CITY UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK / LABORARTS
MAKING WORK VISIBLE
2013 CONTEST
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2013 Contest Winners

2013 Essay Contest Winners

A toast to the twelve young authors and eight young artists who earned awards for their poetry, essays and art this year. Their work inspires us all. It displays imagination, thoughtfulness, and an ability to make links between individual lived experience and larger social issues.


The “Making Work Visible” contest has evolved a bit each year. The new addition in this, its fourth year, is the category of visual art. CUNY undergraduate student writers and artists both draw upon history, upon close observation of the city around them, and upon the wealth of first hand experiences they bring to their efforts.


The range is impressive. Jardley Jean-Louis’ painting of a Certified Nurse Aide takes you inside, to the lives of patient and aide. Jessica Guerra analyzes the process of gentrification in Williamsburg from an economist’s and a sociologist’s perspective—and intersperses vivid stories from a family who has lived through it. “Bubby’s Blood” is the story of Ariella Michal Medows’ grandmother—whose past, and spirit, are somehow in Ariella’s blood. Finally—two lines from Jess Williard’s poem:

Let me state this as simply as possible:
There was a girl whose hands cupped to her hips when she walked
like they were holding liquid secrets.

But what I haven’t forgotten about is how,
in the dim light of motel room lamps,
what was interesting to her were the calluses on my hands.

Read them all—you will be moved, surprised, impressed.

We sincerely hope that these young authors and artists continue on with their work—their voices demand to be heard.


Photographs of students and from awards ceremony are by Gary Schoichet.


Jessica Guerra

First Prize, Essays
Jessica Guerra  Advertising & Design, NYC College of Technology

The Williamsburg Renaissance

Willamsburg, Brooklyn, photograph by Stephen Chernin, adapted by Jessica Guerra

The year is 1990. A newlywed couple has just moved in to the railroad style 1-bedroom apartment across the hall. They’ll like it here—the street is quiet, the building is clean. Your morning stroll down the block brings you to the corner of Roebling and North 7th Streets. But don’t turn on North 7th just yet. Look down Roebling. See the factories? They’re perfectly lined up on the left side, on the right side… all the way down to McCarren Park, to those large, looming trees in the distance. Pretty soon they’ll be turning yellow, orange, red, then the colors will fall, spread themselves over the grassy patches and bumpy asphalt leaving the naked branches to prepare for the heavy snowfall ahead. Smell the bread baking? It’s that factory right there. Now turn on North 7th. Walk past the three-story walkups. Greet the old man sitting on his stoop and his granddaughter riding her tricycle. Tell her how fast she’s growing up, as if that matters to a two-year old. Walk briskly past the L train. Turn left on Bedford Avenue and head over to Pedro’s Grocery Store. Go in, ask him how his wife is, buy a gallon of milk, some eggs… wish him a good day. Walk home perfunctorily—almost without looking, you cross the streets. Think about introducing yourself to the new neighbors. They seem nice.

Williamsburg in the 1990’s was simply that, an industrial and residential area whose inhabitants were mostly of European and Hispanic descent. Affordable housing was in abundance and, although the apartments were small, the rent never surpassed $500 a month. The couple you read about are my parents. That railroad style apartment was their first place together after the honeymoon, and the place they would call home for the next eighteen years. Their ’83 Buick Regal was parked in front of the narrow building; plenty of space available down the block and across the street as well. Little did they know that in just a few years, parking would become almost impossible to find.

Condos Cutting Corners

Fifteen years later, the couple has two daughters, one ten, the other twelve months old. You hear the baby crying in the distance. Must be hungry. See the sunlight coming in through the fire escape window and decide to go jogging in McCarren Park. Go down two flights, through the two metal doors, down the steps. Walk past the bread factory and stop for a while. Hear a bulldozer in the distance, look toward the construction workers across the street, the bright blue scaffolding on the next block, the new traffic light at the corner. You know, that’s one of the last factories left. They’ve been replaced with tall buildings. Condos, they call them. Spanning Kent Avenue from North 5th to North 10th, the brand new luxury condominiums hover $1 million. The apartments start at $2,400 a month. You only paid $485 a month when you first moved in! The biggest of the waterfront complexes is called EDGE. You’ve heard some of the apartments are designated for lower income residents. The family across from you has already applied—maybe you will too.

What sparked all the change? Developers noticed the proximity of Williamsburg to Manhattan. The L and J trains, which span the North and Southside neighborhoods, Bedford-Stuyvesant, and Bushwick areas, provide easy access to Manhattan, making the area attractive to those residents. By constructing luxury housing, Manhattan residents looking to spend less for equal luxury and still be close to work are instantly driven to Williamsburg. But it is not a coincidence that a bunch of developers suddenly noticed Williamsburg’s potential. This is something the city had been planning for years. Expecting the population of Manhattan residents to increase, they had to prepare for the overflow of New Yorkers into the surrounding neighborhoods. Williamsburg, of course, was the chosen one. So developers not only buy factories, but three- and four-story buildings as well, paying sky-high prices to landlords and tenants so as to have the buildings vacant. Why? To demolish them, of course, replacing them with luxury apartments, co-ops, and condominiums. And the factories not worth tearing down are turned into lofts. These new developments are strictly designed for the incoming Manhattanites. They are mostly from the East Village, single women and single men—artists, they call themselves. Some are couples looking to start a family, yes, but that’s what the very few 2-bedroom condos are for. However, EDGE is not the only new development. In recent months, high-rise buildings such as the Northside Piers, 80 Met, 568 Union, 88 South 1st, and 29 Montrose Avenue have seemingly popped up. And most recently, the Domino Sugar factory project was resurrected, an eleven-acre property bought by the Walentas real estate family for $185 million. The plan is to create 2,200 apartments, 70% being what we call “luxury” (Bagli).

