Friday, February 20, 2009

The Villager once again mistakes politics for morality

It's discouraging to see a newspaper preach ungrounded judgments of right and wrong ("Pagan was right that Tompkins Square Park shouldn’t have been a “Tent City.” ... putting a park off limits to families with children and to seniors, among others, was unacceptable and untenable.")

Political office holders do sometimes base their decisions on perceived principles of human "rights" -- life, liberty, protective shelter, access to health care, a pretty park for sun-bathers and strollers -- but more commonly they represent specific constituent interests.

The interests represented in the eviction of the homeless from the park are too obvious to require mention. Obvious too, the homeless were no one's voting constituency.

The reason the 'homeless' were evicted from their often elaborate park homes and shelters -- "tents," as the Villager calls them -- is that political office holders, Pagan included, acted on behalf of the interests of a particular constituency, not on what is "right."

The questions of "right" emerge only in the definition of "park" and "park use" or in consideration of the greatest good for the greatest number. But the answers to these questions also reduce to specific constituency interests, not to "right." By what measures are conflicting goods and interests compared? Whose interests define the best use of any public space?

The homeless chose Tompkins Square Park, not because it was the only open space available. There were whole blocks of empty abandoned space immediately to the east where no one would have bothered them.

They chose TSP because they, like all true New Yorkers, all possessed in their bones by the metropolitan spirit, hankered to be at the heart of things.

More desperate than their need for shelter itself, they desperately needed to be in a somewhere, not a nowhere. And, like authentic East Villagers, they recognized Tompkins Square Park as itself possessed by the spirit of marginality, irreverence and rebellion. They knew they belonged there, and they did belong there, not by right but by the spirit of the place.

Throughout New York, local gentrification is marked by renovation of the local park in preparation for strollers, dog-walkers and sun-bathers. Marcus Garvey Park will be getting the treatment in the wake of Harlem's recent rezoning.

The interests of strollers, dogs, and sun-bathers were well served by the eviction of the homeless from TSP and the park curfew. Tompkins Square Park, really the entire neighborhood, has become their world, their idea, their playground.

The interests of the homeless in creating their own world in a park that had long welcomed them, have not been so well served.

Oh, the interests of the homeless may have seemed extreme -- a park all to themselves! But there is nothing definitionally wrong with "extreme." Abstract Expressionism was extreme. Ginsberg was extreme. Emma Goldman was seriously extreme. Bebop, extreme. Graffiti art, extreme. Punk rock, extreme. The whole damned neighborhood east of A was extreme.

All that neighborhood extremity, in both senses of the word, was good and bad. To those of us, like the homeless, who chose to be here, it was good.

Extremely good.

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