Friday, 17 June 2011

Battle for not just Brooklyn

Battle for Brooklyn is a documentary about a real estate development project (Atlantic Yards) in the heart of that borough that involved the usual combination of venality, procedural tricks, phony promises of jobs and housing, truly appalling race baiting and all-around steamrolling of any participation by local residents in the reshaping of their city. The result, years later, is that downtown Brooklyn will have a basketball arena and some tacky chain stores and that’s about it, all at the cost of huge tax subsidies from us to a bunch of already filthy rich people.

The film is a fascinating look at how the big boys do things, and it leaves one even more cynical about the elections that purport to give us an opportunity to make our voices heard. Ha ha ha. When they want something, they don’t shilly-shally around listening to poor schmucks like us.

The doc doesn’t pretend to anything resembling neutrality, and it’s weakened by the filmmakers apparent disinterest in probing the motives and psychology of people who were bought off by the developers in one way or another and who joined the chorus of racially-tinged boos aimed at the activists who spearheaded the opposition, including many whites but also heroic local black leaders like City Councilwoman Letitia James. That would have been useful for people trying to apply the lessons learned to future battles, which are a constant of modern life pretty much anywhere on our urbanized planet.

That said, the movie is a devastating reminder of complicity at the top when the dollar sign is mightily involved and how little labels like ‘Republican’ and ‘Democrat’ matter in that ionospheric realm. It shows perhaps a precursor of battles to come as this supposed dichotomy between the ‘right’ and ‘left’ parties in advanced democracies shrinks further as is occurring today all over Europe.

Consider, for example, this indignant manifesto from one of the occupiers of Madrid’s main square, the Puerta del Sol, to a TV reporter who told those protesting ‘not to question democracy’. It is entitled, ‘Yes, We Question This Democracy’.

Yes, we question this democracy. We question this democracy because it fails to support popular sovereignty: the markets impose decisions for their own benefit and the parties in Parliament are not standing up to this global fact. Neither in our country nor in the European Parliament are they fighting to put an end to financial speculation, whether in currency or in sovereign debt.

We question this democracy because the parties in power do not look out for the collective good, but for the good of the rich. Because they understand growth as the growth of businessmen’s profits, not the growth of social justice, redistribution, public services, access to housing and other necessities. Because the parties in power are concerned only for their own continuation in office, making deals to stay in power and leaving their electoral programme unfulfilled. Because no politician
has to live with what they legislate for their ‘subjects’: insecurity, mortgage debt and uncertainty.

We question this democracy because it colludes in corruption, allowing politicians to hold a private post at the same time as public office, to profit from privileged information, to step into jobs as business advisors after leaving office, making it very profitable to be a politician. . . .

We question this democracy because it is absurd that the only way to ‘punish’ a party is to vote for another one with which one does not agree. We question this democracy because the parties in power do not even comply with the social provisions of the Constitution: justice is not applied equally, there are no decent jobs nor housing for all, foreign-born workers are not treated as citizens.

Excuses are not good enough for us. We do not want to choose between really existing democracy and the dictatorships of the past. We want a different life. Real democracy now!

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