We were quietly getting ready for a new Mayor last month when we heard the Parks Department was kicking hot dog vendors out of Washington Square Park! Why? Not due to “congestion” (like they bogusly claimed at Union Square) but because rich people, heiresses, and celebrities from the new Washington Square Park Conservancy thought the vendors were “unsightly.” Funny, but we’d use words like “offensive,” “elitist” and “racist” instead. Either way, we don’t have enough people to be at every Community Board meeting where decisions about public space like this are made. Thank God a local blogger activist was on the case!
Together with neighbors concerned about private control of their public park, parks advocates, and the affected vendors themselves, SVP held a rally and press conference to draw attention to the issue.
As usual, direct action gets the goods! Just after the new year, the Parks Department reversed course, announcing that the vendors could stay. A huge victory for people who care about immigrant workers and public space. And a good start to a new year, and hopefully a new era, for vendors in NYC!
Working with vendors is so unique that it can sometimes leave us isolated from other movements. But together we are all stronger, right? And lately, more than ever, we have been working in solidarity with other groups. This year, we joined the Food Chain Workers Alliance, and were proud to stand with FCWA and Brandworkers recently in their support of the workers at Amy’s Bread Company in Queens. Good food and good treatment of workers should go together!
We also recently collaborated with the NY Civil Engagement Table on an excellent NYC Council Speaker Forum, where they even asked a question about street vendors! And to top it off, this week we stood in solidarity with Chinese Staff Workers Association, who are working to organize restaurant delivery workers, a hard-working immigrant population that often overlaps (and faces similar race and class-motivated targeting) with SVP’s own members.
Of all the patches that make up the quilt that is vending in NYC, veterans are one of the most beautiful. U.S. military vets have been granted a special license under New York State Law since the 1890s, when it was discovered that vending provides a flexible means of self-employment, especially for the disabled. In other words, after serving our country, the least we can give you is the right to set up a table on the public sidewalk!
That state law remains, and as a result about 10% of vendors in NYC are military vets, including many SVP members. To recognize them, we marched today in America’s Parade up 5th Avenue, about 30 vendors and four vehicles (including an ice-cream truck!) strong. Thank you, veteran vendors, for your service to our country! May the police and politicians show their respect today and every day of the year.
Remember what we wrote a couple weeks ago about vendors and videotaping the police? Well, one brave ice cream vendor did capture his encounter this summer with an especially rude NYPD officer. It’s pretty powerful.
We wrote a blog post about it, posted it on Youtube and it went viral, getting picked up by various web sites and papers around the world and making the nightly news. Apart from raising attention about the shocking way vendors are disrespected, hopefully the video will help spur reforms at the higher levels of the NYPD.
Because vendors are often accused of peccadillos like vending from a table an inch too high, we train our members every day in how to make photos or videos of their interactions with police. That’s often the only way the tickets will get dismissed. And it’s not just us – there is a whole CopWatch movement that aims to record police actions and thereby hold them accountable.
But easier said that done! Grabbing your iphone and turning it on the police is difficult for anyone to do, especially immigrant vendors who are vulnerable to repeat abuse. Often the officers don’t like it. And sometimes they even arrest you, which is what SVP director Sean Basinski discovered last month when he recorded a vendor/police interaction. To bring attention to this issue (and one fairly easy solution — requiring the police to wear body cameras, as other cities do) we held a press conference today in front of the Midtown North Precinct where Sean was arrested. As the police looked on from across the street, vendors spoke about their experiences and gave the NYPD notice that they should expect much more filming in the future.
People still ask, “the Vendy Awards — that’s you guys?” Heck yes. Who else was promoting mobile vendors years before the Kogi truck was even a vision in Roy Choi’s head? SVP started the Vendys in 2005 to demonstrate that some of the best chefs in the world work on the street. After years of growth, the event now funds much of our yearly budget. And if that was not enough, the Vendys have become a vehicle for us to collaborate with vendor groups across the country.
Last weekend’s 3rd Annual Philly Vendys, held in beautiful and historic Penn Treaty Park in conjunction with the Food Trust, were a huge success. The main category winners were Nabil and Hined Akkeh (left), Syrian-born owners of the King of Falafel, who have been serving up delicious Middle Eastern food near Philadelphia City Hall for 25 years. Elevating the hard work of people like Nabil and Hined is what the Vendys are all about. Next up is Saturday, September 7th in Brooklyn — get your tickets here.
Recently, the NYC Department of Transportation has unveiled an exciting new “bike share” program, similar to those that have been successful in Washington DC, Paris, and other cities. This is exciting for street vendors — anything that makes the sidewalks safer and the air cleaner is good for vendors, who have to breathe car exhaust and diesel fumes all day.
Just one problem: DOT did not pay any mind to vendors who would be displaced by the bike share stations! On Liberty Street in Lower Manhattan, five carts (employing 15 families) came to work one morning to find this (photo, left) in their spots. Bikes are good, but they should not displace immigrant small business owners who have no place else to go. So far we’ve asked for meetings, held a press conference, made a video, and done a picket outside DOT headquarters. All to get a bike docking station moved five feet! We’ll keep fighting until city planners and bureaucrats think about the marginalized groups, like vendors, they are affecting with their decisions!
Victory does not come easy. But perseverance pays off. After years of fighting against Mayor Bloomberg and his $1,000 fines on hard-working street vendors, we won. By a final City Council vote of 44-3, the maximum vendor fine for minor offenses was reduced to $500. Lesser fines will also decrease, since the city will now penalize as repeat offenders only those who repeat the same offense.
As Hugh Hogan from the North Star Fund recognized, this was a historic victory for working people and immigrants in New York City. Though we did not get everything we wanted, we won great respect for our unity, advocacy, and tenaciousness. We move toward the future. For now, thanks to everyone who worked so hard to help make this campaign a success.
More than 90% of NYC street vendors are immigrants, so our community has a huge stake in the immigration reform debate currently brewing in Washington. While we may not be in the room with the unions, the chambers of commerce, and the “gang of 8,” we can still have a big presence in the streets. So we have. We marched on Washington last month and rallied at the May Day festivities in NYC with many of our friends and allies. We’ve also talked to many of our members about how not to get scammed by “immigration lawyers” during this hopeful time.
We’ve also been throwing our support behind the exciting bill, introduced by Council Member Danny Dromm, that would give all NYC residents (citizen, green card holder, or nothing at all) the right to vote in municipal elections. This bill would remake the political map in NYC and give a voice to millions (?) of those currently voiceless. Let’s do it!
Big, big news! Today we got word that Speaker Christine Quinn, who we have been pestering forever to call a vote on our bills to lower the $1,000 tickets, is ready to do so! And in fact she herself is now supporting our cause, making it very likely that the bills will be voted into law next week. After more than five years of work, and more than two years of legislative advocacy, we are getting very close to victory.
We learned today that Mayor Bloomberg doesn’t support vendors, and will veto the bills, but we kinda knew that. This from the guy who said that “nobody is sleeping on the streets.”