Posts Tagged ‘new york’

After Oligarchy: New York City’s Mayoral Race

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013

A photo op-ed by Andrew Lichtenstein

It’s easy to be cynical about real estate interests and Wall Street’s political influence, but I found myself amazed and amused covering the process of vote chasing. Democracy feels alive and well in the act of campaigning.

The candidates travel all the world through the five boroughs of New York City, traversing Sikh temples, black churches, and Chinese restaurants.

The fundamental contradiction of democracy vs. money is the contradiction of the metropolis itself. We’re a vigorous growing city in a time of larger economic malaise. Racial tensions are higher because of the NYPD’s stop and frisk tactics, but the city is safer. There’s more accountability in education and yet it’s one giant test score. Perhaps, it has never been harder to make ends meet across the great divide of inequality.

I feel nostalgia for the city that was rougher on the edges, less safe, less clean, but more human, more spiritual, more engaged. Mayor Bloomberg, despite his strengths and weaknesses, has no sense of what it’s like to live on a salary, pay rent, keep sanity in a vibrant New York. The city is ready for change.

Covering this race, I saw that New Yorkers are seeking a more direct connection and a more sympathetic person in a candidate, regardless of where they fall on political issues. That may have been one reason for Anthony Weiner’s success before he was torpedoed again by scandal: he got out there and spoke his mind.

So New York City is facing the same issues as the rest of the country, but in a concentrated and exaggerated sense because we are forced to share precious space. It is one of the few American cities not based on the automobile. Shared public space is our great blessing.

PHOTOGRAPHS and TEXT by Andrew Lichtenstein /

A Living Wage

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

Brooklyn, New York
December 7, 2012

The industrial unions of prewar America that built the middle class in this country are no more. Today, organized labor can no longer claim to be a decisive political or economic power. Representing barely ten percent of the national work force, and besieged at once by multi-national corporations and conservative politicians, the unions are shells of their former selves. With the closing of the factories, and so many manufacturing jobs shipped overseas, yesterday’s industrial unions now cling to pension rights for their retirees rather than recruit new members.

In the modern service economy of post-industrial America, low wages and transient jobs have replaced skilled labor. These jobs are often performed by new immigrants who face many of the same bleak conditions that brought about the birth of the old unions. Paid a minimum wage that they can barely survive on, these newly arrived immigrants, many of them undocumented from Mexico or Central and Latin America, can be fired at will. All too often, the people who serve America face a dead-end: they have few rights in the workplace, and little, if any, chance to work their way up the social ladder into the middle class.

New York, New York May 17, 2012 Car wash workers at LMC Car Wash in East Harlem try on new union shirts for the first time after their shift has just ended.

As a photographer, I’m always looking for ways to document these historical changes. Not long ago, I learned that the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) was beginning a campaign to organize the men and women who work in carwashes across New York City.  Anyone who has ever taken their car to be cleaned at one of these shops can understand why the workers are ripe for exploitation. Many do not speak English; they do not have to interact with customers. They get paid a sub-minimum wage, and must rely on tips. Each day they are exposed to industrial-strength cleaning agents. And when it rains, they are sent home–without pay. As a place to begin to document a union’s attempt to organize the new service economy, New York City’s car washes, hidden below the entrance and exit ramps of the city’s outer-borough expressways, seemed a good place to start.

New York, New York May 17, 2012 Car wash workers watch a union rally held on the street outside LMC car wash in East Harlem. After their shift ended, several workers joined the rally.

Earlier this fall, I followed Chio Valerio, a union organizer working for New York Communities for Change, an activist organization that helps unions organize minimum wage workers across the city, as she visited carwash workers in Brooklyn and the Bronx.  A recent transplant from Chicago, Chio, 27, is one of those people who live to work.  Believing deeply in the rights of workers, Chio has little time for anything but organizing.  She constantly travels on the subways to the end of the lines, from the Tremont section of the Bronx to Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, or wherever carwash workers have expressed interest in joining a union.