Booming Businesses, Not Bodegas

The year is 2008. You cross Metropolitan Avenue looking both ways and subconsciously realize this is the boundary between the North and Southside neighborhoods. It seems as though Southside residents have somehow managed to keep their Hispanic culture alive. Maybe this condo thing hasn’t hit them yet. But keep your eyes peeled. Remember that beverage distributor across the street from Kellogg’s Diner? It says Sunac Natural Food. Nice building, big glass windows. Go in. Grab a cookie. Gluten-free, sugar-free, dairy-free, and fat-free. Price? Two dollars. Without so many ingredients, shouldn’t it cost less? Leave the cookie on the shelf, walk out slowly. Take Havemeyer Street. Certainly C-Town hasn’t changed. Wrong. Notice the new floors, bright lighting, and wide aisles? Pick up a jar of peanut butter. Organic, it says. Pick up another. Organic again. Desperately look on the top shelves, bottom shelves. Isn’t there any Jif? Oh, look. Skippy. Turn the jar over. $5.99. Almost drop it. Look behind you to see if anyone noticed. Put it back on the shelf carefully. Leave the store looking confused. Decide to pay a quick visit to Pedro’s Grocery Store. Stand on the corner of North 8th and Bedford Avenue and look up. Where’s the bodega? Quick, pretend you’ve lost your way from the train station, blend in with the crowd. Make your way back to Roebling Street without tripping over all the bikes parked on the curb. Wonder why Hub’s Pub is where Pedro’s Grocery Store used to be. Almost walk into a woman walking her three Labrador Retrievers on a leash. Jump when they all bark at you, blush at the woman’s laughter. Find the family across from you bringing boxes down the steps. Ask them if they need help and put the boxes in the trunk of their Toyota Sienna. After wishing them the best, go up the stoop, but turn around to watch them leave. Catch the landlord crying. Jog up the stairs fighting back tears, put the key in your lock with a heaviness on your shoulders. Look across the hallway and notice the empty apartment. Let the tears roll down.

After developers provide new housing and entrepreneurs establish their organic stores and “cute” little pubs in Williamsburg, residents are no longer oblivious to the change. In fact, many residents feel fear and helplessness. Who is going to be shopping in these places anyway? Cue the hipsters! An article from the Village Voice, popular among Northside residents, references a British newspaper that calls Williamsburg “the national capital for young hipsters” and depicts these new residents as having “beards, piercings, lots of tattoos, and belong[ing] to at least one band” (Coscarelli). A simple stroll down Berry Street and North 6th would provide sufficient evidence. But these hipsters, as they are called, have slowly made their way into the Southside as well, specifically Grand Street, converting a small food distributor into an expensive T-shirt shop, a DVD rental store into a candlelit café, and causing Key Food to be completely unaffordable for most residents of the area. An article published last year in the Daily News, very popular among Southside residents, spoke out for those who feel their neighborhood has been taken over. It starts off with “Hey hipsters, keep your skinny jeans out of my Southside Williamsburg neighborhood.” The article goes on to interview many residents who share the same fear of being evicted from their own neighborhood. One man sums it up pretty well: “You wake up one morning and you see the corner bodega is now replaced by a fancy café or restaurant and you see your neighbors being pushed out because they can no longer afford the rent… You begin to wonder ‘Am I next?’” Another gentleman who was interviewed grew up in the neighborhood years ago and remembers nostalgically a bodega that used to be on South 4th and Driggs Avenue. Today a small cardboard sign hangs behind the window with “Pies N Thighs” written in black marker (Morales, Nelson).

From the Outside Looking In

The family who moved out of the small apartment on Roebling Street four years ago is my family. By the time we moved out, rent was under $800, but the new tenants in the building were paying way over $1,000 a month. Fortunately, that wasn’t a problem for them. Of course we would miss the area: the proximity of the L train (not that you could find your way to the train station anymore&emdash;bike racks and long lines for dollar pizza blurred it from view), the Mexican bodega that we always bought fresh tortillas from (not that it would be there much longer—the sign on the window said “For Sale”), the convenient laundromat on Driggs Avenue and North 6th, Northside Pharmacy on Bedford Avenue, the Deli Mart a few blocks down, Vinnie’s Pizzeria, and Brothers Cleaners… but who knows how long they’d be there for. And our landlord did cry. She begged us to stay, but finally settled for a nice dinner sometime in the upcoming months. We hopped in the minivan on our way to Maspeth, Queens. It’s not that we hadn’t tried to apply for those nice apartments on the Northside. We did. Even in Bushwick there were new developments. But it was always a matter of waiting. And frankly, we could not wait any longer. The people from EDGE finally replied, but it was too late. We were already enjoying our new apartment.

Although I live in Maspeth, my grandma still lives in the Southside and my sister goes to school across the street from her house. I have seen more and more of these hipsters going in and out the brick six-story buildings that neatly line up her block and their new businesses on Grand Street where I wait for the bus. But, most importantly, I have taken note of the new elementary school that is gradually replacing the one my sister attends. It is the same school I went to: P.S. 19 Roberto Clemente. Back when my parents first moved in together, there were over 1,000 students in the school. Now there are only about 300. After continuous poor performance, the Department of Education decided to phase out the school, leaving only grades 3 - 5. This year they introduced P.S. 414 Brooklyn Arbor, where all the kids wear green shirts and khakis, and the entire faculty is Caucasian, with the exception of one paraprofessional who is African-American. P.S. 19, on the other hand, had a vastly diverse group of teachers, and good ones at that. Sadly, the Department of Education waited until it was too late to fire the person responsible for the school’s downfall: the principal. Believe it or not, this has all been part of the plan. A church on Union Avenue and Stagg Street, for example, has recently been demolished to make room for a new luxury building and, surely, the people who will move in, along with all the new residents on Keap Street, will have children of their own looking for a “good” school to enroll their kids in. P.S. 19 Roberto Clemente brings an air of Hispanic pride, what the Southside used to be about, while P.S. 414 Brooklyn Arbor has a more modern, eco-friendly feel to it. Appealing to whom? To those hip, young, fresh-from-the East River newcomers who have already infiltrated all of Williamsburg.

