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Battle for Brooklyn, "community," and the Occupy Wall Street parallel (the massive NYPD response to protest)

On watching Battle for Brooklyn yet again, I notice things I didn't emphasize the first time around in my review,  things that make the movie both more frustrating and more valuable.

For example, the term "community" is a slippery concept in multiple ways. The movie portrays tensions over the Community Benefits Agreement, ginned up by developer Forest City Ratner to create the appearance of responsibility to the community.

But the "community" of opposition to Atlantic Yards--portrayed, though not sufficiently explained--depends less on those living/working in the project footprint than on those in the surrounding neighborhoods, those who must bear the brunt of the project's impacts.

The film has a neat narrative arc, following the path of activist Daniel Goldstein, but it can leave the impression that the fight is over. Yes, the fight to stop the project is over, and the amount of activism diminished, but, community concerns continue, such as over the lack of a transportation plan as the arena opening approaches.

Atlantic Yards protest as OWS precursor?

The film, its promoters now say, "captures the cultural zeitgeist that has people revolting against big banks in the Occupy Wall Street movement."

Or, as the Daily News's Michael O'Keeffe put it (in part citing Michael D.D. White's Noticing New York), "The film was released before the Wall Street protests began, but the story it tells is a strong summary of the crony capitalism that sparked the OWS movement.”

Bad Lit: the Journal of Underground Film, deemed Battle the runner-up for film of the year, declaring 12/2011:
Battle for Brooklyn now seems like a prescient instigator of the Occupy Wall Street movement that sprouted up in the autumn. If there ever were a film to inspire the seemingly powerless masses to rise up and fight back against big business and the politicians who lie in bed with them, it would be Battle for Brooklyn.

Well, yes--as the photo above right echoes some OWS scenes, and I describe below--and no.

As I wrote in my review:
HAVING OBSERVED much of the story in real time, I found Battle most valuable in the camera’s witness to the palpable insincerity and cold-blooded indifference of the developer-government alliance.
Why didn't AY provoke as much protest?

However, Atlantic Yards did not generate the kind of sustained, angry protest that the banks have provoked.

Why not? I suspect it's because the case was never as clear cut, and the attention from the media and watchdog groups insufficient. (Why didn't anyone write that the promise of 10,000 office jobs--which so "enervated" Sen. Chuck Schumer--was bogus from the start?)

The late journalist Robert Fitch, as I quoted him last year, sketched the complexity of land-use battles beyond the simplest ones:
When David Rockefeller tried to run the Lower Manhattan Expressway through Washington Square Park, you didn't have to have a degree in planning from MIT to know it was destructive. Jane Jacobs led the charge and miraculously sent the establishmentarians back to their Westchester redoubts. But land-use choices involving housing vs. jobs; the mix of income in a housing project; the question of which jobs are really viable in an urban setting; what's the best location for manufacturing--these issues don't lend themselves to such clear-cut resistance.
Indeed, that hints at the Atlantic Yards controversy. Developer Forest City Ratner, with allies, was able to argue for "jobs" and "housing," and enough people believed it.

Most importantly, the project has long been shifting, and the failure was prospective, not retrospective, as with Wall Street. (After all, it could be said that the Wall Street Cassandras were mostly ignored, and only belatedly seen as wise.)

Moreover, the purported benefits of "Jobs, Housing, and Hoops" were believable to enough people, and sold aggressively by Forest City Ratner.

The shifting argument

Even today, with promises of jobs and housing ever delayed and attenuated, Forest City Ratner or its supporters try to blame those pesky protesters, with their lawsuits.

Well, what of Bruce Ratner's astounding statement that "existing incentives" don't work for high-rise, union-built affordable housing, hence a justification for the new modular plan?

That's received little attention. And that's because a statement I made at the end of Battle still holds:
“If the government had done its job, if the media had done their job, we wouldn’t be here like this. It would’ve been a fair fight.”

And, as the arena opens, strategic giveaways of tickets and strategic charitable contributions, plus a new hometown team (!), will produce public support.

One clear parallel: the police lockdown on protest

Still, upon watching the film, there's one clear parallel to OWS: the New York Police Department's heavy show of force to corral protesters.

This is nothing new--consider the massive NYPD response to protests at the 2004 Republican National Convention--but it generated huge controversy and coverage when police went even farther to pepper-spray OWS protesters.

Given that the Governor and Mayor were present at the arena groundbreaking, as were top corporate officials, police were likely more wary than usual.

(Photo at right copyright Adrian Kinloch. Larger version below.)

On 3/11/11, the day of the groundbreaking, I was inside the tent, watching the speeches, so I had to rely on photos and video for an account of the protest outside (which was audible inside). Two days later, I published many more photos, from Jonathan Barkey and Adrian Kinloch.

But the photo gallery below, which includes several photos I previously published, as well as others I didn't, shows the heavy police response. There was one arrest--a man beating a drum (!), which is what OWS protesters were doing pretty much all day.

(Note that the Daily News photo at left, unlike the one above right, leaves the impression that the protestor was alone, as opposed to backed by dozens of people, if not more. Also note the dismissive language: "Police deal with a demonstrator.")

Photos copyright Jonathan Barkey

Photos copyright Adrian Kinloch



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