Wednesday, February 05, 2014

As Amnesty International concert approaches, Barclays Center setting presents an irony; conservative intellectual Salam, "Brooklyn nationalist," hails Nets without skepticism

Tonight at the Barclays Center is the Amnesty International Benefit, "Bringing Human Rights Home," featuring, among others, the Russian punk band Pussy Riot, formerly imprisoned by the state.

As a 1/31/14 article in Newsday explained, Amnesty for more than 30 years has partnered with musicians, but this is the first a mega-show since 1998. Tickets range from $54.50-$255.

"Twenty-five years ago, Amnesty joined with some of the greatest musical artists of the era, and they used their talents to throw a light on human rights abuses around the world," Steven Hawkins, executive director of Amnesty International USA, told Newsday. "That helped inspire a whole generation of young activists. Our membership tripled during that period. Now, it's time to engage with a new generation of artists in the same way and inspire another generation of activists."

Not everyone's on board

Several people in Brooklyn have written to Amnesty International or posted on Facebook their dismay about the contrast between the concert's ideals and its setting. As Eric McClure (No Land Grab) wrote to Amnesty:
As someone who strongly supports Amnesty International’s important work, I am writing to express my grave disappointment at your selection of Brooklyn’s Barclays Center as the site for your “Bringing Human Rights Home” concert on February 5th.
It’s sadly ironic that you’re staging this concert at a venue that was built with complete disregard for property rights, which many consider a human right. The Barclays Center was railroaded through by means of a series of anti-democratic back-room deals, fueled by massive taxpayer subsidies and reliant on the abuse of eminent domain. In fact, I wrote a blog post in March, 2010 for nolandgrab.org highlighting the uncanny similarities between the Brooklyn neighborhood in which the arena was to be constructed and Israel’s Occupied Territories: http://www.nolandgrab.org/archives/2010/03/ratner_on_israe.html
Many of us who live here in the community surrounding the Barclays Center won’t set foot in it, as we know too well the abuses behind its creation. It’s dismaying that an organization like Amnesty International, which does so much to promote human rights and fight injustice, would choose such a place to stage this event. It’s a decision that, in my humble opinion, is entirely not in keeping with your core values.
Of course, as McClure acknowledged, life in Prospect Heights was not like life in the Occupied Territories. However, the behavior of the authorities was disturbing and unaccountable in its own way.

Or, as Gib Veconi wrote on Facebook, as noted on the Battle for Brooklyn page:
It's a strange world. A concert themed around human rights is being held at an arena built on property seized through eminent domain. And one of the acts was until recently imprisoned by the head of state whose political supporters include one of the arena's owners.
Winning people over

Still, entertainment and sports have power to trump other analysis.

New York magazine's Sam Anderson in a 9/16/07 article observed that Atlantic Yards had been “a rousing, unintentional success” in community building, but also offered a pregnant warning: “But sports, recent history has taught us, can transcend even the deepest cynicism—which is why it’s such a powerful tool for professional cynics.”

So, consider a 1/24/14 ESPN essay Learning to love the Brooklyn Nets by conservative intellectual Reihan Salam, who expresses unfettered, un-skeptical enthusiasm:
Before the Nets moved to Brooklyn, I knew almost nothing about professional basketball, or basketball in any incarnation....
Yet when I first heard that a professional sports franchise was planning to move to Brooklyn as part of a multi-billion dollar real estate transaction, I was intrigued. The reason is that I am, and have long been, a Brooklyn nationalist... Though I was born decades after the Dodgers left for Los Angeles, I grew up with a sense that a grave injustice had been done to my city -- a crime that would one day be avenged.
Truth be told, most of Brooklyn "got over the Dodgers," at least until Roger Kahn's Boys of Summer emerged.

Brooklyn didn't get respect in the 1980s and 90s, according to Salam, so--and I compress his logic somewhat--"how could I not love the Barclays Center, the beautiful alien vessel that is home to the Brooklyn Nets?"

So he began to learn the game of basketball, but "wasn't quite hooked" at his first game. Then Salam bought half-season tickets with a friend who's a die-hard fan. Now he roots for the players on a personal level. He writes:
Then there is the raw power of being in an enormous room full of people shouting “Broo-klyn” at the same time. These are my people. Yes, our team has been pretty terrible until recently. Yes, we have the worst mascot in the NBA. But whether it’s fans from the Jersey era who've stuck with the team or former Knicks fans who are sick of Jimmy Dolan and want to give Brooklyn a shot, or people such as me who are still extremely confused by foul calls (I do know that the refs are always biased against us), we’re sharing in this crazily intense collective energy. It is weird, and it is glorious. 
Thinking twice

Yes, that's how sports fandom often works. But it should be difficult to embrace the arena and team wholeheartedly while knowing the full story of how they came to be. Most people don't bother, understandably. (Paging Will Leitch.)

It's disappointing that Salam seems to have let his sports fandom trump his analytical politics. After all, writing in Forbes in April 2010, Salam noted that "eminent domain abuse almost always involves transferring wealth from the politically weak to the politically strong."

Could it be that developer Forest City Ratner, with enablers like Mayor Mike Bloomberg, constitutes the "politically strong"?

Shouldn't Salam be a little discomfited by Forest City executive MaryAnne Gilmartin's dubious claim that the Atlantic Yards site represented "massive blight"? Or the rest of the "Culture of Cheating"?

Oh, well, they're bringing human rights home.

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