-to manuals ever
assembled is now available from the
(ommunity Resource Center. It comes
with a price attached (though it's
about one-twentieth the cost of the
consultants you've considered hiring)
but it's worth a look. (overs the roots
of existence (incorporation, by laws),
the pains of growth for those weath-
ered types (board development, hir-
ing, computer equipment) and the
day to day traumas of executive life
(bookkeeping, fund raising). For info,
call (RE at 212-344-0195.
. ,

Drawing New Breath
For some young men and women in trouble with the law, teaching their peers
about AIDS is the road back to the straight and narrow. By Tom Beer
t's approaching 4 p.m. on a Friday
afternoon, and the class is getting
restless. Twenty young black and
Latino teenagers are gathered in a
sparsely furnished sixth-floor class-
room at the Center for Alternative
Sentencing and Employment Services
(CASES) on lower Broadway, part of a
six-week training in the skills it takes to
become an AIDS educator. Two young
presenters from Mt. Sinai Hospital's Star
Theater are leading today's lesson, and
they are talking to the students about
classroom role-playing techniques.
But attention spans are short: The
"Remember, the test is Monday,"
shouts Kate Barnhart, 20, who coordinates
the training for CASES, as the students ftle
noisily out of the room. "You have to get a
ninety if we're going to send you out into
the field. You have to know this stuff."
F.lony Convictions
If it seems at first glance like a typical
New York City classroom scene, it's not.
For starters, all the young people here have
been convicted in New York state courts of
felonies such as assault, robbery or selling
drugs. And all of them would be doing
time in jail or prison right now were it not
IIPeer education was an opportunity
for them to get involved in something
that would make them feel powerful."
weekend is just an hour away, and the
young people in the class received their
stipend payments this morning. By now,
they are more interested in checking out
their friends' recently purchased sneakers
and hip-hop tapes.
"Ground rules," calls out Lynette, one
of the Mt. Sinai instructors, as the buzz of
background conversation becomes unman-
ageable. She's reminding people of the
rules all of the students in the program
have agreed to: Respect one another. No
censorship. No cursing at each other. No
laughing at each other. Always raise your
hand to speak.
'Tall relax," echoes Monique, age 19,
one of only three young women in the class
and someone they all listen to and respect.
She's eight months pregnant, which seems
to give her added authority. Everybody
refocuses on the presenters, and they get
down to the business at hand, a role play
the class is developing about a teenage girl
trying to convince her boyfriend to use a
condom when they have sex. The kids
clearly relish the creative involvement and
offer loud, energetic commentary as stu-
dents act out the parts. When the role play
is finished, the girl hasn't quite broken
down the boy's resistance to the condom.
The group applauds, nonetheless.
for CASES.
Since 1989, CASES' Court Em-
ployment Project has sought out New York
City felony offenders between the ages of
14 and 21-kids otherwise bound for
prison-and convinced judges to sentence
them instead to six months under the
group's supervision.
"The focus is to advance the self-suffi-
ciency of the young people and put them in
a position where they know what their
options are," explains Ellen Neises, 31, the
director of public policy at CASES. To that
end, CASES offers participants classes in
everything from basic literacy to GED
preparation, drug and health education,
and vocational training. At the end of six
months, young people in the program
report back to the judge and, in most cases,
are sentenced to probation.
The peer education training is part of a
recent, radical rethinking of how to teach
people about AIDS. It began in the sum-
mer of 1994, after Barnhart and a health
educator at Bellevue Hospital 's Teen
Outreach Prevention Services (TOPS)
began talking with Neises. Barnhart, a
young firebrand who grew up going to
antinuclear demonstrations, graduated to
ACT UP in her teens, and now sits on the
board of the National Child Rights
Alliance, was working with a citywide net-
work of adolescent AIDS educators. The
network had developed a curriculum for
training teens as peer educators and need-
ed a venue to try it out. Neises, in turn, was
intrigued by the possibilities for the young
men and women she worked with in the
criminal justice system.
"A lot of the participants in the pro-
gram feel like they' re branded as 'bad
kids,' because they've been in trouble,
because they' ve dropped out of school, "
Neises says. "Peer education was an
opportunity for them to get involved in
something that would make them feel
At first, the program raised some eye-
brows since there were no adults in the
classroom with the students-Barnhart,
the supervisor, was only 18 at the time. As
she recounts it, that first summer "the
CASES staff would be constantly peering
in the window of the classroom. They
were amazed that it was working."
Ramaine Fox, 18, a CASES alumnus
who now works as a peer educator at
Bellevue Hospital, remembers: "At first
everybody was like, 'We're just getting
paid, this is just a summer job, and when I
go home I don't want to hear anything
about HIV and AIDS anymore.' Then,
after the first week, it caught most peo-
pIe's interest."
After a month in training, the students
came up with the idea of doing presenta-
tions for young inmates at Rikers Island,
the Spofford juvenile detention center and
other programs for teenage offenders. This
past summer, with additional funding, the
training expanded to six weeks, and the 20
budding peer educators got a chance to try
out their skills on hundreds of other
teenagers-many of them also tangled in
the criminal justice system.
Itt. Tough Crowd
"Does everybody here know how to put
on a condom?" Monique is addressing a
group of about 30 young men and a few
young women at a community center on
Park Avenue. The participants have all
recently come out of the state's boot camps,
where convicts do short-term "shock incar-
ceration" instead of prison time. It's about
two weeks after the role-play class back at
CASES, and the team of six peer educators
is finding out how hard it is to stand up in
front of a class and hold everyone's atten-
tion. This is a tough crowd: Many of them
are older than the CASES kids, not exactly
peers, and a few shake their heads and scoff
at Monique's question.
"Well, what's the first thing you do?"
she asks, undaunted.
"Open it," someone calls out, laughing.
"No. Check the expiration date," cor-
rects Monique, with a satisfied smile.
The CASES peer educators
press on through their presen-
tation: Otis, age 16, carefully
draws a large finger with a cut
on the board and uses it to
illustrate the functioning of the
immune system; Saliek, age
17, walks the group though the
AIDS timeline, from HIV
infection to the onset of oppor-
tunistic infections to death.
Barnhart sits at the back of the
room, tiling notes, giving an
occasional nod of encourage-
ment. It's rocky going in
places, but the team gets
through the presentation.
They' re learning.
After class, the peer edu-
cators are wound tightly,
arguing among themselves
over how the presentation
went. Something's clearly
bothering them. It turns out
one of their classmates-the
young woman who had role-
played the girlfriend with
tremendous verve in class the
week before last-has been kicked out of
CASES after an arrest for jumping a sub-
way turnstile, the latest in a string of
offenses. This morning, the kids found
out she's in the hospital, having over-
dosed the night before.
The group is shaken. At CASES,
they've got a chance to tum things around,
stay out of jail, make plans for the future.
But the pull of the streets, violence,
drugs-and the pressure of the poverty
many of them have always lived with-
remains strong. What's happened to their
classmate really makes them think. "It's a
there-but -for -the-grace-of-God-go-I type
of thing," Barnhart muses.
Mwasurlng the Effects
According to a report released last
spring by the White House Office of
AIDS Policy, black, Latino, and poor
youth are at the greatest risk in the next
wave of the epidemic. Yet peer education
programs-which offer frank, explicit
prevention information, and hold to the
principle that young people have the best
chance of reaching and educating their
peers-are struggling to survive. "A lot of
adults don't respect the work that peer
educators do because of our age," says
Barnhart. "Sometimes we can't even get
into the classroom."
As an alternative to prison, CASES
appears to be miling a difference.
According to a CASES study, only 30 per-
cent of the participants are rearrested with-
in two years of their sentencing date, as
compared to a 40 percent rearrest rate for
those offenders given probation and 50
percent for those sentenced to New York
state prisons.
It's more difficult to measure the
effect of the peer trainings, but the stu-
dents themselves testify to the power of
their experience. Eric, 15, is one of 22
students who graduated from the CASES
class in late August and is now certified
as a peer educator. He points out that he
didn't even know the difference between
HIV and AIDS when the class began.
"Also, I'm not as shy as I was before, I'm
more outspoken." Next year, Eric says,
he'd like to come back and work as
Barnhart's assistant.
After being arrested for beating up
another youth, David Rivera, 20, ended up
in the CASES program in 1994.
Afterwards, he did peer education at
Bellevue Hospital and at a drug and alcohol
treatment program in Harlem. Now Rivera
has returned to CASES to work with the
peer educators. Self-assured and articulate,
he is a walking testament to the program's
"I look in the eyes of some of these
kids, and I see little pieces of me in a lot
of them," Rivera says. "I see a lot of guys
get frustrated. But that's only because
they get scared of learning something
new. Because HIV to them is like some-
thing they never thought they'd learn so
much about. This peer education thing, it
gives these guys a chance to prove to
themselves that they can learn something
and teach other people."
Rivera pauses for a moment, looking
for the right words. "It helps in their hearts
to know that they can succeed."
Tom Beer is an assistant managing editor
at Out magazine.

The CASES Kids
(l-r); Eric, Ramaine,
Monique, Saliek
and Eduardo.

Agents of Change
An historic Massachusetts law lures insurance companies back
into long-neglected neighborhoods. By Kim Nauer
rafting a model for the future
of community reinvestment
activism, organizers, legisla-
tors and insurance execu-
tives in Boston have institut-
ed one of the nation's most pragmatic
measures to reduce property insurance
The law, passed last spring, boosts
homeowners hip opportunities in low-
income communities by offering new
incentives for private insurance compa-
nies to provide coverage in neighbor-
hoods they've long considered too high
a risk. It also requires insurers to ftle
annual reports with the state on their
activities in these communities, poten-
tially providing policy makers with valu-
able proof if companies demonstrate a
pattern of redlining.
spring, Allstate, which insures one out of
every eight homes in the nation,
announced it would end its restrictions
on providing policies to homes more than
40 years old or worth less than
$40,OOO-the type of housing typically
found in urban communities. State Farm
Insurance offered similar promises in
July to settle a discrimination complaint
filed by fair housing advocates with the
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban
Class-St_agall Act
Moreover, credit and investment
activists have the insurance industry in
their sights, thanks to impending changes
in federal law. Both Congress and
President Clinton say they support
repealing the Glass-Steagall Act, which
has forbidden the corporate mergers of
banks with insurance companies and
securities firms since the 1930s. Once
companies in these industries are
allowed to merge, activists plan to argue
fight. As president of the Organization for
a New Equality, Stith has helped convince
banks that making loans in poorer neigh-
borhoods like Roxbury and Dorchester is
a safe and profitable business. He argues
that insurance companies will learn the
same lesson-once they do business there.
"The bottom line is to change what they
do," he says.
The Reverend Stith was one of a dozen
activists who worked with insurers to
hammer out the Massachusetts law. Key
to negotiations was the fact that the state's
insurance companies, like most states
with large urban areas, were already
required to pay into a pool that provides
insurance in high-risk communities. But
those plans offer less protection at a high-
er cost. Moreover, many homeowners in
low-income neighborhoods suspected
they were being forced into the pool by
agents who simply did not want to do
business in their community.
