squatters' Christmas: Tompkins Square Park (1990) FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Wed, 24 Dec 1997 21:17:39 -0800 (PST)

FWD from <tallpaul@nyct.net>

                CHRISTMAS: TOMPKINS SQUARE PARK -- 1990
                            by Paul Kneisel

Summertime, and if the living in the park isn't easy, at least the
people there don't worry about heat. That isn't always the case, and
the trash barrel fire issue has frequently been in the courts.
Construction workers, with a warm place at home, have always had fires
in the winter. The homeless had to fight for the same right.

New York is a city so lacking in common decency it spends money to
deprive the homeless of winter warmth.

I observed this two winters ago. People would make a trash barrel fire.
After five or ten minutes the various police would mobilize a flying
wedge to put it out. You'd see a dozen unarmed park police, one of whom
had a bucket of water. Four or five armed city police would accompany

Homeless activists--that is to say the homeless themselves would dump
the embers on the concrete and run away with the barrel. Fires are easy
to create; dry barrels are not. The bucketeer would douse the embers
and the police menagerie retreated. Back came the barrel. People
reached beneath sweaters and coats for cardboard. Others gathered wood.
Fuel abounds in a gentrified neighborhood where buildings are gutted
and rehabbed. Within two minutes a new fire was started.

The homeless couldn't be prevented from having the fires. They didn't
throw bottles; they didn't fight with the police. They just ignored the
city's wishes. They ignored them repeatedly.

My notes from that evening read: "Tis the season to see Dickens'
Christmas Carol on television. We've learned to hiss at Scrooge, the
heartless manager.

"Yet there was always immediate benefit to Scrooge's actions. He at
least made money at the expense of the poor, the downtrodden, and the
outcast. Today's city managers have gone beyond Scrooge in their
heartlessness. They spend thousands of dollars on police overtime to
extinguish people's fires.

"The city used to let pickets, protesters, and construction workers
have trash can fires. They tried to ban them when the homeless also
wanted to stay warm.

"Ebenezer Scrooge was a petty street vendor of nastiness compared to
the corporate professionalism of the city's Parks Department this
holiday season.

"There was instrumental reason behind the fire dousing. The homeless
shouted epithets at the police and chanted various slogans. The most
telling was also the shortest: 'Real Estate! Real Estate!'

"A decree went forth from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be
taxed. We can thank God this Christmas season that Christ was born in
the Roman Empire instead of New York City. The Augustus administration
allowed the homeless poor to squat in mangers.

"Had Mary and Joseph lived under [New York mayors] Koch or Dinkins they
would have been styled bullying anarchists. Yuppies would publish
outraged letters about how the couple interfered with the rights of the
stabled horses. Others would accuse them of running an illegal drug
business (wine) in the stable. They'd avoid the welfare department,
fearing their child would be taken from them as unfit parents. City
police would tear off their roof. And park police would extinguish
their fire.

"They still could, however, carry their straw into the streets and
sleep, roofless, under the stars. Just like the homeless in Tompkins
Square Park. Blessed are the poor."

Merry Christmas.

[The above is extracted from an article on Tompkins Square Park,
originally published in _Downtown_.]