Usually Chio is buried in her cell phone, sending and receiving texts, except when she meets with the workers. Her office is a pizza restaurant nearby, or the closest White Castle or Dunkin Donuts. Then, no matter the venue, she comes alive, arguing, negotiating, cajoling in rapid-fire Spanish, as a half dozen young men huddle around her at a back table. There are work rivalries to settle, disputes over tip money and the scheduling of the all-important number of shift hours, testimonies of illegal threats from managers and owners to notarize, and a careful tally of how many workers can be counted on to support a bid for a union and how many will not.

Bronx, New York October 4, 2012 Webster Car Wash workers attend a union meeting in a local Bronx storefront church basement a week before their car wash union election.

Recently several workers at the Sunny Day Car Wash on Lincoln Avenue in the South Bronx read a newspaper story about a union election at another carwash, and inspired, organized themselves. They were immediately fired. Chio quickly joined them on a narrow picket line next to the concrete entrance ramp to the Third Avenue Bridge.   Standing a few feet away from their co-workers who decided to stay on the job, the small band of workers held up signs demanding better pay and urging passing drivers to get their cars cleaned elsewhere. Some cars honked in support, while others, about to enter the car wash, took a union flyer and backed up and turned around. But many kept their windows tightly shut, and entered the car wash. “Shame on you” Chio screamed at each driver. “You’d think in New York they would know better”.

In the history of American labor, the struggle of these workers is as old as the nation itself. These new New Yorkers fight for a decent living wage and working conditions just as the Irish and Italians and Poles and Russians and African Americans did before them. They have inherited a tradition from those who organized the great industrial unions of the automobile and steel factories and coal mines before them. Frequently fired for even mentioning a union, with scant resources to fall back on, many car wash workers can claim one thing that other Americans seem to have lost in their slow ascent into the middle class: a will to fight. Perhaps it is because they have so little to lose.

PHOTOGRAPHS + TEXT by Andrew Lichtenstein
Editors: Anthony Suau, Photo ; Andrew Meier, Text

Memorial Day 2012

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

More than one spectator, fond of this old industrial city which has had its trials the past three decades, said “this is the best parade we’ve had here in 20 years.” The turnout was solid, from high school marching bands to fire departments, police, civic and religious organizations; all of it led by a band of pipers whose soulful music careened off the century old homes on West Street.

David Burnett

Newburgh is a town which has had its challenges, as the once proud city of industry has fallen victim to a loss of the economic base, and at the same time, seen a rise in unemployment and crime. It is a city in motion, with an increasing Latino population living alongside long-time African-American and white communities.

But Monday’s Memorial Day parade seemed for a time to give all these groups a chance to mix, mingle, and salute an Armed Forces which in many ways reflects the diversity of the city. Since World War I, some 800 men from Newburgh have given their lives in battle. As if by magic, small American flags appeared on the sidewalks of Broadway — the widest street in New York State. It’s an avenue, once full of charm and elegance which has seen the kind of decay that has chastened so many inner cities.

David Burnett

Yet today, those small flags were in the hands of everyone who calls Newburgh home. And with the beginning of a hoped-for renewal of the city, there were no groups apart. Everyone waved and cheered as if they were at the Macy Thanksgiving Parade in a crowd of a million revelers. The smiles were as broad as Broadway itself. The flags waved wildly, and young people by the dozen made videos of the excitement with their mobile phones.

The cheers went up as the marchers passed by, and at the end, as those voices now fall silent with the dwindling crowds headed home, a small feeling of community was once again given a chance to grow. To flourish. To sustain itself.

TEXT and PHOTOGRAPHS by David Burnett /

Occupy May Day 2012

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

Facing Change photographers document May Day Occupy rallies and marches in New York, Washington DC, Chicago, and Oakland as tens of thousands of people took to the streets amidst heavy police presence:

Occupy Wall Street activists staged a May Day Rally calling for a general strike in memory of the history of May 1st as a day dedicated to workers’ rights. Photograph by Andrew Lichtenstein /

Oakland, California

There were many different agendas coalescing together for the May Day protests in Oakland: Immigrants’ rights activists, labor marking the historic holiday, and the Occupy movement seeking to rejuvenate itself.

A large peaceful crowd marched through most of Oakland, but small groups of anarchists engaged in petty vandalism, spraying paint on bank windows and confronting the police, who responded with tear gas. Media attention focused on these incidents, detracting from the real issues.

The longshoremen shut down the port for a day. The nurses are on strike. Those facts were overshadowed by tear gas and street theater.