High-Risk Pool
Meanwhile, insurance companies were
eager to find ways to reduce the amount
the state required them to contribute to the
high-risk pool each year.
The compromise attempted to satisfy
Reinvestment activists say protecting
neighborhoods from insurance red lining
is vital because banks require buyers to
obtain homeowner's insurance before
they can receive a mortgage. The equation
is simple: no insurance, no mortgages,
fewer homeowners, more abandoned
Although the effort was spurred by
several progressive legislators and guided
by community organizers, the law, in the
end, was written by three of the state's top
insurance association executives. While
they steadfastly maintain that insurance
agents have not been redlining low-
income or minority neighborhoods, they
admit that agents could do a better job
fmding profitable business in these com-
The equation is simple: no insurance,
no mortgages, fewer homeowners and
more abandoned neighborhoods.
"There are three types of buildings in
the Commonwealth," says Edward
Donahue, regional manager of the
Alliance of American Insurers and one of
the legislation's drafters. ''There are those
that are insurable at some price. There are
those that are uninsurable because you
know that they' re going to have a loss.
And then there's a gray area in the middle.
What we have acknowledged is, yeah,
maybe companies need to go back and
look at those gray-area buildings."
Call it the beginning of a trend. Last
that all of them should be subject to
community reinvestment requirements.
Under the federal Community
Reinvestment Act (CRA), banks have
long been required to make credit avail-
able in low- and moderate-income com-
munities. If Glass-Steagall is repealed,
activists nationwide will demand that
insurers and securities brokerages-
which control hundreds of billions of
dollars in savings and investments-
should comply with CRA as well.
Antl-RHllnlng Bulwark
Of course, these industries could sim-
ply push for the repeal of CRA, but high-
proftle activists like the Reverend Charles
Stith of Boston aren't about to let the anti-
redJining bulwark disappear without a
both groups. Insurance companies will
receive credits for every policy they
write in designated neighborhoods.
Those companies that work hard to find
new customers will get a discount in
their contributions to the statewide high-
risk pool.
AAI's Donahue admits these negotia-
tions would never have happened if the
industry wasn' t fearful of another initia-
tive on the table: a proposal from some
activists and legislators to force insurance
companies into making direct investments
in neglected communities.
"The insurance companies realized
that something was going to go through,"
says Lisa Clauson, a Boston community
activist. "We all wanted something we
could live with."
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Charles Barron
(fourth from
left) is joined
by members of
Political Burnout
A gas generator sparks a political fracas-and the Brooklyn
Borough President gets singed. By Lisa Donadio and Kim Nauer
here there's smoke,
there's politics.
It was just a year ago
that the Long Island-
based Atlas Bio-Energy
Corp. withdrew its proposal to build a
wood-burning incinerator in East New
York after community opponents proved
the plant would be illegal. Hoping to sal-
vage an electricity deal with Con Edison,
Atlas officials came back last spring with
new plans for a smaller, natural gas burn-
ing power plant that appeared to be envi-
ronmentally safe.
Unlike the wood-burning plant, which
residents feared would have had danger-
ous particulate emissions, the gas-fired
plant would put only a relatively small
quantity of carbon dioxide into the air.
Environmental regulators determined
there would be little environmental
impact. Moreover, to mute community and
political opposition, Atlas officials even
considered establishing a relief fund to
help low-income East New Yorkers pay
their energy bills and weatherization costs.
The company thought they had covered all
the angles.
Enter Brooklyn Borough President
Howard Golden.
In a testament to the combustibility of
Brooklyn politics, Golden unexpectedly
attacked a local activist group, East New
York United Front (ENYUF), after its
members met with Atlas to discuss the pro-
posed energy relief fund. Golden belliger-
ently demanded a city Department of
Investigation inquiry into the propriety of
ENYUF's discussions, charging that Atlas
might be trying to "buy off ... the people
who might be opposed to [the project] in
order to have an easier time trying to get
through the process," according to
Borough Hall spokesman Mike Armstrong.
The community group's outspoken
frontman, Charles Barron, has fired back,
labeling Golden's
office as a bunch of
"control freaks"
who don't want
community leaders
to decide the fate of
their own neighbor-
hood. ENYUF has
asked the U.S.
Justice Department
to look into
Golden's "abuse of
Sources in
Borough Hall admit
politics partially
prompted Golden's
action. The borough
president is closely aligned with East New
York City Councilwoman Priscilla
Wooten, who has clashed with Barron and
reportedly views him as a potential politi-
cal threat. "Howie's nothing if not loyal,"
says a former Golden aide. "He's loyal to
Priscilla, which means that her enemies are
his enemies."
The net result? Atlas now says it won't
build the plant-and it's unlikely the com-
pany will channel any money into the pro-
posed relief fund.
Voter Registration
Barron and his colleagues haven' t
exactly sought to ingratiate themselves with
the political establishment. Currently,
ENYUF is working on voter registration
and leadership development, activities long
associated with developing an insurgent
political movement. The group's leaders,
however, aren't garden variety political
operatives. They include a number of block
and neighborhood association leaders, the
head of a local Settlement House and neigh-
bors of the Atlas plant on Shepherd Avenue.
Barron, a former aide to the controver-
sial Reverend AI Sharpton, runs a firm that
helps community groups around the coun-
try mount neighborhood campaigns. A 10-
year resident of East New York, he admits
to taking little interest in politics there
until last year. In Marcb 1995, Barron and
other organizers spotted newspaper reports
about Atlas Vice President Thomas
Polsinelli's plan to build the wood-to-ener-
gy incineration plant. Two months later,
Barron and a half dozen other East New
York leaders stormed a heavily attended
meeting of Community Board 5, convinc-
ing a cadre of neighborhood leaders to
form the East New York Community
Committee Against the Incinerator, later to
become ENYUF.
From the beginning, there were tensions
with the borough president's office. Golden
said publicly that he was concerned about
the project and, indeed, wrote to Governor
George Pataki opposing the incinerator and
asking for an in-depth, state-mandated envi-
ronmental impact study. But when the
coalition met with Golden he clammed up,
and just said he would appoint a task force
to study the issue.
"Golden was trying to give the impres-
sion that he was being deliberative. Charles
wanted a real commitment, so he tried to
bulldoze him. But Golden wouldn't bite,"
says Eddie Bautista, an organizer with New
York Lawyers for the Public Interest.
''They just got into it with each other from
the very first meeting."
Golden's task force proved unneces-
sary: the activists soon uncovered a
clause in the city law books clearly out-
lawing most privately owned waste-to-
energy plants. Atlas promptly dropped the
wood-burning proposal and the incinera-
tor opponents celebrated, vowing to meet
monthly to mobilize community residents
on other fronts, like improving public
safety. And, in a challenge to political
players like Golden and Wooten, they
resolved to foster greater political
accountability and develop new, grass-
roots-level leadership.
Impact Study
This spring, Polsinelli came back to the
community with his plan for a gas burning
In May, he and his attorney, Deborah
Volberg, sat down with ENYUF's leaders,
going over the plans line by line. The lead-
ers emphasized they would withhold judg-
ment until they had their own environmen-
tal study done and the membership had a
chance to vote on the issue.
Barron then proposed an energy relief
fund that would set aside some of Atlas'
profits to help pay energy bills for the poor.
Both Polsinem and Volberg were receptive,
and, after a grilling at another meeting in
July by ENYUF's full membership, they
wrote a letter stating that the company
"continues to be interested in establishing
and funding a local community benefit pro-
ject." It was crucial to pin Atlas down, says
ENYUF member Vanessa Figueroa. "Once
Atlas got regulatory approval, why would
they agree to anything?"
Without fanfare, Vol berg sent a copy of
her ENYUF letter to Golden. Borough
Hall promptly erupted. Golden fired off
his request to the Department of
Investigation, asking that they probe "the
propriety of such a proposal"-with the
implication that Barron had cut a shady
backroom deal.
"Given [the city's] granting of a permit
for the project, we want to find out if
requesting a public amenity in any way
tainted the review process," says Greg
Brooks, Golden's chief of staff. "We are
concerned that it was very inappropriate
for ENYUF to speak: with the developer
about such a fund before anything was
Barron responded angrily, charging the
borough president with seeking to dirty
ENYUF's reputation. "All we have done is
talk with the developer and express an
interest in a benefits program," Barron told
City Limits. "The borough president has
always been aware of it, and this nonsense
over an investigation is a clear-cut case of
Golden's abuse of power and his attempt
to stifle independent leadership in East
New York." In September, ENYUF wrote
to the Justice Department and other public
officials, asking them to investigate
Golden for his actions.
Neither DOl nor the Justice
Department will say whether they are
looking into the matter. But Borough
Hall's spin shifted last month. Instead of
claiming that DOl should be investigating
ENYUF, Golden's spokesman Mike
Armstrong changed the focus to Atlas.
"We think they were doing an end run
around the process by making a side
agreement with these people," he says.
As the smoke clears, it's apparent that
everyone has lost: Atlas' chance to recoup
the public trust it lost in proposing the wood
burning incinerato is dashed. ENYUF's
relief fund has vanished. And Golden has
lost credibility with a group of East New
York constituents who believe he placed
petty politics above their best interests.
It's been a lesson in politics for
actlVlsts like ENYUF's Figueroa. "I
thought if a community became active,
officials would align themselves with the
people they represent," she says. "I didn't
expect this."
Lisa Donadio is a City Limits intern.
Nev# York Lavvyers
for the Public Interest
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-, .
An East Brooklyn nonprofit created to rebuild'
Dangting on the far edge of Brooklyn, ahnost ready
to fall off, East New York is trying to maintain its
hold on a slippery vision of community renaissance.
Most people know East Brooklyn's 75th Precinct won the
"Murder Capital of New York" moniker in the early 1990s, but
crime has now slackened to the point where mothers can consid-
er letting their children make a milk run to the comer bodega
after dark. Wasted swaths of the neighborhood still look like
Dresden in 1946, but thousands of new, working-class housing
units have risen as a result of partnerships between government
and private developers.
Yet outside of a few scattered successes, the neighborhood has
not been able to regenerate its old heartbeat-the network of small
shops and midscale commercial enterprises that created jobs and
pumped cash into the local economy from the 1920s to 196Os. Part
of the reason is the story of urban economic decline: globalization of
manufacturing; financial redlining; political neglect.
But New York City has a multimillion dollar network of local
development corporations designed specifically for grasping
opportunity out of the economic doldrums. In East Brooklyn, the
primary group responsible for such work-the Local Devel-
opment Corporation of East New York-is instead setting a new
standard for frustration, fecklessness and failure.
According to documents obtained by City Limits, the organi-
zation's budget deficit has increased fivefold in just three years; it
has flunked a city agency's audit of its commercial revitalization
program and ducked auditors' attempts to further examine the
books. And-amazingly-the organization has failed to file the
basic financial disclosure documents required for the nonprofit
organization to maintain its tax-exempt status.
