chapter  1
25 Pages

“Class Struggle on Avenue B”: The Lower East Side as Wild Wild West

On the evening of August 6, 1988, a riot erupted along the edges of Tompkins Square Park, a small green in New York City’s Lower East Side. It raged through the night with police on one side and a diverse mix of anti-gentrification protestors, punks, housing activists, park inhabitants, artists, Saturday night revelers and Lower East Side residents on the other. The battle followed the city’s attempt to enforce a 1:00 A.M. curfew in the Park on the pretext of clearing out the growing numbers of homeless people living or sleeping there, kids playing boom boxes late into the night, buyers and sellers of drugs using it for business. But many local residents and park users saw the action differently. The City was seeking to tame and domesticate the park to facilitate the already rampant gentrification on the Lower East Side. “GENTRIFICATION IS CLASS WAR!” read the largest banner at the Saturday night demonstration aimed at keeping the park open. “Class war, class war, die yuppie scum!” went the chant. “Yuppies and real estate magnates have declared war on the people of Tompkins Square Park,” announced one speaker. “Whose fucking park? It’s our fucking park,” became the recurrent slogan. Even the habitually restrained New York Times echoed the theme in its August 10 headline: “Class War Erupts along Avenue B” (Wines 1988).