It’s almost funny, actually. These new residents walk around with 100% recycled bags, shirts that promote saving the environment, and loads of groceries from their favorite organic, natural, and health food shops. Yet, if you stop by McCarren Park any weekend in July, you’ll find yourself face to face with 6,500 men and women scurrying about the streets looking for the park’s entrance, anxious to see a not-so-famous band blast their acoustics across the East River, leaving trails of trash behind them like an evil Hansel and Gretel. An article in the New York Times looked at these summer concerts through the eyes of a long-time resident in the area: “the rivers of trash strewn along the street and on her stoop, the thunderous noise, [and] the drunken revelers using the street as a toilet” (Leland). To make my point simple: How could a group of people so determined to “save the Earth” (think 1960’s hippies with a more snobbish flair), be so inconsiderate to litter the sidewalks, relieve their necessities in the street, and walk around the residential areas of Williamsburg late at night completely intoxicated?

Calling It Gentrification

Instead of working to provide lower-class residents with better structures, lighting, green areas, and security, the city has simply pushed them to poorer areas, conglomerating already overpopulated neighborhoods like East New York, Brooklyn and Ridgewood, Queens. It’s almost as if they are undignified to live in neighborhoods near the city, as if Manhattan residents coming in might feel uncomfortable with them around. This is not the case. In fact, if anything, it’s the other way around. It’s not that Williamsburg residents are intolerant to these vibrant young artists, but to kick residents out by making them feel unwanted with the intention of making the area entirely upper-class is simply unacceptable. This type of gentrification is not about a mere displacement. It’s about rebirthing Williamsburg, a renaissance if you will, transforming the environment into one that ostracizes the very people who gave birth to it in the first place, who worked tirelessly in the factories, who took care of their neighbors, who opened up delis and pizzerias and bakeries, and planted those beautiful trees that line Roebling Street.

Maybe we should’ve seen it coming. Maybe that summer night my next door neighbor’s daughter and I bought ice cream while watching the fireworks on North 6th we didn’t realize those beautiful views of the Manhattan skyline would one day be blocked by high-rises and organic cleaners. Maybe while walking from the train station to my grandma’s house one afternoon I should have noticed the new sketchy-looking pub on Broadway and Hooper Street and realized it was the first of many. Maybe. But I didn’t. And now it’s too late. Let’s just hope I can still find my way around Keap Street and Borinquen Place—so long as my favorite Caribbean food isn’t replaced by another Duane Reade.

    WORKS CITED

  • Bagli, Charles V. “Developer to Revive a Project in Brooklyn.” New York Times. 21 June 2012. Web.
  • Coscarelli, Joe. “Williamsburg, Brooklyn Is the ‘New Front Line’ of Gentrification.” Village Voice. 12 Dec. 2010. Web.
  • Leland, John. “In Williamsburg, Rocked Hard.” New York Times. 28 May 2011. Web.
  • Nelson, Katie, and Mark Morales. “Brooklyn Gentrification Meets Resistance from Longtime Latino Residents in South Williamsburg.” Daily News. 16 Sept. 2011. Web.

Second Prize, Essays
Terri Sirma  Graphic Design, Queens College

Shackled Freedom

Poster from the Bread and Roses series; painting by Milton Glaser, 1980

It is often said that America is a melting pot and that New York is the most diverse state. Since the post-civil rights days, people have noted that there has been a significant drop in racism and discrimination and it is widely assumed that it has all together disappeared in the work force. In Devah Pager and Bruce Western’s article “Race at Work” they note that according to a recent Gallup poll, more than three quarters of the general public believe that blacks are treated the same as whites in society. Although New York is strikingly diverse, people should not confuse diversity for integration. It might not be as outright as it was in the past but there is still a lot of segregation and discrimination based on race in the labor force.

Tarry Hum’s article “Persistent Polarization in the New York Workforce: New Findings of Labor Market Segmentation” quotes the December 2010 Community Service Society Policy Brief titled, “Unemployment In New York City during the Recession and Early Recovery” stating that, “young Black men aged 16–24 have endured exceptionally high unemployment rates, exacerbating an alarming level of detachment from the formal labor market.” Although the recession caused numerous challenges for economic development for everyone, this statement indicates that Black men were hit significantly harder. The “Race at Work” article supports this by showing that if given a choice of hiring a Black, Latino or White man, the White man wins every time followed by the Latino. And even if the Black or Latino man is chosen, he is often offered a lower position undoubtedly with a lower pay. This might be a good explanation for the exceptionally high rate of unemployed among young Black men in New York and the low per capita income for Black and Latinos.

There are five main private sector industries in New York, namely professional or financial services, retail, medical services, and entertainment which collectively employ 64% of New York City’s private sector work force. Those who work in the professional or financial services—positions which are mostly held by Non-White Hispanics—have incomes that exceed the city-wide average while those in, retail, medical services, and entertainment—positions mostly held by people of color—have earnings that range from $28,000 to $39,000 which is well below the city-wide average. The numbers show just how dire the situation is, approximately 48% employed in professional and 51% employed in financial services are Non-Hispanic whites, this means they take up the majority of the well paying jobs while the lower wage jobs are left for the other races. This phenomenon can be explained by what the “Race at Work” article calls ‘channeling’. Downward channeling occurs in three forms, the first may involve being moved from a job involving contact with customers to a job without contact, the second form may involve a move from a white collar position to a manual job and the final is a move where hierarchy is obvious, for example, from a manager to a server. In the tests carried out, the testers were given similar credentials and were applying for similar jobs, it turned out that more Black applicants were channeled down, Hispanics were also channeled down but not as much as their Black counterparts and neither were ever channeled up. In comparison, their White counterparts were channeled down only when they showed a criminal record, and in at least five cases, they were channeled up and were even encouraged to apply for better/higher positions. This might explain why Blacks and Latinos have a lower per capita income as they are always offered lower paying positions. Although Blacks and Latinos have a difficult time finding employment, the situation has become increasingly dire with the rise of Blacks and Latinos with criminal records. This rise has further impeded the chances of young Black and Latino men in their pursuit of employment as the implementation of policies such as the stop and frisk has led to the sharp rise of their arrest and criminalization.

