Friday, May 10 marked the penultimate session of Nine Weeks of Art and Action, a protest series led by Decolonize This Place (DTP) and a coalition of activist groups that have been rallying since March against Warren B. Kanders, CEO of the defense manufacturer Safariland and a vice chair on the Whitney Museum’s board of trustees. This week, the protestors were met with a large police presence on their way to the Whitney, an encounter that led to the arrest and detention of one activist.
Unlike previous weeks, instead of protesting inside the museum’s lobby, the activists gathered in a subway car, starting at the Euclid Avenue Station in East New York, Brooklyn to protest the rapid gentrification of local communities. The activists then marched to the Whitney to join a group of anti-militarization activists who staged another protest outside the museum.
The activists decorated the last car of the C train with flowers, balloons, and various banners, including a sign that identified it as “The Liberated Train.” Members of DTP handed out flowers and flyers to passengers and transformed the subway car into a party bus.
There, they restated their unequivocal demand to remove Kanders from the Whitney’s board, speaking out against his company’s supply of tear gas and riot control ammunition in Ferguson, Baltimore, Puerto Rico, Gaza, Kashmir, and at the US-Mexico border.
Three subway stops into the journey, at the Van Siclen Avenue station, five NYPD officers walked in to order the protesters to remove their decorations. The exchange devolved into a 15 minutes standoff between the two sides, during which the train was held in place. “If you don’t remove the decoration, we’ll have to do it ourselves,” the officers told protesters. As the activists remained defiant, the officers began to remove the banners, flowers, and balloons and accompanied the protestors during the next few stations.
A list of anti-gentrification organizations from across the city joined the ride to the Whitney, each boarding from a subway station located at their respective neighborhoods.
Members of the collective Mi Casa No Es Su Casa from Bushwick boarded the train car at the Broadway Junction station. The speakers described a premeditated policy of displacement and incarceration designed to push working-class families out of Bushwick. “Then white artists came to our hood in Bushwick, and started making murals while we already had art,” the activists said. White artists were encouraged to move into the neighborhood to attract people with higher income, they said. “Now, even those early white artist gentrifiers are being displaced from Bushwick.”
At the Utica Avenue Station in Bedford-Stuyvesant, the group Anti-Gentrification Network narrated the stories of incarcerated migrant tenants in their neighborhood. Explaining that in 2017, Safariland sold $7.3 million of equipment to the NYPD, the activists said: “As the NYPD continues to occupy poor Black and brown neighborhoods, Kanders has helped them to better intimidate us.”
At the Clinton–Washington Avenue station, activists who came from Sunset Park talked about community policing and mass surveillance in their neighborhood. “Kanders is a multi-millionaire who gets rich off of treating Black and brown New Yorkers as guinea pigs for all forms of state violence,” said speakers on behalf of Sunset Park Liberated Future and the Brooklyn Defense Committee.
The policemen in the car listened to the various complaints with minimal reactions and exited the train at the next station. The activists cheered and gloated, thinking it was the end of their encounter with law enforcement forces.
At the Fulton Street Station, the group Why Accountability joined the rally and led the chant “No one should go to jail for not having $2.75,” referencing the criminalization of passengers who jump subway turnstiles to avoid paying the MTA fare. “Fare Beating” is the second largest category of arrests last year, the activists said.
Chinatown Art Brigade joined in at the Canal Street Station. In recent years, the Chinatown neighborhood in Manhattan’s Lower East Side has seen an influx of art galleries, high-rise condos, night clubs, and hotels, they said. “There are over 140 galleries in the neighborhood … They are Trojan horses [designed] to raise property value in Chinatown.” They accused the Whitney and the High Line of displacing businesses that now see Chinatown as a cheaper alternative.
Reaching the end of the C train’s route, the activists exited the train at 14th Street and 8th Avenue and were met with a large NYPD presence. A plainclothes officer immediately apprehended and handcuffed DTP member Yates McKee. The other officers on site did not respond to Hyperallergic’s questions about McKee’s detention. At the time of publication, McKee has not yet been released.
At the Whitney, members of the groups War Resistors League, About Face: Veterans Against the War, and No New Jails were reading testimonies collected from incarcerated civilians who were victims of police brutality, including injuries caused by tear gas.
In addition to the various banners and flyers, the protestors devised mock tear gas canisters. The group (De)Institutional Research Team ((D)irt) printed fake Whitney Museum Guides which detail the coalition’s claims against Kanders, and urges social accountability on behalf of museums. Copies of the fake guides were placed at the museum’s admission desks.
A speaker from No New Jails demanded that the Whitney director Adam Wienberg and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio “stop profiting off people’s pain.” Addressing Weinberg, the activist said, “And while you’re at it, why don’t you remove Nancy Crown too?”
Earlier this week, Hyperallergic published a report looking into other Whitney trustees with ties to war profiteering and the Trump administration: Nancy Carrington Crown, Pamella G. DeVos, and Kenneth C. Griffin. The report explains that board member Nancy Carrington Crown’s family is a stakeholder in the defense contractor General Dynamics, which provides services to President Donald Trump’s child detention centers and surveillance systems on the Southern border.
The 2019 Whitney is set to open next Friday, May 17th, with the participation of 75 artists. Almost 50 of them have added their signatures in April to an open letter calling on the museum to part ways with Kanders and delineate new “lines of unacceptability” in museum boards.
“Whitney, we are going to be your worst nightmare,” an activist said towards the end of the event, “We will be here until he [Kanders] is removed. We are watching you and we are not going anywhere.”
The Whitney Museum declined Hyperallergic’s request to comment.
Update 5/13/19 8:06am: Hyperallergic confirmed with the NYPD that Yates Mckee was charged on Friday, May 10 at 6:30pm under charges of “making grafitti, criminal mischief, and posession of a graffiti instrument.” He was moved to Manhattan Central Booking that night.
The title of this article has been updated. Its original title was “
Activist Stage Protest on a Subway Ride to the Whitney Museum for Eighth Week of Protest Against Warren Kanders.”