–Andrew Lichtenstein

About 75 Occupy Chicago protesters held sit-ins outside at two Bank of America branches. Photographs by Carlos Javier Ortiz /

Chicago, Illinois

On a rainy, sweater-wearing day, about a thousand people gathered in Union Park and the two miles to downtown. It was a holiday atmosphere, culminating in a sit-in of activists at Bank Of America branches.

Immigrant rights advocates chanted in Spanish: “Hey Obama! Escucha estamos en la lucha!” (Hey Obama! Listen, we’re in the fight! – “we” meaning the Latino immigrant community and its significant votes.)

Chicago is hosting a NATO summit later this month, and more protests are expected with President Obama and world leaders present.

–Carlos Javier Ortiz

Occupy DC protesters at Malcolm X Park (Officially known as Meridian Hill Park) for a day of music, games, and speeches. Photograph by Lucian Perkins /

Washington D.C.

A small group of several hundred demonstrators met at Malcolm X Park, two and a half miles from the White House, and festively walked through neighborhoods. In the park, there were guitars and games, including “Corporate Pin-the-Donkey” in which a blindfolded protester pins a board with stickers of companies.

It was a low-key day, and the protest reached the White House at 6:30 in the evening. Along the way, curious bystanders took photographs and some shouted their support.

–Lucian Perkins

Between Broome and Spring Streets, Lower Manhattan. Photograph by Alan Chin /

New York, New York

Drizzling rain in the morning threatened to dampen the turnout in New York City, but the sun came out by the early afternoon and 20,000 people marched from Union Square to Wall Street in one of the larger protests nationwide.

Demonstrators gathered at Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan, and staged protests at the Bank of America, Time Warner, Fox, and hedge fund companies. Another group crossed the Williamsburg Bridge from Brooklyn, and were joined by a hundred Black Bloc anarchists. They carried a large “Fuck the Police” banner, and clashed with the NYPD on Houston Street, several were arrested. The police covered one bloodied protester’s head and face with a sweatshirt in an apparent attempt to prevent him being photographed in this condition. Some photographers were harassed by protesters as well as the police, as tensions rose on all sides.

Nonetheless, the predominant feeling, as elsewhere, was celebratory rather than confrontational. The crowd danced in Union Square as musicians performed onstage. Protesters wore costumes and colorful banners. The parade down Broadway was orderly, high-spirited, and stretched for a mile.

The Occupy movement may struggle to define itself in an enduring way after unexpected early success and police repression, but it quietly proved on May Day that peaceful protest can be determined and widespread in the face of violent incidents and short attention-spans.

–Alan Chin and Anthony Suau


There have been at least 7,106 documented arrests in 114 U.S. cities as of May 1, 2012 since Sept 17 2011. On May 1st :

Occupy City

No. of Arrests


5/1/2012 Seattle 8 Violence, arrests at Seattle May Day protests Link
Portland 12 Arrests in early Portland May Day protest Link
Oakland 25 25 arrests in Oakland May Day protests Link
Miami 3 Occupy Miami protesters march; three arrested Link
New York 30 In New York, a final May Day march ends at Wall Street Link
Philadelphia 2 2 Arrested in Occupy Protests Link
Los Angeles 13 At least 13 arrested in L.A. May Day protests Link
Albany 23 Arrests mark Occupy’s return Link

The New Americans

Friday, January 14th, 2011

While the nation continues to focus on illegal immigration as a controversial political issue, every Friday in New York City alone, approximately five hundred citizens from around the world officially become Americans after taking an oath at a brief ceremony run by the Department of Homeland Security. These naturalization ceremonies are conducted in a government office room at 26 Federal Plaza in downtown Manhattan. At one recent event, photographed here, people from Albania, Antigua-Barbuda, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belize, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, The People’s Republic of China, Colombia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Ethiopia, France, The Republic of the Gambia, Germany, Ghana, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, India, Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Kosovo, Liberia, Mali, Mexico, New Zealand, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Russia, Sierra Leone, St. Kitts-Nevis, Togo, Trinidad & Tobago, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Vietnam, and Yemen became Americans.

PHOTOGRAPHS by Andrew Lichtenstein /

December 2010 – January 2011