Organizers urge residents to pull together to oppose new administration
South Bronx activists staged a rally and march through the heart of Mott Haven on Saturday, to protest proposed policies they anticipate will harm poor and minority communities under president-elect Donald Trump.
Community groups Bronx Social Center, Studio 43, People Power Movement, Mothers on the Move and #TheBronxisNotForSale organized an afternoon rally at Brook Park on Nov. 26 and an ensuing march, dubbing the event #BronxDumpsTrump. The protesters wound their way down to East 138th Street, then west to Third Avenue and north to The Hub before proceeding east to the headquarters of advocacy group Mothers On the Move in Longwood for a public conversation to stir up political activism in the community.
At its peak, about 40 protesters marched, holding banners and shouting slogans. They were cheered on by onlookers from passing cars and residents along their route, some of whom came out of their homes to join the march.
It wasn’t hard to find a sympathetic audience. In the Nov. 8 election almost 95 percent of South Bronx voters voted for the Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton.
The protestors came from across the borough and represented a range of age groups and physical abilities. One protester in a wheelchair sat in the street, helping slow down traffic so the marchers could pass. Two representatives from the National Lawyers Guild marched, saying they were there to ensure that NYPD officers who trailed the protestors did not interfere with the demonstration.
The protesters, however, said they weren’t marching to pronounce a preference for one political party over another. Poor communities like the South Bronx, they said, continue to face problems like lack of access to affordable housing, police brutality and the need for immigration reform, despite eight years under a Democratic president and two under a Democratic mayor.
“The Democrats and Republicans play with each other and they play off each other. That’s why it’s important for us to protect ourselves on the local level,” said Shellyne Rodriguez, an organizer with Take Back the Bronx.
The procession stopped along the route at several points the organizers said reflected conflict between the community and government. Those included the 40th Precinct station house on Alexander Avenue, a construction site at the corner of East 149th Street and Prospect Ave. where city officials confiscated a popular community garden in 2012 to create a new housing complex, NYCHA projects and Horizon Juvenile Detention Center. They held up Black Lives Matter banners and others condemning Trump proposals. As they marched, they chanted slogans that included, “No Trump, No KKK, No Fascist government in the USA.”
When they arrived at their Longwood destination, Rodriguez exhorted the others to remain politically active after the march. She reminded them that community activist groups like the Black Panthers and the Young Lords stepped in to provide neighborhood services in past years when government failed its citizens.
Many in the packed room in the modest Intervale Avenue storefront said the event marked the first time they’d participated in a political rally. One of the organizers, Dalaeja Foreman, of the People Power Movement from Highbridge, said that was one of the goals of the event.
“We don’t expect people to jump out the first time, just seeing the fact that people that look like us are making a difference,” said Foreman, 23. Though she predicted that a Republican government would worsen relations between police and the community and would lead to increased incarceration rates in poor neighborhoods, Democrats, she said, have also failed the community. “The Democratic Party,” Foreman said, “hasn’t been enough and will never be enough.”
Mott Haven resident Jeni Rosa, 25, a teacher at P.S. 49, said she fights hardest for “fair education. I see my students and everything that they go through. They don’t know anything about their community. They need an education system that lets them know that they are amazing the way they are.”
Longwood resident Lisa Ortega, 48, a member of TakeBacktheBronx, said, “We want to make sure that everyone has a place to sleep and live, there’s more than enough resources for that. In the Bronx we have a high homeless rate. I think that once we start dealing with that, everything falls into place and people begin to organize more once they have a place to lay their head.”
One organizer, Tanzeem Aimiri, 31, of TakeBacktheBronx, said the key question remains how to tap into the frustration of residents and get them involved in the political process.
“How do we get our communities organized?” said Aimiri. “Marches are great, rallies are great, but if we’re only going to do that, we’re not going to do anything.” She added that although it is encouraging to see rallies in Manhattan condemning the president-elect’s policy proposals, residents of neighborhoods like Mott Haven will be hit the hardest and must speak out.
“There’s a lot of fear-mongering, but there are also real dangers,” she said. “We wanted to make it clear that this is what Trump is saying he’s going to do—this is what he actually has the power to do. So what are we going to do now?”