The most disturbing aspect of the LDC's slow-motion melt-
down is that, until recently, none of the people who knew about it
ever bothered to fix it. The LDC's board of directors, made up
mostly of businessmen and politicians who live outside the neigh-
borhood, has not consistently demanded that its top executive,
By GlelJll Thrush
a shattered economy instead perpetuates decay.
Michael Brooks, provide the detailed financial information need-
ed to guide the organization's future. And although city, state and
federal officials have expressed suspicion of mismanagement,
they have done little to ensure that $1.5 million in taxpayer dol-
lars given to the LDC since 1993 has been properly spent.
Meanwhile, the LDC administers a shrinking roster of pro-
grams and fends off its creditors for months at a time, even as
Brooks has enjoyed salary hikes to $71,500-$20,000 more than
the LDC's last director made.
Brooks says such criticism is unfair and that he inherited the
LDC's fmancial headaches from previous executive directors. He
maintains that the organization's $150,000 deficit is the result of
state and city cuts in the LDC's contracts.
"I have done what I believe to be a good job," he says. "I think
I have made significant strides in turning this organization around
from the condition in which I received it."
Yet City Limits has learned that city Department of
Investigation is interviewing former employees and board members
about how Brooks spent the LDC's money and why the organiza-
tion's operating deficit is so large. And community residents are
beginning to organize, charging that they are being cheated by the
group's failure to foster development.
The LDC is a tiny organization, but its problems are emblem-
atic of a larger failure. The city and state pump millions in eco-
nomic revitalization funding into community-based organizations
but refuse to hold some of them to minimal standards of profes-
sionalism and performance. The many well-managed community
groups that catalyze economic activity by arranging dozens of
small-scale deals, providing business services, training entrepre-
neurs and cleaning up the streets, see their collective reputations
burned every time a bad organization is exposed.
"The main problem is that everyone in this whole system has no
incentive to scrutinize a group's performance," says John
Mollenkopf, a City University of New York professor who studies
the relationship between government and the nonprofit sector. "The
political patrons who arrange for the grants don't want it. The group
itself wants to be left alone. The agencies that dispense the money
don't want to bear the cost of truly intensive oversight."
"This neighborhood needs jobs and the LDC is getting money
to foster economic revitalization and create jobs," adds Bertha
Lewis, a Brooklyn organizer for ACORN, which is trying to
force Brooks to more aggressively pursue job-training and job-
referral services. "The LDC has taken the money, but where the
hell are the jobsT'
East New York is rich with industrial potential, even
in an era of global economies: nearly 90 percent of the land in one
large section of the neighborhood is zoned for industrial use, and it
Michael Brooks,
the LDC's executive
director, blames his
group's $150,000
defici r on previous
has quick access to the freight ports at Kennedy Airport via a grid of
access roads that includes Conduit Avenue and Linden Boulevard.
Yet at least 40 percent of the buildings in the industrial zone are
still derelict, according to one recent report, and the once-thriving
commercial strips-Pitkin, Sutter and New Lots avenues-sport
more man-sized weeds than living, breathing businesspeople.
"In the last few years there's been quite a bit of residential
development in the neighborhood, but there hasn't been very
much economic development," says Devyani Guha, senior plan-
ner with the Pratt Institute Center for Community and
Environmental Development, who is working on a comprehen-
sive planning document for East New York with community
groups. "The problem is that many of the new people in the com-
munity are middle-class, so they just hop in their cars and do their
shopping outside of the neighborhood .... All that's really here for
the poorer people are the bodegas."
These problems are not new. In 1979, an urban planning stu-
dent and former Vista volunteer named Rick Recny began orga-
nizing the few remaining industrial business owners and dis-
cussing ways to keep them in the neighborhood. Soon after, Recny
helped create a city-backed industrial park and became the first
executive director of the newly-chartered LDC of East New York.
Under Recny and his successor Jeff Stem, the organization
grew into a $900,OOO-a-year corporation that packaged tax incen-
tives, cheap city-owned land parcels and moderate-interest loans
for local businesses. During the 1980s, the LDC helped redevelop
or refurbish about 300,000 square feet of space for manufacturers,
foundries and freight operations. Recny also obtained job-training
and neighborhood entrepreneur workshop contracts that helped
add a few hundred new jobs to a neighborhood that had been
bleeding work-slots by the thousands for two decades.
In 1988, Recny quit to take a job at a Manhattan real estate
fmn, opting to stay on as chairman of the LDC's board. His hand-
picked successor, Jeff Stem, continued the organization's course
until his own departure in 1992. Over the next year, the LDC suf-
fered through a succession of ineffectual and short-lived directors,
who left the fiscal records in a shambles and the staff in a state of
Into the breach stepped Michael Brooks, a former interior
design contractor with no experience running a community-based
organization. His sole connection to the neighborhood was a
friendship with Assemblyman Ed Griffith. In late 1992, Griffith,
an important political backer responsible for channeling tens of
thousands in discretionary grants to the LOC, faxed Brooks'
resume to Recny, who picked Brooks to author a feasibility study
for renovating the decrepit Biltmore Theater on New Lots
Avenue, long eyed as a potential retail hub.
According to Vincent Tese, then head of the state's Urban
Development Corporation, Griffith helped secure a $61,000 grant
for the study. About half the money was slated to be paid to
Brooks and the small consulting company, SMA Associates, that
he ran out of his home in suburban Nassau County. Soon there-
after, in the spring of 1993, the LOC's board asked him ifhe want-
ed the job as head of the organization.
Brooks accepted. And the LOC's troubles quickly mounted.
Right from the start, Brooks offered to work
without pay, so long as he and his consulting fmn won a share of
the fees generated by the Biltmore project. Board members say
they were impressed with Brooks' initiative. Nonprofit experts,
however, say the plan should have sent up red flags immediately.
"I have never heard of the director of a nonprofit taking such
an arrangement," says Columbia Professor Ray Horton, who
teaches courses on nonprofits and runs the watchdog Citizens
Budget Commission. "It's just bizarre."
Brooks gave a verbal presentation to the board recommending
that the Biltmore be razed and rebuilt as a neighborhood health
clinic. The idea seemed solid enough, Recny and other board
members recall, but Brooks apparently never produced the neces-
sary technical documents. Alarmed by the sketchiness of his
plans, UDC refused to pay the $32,766 Brooks and his finn, SMA
Associates, billed them on the Biltmore.
"[W]e have not received any of the required documentation to
support your claim that work has actually been done on the pro-
ject," wrote Henry Thomas, a senior UDC official, in a letter to
Brooks dated May 5, 1994. "You advised us that the LDC was
making significant progress in soliciting interest in the Biltmore ...
but you have not substantiated the claims." Thomas also advised
Brooks that the original $61,000 grant would still be available-
if the LDC appointed a new consultant not linked to SMA.
Today, Brooks claims he submitted the required reports. Asked
to produce them, he replies, "I don't know where they are."
Without the state money, the LOC had no grant or contract
money earmarked for the Biltmore project. Even so, the board
paid SMA-run out of Brooks' house-$18,066 from the group's
coffers for the planning study, according to an internal organiza-
tion summary of consulting contracts for 1993.
By mid-1993, Brooks' Biltmore plans seemed to be looking
up: Oxford Health Plans, an HMO rushing to capitalize on the
privatization of Medicaid in poor neighborhoods, sought Brooks'
help to secure the Biltmore site for its neighborhood offices.
"He indicated that he had a lot of interest in seeing us come in
there, but the next level of detail never came," recalls David Snow,
the Oxford executive who negotiated with Brooks. "We needed help
dealing with the legal issues of acquiring the property and obtaining
city approval to build a parking lot across the street, but...there was
a lack of knowledge and a lack of control on his part."
Brooks counters that Oxford held him to an unreasonably fast
timetable and didn't give him a chance to do the job. Eventually,
Oxford chose to build its facility in an adjacent neighborhood.
Then Brookdale Hospital opened its own center across New Lots
Avenue from the Biltmore, damaging future chances to attract a
health care company to the site.
With the deal moribund, the board approved an approximately
$40,000 annual salary for Brooks. Board members, including
Recny, remained enthusiastic. "Michael said he wanted to make
money in East New York and we liked that kind of drive, that kind
of entrepreneurial spirit," recalls one board member.
Meanwhile, Brooks was suffering his own entrepreneurial
woes. According to state court documents, Lehr and Associates, a
Manhattan-based design flIm, obtained a $60,000 judgment
against Brooks and SMA for failing to pay for technical services
performed on several office renovation projects. Lehr officials say
that Brooks has never made any attempt to pay the debt.
Brooks admits he owes Lehr the money, but says they did sub-
par work and didn't deserve to be paid. "I would describe the
work they did for me as malpractice," he says.
Pressed to evaluate his performance at the
LDC's helm, Michael Brooks asks that he be judged on his
record. But this is difficult, in part because of large gaps in the
LDC' s paper trail.
According to records at the charities division in state Attorney
General Dennis Vacco's office, the LDC of East New York has not
filed its mandated financial disclosure forms for fiscal years 1993,
1994 and 1995, despite being sent a sheaf of overdue notices. Nor
has the LDC made its required 1994 or 1995 corporate filings with
the I.R.S. Brooks says he is unaware of the ftling situation.
Yet failing to submit basic tax forms is the nonprofit world's
equivalent of drag racing without brakes. "It's what you use to
establish your credibility," Ray Horton says. Just as significantly,
he adds, forms give community residents a chance to see how tax
money is being spent.
The LDC should be paying up to $5,000 in fines and facing the
possible suspension of their nonprofit tax exemption as well as the
loss of government grants. But, as it turns out, the federal govern-
ment rarely-if ever--enforces such penalties.
"I've vaguely heard of one or two places that have lost their
nonprofit designation," says Robert Kobel, an IRS spokesman.
"But it's an extremely rare occurrence."
The LDC's last tax form, filed for the period ending April 1993,
shows a nearly $30,000 shortfall. Then in 1995, Brooks reported a
$150,000 deficit to his board. The two documents show that the
LDC's deficit increased by some $120,000 since Brooks took over.
Overall, the organization's projected budget for fiscal 1997 is
$443,082. Its $305,200 in government contracts include funding
for overseeing the neighborhood's economic development zone,
managing the industrial park, and improving the business climate
on New Lots Avenue, all programs that remain from the Recny-
Stern era.
Brooks admits that the LDC's deficit is stubborn-in part
because he has pruned away what he terms ''unnecessary'' grants
and programs. "When I arrived, this LDC was operating 18 to 20
eclectic social programs," he says. "But they were not pointed to
economic development. So, I decided not to reapply for them,
which cost us money in the short term .... There are some commu-
nity-based organizations, all they do is try to get new money and
hire more employees. That's not what I wanted to do, I reduced
the payroll down to six people and focused on our core mission."
