While Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio wooed Manhattan liberals with his Duarte Square “Transition Tent”, the city’s dispossessed know that progress will never appear as an option on a public ballot. As fantastic as the end of Stop-and-Frisk, universal Pre-K, the decriminalization of marijuana, or whatever else the former pro-Sandinista had in mind, these are likely to become ephemeral talking points from yet another forgotten election cycle–promises he likely couldn’t keep even if he wanted to. And no amount of open source discursive new media, the latest technological advance in democratic illusion, will make us forget that tax-free Duarte Square owner Trinity Church approved the arrest and prosecution of over 50 occupiers in December 2011, and sent comrade Mark Adams to Rikers Island for more than a month. Before its flashy Transition Tent, Duarte Square was just another vacant, unused property in this city, fiercely protected from receiving new life by the New York Police Department.
Bloomberg’s extended 12-year mayorship was a brutal baptism for the post-9/11 21st century, and a smashing success for a mode of governance which seems to only get stronger whenever we dream it’s on its last legs. While he has been lampooned in the media for his heavy hand on lifestyle issues, despotism over the city bureaucracy, unapologetic racism, and self-appointed third term, Bloomberg was all-too typical of this century’s liberal-democractic Mussolinis (with Vladimir Putin and Silvio Berlusconi being the most famous). With a net worth of around $30 billion, Bloomberg is the second richest person in New York City, the seventh in the United States, and the thirteenth in the world. His wealth, he argued, was proof of the business savvy NYC needed to survive the “great recession” and 9/11. This is the reality of decision-making and authority in 2014, and this is the context in which de Blasio enters.
Like a punctual train, the tragic 20th century delivered us onto the farce of our current era—-where comedians like Jon Stewart or Beppe Grillo best express the time’s ideological centrism. Critical as they may be, a well run military intervention or bipartisan slashing of social programs will always be admired by Americans, as pragmatism and exceptionalism remain the liberal basis of the nation’s self-mythology. And no matter how bleak things turn, how many flaming loops of logic we’re asked to jump through, or irregularly-shaped pills of the present we must swallow, the activism of Occupy and libertarianism of the Tea Party balance between an unmovable constant–the statue of that mythical goddess of American Liberty, to be defended against all threats, both foreign and domestic.
The dual worst-case-scenario poles of Communism and Fascism remain the ultimate taboo, officially stuck in sepia, but present in the nightmares of every citizen. But what about the bleak hues of our present reality? The despot of our time will not be any single elected official, but a web of markets and management we’re unable to escape. Decades of effort have firmly replaced community with economy. After Bloomberg, the tyranny will remain, diffused all around us. The real estate, service industry and general “coolness” bubbles will continue to engorge. Rents, costs, and expenses will continue to rise, forcing us all to work even more for even less, all to avoid being displaced like the occupants of our apartments before us.
How far will we be pushed? When will we stop being pacified with new outlets for cultural life and leisure? It’s all well and good to have our little hobbies, but it’s so much better to fall in love, and to build the capacity to defend that position collectively. For years, decades, we have tried marching, breaking windows, occupations, publishing magazines, starting businesses. At least we’re trying, but then again, so is de Blasio and his thousands-strong transition team of young, socially mobile entrepreneurs. These are people who can articulate goals, make long-term plans, follow-through on basic tasks, and hold each other accountable in the process of working towards a shared vision. These are people whose attention spans and common commitments last longer than a meeting, a month, a season. These are people who are able to think and act strategically.
We need to get organized. Not for transition, progress, or profit, but for life itself. If we’re competent enough to act like we’re proud employees at some restaurant or university, we can also start acting like dogged revolutionaries who can declare and embody a position; who can communicate with those around us, always clinging to an unshakable class resentment and desire for revenge. Neither for nor against the Left, neither believers nor atheists of Community. We cannot exorcise our ideologies, but we can subjugate their identities to the life we want to create. We can’t presume to like every community gardener, identity politician, cyclist, communist, sectarian, post-leftist, hippie, oogle, or 20-year-old anarchist, but we can be less superficial in our critiques and moralistic in our judgements of those trying to find another way. We can drop off pieces of the puzzle for each other. We can give each other knowing nods.
Let’s wake up in 2014 like true New York-multitaskers, wondering what tiny steps we can take to make New York look more like a city on the brink than one on the rise.