The stop and frisk policy has been in effect in America since 1968 when the United States Supreme court ruled the Terry vs. Ohio case, giving officers the right to search and seize individuals based on reasonable suspicion as opposed to probable cause. In the mid-1990s when Rudolph Giuliani became the New York City mayor with William Bratton as his police commissioner, they emphasized the incorporation of the stop and frisk policy by the New York Police Department as one of their key strategies in the fight against rising crime, and so began the widespread use of Stop and frisk on New York streets. This law was supposedly passed to protect police officers from potential danger and aid them in preventing crime by giving them the right to stop anyone on the street and proceed to frisk them primarily based on the suspicion of criminal activity or suspicious behavior exhibited by the individual. Stop and frisk gave police officers the flexibility to determine what constituted suspicious behavior and in effect who would be stopped and frisked and who would not. This flexibility created controversy as people from certain ethnic groups claimed to be singled out and disproportionately targeted by the police officers who could stop and frisk them at any time for no apparent reason.

In theory, the stop and frisk policy sounds quite effective; well trained police officers would patrol the streets, stop any and all reasonably suspicious individuals, proceed to question them and if the answers given are not satisfactory, detain the individuals or if prompted by additional suspicion that they may possess a weapon or other paraphernalia frisk them. Although this was the main idea, the numbers and statistics tell us other wise. The policy, although controversial to begin with has been further criticized because it has been used to target minority groups and criminalize their activities and neighborhoods. In Jeffrey Fagan and Garth Davies article titled “Street Stops and Broken Windows: Terry, Race, and Disorder in New York City” in Fordham Urban Law Journal, they state:

When it comes to debating theories of crime and law, some people pretend that race does not matter at all, while others accord it undue, if not determinative, significance. Unfortunately, recent events in policing seem to tip the balance of reality toward the latter view. There is now strong empirical evidence that individuals of color are more likely than white Americans to be stopped, questioned, searched, and arrested by police. This occurs in part because of their race, in part because of heightened law enforcement intensity in minority communities, in part because of the temptation among law enforcement officers to simply ‘play the base rates’ by stopping minority suspects because minorities commit more crimes, and in part because of the tacit approval of these practices given by their superiors” (458).

This statement indicates that the police officers not only target black or minority youths, but go to the extent of placing a high number of patrols in the areas where these youths reside and in turn ensure they are able to monitor their every activity and increase the chances of encounter between the police and residents.

The high policing in poor neighborhoods that are mostly inhabited by minority groups including African Americans and Hispanics have led to a drastic rise in minority youth who are stopped and frisked. The police presence and their hostility towards the residents has created tension within these communities as they try and avoid any contact with the police who have the power to forcibly stop and frisk them. In his article “Factors for Reasonable Suspicion: When Black and Poor Means Stopped and Frisked” Professor David A. Harris of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law formulates the term “location plus evasion” and explains it as a tool used by the justice system to criminalize minority activities. He explains that as the tension between the minority groups and police rise in their neighborhoods, the residents in the area make a conscious effort to avoid the police and this in turn give the police reasonable suspicion to suspect the individuals as they are behaving reasonably suspicious by attempting to avoid the police. He writes:

Police use Terry stops often in crime-prone areas, making people in these areas recurrent targets. When residents react by attempting to avoid the police, ‘location plus evasion’ cases supply a ready-made basis for more Terry stops. This begins and perpetuates a cycle of mistrust and suspicion, a feeling that law enforcement harasses African Americans and Hispanic Americans with Terry stops as a way of controlling their communities (660).

With the widespread War on Drugs and harsh mandatory sentences implemented on drugs mostly used by minority groups, the stop and frisk took on a new life as it became a gateway to prison for minority youth who were repeatedly stopped and found in possession of these drugs. In “The Real Cost of Prisons Comix” by Lois Ahrens, she documents the plight of minority groups as they are repeatedly stopped for no reason in their own neighborhoods and the growing number of African Americans and Latinos in prison is due to the War on Drugs in relation to stop and frisk. She emphasizes, “Policing targets inner cities where poor people of color do business and socialize out on the streets.” Ahrens also mentions that once caught with drugs, African Americas and other minorities are more likely to be sentenced to prison time while Whites have the option of rehabilitation as opposed to serving time; this brings to light the role of stop and frisk in building the Prison Industrial Complex. By targeting people of color and avoiding whites, the chances of finding people of color in possession of weapons and drugs increases and that of whites decreases even though that might not be the case. This phenomenon leads to more people of color being arrested and imprisoned in comparison to whites and hence the stark difference of the people of color in prison as compared to that of whites. In research done on the NYPD stop and frisk data for 1998 by Columbia University and documented in another one of Harries’ article titled “Stop and Frisk Practices in the US: Where Are We Now?” Harris writes:

The researchers’ report, released by the Attorney General in December of 1999, revealed that both blacks and Latinos in New York were “overstopped” relative to their presence in the city’s population; the proportion of persons stopped and frisked who were black, was twice as large as the proportion of the city’s population that was black. Whites, on the other hand, were “understopped”; they made up 40 percent of the city’s population, but were only about 10 percent of all of those stopped and frisked (21)

These statistics indicate the racial injustice involved in the implementation of the stop and frisk policy.