During his tenure, Brooks dumped hundreds of thousands in
worker-training and entrepreneurial workshop money. And the
s Th t
ACORN protesters
confront East
New YorkWC
officials outside
the Jamaica Avenue
state finally withdrew the $61,000 it had offered to pay for a new
Biltmore study. The LDC is also contracted to manage the finan-
cially troubled East Brooklyn Business Improvement District,
which recently announced it will soon abandon the only service it
provides the community, a two-car, dusk-to-dawn security patrol.
Amid the distress, there are a few bright spots.
Stanley Bonilla, hired in 1995 to direct the BID and the industri-
al park, earns high marks from groups who work with the LDC.
"He's a really committed, competent guy," says Pratt's Guha.
Bonilla, who has a master's degree in urban planning from
Hunter College, is working to secure city-owned land for several
small companies in the industrial park and is organizing a mer-
chants association on Sutter Avenue. In addition, he is seeking to
tum the BID into a wide-ranging agency that delves into market-
ing and property management. Still, the BID itself remains deeply
in the red, the result of previous mismanagement and the unwill-
ingness of some local businesses to pay their mandated assess-
ments. "It's an uphill battle," Bonilla says. "But the financial
problem is temporary."
Despite the fact that that the LDC has lost all its private cor-
porate and foundation sponsorship since Brooks took charge,
Bonilla hopes that the organization can become more independent
of government money.
"We're trying to wean ourselves off the city and trying to get
more entrepreneurial," he adds.
But such development plans are linked to ambitious future
projects like the Biltmore, establishing an open-air neighborhood
market and attracting a "big-box" supermarket to Linden
Boulevard. Pressed for details about specific funding sources and
timetables, Brooks only says that he is still waiting for approval
of his funding applications.
"We're on the brink of coming out of the doldrums and becom-
ing the kind of organization we all want it to be," he predicts. "I
believe we're just a millimeter away."
If the city decided to hold Brooks to a higher
standard of accountability, however, the LDC might end up a mil-
Iimeter away from losing more government money. The
Department of Business Services, which has given the LDC more
than $350,000 since 1990 to pursue the revitalization of the New
Lots Avenue strip, found massive problems during its financial
review of the LDC's 1994 contract.
In internal departmental documents obtained by City Limits,
DBS auditor Kingsley Duker reported that the LDC staff billed
the agency $71,585--even though they knew their contract was
only slated to cover $56,000. In addition, the LDC had to repay
DBS thousands of dollars for failing to provide adequate back-up
documentation for its billing. Duker deemed the LDC accounting
methods "completely unacceptable" and threatened to pull the
plug on future funding if the organization didn't shape up.
Since the audit, LDC staffers have failed to show up at pre-
scheduled DBS audit appointments three separate times, the most
recent no-show occurring in June, according to department doc-
uments. Yet Duker's threat turned out to be empty. The Mayor
and the City Council have approved renewed funding each year
for the LDC.
In the meantime, even as the Giuliani administration professes
a privatization philosophy, it continues to slash the contract com-
pliance and auditing departments in many major agencies. Over
the last two years, staffing of the contract review division at DBS
has plummeted from 36 to 16, according to Glenn Pasanen, an
analyst with the City Project, a fiscal watchdog group.
'They keep cutting our auditing budget. It has decimated the
auditing division of this agency," a DBS official, who spoke on con-
dition of anonymity for fear of his job, told City Limits. "We used
to be able to conduct top-to-bottom audits on every organization
that had a contract with us. Now we only perform spot-checks."
But if government can be blamed, the LDC's board is respon-
sible as well. Alternately riven by political battles and bouts of
sleepy inattention, board members have only sporadically
demanded that Brooks produce detailed fiscal reckoning. In addi-
tion, LDC staffers point out, three of the board members are high-
ranking officers in other local nonprofits that compete with the
LDC for government grants.
The combination of all of these factors may
have brought the LDC to the brink of collapse-and robbed East
New York of an essential redevelopment tool.
"The first line of defense is your executive director's ethical
good judgment," says Columbia's Ray Horton. 'The second line
of defense is the board placing limits on what discretionary
authority the director has. The third line of defense is the govern-
ment. After all, a nonprofit that lives off government money isn't
really a nonprofit. It's an arm of government that deserves a high
level of scrutiny."
Rick Recny, who quit the executive board after sparring with
Brooks last year, is deeply pessimistic about reforming the system
and saving the organization he helped create.
"If [government] really started looking at the LDC, that would
bring the whole commercial revitalization program into ques-
tion," Recny says.
"But asking them to do good audits is like asking them to cut
their own throats," he adds. "If they prove a nonprofit stinks,
they're practically wiping their own budgets down to zero. It
would be administrative suicide. They don't want to prove that a
lot of the money they give out is going down the drain."
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Civic Struggles
for a New South Africa
Foreword by Mel King
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ooking back, it's like a clip from
the New Democrat video of Bill
Clinton's life: the young man, just
beginning his trajectory toward
success, meets the icon of a pass-
rate and foundation leaders as the guru of
"consensus organizing."
n hundreds of grassroots groups
nationwide, organizers following in
Alinsky's footsteps regularly tum
out crowds of angry people to com-
pel politicians, bureaucrats, banks
and corporations to negotiate with them as
equals. Once they' ve established a reputa-
tion for staging media-worthy demonstra-
tions that disrupt the day-to-day opera-
tions of businesses and agencies, the tar-
gets of their fury often prefer to go straight
into negotiations. Creative, in-your-face
confrontation has proven effective in get-
ting banks to invest in low-income neigh-
borhoods, the Food and Drug
Administration to speed up the approval of
AIDS drugs, polluting industries to cut
ing era. Their meeting becomes a reference
point he returns to again and again, for it
lends him legitimacy even as he betrays the
truths that era held dear. Clinton shook John
F. Kennedy's hand. Michael Eichler intro-
duced Saul Alinsky to his mom and dad.
Alinsky founded the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) in
Chicago in 1940, and with it modern community organizing. He
held to the theory that good community organizing is essentially
a fight for power-and it works best when disenfranchised people
use confrontational tactics to pursue goals that further their own
self-interest. These core beliefs animate many organizers' practice
to this day.
Eichler was only 18 in the late 1960s when he befriended
Alinsky, who was building an organization in Eichler's working-
class Buffalo neighborhood. The younger man knew he wanted to
be a community organizer when he grew up, but his parents won-
dered if organizing was a real job. So he asked Alinsky to explain
it to them. He remembers he prepped his idol by saying, "I want
to be like you. Tell them what you do."
Alinsky, notoriously gruff and irreverent, told Eichler he
would help out, but instead told Eichler's parents an obscure joke
that left them completely befuddled. Twenty-four years after his
mentor's death, Eichler, 46, still cherishes that memory, even as
he defines himself in direct opposition to the man who got him
into the business-and becomes nationall y known among corpo-
toxic emissions and a great deal more.
But Eichler doesn't believe in conflict. "I don't think it's a
given that you have to hit people over the head," he says.
He rejects the notion that low-income people must control
their own organizations, preferring to launch neighborhood-
improvement collaborations that involve both the rich and the
poor. He repudiates Alinsky's jargon, saying that talk of "ene-
mies" and "victories" should be replaced with "partnerships." But
if Eichler eschews military metaphors when he discusses rebuild-
ing neighborhoods, he doesn't shy away from violent language
when he compares his philosophy with that of more traditional
community organizers.
"We're going right at the jugular," he says. "We're disputing a
commonly held belief that the only way to shift power is to take
it away from those who have it. I fmnly believe you can have
change in the way things are done and not use that approach."
Eichler's philosophy and practice are getting a warm reception in
the philanthropic and corporate worlds, where some of his fans
claim his technique is eclipsing traditional organizing altogether and
others defend it as a welcome addition to the organizing toolbox.
won the backing of foundations and corporations
traditional grassroots organizers cold. By Robin Epstein
"If you sit at the table with the most powerful
or a force that has to be taken seriously.
Yet many grassroots community organizers slam
Eichlerism. In recent interviews with City Limits, their
voices laced with exasperation, more than a dozen veter-
an organizers from across the country said consensus
organizing can't achieve fundamental change for struggling
communities. By prohibiting low-income people from building
strong, independent organizations and valuing politesse over
power, they charge, Eichler'S model cannot tackle the tough,
meaningful issues.
Dismissing consensus organizing as a hoax on the funders,
some organizers say they would agree with Eichler's characteri-
zation of his work as "innocuous," were it not attracting such big
bucks. Others say it's not organizing-and it's dangerous.
"It glosses over the real inequalities that exist in society," says
Jon Kest, founder of the New York branch of the Association of
Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) a national
grassroots organizing network with a reputation for aggressive-
ness. "If you sit at the table with the most powerful institutions in
the city, you're either their pawn or you're sitting there as a force
that has to be taken seriously." he says. "Banks and businesses
don't share power. They wield power. They only give up a little
bit of power if an equal or greater force forces them to." And that,
he says, only happens through conflict.
''The more foundations put into depoliticization of low-income
communities," Kest adds, "the harder it'll be to do social change."
n the Boston headquarters of his two-year old Consensus
Organizing Institute (COn, Eichler stands in front of a flip
chart, magic marker in hand. He is briefing two young men,
new members of his staff, on COl's method of analyzing a
They are to be the organizers for the Boston Initiative, a two-
year neighborhood problem-solving effort for which Eichler has
raised $300,000 from the Foundation for Partnerships, a coalition
that includes a private industry council on workforce readiness, an
anti violence coalition created by the local bar association, a hous-
ing developer, a hospital, a job-creation outfit launched by a
Harvard Business School professor and a bank-run business
development group. The money also covers the salary of a third
COl staff member, who spends her time developing relationships
with the partner agencies, in keeping with Eichler's belief that
organizers have to spend at least as much time working with
"downtown interests" as with neighborhood types.
Eichler says he makes access to establishment players his first
priority-and always nails down their financial support for his
organizing staff before sending anyone out to knock on tenement
doors. The partners in Boston have not committed themselves to
funding specific community-based projects. But, says Eichler,
"We're banking on the fact that they get turned on and make a big-
Lanky, bearded and wearing a tie adorned with steel mills,
Eichler draws six big circles on a page. He identifies them as the
sectors present in most neighborhoods-renters, homeowners,
businesses, social service agencies, churches and large institutions
such as hospitals and universities. (COl considers government
officials to be outside the neighborhood. But they're not to be
"yelled at;" they're partners too.) He says all six groups ought to
be at the table from day one, charting the future of their commu-
nity together. "The lead can come from any of these circles."
Eichler explains that COl steers clear of issues that make any
one of these six groups uncomfortable. "You have to throw out cer-
tain things, because it would divide the people up. You fmd the idea
that holds the parts together." In practice, this means the people he's
worked with have promoted small initiatives arousing little contro-
versy in areas such as housing, community planning, and child care.
In contrast, the living wage campaigns currently on the IAF's and
ACORN's agendas aim to benefit wide swaths of low-income city
dwellers and don't mind butting heads with business prerogatives.
