Thousands PROTEST NYC Homeless Sweeps FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Tue, 14 Dec 1999 16:16:50 -0800 (PST)


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See also: World Socialist web site http://www.wsws.org/

http://www.wsws.org/articles/1999/dec1999/nyc-d09_prn.shtml
FWD  WSWS : News & Analysis : North America : 9 December 1999

THOUSANDS RALLY IN DEFENSE OF THE HOMELESS IN NEY YORK

By Alan Whyte

Thousands of people rallied Sunday in lower Manhattan against
Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's attack on the homeless in New York City.
The Union Square protest focused on the mayor's twin policies
of demanding that the homeless work or be excluded from public
shelters and his recent crackdown against homeless people sleeping
on the streets.

Organizers estimated that 5,000 people from all over the city,
including large numbers of homeless people, attended the rally.
Protesters carried signs including, "Housing Is A Human Right"
and "Rudy: Help The Homeless," and chanted denunciations
of the Republican mayor and his policies.

The demonstration was organized by the Coalition for the Homeless,
and was held to coincide with the twentieth anniversary of a State
Supreme Court decision that established the legal right to shelter.
The executive director of the coalition, Mary Brosnahan, said,
"On any given night, there are 23,000 people in the municipal
shelter system. We want Giuliani to turn away from this misguided
assault on the right to shelter and his dragnet on the street."

Other speakers included homeless advocates, religious leaders
and Democratic politicians. The Rev. Bob Cassels condemned the
mayor's work-for-shelter ultimatum and the use of welfare recipients
in low-paid workfare jobs. He said, "It is evil to cast the
homeless into jails. It is evil to take children from mothers'
breasts. It is evil to enslave workers with slave wages and conditions
with no hope of a good job with a living wage, condemning the
poor to homelessness."

Protesters had planned to spend the night in Union Square park,
camping out in cardboard boxes and makeshift tents, but city authorities
warned organizers that anyone who tried to sleep in the park or
put up tents or boxes would be arrested.

Before the rally Mayor Giuliani held a press conference outside
the upscale FAO Schwarz toy store to defend his policies. He condemned
the protesters for seeking "a special immunity for the homeless
people" from criminal arrests. He denied that a police sweep
of the homeless was taking place, and that only homeless people
who had committed crimes were being arrested. In reality, the
police have accosted 1,674 homeless people because they appear
to be vagabonds, sleeping or loitering on the streets. Since November
22, 160 homeless people have been arrested, compared to 100 since
the beginning of the year.

The police action followed an attack on a woman office worker
by a man presumed to be homeless. The mayor and the news media,
led by the "New York Daily News", then sought to whip up
a witch-hunt atmosphere against the homeless to justify the crackdown."

The protesters also expressed their opposition to the mayor's
work-for-shelter program, now scheduled to begin December 13.
A number of speakers said this policy would lead to the further
break-up of families, citing the Giuliani administration's threat
that if parents in a shelter refuse to work, the city may seek
to remove their children and place them in foster care.

Advocates for the poor are also deeply concerned that this
new procedure will create the conditions for women to be subjected
to sexual harassment at the shelters. If a female homeless person
refused to submit she could find herself written up for refusing
to work or not doing satisfactory work, and then be forced to
leave the shelter. These kinds of abuses have affected women in
the Work Experience Program, which compels welfare recipients
to work for their benefits.

There were two more demonstrations against the Giuliani administration
following Sunday's protest. About 50 people rallied in City Hall
park on Monday night against the mayor's policy of jailing the
homeless, and 10 demonstrators were arrested when they set up
tents to spend the night as homeless people are forced to do.
They were charged with "unlawful camping" and holding
a demonstration of more than 20 people without a permit.</P>

On Tuesday morning another demonstration, organized by Housing
Works and other groups, was held to protest the city's policy
of cutting off welfare benefits to recipients who fail drug tests.
About 20 protesters were arrested when they chained themselves
in the office of the Human Resource commissioner. About 25 more
protested on the street outside the office.

There is a growing revulsion towards the glaring inequalities
in New York City and the reactionary social policies pursued by
both political parties. It is estimated that 330,000 homeless
people have been in the city's shelters at one point or another
over the last 10 years, as skyrocketing rents have made apartments
unaffordable and budget cuts have gutted funding for public housing.
During this same decade the New York Stock Exchange has reached
record levels and the city's financial elite have found new and
exotic ways of spending their incredible wealth, including on
multimillion-dollar dwellings in Manhattan.

The city's political and business establishment are well aware
that these conditions are producing widespread anger and opposition,
but they are incapable of providing any progressive solution to
the social crisis. In Giuliani they have found one of the crudest
defenders of big business, a politician who criminalizes the poor
and seeks to stamp out all forms of social protest.

On Tuesday the mayor singled out the protesters at the World
Trade Organization meeting in Seattle for denunciation. In a speech
before business leaders at the exclusive 21 Club, the mayor said
the protest "indicates the remaining damage that Marxism
has done to the thinking of people. You know, we have it in the
city, and the influence that it's had on universities and thinking
and the idea of class warfare." Asked later to explain his
remarks, the mayor told reporters that he was analyzing "the
whole notion of class warfare, which really comes out of the teaching
of Karl Marx, trying to divide people into different classes."

No city more clearly demonstrates the class divide in America
as does New York. While the mayor may hope to intimidate his critics
with red-baiting, he is really giving expression to the fear,
shared by his Democratic counterparts, that social opposition
in the future will coalesce into a challenge to the political
and economic monopoly of the rich."

END FORWARD

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