Another controversial aspect of the stop and frisk is the quota system where officers are rewarded based on the number of stop and frisks they make and the number of people they find with drugs or weapons. This quota system requires officers to make a certain number of stop and frisks and the refusal to do so might prove detrimental to their advancement or position in the department. In the article titled “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander, she writes:

Federal funding flows to those agencies that increase dramatically the volume of drug arrests, not the agencies most successful in bringing down the bosses. What gets rewarded in this war is sheer numbers of drug arrests. To make matters worse, federal drug forfeiture laws allow state and local law enforcement agencies to keep for their own use 80 percent of the cash, cars and homes seized from drug suspects, thus granting law enforcement a direct monetary interest in the profitability of the drug market.

This sentiment is repeated in “The NYPD Tapes: Inside Bed Stuy’s 81st Precinct” article written by Graham Rayman where he documents conversations in recordings made of a police Sergeant threatening the officers to keep their numbers up. In one instance regarding the quotas, the Commanding Officer says, "If you don't want to work, then, you know what, just do the old go-through-the-motions and get your numbers anyway; He's taking this very seriously, looking at everyone's evaluations. And he's yelling at every CO [commanding officer] about 'Who gave this guy points?' or 'This girl's no good.'” This disregard to justice and the focus on numbers is an indication that the stop and frisk has progressed into a tool used by the NYPD for their own personal endeavors, and the groups that suffer the most for this are the poor Black and Hispanic youth who are the easiest target.

Gentrification is another factor that contributes to the segregation of poor African-Americans and people of other minorities from wealthier more affluent populations as it determines where they live and who they associate with. Gentrification is the process whereby wealthier, more affluent people choose to move into a lower income, more rundown area with the aim of renovating it; this eventually causes the poorer residents to move out due to the rising housing prices and cost of living. The influx of money from the wealthier residents who move in cause the property values in the area to rise which in turn attracts other affluent residents while poorer residents are forced to leave, this shift ultimately causes the character of the area to change. Gentrification is a phenomenon that has been reciprocated in many neighborhoods in New York and I believe the main factors that contribute to it are race, economic ability and social status. Race is a major factor as most of the poorer neighborhoods that are prime areas for gentrification are usually inhabited by poor or working class blacks, Hispanics and other nonwhite residents while the wealthier residents who move in and cause a rise in property values are middle-class and high-income whites.

The Broken Windows theory presented by George Kelling proposes that the act of fixing a broken window in a neighborhood will prevent more broken windows in that neighborhood. In essence, by addressing and stopping small crimes, bigger crimes will be prevented; this will lead to the creation and maintenance of social order. The problem with this theory is that it does not take into account the results of these actions. By fixing broken windows, removing graffiti, cleaning up a neighborhood and maintaining social order, the overall aesthetics of the neighborhood is increased. The presence of police and the improvement of housing, facilities and removal of disorderly people will cause an eventual increase of property prices and this increase will force poorer residents out as wealthier ones move in. The identity of these disorderly people who need to be removed and the actions that are deemed disorderly are controversial as disorderliness or orderliness could be based on behavior, culture or even race. Although not directly addressed in Kelling’s article, Leonard Pauline in Chapter five of her book “Articulating White Identity in Space: The West Bronx, Neighborhood Change and Riverdale” writes:

In stories about neighborhood change people of color and their social pathologies were diseases that infected a healthy white West Bronx. Within this framework, my participants consistently asserted their white identities by racializing the built environment, ultimately tying whiteness to cleanliness and neighborhood health. In this respect, blackness, black space, and black culture became disorderly, chaotic, and (un)clean.

This statement suggests that the mere fact of being black marks someone as disorderly, and by removing the black “disorderly” people, a neighborhood attains a level of cleanliness and orderliness. Gentrification is propelled by this reasoning because by removing the black people from their neighborhoods, white people perceive the neighborhood as becoming safer and begin moving in and pumping money into the neighborhood by facilitating renovations which forces the other low income black residents out.

Statistical analysis also proves that race is a major factor in gentrification. In his New York Times article titled “Striking Change in Bedford-Stuyvesant as the White Population Soars,” Sam Roberts writes, “In the past decade, the black population of Bedford dropped to 34,000 from 40,000 or to 49 percent from 69 percent. Meanwhile, the number of whites grew to more than 18,000, up from just over 2,000, or to 26 percent, up from 4 percent”. This is an indication that the increase of white residents eventually leads to the decrease of black residents; one of the main reasons for this is an increase in housing prices. Although an increase in housing prices would be beneficial to the original black residents of Bedford, most of them were poor and renters not home owners, hence they were displaced by the hike in prices. In the same article, Henry L. Butler, the chairman of Community Board 3 in Bedford-Stuyvesant is quoted saying, “You’re getting new money, new people, you get different types of services and stores, and you get more police protection. Homeowners are doing well, but if you’re a renter, those prices have gone up also and that has pushed some people into moving out.” Even though some young blacks are being attracted by the revival of business brought on by gentrification in these areas, the number of young blacks moving in cannot compete with that of those being displaced.

Richard Florida coined a socioeconomic class known as the Creative Class. This creative class is a group of young, innovative, well-educated people who aim to create ideas and innovations as opposed to products and deem themselves as being the new driving force of economic development. These groups of people receive low rates facilitated by the government to open studios and galleries with the hope of jump-starting lagging economies, by opening a studio or gallery in areas like Williamsburg, they attract people who aim to be in the creative class or just want to be associated with them. The surges of people following the creative class into these areas are usually wealthier people and their presence and settlement in the area causes a rise in property prices. The rise of property prices force residents who cannot afford the new cost of living out and people attracted by the creative class replace them. Their presence and the new money in the area also causes increased policing as there is a need to create the feeling of safety and security and in turn attract more people. This eventually changes the character of the neighborhood as fancier, hipper cafes and restaurants move in to serve the new gentrified area.