After COl organizers fmd an idea for a project that passes
muster, they make a proposal to their pin-striped partners. "Once
it's found, it's a piece of cake, because people want to help pea-
pie," Eichler says. "We've researched these partners. They're not
bad people. They won't be paternalistic." COl is teaching corpo-
rate leaders "what real community development is," he adds, and
showing them "how they, as huge downtown entities, can make it
happen." COl opens up charmels for corporate leaders to use their
personal influence to solve community problems, he adds. For
example, a hospital president, having met and come to respect a
public housing tenant, might telephone his friend the mayor and
suggest the city do a better job of maintaining its housing stock.
"I think this is the best balance of how to stick to some princi-
ples while still trying to get things done quicker by having more
allies," Eichler says, adding that more and more people see the
efficacy of his consensus approach. ''They understand everything
links together, that we all rise and fall together. And that includes
the corporate world."
ichler created COl in November, 1994, with funding
from a group of heavy-hitting mainstream funders,
including the Rockefeller, MacArthur, Surdna and
Mott foundations. It helped that one of COl's first
clients was Eichler's former employer, the Local
Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), a national organization
created by the Ford Foundation to bundle private dollars and tax
incentives for affordable housing development. He had worked
for LISC from 1989 to 1994, heading up a project to hire and train
staff in Little Rock, New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Las Vegas,
Houston and Palm Beach County, Florida, for the creation of 32
new community development corporations.
The ties between LISC and Eichler's new shop are strong. His
current staff includes three former LISC colleagues, and COl's
13-member board of directors includes a LISC executive vice
president as well as officers from five foundations.
With a budget of $965,000 for 1996, Eichler now has 12
staffers and offices in four cities, but he says he doesn't want to
get too big; he'd like to employ a maximum of 50 people. Except
in Boston, where the local organizers are on staff, COl acts only
as a consultant, training organizers employed by foundations, cor-
porations or nonprofits. COl already boasts a presence in 15 cities,
including San Diego, Kansas City, Fort Worth, Dayton, Dubuque,
institutions in the city, you're either a pawn
Banks and businesses don't share power."
Bridgeport and Utica. A year ago, the New York Community Trust
hired COl to train organizers for three projects in Mott Haven,
Williamsburg and Washington Heights.
"It's frightening the amount of business there is out there,"
Eichler says. Over the next five years, Eichler hopes his institute
will not only guide its clients but also provide a philosophical
wellspring for organizers nationwide. Personally, he wants to
build up a track record, and then make a living giving speeches
and writing books.
Though he has yet to accumulate evidence that consensus
organizing really delivers, Eichler has succeeded in becoming
"the darling of the foundations, " according to a former program
officer for one of the country's largest funders. Another foun-
dation executive says her colleagues "thought Michael Eichler
walked on water. "
Hank Beukema, a former Heinz Endowment program officer
who is now executive director of the McCune Foundation in
Pittsburgh, is one of Eichler's supporters. While Alinsky-style
confrontation may be appropriate with recalcitrant government
bureaucrats, he says, "it's not the way to get the attention of foun-
dations and other private investors. I've certainly been subjected
to it. It's never worked with me."
"Foundations prefer safe, non-risk-taking approaches to prob-
lem solving," explains Pablo Eisenberg, executive director of the
Center for Community Change, a Washington, D.C.-based techni-
cal assistance group that works with all kinds of organizers,
including confrontational ones. "Consensus organizing fits into
that mold. Traditional organizing-power and pressure and mobi-
lizing plus public policy and advocacy-doesn't."
It's not a particularly surprising trend. While a small coterie
of foundations have long put their resources behind grassroots,
direct-action organizing, the pillars of liberal philanthropy have
stayed away, pouring their capital into affordable housing devel-
opment, research and social services. In recent years, however,
many funders have concluded that no amount of bricks and mor-
tar will revive neighborhoods unless residents themselves buy in
to what's going on. Casting about for a method to promote citi-
zen participation-and a defmition of organizing they can stom-
ach-many of these funders have glommed onto Eichler and con-
sensus organizing.
That more funders are talking about organizing at all is terrific,
says Larry Parachini, a consultant for the National Committee on
Responsive Philanthropy. Their embrace of Eichler, however, is
worrisome, he says. "It may mean they see organizing as a vehicle
for advancing the goals of the groups they fund, not as an instru-
ment neighborhood residents can use to meet their own needs."
ichler used Alinsky-style tactics in the early 1980s as
a VISTA volunteer battling realtors' block-busting
schemes in Pittsburgh. But after he got his master's
degree a few years later, he became the kind of orga-
nizer big business is proud to work with.
In 1985, the Allegheny Conference on Community
Development, a Pittsburgh corporate civic group that had
bankrolled urban renewal, hired Eichler to parachute into the
nearby Mon Valley and create an infrastructure
for palatable community development. The region
had been devastated by the loss of 100,000 steel
industry jobs. Mon Valley residents, including dis-
sident union leaders and church groups, had orga-
nized against the companies leading the wave of dis-
investment, including U.S. Steel and Mellon Bank, and
no tactics were off limits. It was a polarized time: people threw
pennies on bank floors and locked dead fish in safety deposit
boxes. One day, a fringe activist group even threw skunk oil on
congregants as they went into church. It wasn't the kind of
activism likely to win the support of business leaders.
For those who slip into a class analysis as easily as a pair of
old slippers, Eichler's efforts in the valley were suspicious from
the get-go, in large part because of his underwriters.
"There was a huge amount of hurt and wiped out lives as well
as wiped out jobs," says Barney Oursler, executive director of the
Mon Valley Unemployed Committee. People had begun to realize
the interests of business were not the interests of the community,
and Eichler's employer, the Allegheny Conference, "had to head
that off," Oursler says.
Eichler "did a good job of diverting attention away from the
real battles," adds Tom Croft, executive director of the Steel
Valley Authority, an industrial retention and renewal project that
has promoted worker ownership of manufacturing plants.
Eichler's work led to the incorporation in December 1988 of
the Mon Valley Initiative (MVI), an umbrella organization for a
regional coalition of 13 nonprofit community development corpo-
rations. The organization got a kick off grant of $850,000 from the
Heinz Endowment, a foundation that has given MVI at least $4
million to date, according to foundation reports. Today, MVI cov-
ers 32 municipalities, bas 18 employees and an operating budget
of about $800,000, says Bill Thomas, a Presbyterian minister and
former chairman of MVI's board.
Among the accomplishments MYI cites in its reports are annu-
al clean-up days, a tool-lending library, tree planting, new wel-
come signs, a business district beautification program, bumper
stickers, the installation of an ATM, credit counseling for home
buyers, home ownership fmancing seminars, a Christmas sing-
along and over 100 units of affordable housing. MVI estimates
that in its first five years it was responsible for getting $14 million
invested in the Mon Valley. The group also created 90 jobs
through its business development center, according to Assistant
Director Raymond Garofalo.
But MYI's critics, who range from unapologetic radicals to
mild-mannered developers, note its accomplishments on the hous-
ing and job creation fronts are threadbare considering its massive
budget. And, some of them add, despite its claims about empow-
ering the community, MVI is not a grassroots group of and for the
Mon Valley's poor.
Foundation records and newspaper accounts paint a picture
of an organization that has never lacked cash. In 1990, MVI
received $2.86 million in income-much of it from foundation
grants, according to tax documents cited in a 1991 Pittsburgh
Business alld Times Journal article. In the article, Mon Valley
MVI collected money and paid its staff
but pumped little into the economy.
mayors, struggling to keep their municipalities out of
bankruptcy, complained that MVI collected a lot of money
and paid staff well but pumped very Httle into the region's ail-
ing economy.
"The rehabbing they've done has been minuscule and they've
got a couple of little companies started that wouldn't have hap-
pened otherwise," says Oursler. "But if you balance that against
the years of time and the mi]ljons of dollars and the hopes that
they raised, I think that's a damn pitiful result."
"There's a widespread belief in the Mon Valley that MYI has
wasted more money on more frivolous and non-essential projects
and junkets than the great pharaohs," Croft charges.
Eichler says the naysayers are just jealous. "It didn't transform
the whole Mon Valley. It's not beyond criticism and it's not per-
fect, but it's definitely successful."
It frustrates Skip Schwab, director of the two-year old Mon
Valley LISC office, which recently raised $750,000 in matching
funds for MYI, to hear complaints about MYI's production
record. "What in the hell do you expect?" he asks. It's amazing to
even get 12 homes rehabbed and resold in a town that can't pro-
vide fire, police and garbage services, he says. What's more, MYI
has never been exclusively concerned with production, Schwab
says. "It's not pure organizing and it's not pure real estate devel-
opment. What we do is very unique."
But MVI has even less credibility as an organizing force than
it does on the housing and jobs fronts, organizers say. Poor people
don't control MVI, Eichler concedes, but that's intentional-the
group sought representation by people on all rungs of the socioe-
conomic ladder. He maintains that there have always been low-
income residents involved. Jim Cunningham, chairman of the
community organizing program at the University of Pittsburgh
School of Social Work, calls himself "a great admirer" of
Eichler's. But he contradicts his former student on this point. He
says the local leaders Eichler tapped "tended to be chamber of
commerce presidents, lawyers, shopkeepers, ministers and people
already active. It was not mass participation."
The bitter feelings in the area run deep. Croft says Eichler pro
motes what MVI does as leadership development, but adds, "If you
believe that, I've got a bridge in the Mon Valley I can sell you."
head-to-head comparison of the recent experiences
of community organizations in New Orleans points
up the chasm between the potential of consensus
organizing and the accomplishments that can be
achieved through traditional routes.
In the early 1990s, working for LISC, Eichler launched six
community development corporations in New Orleans. The
plan was to teach community residents how to do real estate
deals and then funnel private and public dollars into housing
rehabilitation. The project had its fust groundbreaking in 1995
and rehabilitated six houses that year, accorcting to Rob Fossi,
program director of New Orleans LISe. He expects 20 more
homes to be completed by the end of this year.
Fossi calls the project "one of the few examples of a truly
grassroots effort that's got some push" in New Orleans. Eichler,
Fossi says, is "not a canctidate for sainthood, but he is a visionary."
But the city's local ACORN chapter, which has far more ambi-
tious goals than the six LISC groups, seems to have done 100 times
better by being bell igerent. ACORN groups across the nation,
including the Louisiana group, assaulted the federal Resolution
Trust Corporation (RTC) with lobbying, demonstrations, office
take-overs and a lawsuit, demanding it make homes repossessed
from failed Savings and Loans available to low- and moderate-
income families. Thanks in part to that fight, the federal agency
ended up selling about 2,000 homes in New Orleans to poor fami-
"It was the greatest redistribution of housing to low-income
people that had ever happened in New Orleans, and it was tremen-
dously significant for our constituency," says Beth Butler,
Louisiana ACORN's head organizer. "A whole class of people
who had been disenfranchised from ever owning a home were
brought into home ownership. All these bHghted properties were
uplifted-and it was scattered allover the city."
