More than 100 activists and artists affiliated with community groups from throughout the city gathered at the Brooklyn Museum this morning to protest its hosting of the 2015 Brooklyn Real Estate Summit. Beginning at 7:30am, protesters were stationed at the Washington Avenue entrance to the museum’s parking lot — through which most summit attendees and speakers arrived — and on Eastern Parkway in front of the museum.
“The Brooklyn Museum should never have booked the summit,” Alicia Boyd, a member of Movement to Protect the People, told Hyperallergic. “Don’t tell me that you’re not aware of the suffering that’s going on in your community. You should never have done that.”
The demonstration was organized by the Brooklyn Anti-gentrification Network (BAN) and brought together members of organizations who are part of its network, a constellation of groups working on gentrification and related issues including police brutality, homelessness, and community gardens. Crying chants including “If we don’t get no housing, they don’t get no peace” and “Fight, fight, fight — housing is a human right,” the protesters spoke with and handed leaflets to passersby. At the parking lot entrance they booed summit attendees (and a few museum employees) as they arrived.
“I don’t expect anything of this, I know they [developers] are going to take over Brooklyn eventually, but what I want people to know is what happens when they take over our communities — I want them to know the hell they’re going through,” Carlos Molina, a Brooklyn College student and member of three BAN-affiliated groups, told Hyperallergic. “Of course I’d be happy if gentrification stopped, but I’m being realistic, it’s not.”
The response from passersby on foot, bike, and at the wheel ranged from vulgar dismissal to vocal encouragement. “He hates gentrification,” a woman said of the dog she was out walking around 8:15am. “He just peed on the museum.”
After beginning with just a couple dozen protesters, the demonstration grew in the buildup to a press conference at noon. Orange tents emblazoned with slogans like “They say gentrify, we say occupy” and “Foreclose on developers not people” were placed on either side of Eastern Parkway. A bright yellow banner incited passing motorists to “Honk if the rent is too high.” Museum security staff and between six and ten NYPD officers stood by throughout, but remained civil. Gradually, members of organizations from other boroughs, artists, and local residents drawn by the loud chants joined the crowd.
“It’s a politically dumb decision for the museum to host this summit,” Amanda Browder, a Greenpoint-based artist, told Hyperallergic. “As a citizen you feel like your voice is so small, and museums are supposed to be a place where those voices are heard. As artists, this is the one thing we can do — make our messages visual and visible.”
At noon, Imani Henry of BAN began introducing speakers who addressed how their groups have been fighting various aspects of gentrification. Speakers included members of the NYC Community Garden Coalition, the Sunset Park organization UPROSE, Picture the Homeless, 596 Acres, #TheBronxIsNotForSale, Black Lives Matter, and Movement to Protect the People. One of the most rousing speakers, ironically enough, was a real estate agent named Sharon who has lived directly opposite the Brooklyn Museum on Eastern Parkway for more than 40 years and asked to speak to the protesters after hearing their chants.
“It pains me when my people come to me, I can go from the end of Brooklyn to Downtown Brooklyn, I can’t find them anything anywhere that they can afford,” she said. “What they’ve done is they’ve changed the verbiage from ‘low-income’ to ‘affordable housing.’ Well it’s only affordable if you can afford it, and that pushed us out years ago …. I applaud you for being out here this afternoon, but we’ve been complaining about this for years. I’m happy to see you all here and I hope that somebody is listening and something will be done, because it affects us before it affects you. I can’t afford $3,000 a month, but my neighbor can …. There’s a double-standard in this city and it has to be stopped.”
Asked for comment on this morning’s protest, the Brooklyn Museum gave Hyperallergic the following statement: “As a place of learning and engagement, the Brooklyn Museum is a center for conversations for our many diverse communities — we cherish this role.”