The creative class are attracted to areas with a lot of diversity and technological opportunities for advancement making New York an ideal location. The problem with this is African Americans and minority groups do not usually have the financial ability to stay in these areas or be a part of the technological boom due to their high rate of unemployment and underemployment. In his book The Creative Class, Richard Florida writes, “The Creative Class favors openness and diversity of elites, limited to highly educated, creative people” (134). He goes on to write, “U.S. blacks are under-represented in many professions, and this may be compounded today by the so-called digital divide—black families in the United Sates tend to be poorer than average, and thus their children are less likely to have access to computers” (134). So although the creative class is moving into areas like Williamsburg, which were traditionally inhabited by African Americans, they eventually push the poor blacks out and exclude them from benefiting from this new socioeconomic class as the area gentrifies.

The stop and frisk policy has in no doubt contributed to the rampant growth of the Prison Industrial Complex as well as played a part in the progression of gentrification in New York. Both processes have negatively affected Blacks and other minorities in their pursuit of employment and financial growth as the growing number of African Americans and Latinos with criminal records has increased rampantly and created a new hurdle to overcome in the race for employment. Although both stop and frisk and gentrification have had a long history in New York and are in fact still in effect today, there has been a strong resistance by groups negatively affected. Groups affected by the stop and frisk have taken it upon themselves to document the injustice they face everyday by recording their stop and frisk experience and publicizing the abuse and unfairness of law enforcement officers. These recordings have caused uproar in the community and this has caught the attention of the media and government who have been left with no choice but to address the issue. One such recording is titled “The Hunted and the Hated: An Inside Look at the NYPD's Stop-and-Frisk Policy” and was aired by VideoNation. It documents Alvin being harassed by police officers multiple times on the basis that he looks ‘suspicious’. Apart from members of the affected communities speaking out, members of law enforcement given the responsibility of conducting these stop and frisks have also began speaking up about the unfairness and injustice of the practice. Adrian Schoolcraft of the 81st Precinct in Brooklyn recorded roll calls, street encounters as well as other activities inside the police station and in an article titled “The NYPD Tapes: Inside Bed-Stuy's 81st Precinct.” In the article Graham Rayman writes, “They reveal that precinct bosses threaten street cops if they don't make their quotas of arrests and stop-and-frisks, but also tell them not to take certain robbery reports in order to manipulate crime statistics. The tapes also refer to command officers calling crime victims directly to intimidate them about their complaints.” These recordings bring to light the intentional targeting of minority groups, which is the essence of the problem with the stop and frisk policy.

Action has also been taken to try and reduce the negative effects of gentrification disproportionately experienced by minority groups. Seeing the gentrification in neighboring communities, D.J. Kool Herc of 1520 Sedgwick Avenue sought to have the building he began DJing in turned into a historic landmark, as he believes it is a significant part of American popular culture. The residents in the building who are low-income African American families agree with this suggestion and in his article “Will Gentrification Spoil the Birthplace of Hip-Hop?” David Gonzalez writes, “They want to have the building placed on the National Register of Historic Places so that it might be protected from any change that would affect its character—in this case, a building for poor and working-class families.” Such action by communities aims at keeping gentrification at bay and is a sign of the continued resistance by residents. By addressing the faults and results of unjust practices in our society, perhaps we can begin to understand and rectify the problems they have caused.

    WORKS CITED

  1. Ahrens, Lois. The Real Cost of Prisons Comix. California: PM Press, 2008. Print.
  2. Alexander, Michelle. “The New Jim Crow” N.p. 9 March 2010. Web. 15 Nov. 2012.
  3. Fagan, Jeffrey and Davies, Garth. “Street Stops and Broken Windows: Terry, Race and Disorder in New York City.” Fordham Urban Law Journal Vol. 28: (2000). P. 457. Web. 28 Nov. 2012.
  4. Florida, Richard. “The Creative Class.” N.p. [2002]. PDF File.
  5. Gonzalez, David. “Will Gentrification Spoil the Birthplace of Hip-Hop?” N.Y./ Region. The New York Times, New York Times. 21 May 2007. Web. 22 Nov. 2012.
  6. Harris, David A. "Factors for Reasonable Suspicion: When Black and Poor Means Stopped and Frisked." Indiana Law Journal: Vol. 69. Iss. 3 Article 1 (1994): 659-688. Web. 22 Nov. 2012.
  7. Harris, David. A. “Stop and Frisk Practices in the US: Where are We Now?” N.p. University of Pittsburgh. PDF file.
  8. Holder, Michelle. 2010. “Unemployment in New York City During the Recession and Early Recovery-Young Black Men Hit the Hardest” Community Service Society. PDF file
  9. Hum, Tarry. 2011. “Persistent Polarization in the New York Workforce: New Findings of Labor Market Segmentation.” Regional Labor Review, Center for the Study of Labor and Democracy, Hofstra University, Spring-Summer 2011. PDF file
  10. Kelling, George L. and Wilson, James Q. The Broken Windows. Atlantic Monthly 1982. New York. PDF file.
  11. Leonard, Pauline “Articulating White Identity in Space: The West Bronx, Neighborhood Change and Riverdale.” n.d. Microsoft Word file.
  12. Pager,Devah and Western Bruce. “Race At Work-Realities of Race and Criminal Record in the NYC Job Market”. Atlantic Monthly 1982. Department of Sociology Princeton University. 2005. PDF file.
  13. Rayman, Graham. “The NYPD Tapes: Inside Bed Stuy’s 81st Precinct” The Village Voice. N.p 4 May 2010. Web. 29 Nov. 2012
  14. Roberts, Sam. Striking Change in Bedford-Stuyvesant as the White Population Soars. N.Y./ Region. The New York Times. 4 August 2011. Web. 29 Nov.2012.
  15. Tuttle, Ross “The Hunted and the Hated: An Inside Look at the NYPD's Stop-and-Frisk Policy.” (2012) VideoNation. Digital file.