Asked to comment on ACORN's RTC success story, LISC's
Fossi repHes: "2,000 is way out of the ballpark. That's just not
true." ACORN organizers are mainJy "interested in getting their
name in the paper," Fossi contends, and their impact on housing
in New Orleans "has been pretty limited."
But David Staehling, who served as oversight manager for
the RTC's affordable housing program in Louisiana and
Mississippi, confirms Butler's figures. "We sold a couple of
thousand units down there," and many went for as little as $500,
Staehling says. "With very few exceptions, the units went to
very low-income appHcants," most of whom were African-
American single mothers.
The denouement of ACORN's RTC fight also shows how tra-
ditional organizing groups are adept at transforming their con-
frontational stance into a cooperative one. "It doesn't end up in
conflict," Butler says. "Even though the RTC was hostile at first,
they turned the comer."
Staehling, who is now director of development for the city of
Biloxi, says ACORN and the RTC together designed buyer aware-
ness programs, found qualified appHcants and coordinated open
houses. "We had a very good relationship," he adds.
ichler's modest accomplishments haven't exactly
dampened the enthusiasm of the people who give him
money. "Community organizing is undergoing a quiet
revolution" reads the introduction of a 1994 pamphlet,
published by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur
Foundation, that features an interview with Eichler. '1'he old
model of adversarial organizing .. .is giving way to one based on
consensus, in which community, corporate and government inter-
ests find common incentive to rebuild neighborhoods."
'1'0 say this is the new organizing modality is nonsense,"
responds Eisenberg at the Center for Community Change. '1'here
is still a major place for adversarial organizing and
to deny that is not a reflection of the status of orga-
nizing throughout the country."
Of course, some degree of collaboration with
government agencies and corporations is a main-
stay for many, if not most, community groups,
points out Brad Lander, executive director of the
Fifth Avenue Committee in Brooklyn, which man-
ages and develops low-income housing and also
organizes tenants and people on public assistance.
But modern affordable housing development only
became possible because anti-redlining activists
battled for years to win passage of the federal
Community Reinvestment Act and the Home
Mortgage Disclosure Act, laws requiring lending
institutions to meet the credit needs of their local
communities. Only when community groups shift-
ed their focus to helping institutions comply with
the laws did a consensus approach become feasible,
Lander says.
Eichler allows that there are times when con-
frontational organizing is still needed. But he says
his approach is becoming more applicable all the
time, and argues that partnerships forged today
improve the chances that companies will support
their neighborhood allies later ---even at a cost to
their bottom lines. Just as there are poor people who
aren't lazy, there are corporate leaders who aren't
Neanderthals, he says.
In the interview in the MacArthur Foundation
pamphlet, Eichler is asked, "How do you convince
corporate officials that they're the right ones to be
involved?" He responds: "You make people feel
special .... You tell them, 'You are the kind of person
who's going to care.'"
earing this read over the telephone,
Terry Keleher, training director for the
Applied Research Center, an Oakland-
based organizing support group, grew
alarmed. "Consensus organizing,
alone, can allow those in power to show some
benevolence and coronate some hand-picked com-
munity leaders who will toe their line," he said.
"But those in power will continue to basically con-
trol the whole pie. "
Wanting to offer as strong and articulate a rejoin-
der as he could, as soon as he got off the phone
Keleher went on the Internet, downloaded some
information and faxed it over. "One of the best
quotes on the subject is from Frederick Douglass,"
he wrote in his fax. '''If there is no struggle there is
no progress. Those of us who profess to favor free-
dom yet depreciate agitation are men who want the
crops without plowing up the ground. They want
rain without thunder. They want the ocean without
the awful roar of its many waters.
""Power concedes nothing without a demand. It
never has and it never will.'"
These times demand a teacher with inspiring credentials:
the wisdom of a Buddha, the love of the Christ,
the joy of Krishna, the power of the Messiah and
the justice of the Imam Mahdi.
Humanity needs a teacher who embodies all these qualities,
to teach us how to share and live together in peace.
According to international author Benjamin Creme,
this World Teacher is now among us.
"A detailed and decidedly upbeat description of [world] changes ... "
Gustav Niebuhr, The New York Times
I' I I I I \ \ I II 1\ () k I H \ (, I I" (
When it comes
to insurance ...
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I " " l Ii \ " ( I
Sliding Safely:
Harlem Hospital 's
admissions f or
childhood playtime
injuries have
declined 50 percent
since the inception
of its Injury
Program in 1989.
Bey-Grecia momen-
loses track of our con-
_'.ol,,'n as we pull up to the
on the corner of
EdltwJml)e and 141st. I see
grabbed her eye: a group of young children, boys
_ ~ u ' o , climbing a rusty steel pole and thrusting them-
selves up onto a nearby scaffold. The structure is supported only
by a splintered wooden beam that leans over so far it seems a mir-
acle it supports all of their weight. Friends of the little daredevils
stand out in the street staring upward at their buddies. Watching
through the windshield, Bey-Grecia, associate director of the
Harlem Hospital Injury Prevention Program, consumes the scene.
And she is in tum consumed by
anger and fear.
"See, we know kids are going to do this," she says with
uneasy resolve. "We once had a kid that severed his spine that
way and was crippled from the waist down."
Such scenes are not uncommon for people working in the
pediatric divisions of urban hospitals. Thousands of American
children are hurt every day in bizarre as well as predictable of
ways. Yet what is most disturbing for many health profession-
als is that so many of these accidents are preventable. In
Harlem, a community that is witness to nearly 1,000 of these
serious injuries each year to mostly poor children, one woman
decided it was time for common sense to prevail.
Dr. Barbara Barlow, head of pediatric surgery at Harlem
Hospital, started the Injury Prevention Program (IPP) nearly eight
years ago after more than a decade of planning and searching for
funding. Since that time, she has involved the entire community
in developing and running a plethora of youth programs, repairing
playgrounds and otherwise reshaping the play habits of thousands
of neighborhood children. And she has been more than a little suc-
cessful. According to the Society for Ambulatory Care
Professionals, before the IPP was initiated, "nearly one out of
every 100 area children was hospitalized each year for the treat-
ment of major injuries." In 1988, before the program began,
Harlem Hospital alone had 273 severe injury admissions for chil-
dren under age 17. Last year, there were only 122.
Barlow's program employs a common-sense strategy, provid-
ing Central Harlem's children with free organized activities,
injury and violence prevention education, and safe, supervised
play spaces in order to spare them from the physical harm they
can suffer playing on the streets.
This wasn't exactly brain surgery. Yet it took more than 10
years for the determined doctor to convince anyone with money
that her ideas for injury prevention were worth the fmancial
"It was just too simple a premise. People thought the problem
was much more complicated and impossible to fix," Barlow
recalls. "I kept saying give us a chance to solve this in a commu-
nity way." Only neighborhood people could make the difference,
she reasoned. And indeed it has been the commitment of teachers,
parents and children themselves that has made the program such
a tremendous success.
The IPP is comprised of many autonomous parts, mostly creative
arts and sports programs--{)rganized with community residents-as
well as educational programs. Just about all of the programs are the
brain-children of professionals who crossed paths with Barlow along
the way. All told, the IPP has about 16 components, including the
Harlem Horizon Art Studio, the Harlem Hospital Dance Clinic, the
Urban Youth Bike Corps, classes on traffic safety and another on
gun safety, and a program to rebuild school playgrounds.
In the medical profession, Barlow's example has helped popu-
larize the credo of injury prevention, the value of which is still not
addequately recognized, according to many health professionals.
"Everybody in injury prevention would love to see programs like
hers started in other areas," says Dr. Susan Wilt of the city
Department of Health. "It's not terribly common for a surgeon to
be interested in this."
grew up poor herself. "I'm a child of the Depression
went to every free program under the sun," she
mbers with a laugh. Hence, her understanding of the
rous conditions in Harlem-poverty compounded by
shortage of organized recreation. "Looking at how
cidents were happening and the relationship between
~ ~ k ( c a n d the poverty in children's lives, it was evident that
youth programs had been cut unmercifully. As late as the Sixties,
there were lots of free programs that poor parents could send their
children to. But they disappeared. There are 94,000 children who
live north of II Oth Street and there was very little for them to do."
Seeking private foundation funding in the early I 980s, Barlow
explained in her proposals that it simply was not enough to tell
parents without resources to "keep your children safe." Why, she
would ask, are children from more affluent communities injured
much less frequently? Because affluent communities have good
tools for keeping children occupied-including decent play
spaces and after-
school programs.
By 1988, she had
secured a $240,000
grant from the New
Jersey-based Robert
Woods Johnson
Foundation. In less
than a year, she hired
Bey-Grecia, a long-
time Harlem resi-
dent, and sent her
out on her fust
assignment: shoot-
ing Polaroids of the
decrepit school play-
grounds. Barlow
knew children were
being hurt in yards
covered with asphalt
and laced with
shards of glass and
crack vials. Much of
the playground
equipment in
Central Harlem was
more than 20 years
old and had never
swung on broken
swings and slid
down rusty slides.
At first, Bey-
Grecia recalls, she
wasn' t entirely clear
about what Barlow
wanted her to do. It didn't take long to figure it out, however. "I
remember this playground," says Bey-Grecia, as she stands out-
side an elementary school in northern Harlem. "There was a
piece of equipment so old there were nails, screws sticking up
on it. And this is where children played. I was overwhelmed."
The two women began building a database, correlating the
types of injuries at specific schools to the condition of the play-
ground equipment. Then they took their findings to the Borough
Parks Commissioner and began speaking out at public meetings.
Bey-Grecia says she turned herself into "a public nuisance."
"I just want to talk about the parks and the kids," she would
shout in the middle of meetings.
Aissatou Bey-
Grecia (left) and
Dr. Barbara
Barlow use art
to help injured
children deal with
their pain and f ear.
Jamel White
(right), a member
of Harlem
Hospital's Urban
Youth Bike Corps,
fIXes cycles with
Corps leader
Landon Wickham.
Since 1989, the program has produced II new and refurbished
playgrounds for Central Harlem. Several were literally built by
community residents.
Joyce Wynn, parent association vice president at PS 129, had
a few good reasons for taking part in the construction: her four
children, in the second, fourth, fifth and sixth grades. The school
had been without a playground for 30 years. Instead it just had a
street closed off to cars. "We tried to keep the streets blocked off
but the barriers were destroyed. Kids got hurt all the time." With
$275,000 in funding from Borough President Ruth Messinger's
office, the parents began to build.
"It was a hell of a challenge to coordinate," says Vanessa Mari
Martelli of Universal Play Systems, who trained the parents. "But
when you have a playground built by the community, it's protect-
ed, babied and cherished. There is a proud, overwhelming sense
of community spirit."
"I don't want to build playgrounds any other way," adds Bey-
Grecia. "If people don't have a hammer and nails in their hand
then they don't own it."
came to Harlem Hospital in 1975, she had
at three other New York City hospitals-
'UU'll-''''",<u, Lincoln and Columbia Presbyterian.
says she was completely surprised by what she
the 135th and Malcolm X Boulevard emergency
'The number of serious injuries wasn't something
in other areas of the city," she says. "So I start-
ed keeping track."
