Scenes from the protest outside the Brooklyn Museum

tk. All photos by Maria Travis

For now it’s not, but wait until someone shows up with a big enough briefcase full of cash. All photos by Maria Travis

“How about uptown funk?”

A young woman stands holding a trumpet by her side, asking her bandmates what they’d like to play to kick off the Brooklyn Anti-Gentrification Network (BAN)’s protest of the 6th Brooklyn Real Estate Summit, which took place inside the Brooklyn Museum this morning. The band laughs. They tune their instruments, playing a few notes together and then trailing into mindless chatter as folks start gathering in front of the museum.

They, along with other placard-toting hopefuls, are in generally good spirits at the BAN’s bright-and-early 7:30am protest call. Signs provided by the group tout gripes ranging from affordable housing, to gentrification, to #BlackLivesMatter. Some people are just holding Bernie Sanders campaign posters.

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At around 8am, event organizer Imani Henry comes over and chats with the band (turns out they were actually enlisted to make noise at the event — they’re Rude Mechanical Orchestra, a group that regularly plays protests and other demonstrations). “We don’t have a sound permit until 9, but you guys are unamplified anyway, so you’re good,” he says to them.

“We actually have to leave at 8:30,” says one bandmate. Others nod in agreement, ad libs of “I have to go to work” ripple among them. He takes them with the first group of protesters on a march across the esplanade to the Eastern limit of the museum. Cops begin to flank the museum steps, but they’re pretty passive. They seem to do it as a matter of course, without much concern for what’s happening.

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Other participants help unfurl a large “BROOKLYN IS NOT FOR SALE” banner in front of the museum. One protester, Carolyn, stands by looking on. We ask her whether she thinks these kinds of events are helpful in making change.

“No,” she laughs. “Not really. But the worst thing would be if nobody showed up. Then nothing gets heard.”

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As real estate agents start arriving for the summit, they walk with their heads down: balding men in suits, filing hastily through the metal fence to get inside as protesters shout, “Keep your hands off our housing!” and “Brooklyn is not for sale!”

At first, the group chants are weak. A woman leading the charge only allows a few rounds of each one before moving on, and protesters have trouble keeping up.

“Hey hey, ho ho, gentrification’s got to go!” one man begins. As others catch on, though, another protester corrects him, offering a modification. Suddenly the cheer is reversed: “Ho ho, hey hey, affordable housing’s here to stay!”

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Staff from the Brooklyn Museum brought out donuts and bottled water for the event, setting up a table for the protesters. When we asked them about the gesture, a museum attendant laughed. “We sympathize!” he said. “We’re not against [the protest]; this was a rental.”

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Most folks in attendance felt otherwise. The ideas that the Brooklyn Museum’s allowance of the rental made them complicit in a real estate gold rush, or was at the very least poorly-timed in light of the museum’s forthcoming AgitProp! exhibition, slated to be on view starting in December 2015, was voiced by a number of protesters. And while the museum has reportedly been sympathetic to the recent criticism they received for renting to the Summit, the BAN stressed the need for the museum to evoke a stronger sense of partisanship to its artists’ political ideals.

“Our cultural institutions no longer support us,” said Alicia Boyd, a 54-year-old activist notorious for rabble-rousing at community board meetings. “We’ve got to shut this shit down. Shut it down.”

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By the time the BAN held their press conference at noon, attendance had grown to some 50 protesters, with yet more onlookers and members of the press. The conference was a smorgasbord of speeches, “not for sale” chants and anecdotal stories shared by community representatives from other boroughs. One woman from the Bronx described her horror at seeing a “Bronx is Burning” gentrification party, having lived through the borough’s fires with her mother. Another woman spoke who’d grown up in Brooklyn but had since moved out to New Jersey; she tearfully recounted her own and her mother’s displacement after a lifelong residency in the borough.

Stories varied in tone and issue, but there was unanimous outrage at borough president Eric Adams for having decided to speak at the Real Estate Summit. His name elicited boos from the entire crowd.

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“After years of being mired in this stuff, you start to get tired,” said Kim Fraser, a Greenpoint resident in attendance who told us she’d been fighting for green spaces her entire life and, most recently, has been fighting against the planned Greenpoint Landing luxury towers. “There’s no humanity in it.”

Whether or not this protest by the BAN can exactly be deemed “effective” remains to be seen. But go ahead and click through our gallery on the next page for more photos from the protest.

One Comment

  • … and of course, we start it. We prime the neighborhoods for gentrification, just by being there, just by moving in, just by being cool. In fact, we don’t even necessarily have to make good art to make a “good” neighborhood. We are not without culpability in this process. And our declarations of solidarity with “the community” and the working class that is being displaced, are disingenuous.
    https://youtu.be/8vccoaC_EJ4