For weeks, everyone in town has been excited — the Superbowl is coming to New York (or at least New Jersey) this year!
As part of the celebration, the city created Super Bowl Boulevard — a big street fair — along a 13-block stretch of Broadway in midtown. Pro football is big business, so it was no surprise to see huge corporate tents, football-themed games, video projection shows and even a toboggan ride! Great way to get people excited before the big game!
However, as we so often see, when big corporations come to town, they kick out the little guys. In this case, vendors who have worked for years on those blocks have now been ticketed and evicted from their locations. Instead of having a chance to share in the proceeds (estimated to be $500 to $600 million) from this big event, they are losing money! The local business group didn’t even notify the vendors, much less work with the police to find spaces for them to work in the meantime.
Out of work, a group of the evicted vendors decided to hold a press conference today to express their outrage. A lot of media are in town — we got good coverage. The vendors got to vent. And hopefully next time a mega-event comes to town, our city leaders will include not just the multinational corporations, but the neighborhood small businesses who are there every day.
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!
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!
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.
Politicians all love to wave flags and march in parades on Veterans Day, which was last week. But when it comes to supporting bills to help veteran street vendors (like Intros 434 and 435) our friends at City Hall sometimes are not so patriotic.
There are nearly 2,000 US military veterans working on the streets of New York City, all thanks to a 1894 state law recognizing that those who defend our country should at least get to put a 6-foot table on the public sidewalk. News flash: many vets are losing their livelihoods due to $1,000 tickets imposed by the Bloomberg administration. Maybe every Council Member not supporting the bills should have to tell SVP board member Bernard Haynes (pictured here, from his days in Korea) why the $1,000 tickets he got for vending on a subway grate are fair compensation for his heroic service.
There are a whole lot of urban planners, thinkers and writers who care about public space and how its used. In New York, the Department of Transportation has won rave reviews the last few years for creating people-friendly public spaces, with bike lanes and plazas. But rarely do urban planners plan for street vendors. Luckily that is changing. Columbia University’s Urban Planning program spent a whole semester, with our help, studying vendors and preparing an in-depth report (downloadable here) about how the vending rules could be reformed to benefit the public. And last week, as part of Urban Design Week, we co-sponsored a public-space picnic (with Columbia and the Design Trust for Public Space) to demonstrate how legalizing vendors could enliven many desolate plazas, if only there were allowed to work there. Imagine that. Pictures here.
Our campaign to get rid of the $1,000 vending tickets, aka Intros 434 and 435 is going well, and a majority of City Council Members are now co-sponsors of both bills. But a few Council Members are hesitant to get on board without more knowledge. Which we fully respect. That is why we’ve been spending time in working-class Jamaica, Queens, talking to Council Member Leroy Comrie, the Deputy Majority Leader and his consituents. If videos like this don’t convince him, we don’t know what will.
One of the most difficult things about bringing together street vendors into one community is that sometimes they fight against each other for scarce sidewalk space. Ocassionally, when people are struggling like vendors are, it even gets violent.
Since no vendor has any legal claim to any particular spot, its all about respect. Its one thing to encourage vendors to respect each other’s spots, but what do you do when someone doesn’t listen? Last week, a group of SVP members (left) paid a visit to a supposed bad-apple vendor, to encourage him to keep a respectful distance from vendors who had spent years building up their spots. And you know what? He turned out to be a pretty nice guy. Here’s to all vendors working together in peace!
This is Jared Domingos, a long-time SVP member, volunteer, and friend. For years he has been talking about starting his own coffee cart. It took a long time. But tomorrow it will actually be happening. Esprezzatura Coffee and Tea will be having its grand opening 8 am to 6 pm at Hanover Square. We could not be more happy to support Jared in this venture. Go say hello! ...
"Protesta sobre lo que queremos permisos para licencias para trabajar porque somos personas de trabajo, personas que necesitamos, tenemos familia, no nos mantiene el gobierno. Somos gente de trabajo, luchadores", dijo un vendedor. ...