Back then, window falls were the second most common
cause of child injuries in Harlem, after car-related accidents. In
1976, with Barlow's help, the city began an outreach and educa-
tion campaign called "Children Can' t Fly" and added a section
to the city health code mandating the installation of window
guards. The number of window falls has dropped by more than
80 percent. "That's what convinced me we can really do some-
thing," she says.
Nowadays, injury prevention at Harlem Hospital looks a lot
like Jamel White, a skinny, effervescent 17-year-old high school
senior. Sticking his chest out in his extra-large New York Cyclist
Bike Shop T-shirt, he explains that he "can take your bike apart
and then build it back up." On a sunny day outside the shop at
1I0th Street and Central Park West, he licks his lips and begins a
rhyme he's started writing to promote the shop:
"Da NYC is what we representlNew York Cyclist is da spot
where you get your bike flXedlWe do it quick/it only takes a hot
second to show you some bike safety tips/and we hope you learn
your lessonlWear a helmet to protect your head/One fatal crash
and you might not leave the bed/or you might be dead",,"
The bike shop and the Urban Youth Bike Corps, both compo-
nents of Harlem Hospital's IPP, are a sanctuary
for Jamel, who says he is trying to get away
from the drug dealing on his home block on
135th Street.
Landon Wickham, one of the bike program's
leaders, says in 1991 Barlow convinced him and
his friends to teach a bike safety clinic in a small
park behind the hospital. Then she got him
involved lobbying for passage of bike helmet
legislation, which went through the state legisla-
ture last year. Now, in New York State, bicyclists
under age 14 are required to wear helmets. ''We
preach safe cycling," says Wickham. "Nine out
of ten kids don't wear helmets, and that's how
they get injured."
Finally, he and Barlow wrote a proposal to
the Department of Juvenile Justice to start a
cycling program for black boys between the
ages of 12 and l6-the years many of them
would typically have their first run in with
the justice system. "We convinced them to
give us a chance with preventive measures."
After two years leading kids to different ter-
rain on their mountain bikes, "we decided it
would be a great idea to open up a bike shop,
serve the community and at the same time
give the kids the opportunity to get a real-life work experi-
ence," Wickham says.
Through programs like this, the IPP is also lightening parents'
loads. Eric Cleiette, director of the Urban Youth Bike Corps, says
the phone rings constantly with parents who want to sign their
children up for the program. Ashanti Chimuranga and her 16-
year-old son Rasan recently moved to Harlem from the south side
of Chicago, where, she says, gang violence made it impossible for
her son to go out of the house. But when she got here, she wasn't
working and couldn't afford to send Rasan anywhere, so the pro-
gram has been a blessing. She says that on his bike, in a structured
program, her son has learned his way around the city in a non-
threatening way.
"I think it's one of the most important things that has happened
to him," she says. "I'm happy to see him be a child again. He's
captured a free-spirited feeling that he had let go of. He's learning
to deal with fear in a healthy way."
~ . ~ ; . ~ _ . , . ~ also works with injured children
to deal with their own pain and
ltlIII;...<i vve once had an outpatient who used
come by the studio by ambulette," recalls
Richards, the teacher at the Harlem
Art Studio, housed down the corri-
from Barlow's small office on the 17th
floor of Harlem Hospital. "He had brain damage
from birth and later fell out of a window and was
paralyzed. Every time he would come in here, he'd
be hostile, very angry and verbally abusive toward
other kids. This went on for five months until one
day he said, 'I wanna make a fucking drawing.'
"We hung up a canvas in front of him and he did
a dynamite painting, real fast," says Richards.
"Creativity isn't always about sequential develop-
ment. This boy had strong feelings and needed to
release them. After that, his personality was totally
transformed." At an art show mounted by the studio,
the child sold several paintings. "He was discussing
his work with other students and they treated him
like a rock star," Richards remembers. 'This is a
child who was physically impaired in every way."
The studio is open to all children, injured or not,
and advocates self-taught art. Some of the children's
work has sold for as much as $6,000, and Bill
Cosby owns a Harlem Horizon Art Studio original.
Injury prevention is a hybrid of medical sci-
ence and creative community action. Its success
with funders depends in large part on epidemio-
logical data that proves its prevention strategy
works. According to an ongoing survey by the
Columbia School of Public Health, since the IPP's
inception there has been a 50 percent reduction in
bicycle, playground and motor vehicle and pedes-
trian injuries to Central Harlem children. There's
been a near total elimination of falls from win-
dows. And, there's been a 20 percent decrease in
gunshot wounds and a 28 percent decrease in stab
wounds, attributable at least in part to violence
prevention programs.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation recent-
ly awarded the IPP $1.1 million to duplicate the
program in six other cities. It won't be easy, says
"First of all , you need a me," she says, half jok-
ing. ''The community is volatile because they have
been made so many promises that have not been
kept. So if I walk in the door in a school and say 'I
want to build you a playground,' when people loolc
at me like, 'What do you want?' I have to be reas-
suring. You have to be a cheerleader, always.
"We can't be afraid to ask for those things we
know are basic necessities for our youth. Our kids
have to have a place to play. That's basic," she says.
"Play is the work of children, and if you don't
allow them that, you are guaranteeing the violence
and all those other harmful things."
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..... -.... - ~ ....... -
Head Above Water
By Kristan Schiller
hese stories were
painful to write,"
says 27-year-old
J unotDiaz of his 10
short stories in
"Drown," his fust book, pub-
lished last month by Riverhead.
"I had been taught always to
efface myself in public. You
don't talk your shit in front of
strangers. "
Still, as a Dominican, Diaz
grew up in a culture that treats
storytelling as an art form. And
through his stories, Diaz relates
the realities of his bleak yet
impassioned youth both in the
Dominican Republic, and then
later in the tenements of a pre-
dominantly black and Latino
enclave in central New Jersey.
A self-described "home-
boy" with a Cornell degree
who speaks with a poet's
grace, Diaz' fiction is ripe with
urban angst and characters
whose misshapen lives intertwine in absurdly unexpected
ways. His stories touch upon poverty, drug use, immigration,
racism, sexuality and complacency. And Diaz admits that the
book is largely autobiographical, but is quick to point out that
the narrator is not necessarily himself.
Diaz emigrated to the United States at the age of seven with
his mother and brother to join his father, who had already set-
tled here.
"I realized that a lot of the other students thought I was
inferior because I spoke Spanish and a lot of the teachers
thought I was an idiot because I came from another country. It
was horrible. I went to the bus stop and looked around and I
just felt shabby."
He says that as a child in Santo Domingo, the United States
meant only "television and McDonald's"-not the painful cul-
tural currents he would later come to understand. The opening
epigraph to "Drown"-a quote from the writer Gustavo Perez
Firmat-illuminates this feeling of living between and around
two cultures:
"The fact that I am writing to you in English already falsifies
what I wanted to tell you. My subject: how to explain to you that
I don't belong to English though I belong nowhere else. "
Yet Diaz has managed to capture his experiences eloquent-
ly and without apology, from political awakening to doomed
relationships and contradictory compulsions. In "Drown," the
title story, the protagonist tells of bullying neighborhood gays
with squirt guns and insults while, at the same time, indiffer-
ently receiving blow-jobs
from a male best friend.
The book, says Diaz,
was originally intended as
a collection about the jobs
he has held over the
years--<iishwasher, pool
table deliverer, steelwork-
er, editorial assistant-but,
he admits, he was unable
to maintain enough dis-
tance from his feelings to
write about all of them.
"Growing up, I noticed
that there were a lot of peo-
ple busting their ass, des-
perate to make ends meet.
And I saw what happened.
People become disheart-
ened. It's very easy to
become disheartened when
you're broke all the time."
The story "Edison, NJ,"
. ~ is a veiled mediation on the
~ disparity between rich and
I poor. Diaz describes long
C5 car rides along the inter-
state from his densely pop-
ulated urban home to deliver pool tables to the owners of state-
ly mansions in Edison, a wealthy New Jersey suburb.
"Delivering pool tables was the first time I was able to see
how the affluent upper-classes lived. And it was so strange. It
was nuts. I felt like I was going from the South African home-
land into the white community."
Diaz, who now lives in Brooklyn, gladly crosses the often
unbreachable boudary between literature and activism.
Sometimes he knocks on doors in his neighborhood, petitioning
about police brutality against Latinos and the captivity of polit-
ical prisoners in the Dominican Republic.
He says he sees a false sense of progress among
Americans today, a notion that communities have made great
strides toward multiculturalism simply because a few blacks
and Latinos now live in predominantly white neighbor-
hoods. "It makes the white monolith seem a little bit more
diverse. But when you break it down, [segregation] is along
class lines, and the people being pushed out tend to be brown
or black."
Diaz describes the current political sentiments shaping United
States policies on immigration as a "nativist, know-nothing
movement" rooted in a mythical reactionary vision of the past-
and will be overtaken by the country's inexorable cultural
"People don't want to change," says Diaz. ''Fine.''
But as he so carefully illustrates in "Drown," optimism is a
tool of survival.
t has been exactly 40 years since New York baseball fans
have been able to cheer a subway World Series. If George
Steinbrenner skips town and takes the Yankees to New
Jersey's Meadowlands, New Yorkers may never have
such an opportunity again.
Yet by many analysts' estimates, Mayor Giuliani's plan to
keep the Yankees in New York by building a new $1 billion
domed stadium could cost taxpayers $750 million or more at a
time when the city can't even find money to preserve its crum-
bling schools, much less build new ones.
Here's a much more affordable and exciting alternative:
keep baseball in the city, make the games cheaper and more
convenient-and do it all for one quarter of the price.
How? Bring minor league baseball back to New York.
Consider this modest proposal. The city could create its own
five-borough Big Apple Baseball League. Instead of construct-
ing one massive stadium, the city could build five neighbor-
hood ballparks--one for each borough-for a total of $250 mil-
lion. The stadiums would each seat about 20,000 people. The
cost of attending, typically $4 to $7 a person, would fit almost
anyone's pocketbook, including the hundreds of thousands of
low-income, Hispanic New Yorkers who are among the most
avid consumers of America's pastime. Unlike the sweetheart
minor league baseball stadium.
Several upstate cities have received
similar appropriations during the
last four years. There is no reason
why New York City's five counties
shouldn't expect the same consideration.
.. - . - ~ ...... -.. , ... -
Taxpayers would not bear the cost alone. The ballparks
could be owned by a public-private partnership in which the
city would be the majority owner, with additional funds
raised from investors. The partnership would lease the ball-
parks to the teams and receive a share of ticket sales and con-
cessions. Profits could provide a new revenue stream for the
city's parks. The teams could even sell a few shares in the
corporation every year, so parents could buy their children "a
piece of the team" (along with a fancy stock certificate to
hang on the wall).
