SVP has played an active role these past 6 months in the growing citywide movement against stop and frisk, the controversial NYPD tactic that caused 685,724 people (almost all young black or Latino men) to be stopped, questioned and patted down last year, with no reason to believe they had done anything wrong. Stopping stop and frisk is the first step toward having a police department that treats all people, including vendors, with dignity and respect.
In May, we began working with the Police Reform Organizing Project (PROP) our sister project at UJC who have been building a movement and generating a lot of dialogue on the issue. In June, we sent a contingent to the historic Father’s Day march. And last week, we collaborated with artist Aaron Gach, who developed a project to get vendors talking about stop and frisk with tourists, subverting the dominant narrative they receive about liberty here. We can’t explain it as well as Aaron, so check out this great article in the NY Times!
We know that people who oppose street vendors often do for reasons of race and class. As Daniel Bluestone wrote in his seminal article, the Pushcart Evil, “efforts to curb the pushcart markets went hand in hand with xenophobic Americanization and immigration-restriction campaigns directed at working class immigrants.”
Lately that has been the case in Bay Ridge Brooklyn, a once Italian-American neighborhood that has seen an influx of Arab Americans. While Sammy Kassen’s food cart has been serving up delicious food for nearly four years, lately a few brick and mortar shopkeepers and the local BID have gone to great lengths to remove him. A media firestorm in the quiet neighborhood, fueled by a shoving match, a fake protest by a local bar owner, and some illegal planters placed on the sidewalk to eliminate the vendor. While the brick-and-mortars cry “unfair competition,” its pretty clear the opposition is based on race and ethnicity. SVP is helping out with legal assistance and media support. As we say in this editorial, we hope that, instead of fanning the flames, elected officials can help broker some peace in Bay Ridge.
It feels like we’ve been fighting for a lifetime. But the end might be in sight. Today the City Council will hold a hearing on the two bills we have been working on for nearly 18 months — Intros 434 and 435 — to lower the $1,000 fines vendors still pay for minor violations. It will be a good excuse to release the new report done by John Davis and Alfonso Morales from the University of Wisconsin – Fining The Hand that Feeds You. The report shows that lowering fines will put more money in the City’s pockets, too! And if you are not the reading type, just go and watch this gorgeous new video by Samuel Enblom.
Getting a law changed at City Hall requires lots of closed-door meetings. But you also need to mobilize your grassroots, show yourself to be a powerful constituency, and keep your issue in the press. All that is why SVP, VAMOS Unidos and the 125th Street Merchants Association held a rally last week at City Hall to demand a hearing on Intros 434 and 435. A more rainy, ugly day we never did see. Our beautiful signs all got soaked. But more than 400 vendors were joined by five Council Members and tons of media outlets, like the Times, Daily News , Post, and WNYC. The message was simple : we need to lower the $1,000 fines now !
Two years ago, we realized that vendors don’t just need legal advice, training, and a voice at City Hall. Sometimes they also need loans to expand their businesses — or simply maintain them in the face of high fines and harsh economic times. We raised $1,700 to help Mohammed Ullah stay in business.
But SVP has neither the capacity nor experience to keep raising and providing one-off loans on our own. We’ve teamed up with an experienced microfinance provider, the Business Center for New Americans, and today we are announcing the Pushcart Fund, the first ever dedicated loan fund for street vendors.
We are trying to raise $10,000, which will enable us to meet our goal, close the fund, and start giving loans to worthy people like Camille (above). Please check out our loan page and watch our two-minute video here. Will you help?
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.
Not only is Zuccotti Park, the headquarters of Occupy Wall Street, just a few blocks from SVP’s office in Lower Manhattan. Its also very close to our heart. As protypical members of the 99%, street vendors are oppressed by wealthy elites who are “uncomfortable” with their presence, and yet who have the ear of policy-makers like our Mayor. Though vendors don’t have time to sleep in the park (and though some are sadly losing business,) SVP members are squarely on board OWS’s main goal: economic fairness. After our general meeting last week, vendors grabbed our banner and marched over to Zuccotti Park to perform our traditional “vendor power” cheer, to the delight of the OWS crowd. We are now participating in OWS working groups to help plan future events, while looking for other ways to collaborate with this historic movement.
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.
There are two worlds in New York City, and the difference between them is the difference between the Union Square Greenmarket, where foodies peruse organic heirloom tomatoes at $4 per pound, and the Forsyth Street Market in Chinatown, under the Manhattan Bridge, where $4 will get you three pounds of onions, a pound of peppers, three pounds of bok choy, and a couple mangoes. With a dragon fruit thrown if you speak Chinese.
While the City rightly supports markets like at Union Square, it gave nearly 2,000 tickets to vendors at Forsyth Street Market the past two years, in addition to arrests, confiscation of produce, seizures of carts and equipment, and illegal parking restrictions. Why the unequal treatment? Unlike at Union Square, the immigrants who work and shop at Forsyth Street – 94% of them Asian-American — have no voice. Hopefully our new report, “Spoiled” will help change that, if even a little bit.