I don’t usually like to make the protesters – the ones that haunt the Sunnyside Yards and BQX streetcar planning meetings – the whole story. But last night they didn’t just create a scene, they really disrupted, true to the word, the city’s BQX outreach meeting in Long Island City.
The drama was similar to that which happened at the Sunnyside Yards master plan meeting six months ago, when Queens protesters stood on a table, and created a people’s mic-style forum of sorts, in the middle of the gallery space where info-boards were set-up on easels. At that time, Queens Neighborhoods United dubbed the action a “#SSYshutdown.” But at that meeting, the city planners were still able to hold a separate community meeting in a room down the hall. When the protesters finally tried to get into the meeting, the door was blocked, leaving them to chant in the hall. But not this time.
This time, the activists employed the same strategy at the CUNY School of Law. They said, as before, that the EDC was not listening to them, so they formed a people’s town hall. Shortly into that, a community visioning session began in a room around the corner. I decided to dip and attend the session. There were four tables, each staffed with people from EDC and the Department of Transportation. It took a while for all four tables to fill with people, which happened very unevenly. It seemed that everyone at my table except EDC, DOT and me was under 30, and everyone was wearing glasses except for a couple from Greenpoint. It also seemed that I was the only person who could claim to live in LIC. (Background: this was one of a string of BQX outreach meetings in several neighborhoods along the route.) One person was from Astoria. People were asking technical questions about things like streetcar size and capacity. One person from Corona shot rounds of criticism towards the streetcar, which she said she had no use for.
After the session ended, I went back to the gallery where the town hall was still ongoing. The leader of the town hall, an organizer from the Justice For All Coalition, said, “Clearly they’re continuing to ignore what we’re saying,” and led the troops into the room where the second round of community visioning was to happen, or not happen. As the discussions at the four tables were commencing, the protesters lined one wall of the room, and chanted, forever. The sessions dissolved, and the people at the tables left, as the EDC and DOT staffers just sat listening.
Afterwards I asked some of the lead activists why this particular meeting had such a large turnout of protesters. (I’d been at the meetings in Astoria and Downtown Brooklyn, and those were not turned upside down. I hadn’t heard any similar stories for the other workshops.) The organizers told me, confirming what I suspected, that it helped that this was hosted inside a CUNY campus. A lot of the protesters were students, I was told (it was also confirmed by a big cheer when students were given a shoutout during a post-protest celebration in the gallery.) I was also told it might have helped that this was the last of the EDC’s outreach workshops. Someone from Friends of the BQX told me the streetcar advocacy group is planning some spring events.