These ballparks would also be available for all manner of
public uses when the teams are not in play, such as outdoor con-
certs and Little League playoff games.
Cenerate Economic Activity
It would be a mistake for these parks to be islanded fortress-
es. They should be ensconced in a grid of streets, near mass
See Va, Steinbrenner
transit, with retail space and offices at
street level to anchor them in the sur-
rounding neighborhood and generate
year-round economic activity. The
By John McCrory
John McCrory
is a poet and
associate editor
of the journaL
Artful Dodge.
deal Steinbrenner seeks, this plan would attract new business
and development opportunities to every borough. Best of all,
the teams would play one another as well as other regional
teams, stoking inter-borough and inter-state rivalry the likes of
which we haven't seen since the 1950s.
Ballparks for $50 million
This is not such a far-fetched idea. True, Steinbrenner and
Mets owner Fred Wilpon are likely to oppose the arrival of
minor league teams in their so-called "hometown." But they
are both lobbying for new stadiums and need the city's coop-
eration. While the Mets appear certain to remain in Queens, the
mayor could easily make their acceptance of minor league
baseball part of any real estate deal.
Moreover, state law-
makers have supported
similar low-cost enter-
prises. Even assuming
New York City's high
construction and land
costs, experts estimate
each ballpark could be
built for $50 million.
In the latest state bud-
get, Suffolk County
received a $17.9 mil-
lion package of land
and money to build a
lUXUry 7,000-seat
parks could also be strategically
placed to encourage new business,
recreation and housing development.
Take the Gowanus neighborhood in Brooklyn, for example.
Wedged between affluent neighborhoods in brownstone
Brooklyn and the poorer communities of Red Hook and Sunset
Park, the area has relatively inexpensive, underused land in the
blocks surrounding the Gowanus Canal.
The light-industrial character of the neighborhood could be
preserved, but made more inviting by turning a warehouse into
a market for niche food retailers. With the market and ballpark
as its centerpiece, Gowanus would become a destination for
Brooklynites from outlying neighborhoods as well.
Ideally, a mixed-use development would also include
affordable housing. Development could spur federal and state
grants for cleaning up the Gowanus Canal, transforming it from
an environmental hazard to a maritime backbone of the entire
area with a canal walk and water taxis plying its length, as some
neighborhood residents envision.
The ballpark itself, with home plate at the lot's southeastern
corner, would yield majestic views of downtown Brooklyn and
Manhattan, and the tower of the Williamsburg Savings Bank
would climb out of right field. One thing's for sure, it would be
a lot prettier than staring out at a dome of gray steel.
America's favorite pastime was born in New York City, on
a lot at 27th Street and Madison Avenue. At a time when
sports fans are becoming alienated from their teams by enor-
mous players' salaries and escalating ticket prices, how fit-
ting it would be for New York City to revive friendly, inter-
borough rivalries, restore baseball to its roots-and make it
affordable to everyone.
~ ~ - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - ~
- - I I ! I I - ~ " - - ' " ..... -
Community Repair Manual
,... .... 1 1 1 ! 1 1 1 ! ! ! ' ~ " " " " " ~ By Rinku Sen
"The Activist's Handbook: A
Primer for the 1990s and Beyond, "
by Randy Shaw, University of
California Press, 1996, 299 pages,
$50 hardcover, $17.95 paperback.
s we approach the final Pres-
idential election of the century,
progressives ponder some heavy
questions. Will there be an end to
the beating our constituencies
have taken over the last 16 years? Will we see
a resurgence of progressive activism, as we have in decades
Randy Shaw's book, "The Activists Handbook: A Primer for
the 90's and Beyond," assumes such a resurgence is possible-
and offers valuable advice on how it can be accomplished.
Unfortunately, Shaw is reluctant to use the word "organizing,"
and hence avoids very important questions about working in
groups. Winning-not building organizations-is his primary
goal, so there is little discussion about the intricacies and poli-
tics of achieving collective action through permanent commu-
nity-based organizations.
Make no mistake, Shaw's book is packed with valuable
information. He carefully outlines how activists can get the
most out of elected officials, coalitions, lawyers and direct
action. Although his tone tends to be overly authoritative and a
little dry, Shaw provides a useful vision for progressive activi-
ty and good ideas for activists to weave into their work.
Shaw also offers the kind of detailed campaign analysis that
organizers crave. Relying heavily on his own experience as a
housing activist for the Tenderloin Housing Clinic in San
Francisco, Shaw examines a wide range of constituencies and
campaigns nationwide focusing on the environment, education,
crime, AIDS and disability rights.
Basic Prlnelpl.s
The book's strongest lessons focus on how to maintain a
"fear and loathing" relationship with elected officials, how to
analyze your constituency in terms of its needs and public
image, and how to use the media. Also, the discussion on ballot
initiatives is one of the clearest explorations of harnessing self-
interest I have ever read.
The author uses campaign stories to impart basic princi-
ples of organizing, which he calls "tactical activism."
Roughly defined, tactical activism means activists should
examine their options, consider all the implications and
choose among them carefully-rather than blindly reacting to
the right wing's agenda.
For all its strengths, however, "The Activist 's Handbook"
misses several major opportunities.
As I mentioned, Shaw says little
about building permanent organiza-
tions. In my experience, getting peo-
ple to work together is one of the
greatest challenges of any campaign.
Even those entering this work with a
strong desire for collective action
find it difficult becoming accountable
to an organization's culture, disci-
pline, agenda and interest.
LMd.rshlp D.v.lopm.nt
Shaw also errs in his almost total
lack of attention to base-building and
leadership development. Their absence
is glaring.
Most organizations have a desperate
need for guidance on leadership development, typically
approaching the task haphazardly, with people taking positions
of power simply because they are available and willing to work.
It is the rare organization that regularly assesses a leader's
strengths and weaknesses, offers systematic training, and clear-
ly states a leader's full range of responsibilities.
Shaw recalls a decision to hire professional signature gath-
erers for a particular ballot initiative, because "activists do not
like collecting signatures." Although I see the practical benefits,
I find problematic Shaw's assertion that "leaders must under-
stand the limitations of fellow activists and be careful not to
make people feel badly .... Those unable to perform the task will
feel gUilty and distance themselves from the campaign." Shaw
misses the distinction between people who can't do something
and people who won't. The most hated tasks always have to do
with asking for money and recruiting members or volunteers.
Leaders must be able to teach people how to do these tasks-
and motivate them to do the work!
Finally, Shaw misses a perfect opportunity to explore the
tension between service provision and political activism. The
Tenderloin is one of the most heavily serviced areas of San
Francisco, with an agency on almost every block. Many of
these agencies, like others around the country, have ignored or
impeded activist agendas for fear of losing government funds.
The funding cuts have happened anyway-precisely because
providers failed to build a base in their communities. Given his
own experience, Shaw should be a good source of advice on
how to use services to attract and organize a constituency capa-
ble of questioning political institutions.
Shaw concludes his primer by insisting that "activists must
be open to creativity, innovation and provocative, controversial,
even dubious, ideas." That charge and those ideas lend Shaw's
book its greatest strength: the potential to stoke our imagina-
tions for the next era of progressive change .
Rinku Sen is Co-Director of the Center for Third World
Organizing in Oakland, California.
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HOUSING SPECIALIST. Growing Brooklyn nonprofit housing and youth
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ence, strong inter-personal , writing and organizational skills
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Hope Community seeks meeting planner/community organizer to
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. ~
By Kevin Heldman
aving little or no money in my purse and nothing in particular to interest me, I decided to attend
a branch meeting of the International Socialist Organization.
'--_--I I went because I had no real reason not to go.
I had flirted with radical politics for years: I'd been down to
Nicaragua to pick coffee with Socialists, voted for Gus Hall in
the last election (an easy way to vent a bit of inchoate discon-
tent), had for a long time taken seriously issues like social con-
ditions, poverty, the power of the marketplace and employment
in defining one's life; I had long railed against the whole
money-player criteria used to judge success and worth.
But if someone were to pose the
question, "Kevin, hater of
things as they are, why aren't
you a Socialist?" I had no good
answer. Only the stock replies:
I didn't want to be labeled. If
you join, you're no longer
responsible for just yourself
but for the behavior and con-
science of the organization. I
didn't want to be in the
vaguely degraded position
of soliciting people and
trying to sell them on my
views (I'd rather do that
in the more dignified
manner of the one page
If I went down the list of
what they oppose: the death penalty, racism, police brutality,
poverty, discrimination, the inequalities that allow some to drive
many Porscbes while others drive themselves crazy making
ends meet-I agreed across the board.
But ultimately the ISO platform turns on one key point:
"Reforms within the capitalist system cannot put an end to
oppression and exploitation. Capitalism must be overthrown."
And here come the mocking taunts of "the real world" from
that internalized voice I've been lugging around for years; a
hybrid of my no-nonsense mother, Lou Grant and all those
overworked caseworkers trying to do the right thing.
Perhaps it's too easy to ridicule twenty-something Socialists
speaking of revolution in the vicinity of Park Slope, easy to
mock all that outdated, overblown, powerless rhetoric. (They
used rhetoric at the Democratic and Republican Party conven-
tions too, but those were players talking, after all).
But if you're broad-minded enough, honest enough, it's not
that much of a stretch to ridicule those who might do the ridicul-
ing: the die-hard liberal journalist who writes article after article
about, say, Pataki's blood-thirst for the death penalty, until the
Post offers $60,000 a year. Or the columnist who writes a piece
slamming financial inequities, goes to bed, and wakes up the next
morning in a world that is exactly the same. Can he laugh hearti-
ly at the futility of 14 people sitting in a room talking about rev-
olutionary change? That same journalist will work 65 hours a
week writing about the underprivileged, and he'll insist, he' ll be
so sure, that there's not a damn
thing futile about that 65
hours a week.
That's because working
for reform is what sensible,
mature, normal, socially con-
scious people do in America
(while, with a little unexamined
chauvinism, often celebrating
revolutionaries abroad). Working
for reform is respectable and
even the Porsche owners will
give you a certain respect. You
just have to make the necessary
concessions. After all, we can' t
actually guarantee the poor a
decent job with medical benefits
and good housing. Face reality.
Grow up. This is America, etc.
Regardless of what one thinks of the ISO on principle, it's
too easy to dismiss them with talk of the much touted real world.
In this real world I live in, I think I can spend a lifetime writing
articles about the brutality of our economic system and at the
end of that lifetime hand that stack of articles to the nearest dis-
enfranchised and tell them to use them to confront the nearest
CEO .... You know the rest.
When I left the meeting, as the savvy reader will know, I
didn' t sign up to be a Socialist. I've chosen a different mode of
futility, one not so obvious in its expectations and disappoint-
ments. One that I can talk about at the office and still get my
back slapped.
But I left the meeting realizing that if! just do my part .. .. Ah,
but that would be another party line. I just left the meeting.
Maybe vote for Clinton this time .
Kevin Heldman is a former City Limits associate editor
~ ~ - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - ~
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