Tyrone Palmer

Third Prize, Essays
Tyrone Palmer  Political Science, Brooklyn College

The Linden Protests and the Emergence of Occupy Guyana

Protest in Linden, Guyana, April 18, 2012

On July 18th, 2012 in Linden, Guyana, South America, what began as a peaceful protest ended in turmoil as police officers opened fired on protestors, killing three and injuring twenty. The protesters had gathered in order to demonstrate against an increase of the electricity tariff, which had been implemented on the first of the month. The new tariff increased energy costs exponentially—from a rate of $25 month to almost $100 per month.1 Such a drastic increase would be cause for protest under any circumstances, but it was particularly devastating given the fact that Linden boasts an unemployment rate estimated to be as high as 75 percent2 (comparatively, the national unemployment rate is estimated to be around 11 percent).3 The increased tariffs were simply unbearable for the people of Linden; they took the streets to voice their dissatisfaction with the decision and were met with violence. In response to the police’s act of violence, the Linden protests raged on, becoming increasingly destructive—the office of the CEO of Linden Electric Company was set on fire, as were a number of other buildings including a primary school. Initially meant to last five days, the Linden Protest lasted well over a month—with the Guyanese government, under the leadership of President Donald Ramotar, eventually agreeing to many of the demands set by the protestors—and, perhaps most importantly, inspired the emergence of Occupy Guyana. The Linden protest and the subsequent establishment of Occupy Guyana offers an arresting case study in how social movements emerge in a post-Occupy landscape. This paper looks at the conditions that lead to the Linden protest, how the Occupy model has been adopted in Guyana and the impact of technology, globalization, and what sociologist Manuel Castells terms the “network society”4 in the adoption of this model. It also examines the prospects of success for Occupy Guyana, and the ways in which this protest movement fits in with other current poor people’s movements globally.

With an estimated population of 45,000 people,5 Linden is the second most populous town in Guyana (after the nation’s capital Georgetown). Though it is heavily populated, Linden is not a particularly urban area (it is often characterized as “rural”). Linden is primarily a mining town, and the economy is centered around the bauxite mining company. Bauxite is one of Guyana’s chief natural resources and a source of a sizeable percentage of the country’s gross national product. As mentioned earlier, the unemployment rate in Linden far exceeds the national average—the town is overwhelmed by poverty, and as such it does not come as a surprise that a poor people’s movement would emerge there. That said, the issues faced by those in Linden (such as chronic unemployment, poverty, hunger and lack of proper healthcare) are not relegated to that town alone— Guyana is one of the poorest nations in the Western Hemisphere and the ”third poorest country in Latin America and the Caribbean” according to the World Bank.6 Linden is a microcosm of Guyana as a whole. When asked about the Linden protests and whether or not the citizens’ response to the tariff hike was warranted, Guyanese Prime Minister Samuel Hinds stated that “Linden is no more depressed, no less depressed, no more prosperous, no less prosperous, than many other places in Guyana.”7 This response is telling for a number of reasons: for one, it speaks to the general disregard for and nonchalance with regards to the concerns of the people that characterizes much of the political leadership in Guyana; it also speaks to the depth and widespread prevalence of poverty throughout Guyana. If the conditions in Linden are not extraordinary in the context of Guyanese day-to-day life, what does that say about the quality of life for poor people throughout Guyana? These questions and concerns mirror those being addressed by the nascent Occupy Guyana movement, and point towards the ways in which the Linden protest has galvanized the citizens of Guyana to stand up for their rights.

A deeper look at the Linden Protests and the subsequent establishment of Occupy Guyana reveals the ways in which what occurred in Linden on July 18th falls in line with a pattern of how social movements emerge. Both the increase in the electricity tariff and the Guyanese police force’s brutal response to the protestors represent a disruption of the quotidian—or, day-to-day patterns of everyday life; “the state of being in which things are done in a taken-for-granted way… the routinization of everyday life both behaviorally and cognitively”.8 This disruption, on both fronts, “cause[d] ruptures [and] strains in the sociopolitical order and [gave] rise to tensions and frustrations which [incited] collective action.”9 The quotidian was first disrupted by the electricity tariff hike, which was implemented in part due to the government’s inability to continue subsidizing Linden’s energy costs. Before the hike was implemented, the government had been footing the costs of Linden’s electricity usage, which was at a rate of three times the national average.10 Linden’s electricity supply had been subsidized by the government since 1976, when then Prime Minister Linden F.S Burnham decided that it was necessary for the sustenance of the community.11 In 2011, the government spent a reported $2.6 billion on Linden’s on the energy subsidy—a cost that was draining the government’s resources and tax revenues at a time when Guyana’s economy is in crisis.12 According to current Prime Minister Samuel Hinds, since the energy costs were being subsidized, the citizens of Linden were wasteful, and there was “a need for conservation [since] the subsidy was becoming unsustainable.”13 The fact that the energy costs of the town were subsidized for such a long time makes it clear why the sudden change in the subsidy drove people to collective action. It is important to note that the government did not plan on abandoning the subsidy altogether—the 2012 budget provides $1.8 billion in subsidies for Linden—but the decrease in the amount allotted to the subsidy would heavily impact the finances of the residents of the poverty-stricken town.

