Somebody’s Watching You

20 Jul 2018

Does it sometimes feel like that? If you were a food vendor in NYC, you would be right to feel that way.

Because last month, the Department of Health announced plans to place GPS trackers on each of the city's 5,000 or so mobile food carts and trucks. The city claims it needs GPS to locate carts to conduct inspections. But vendors (some of whom, by the way, are undocumented immigrants) don't trust the city, not even a little. And they surely don't trust the federal government at a time when ICE is showing up in courtrooms, schools, and green card hearings to find people and deport them. Last week we attended the hearing to testify against this bad idea.

Hopefully, Mayor de Blasio, who likes to claim NYC is a "Sanctuary City," will step in to stop this plan. If not, we are prepared to sue. After all, no lower court than the US Supreme Court  has recently taken an expansive view of the rights of individuals to be free from constant digital surveillance. 

Threatening?

15 Jun 2018

Sometimes you have to run as fast as you can, just to stay in place. That happened with the introduction of three anti-vendor bills at City Council last week which are being pushed through council at breakneck speed. 

One of these bills would evict 22 vending businesses from various streets around the World Trade Center, in Lower Manhattan - putting about 30 people out of work. The impetus?  According to the NYPD, vague "security" threats that a vendor might plant a bomb in their pushcart. To us, that sounds Islamophobic, especially given that 18 of these 22 vending carts are Muslim-run. In fact, vendors are good for public safety, and these vendors often report suspicious people and packages to the police, helping keep us all safe.

We organized about 50 vendors to testify at the hearing yesterday, got great support from allied organizations, and generated some good press hits. But we'll have to keep fighting to keep these streets open to vending - and safe !  These vendors are part of our community. They are #notathreat.

Less than human

22 May 2018

President Trump's calling immigrants "animals" this week has many people rightly taking note of how dangerous is such dehumanizing language.

But vendors, so frequently the target of racism and anti-immigrant bias, are used to being portrayed as less than human. Way back in 1938, Deputy Mayor Curran described a band of flower peddlers who "infested" his neighborhood. And even today, vendors still get described as locusts, leeches, and "bees in a hive." And that is in public - just imagine what is said behind closed doors!

Until things change, we'll keep on policing language -- because it matters -- and demonstrating the humanity of every flesh-and-blood person who sells on the streets of our great city.

Whose community?

26 Apr 2018

Neutral processes don't always produce fair outcomes. Why? The playing field is not level to start.

Which is why it is never enough for the government to "hold a community meeting". Who came to your meeting? Who even knew about it? Was translation provided to those who showed up? This idea was illustrated beautifully this week in this City Limits article on the NYPD's efforts to improve police-community relations. Even if the police had the best of intentions, these meetings became outlets for wealthy residents and business interests to complain about marginalized folks, including the homeless and street vendors.

Note to NYPD: instead of spending $3.5 million on slick ads, you could just ask vendors next time. Or ask us to! We have lots of members who would love to give you a piece of their mind.

World Urban Forum 9

29 Mar 2018

SVP organizes vendors in New York, but if we can be small voice for vendors around the world, we will. SVP director Sean Basinski and SVP leader Lei Bai traveled to the World Urban Forum in Kuala Lumpur  last month. When we design and build our cities, we must make sure that street vendors (and other marginalized users of public space) are included.  We spoke on a panel about "Decent Work in Inclusive Cities" with other informal sector workers and organizations, and made connections that we hope will advance our agenda back home. Sean was lucky enough to get interviewed by Next City about whether street vendors are part of the city of the future, a clip of which can be heard here.

After Malaysia, we flew to Bangkok, where WIEGO has been convening local vendor associations threatened by evictions from the military government there. We were happy to provide some advice, and learn some lessons from the vendors there forming a city-wide coalition to fight for their rights.

Mr. Okra

28 Feb 2018

Its not very often that humble street vendors get an obituary in the New York Times. But who could miss the sendoff last week of Arthur J. Robinson of New Orleans? Robinson (aka Mr. Okra) sold fruits and vegetables from the back of a colorful truck that cruised the streets of the Big Easy for more than 50 years, just like his father before him. With his distinctive peddler cry, he became a local celebrity, the subject of a documentary, and the main character in a children's book. Only befitting that, a few days ago, New Orleans held a "second-line" funeral procession to honor him.

Remember: vendors do not just provide good and services. Some of them, at least, enrich our culture.

Vacant thinking

14 Dec 2017

Every day, it seems, another beloved restaurant, flower shop or shoe-shine-place closes it doors due to rising rents. Everyone now agrees that loss of mom-and-pop small businesses in NYC has reached a critical level. Invariably, the spaces remain vacant for months or years, making matters worse. The causes of this problem -- gentrification, greed, and the rise of online retailing -- seem too complex, and maybe event impossible to root out.

But that is what government is for -- to correct unfairness of the unregulated, and inefficient, free market. Today, the City Council released a report -- Planning for Retail Diversity: Supporting NYC's Neighborhood Businesses -- that lays out 20 concrete steps our elected officials can take. Rather than scapegoating street vendors as part of the problem, the report acknowledges that vendors are also small businesses, and they can and should be part of the solution. After all, every vendor we know dreams of having a roof over their business one day, including SVP member Christine Lynch, who testified at the Council's hearing on the issue on behalf of so many others.

 

Educate the masses

26 Oct 2017

If the whole world knew about street vendors, it would be a better planet -- especially for the millions of vendors who live here! Part of our work at SVP involves educating the general public about the vendors and the important role they play in our city. This month has been a busy one for that. We helped a big group from NYU link up with vendors on their Big Walk (left) through Jackson Heights, we toured East Harlem vending sites with first-year med students at Mount Sinai, and we even taught a CLE (Continuing Legal Education) in Food Truck Law!

Get in touch if you ever want us to come and talk to your group about vendors and SVP!

Not stopping

27 Sep 2017

Confucius said that it doesn't matter how slowly you go, as long as you do not stop. And so it is with organizing underdog people and communities like street vendors. It  has now been 1,295 days since we launched our campaign for more vending permits on April 11, 2014.

But we will not stop until there is progress. So yesterday we marched over Brooklyn Bridge to remind our elected officials that we are still here, and we demand change even though it makes them uncomfortable to upset those in power.

No press came out, but see the photos here.

I feel like I’m free

22 Jul 2017

Much of the work we do involves hardship and conflict. And in fact, when Walid Abdelwahab (left) became a member last fall, he had been displaced from his spot, on the Upper West Side, by large concrete planters. The fancy condo had placed them there illegally. The local Council Member refused to get involved. The police even arrested him the first time he tried to go back to work. Luckily, SVP was able to help Walid return to work.

But this video, about Walid and his planter ordeal, fills us with positivity and hope. In fact, for all the struggles, most vendors are like Walid. Wherever they came from, they are proud of the United States and happy to live in New York. They love their jobs and the freedom that comes with being your own boss. They love contributing to the communities where they work. They get up each day smiling and hoping for good weather and strong sales. Despite the struggle, that should make us all feel good!