The electricity tariff hike and the subsequent protest stands as textbook case of disruption of the quotidian due to an “alteration in subsistence routines because of a decrease in the ratio of resources”14 The state’s inability to allow money in its budget for the full subsidy, which had been in place for over three decades, represented a drastic change in “taken for granted subsistence routines,”15 and pushed the citizens of Linden to direct, collective action. The people of Linden were accustomed to their subsidized energy costs, and the sudden change in their day-to-day life—a stark increase from $25 per month to $100 per month energy costs—shocked them into action. The protest July 18th, which was the first of a planned five-day protest, represented the people standing up making their discontent with the change in policy known. The second, and arguably more notable, quotidian disruption occurred when the police responded to the peaceful protests with extreme violence. By murdering three protestors and injuring twenty, the police officers sent a shock to community and the world (the actions of the police officers were formally condemned by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which called for the Guyanese head of state to “urgently adopt all necessary measures for the due protection of the protestors”). The initial act of violence disrupted the quotidian in two ways—it was both a “community disrupting” incident and a “violation of culturally defined zones of… control.”16 Police brutality acted as a second shock to the system, and galvanized the citizens of Linden—and Guyana at large—to continue their protest and lobby on behalf of other issues facing their communities. Taking to the social networking platform Facebook, Nigel Hughes, leader of the opposition political party Alliance For Change, urged the Linden protesters to continue their efforts even in the face of government pushback, and warned that the government “[wants] to deter citizens from attending protests which are anti-government [,] thereby effectively restricting the exercise of their constitutional right.”17 In the wake of the killings, activists throughout the country spoke out against the actions of the police force, and Occupy Guyana got its start. In an interview which appears on the world news blog GlobalVoices.org, Guyanese activist and founding member of Occupy Guyana Sherlina Nageer states that “We [at Occupy Guyana] were inspired most by the people of Linden. [Particularly] their strategy… to occupy the streets of their community… Our decision to occupy a public space in [Guyana’s capital] Georgetown was thus seeking to emulate the Lindeners’ peaceful protest.”18 The Linden protest, then, was the tipping point for the emergence of an organized movement around issues such as poverty, police brutality and government subsidies in Guyana. This is similar to the ways in which many of the most publicized global protests of the past few years have gained traction—most notably the Arab Spring in Egypt and the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York City In the instance of the Linden Protest, the state’s violent reaction to people exercising their right to peaceful protest lead to the organization of a widespread protest movement, giving credence to the argument that violence on the part of the state exacerbate rather than quells emerging protest movements.

Occupy Guyana is an interesting case for a few reasons: for one, as has been established, it exists as a direct result of the actions of a small group of protestors in a mining town. Secondly, like other global occupy movements, it is heavily reliant on technology and social networks in order reach out, spread the word, and gain the support of the people. Furthermore, since it exists outside of the existing political structures of Guyana and is a purely grassroots organization, Occupy Guyana can bring together people across ideological, racial, religious and class divides. Occupy Guyana was launched on August 15th, 2012—almost a month to the day of the start of the Linden protests. Similar to the Occupation of Zuccotti Park in New York City, Guyanese activists have set up what they call The People’s Parliament at a public park on Brick and Hadfield Streets in the middle of the country’s capital city Georgetown. The stated goal of The People’s Parliament is to “engage Guyanese [people] of all backgrounds in a collective public dialogue on the [country’s] situation… in order to identify real, substantive, long term solutions to the numerous problems plaguing our land.”19 While this may seem broad, Occupy Guyana have also laid out a four point plan, which was posted on the group’s Facebook page. It reads as follows:

  • Document instances of state inefficiency, corruption, and misuse of power as reported by citizens
  • Be the place where the voice and concerns of “ordinary Guyanese” can be equally heard
  • Advocate for the needs and rights of poor people, and all who find themselves marginalized
  • Work to bring our national politics in line with our community culture of togetherness.20

The role of technology in Occupy Guyana cannot be understated. Facebook in particular has been instrumental in the efforts of Occupy Guyana to disseminate its message and build broad coalitions. Using the social networking platform, leaders have posted letters, relevant news updates, meeting updates and other important information. Facebook has also allowed Occupy to foster a global community, and relay information about its intention and leadership quickly and publicly. The use of Facebook allows a level of transparency and inclusiveness that keeps the movement grounded and connected to the people. It has also been an important tool in the voicing of the concerns of the movement, and a means by which those involved in the movement can speak out and address misconceptions and criticisms. In a an open letter cross-posted on her personal Facebook in response to a critical article written in the Guyanese daily newspaper Starbroek News, Sherlina Nageer of The People’s Parliament spoke out against some of the criticisms lobbied at the movement, pushing back against the idea that a political movement has to engage in “groupthink” and have a specific ideological platform in order to be legitimate. The letter posits that the varying perspectives that exist within The People’s Parliament/Occupy Guyana are a virtue, representing the democratic process at its most pure. It also elaborates on the goals of Occupy Guyana, stating that the movement seeks to build a transformative coalition that includes all Guyanese peoples, giving particular to issues of government corruption, police malfeasance, poverty and disenfranchisement. The movement, then, wants to empower the citizens of Guyana and give them a voice within the political process. They aim to do this by fostering an environment that allows Guyanese people of all stripes and political affiliations to join in and fight for justice.

The type of movement this letter describes—the framework which has been popularized by the Occupy Movement; or, the Occupy Model—is a bottom-up, grassroots approach that is inclusive, and seeks to address a wide array of structural and socio-political issues through protest, organizing, and coalition building. Occupy Guyana is representative of the new wave of movements that are sweeping across the world in the wake of the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street—making use of technology and social networking alongside collective action and grassroots organizing. This model of organizing, under the umbrella of “Occupy” has been spreading around the world, with Occupy movements popping up in nations as diverse as Tunisia, the Philippines, Croatia, and Honduras. This is an example of the effects of globalization on worldwide poor people’s movements—the opening up of networks of communication have allowed ideas and models of protest to spread at an accelerated rate, and Occupy Guyana is just one example of this worldwide trend.

In the aforementioned interview with GlobalVoices, Nageer states that Occupy Guyana has “no formal connection with any other Occupy movements worldwide”21 It does not come as a surprise that Occupy Guyana is not formally connected to any other global occupy movements, and it does not make much of a difference—the beauty of the occupy model is its malleability. Much of the criticism of Occupy as a movements focuses on the lack of a well-defined purpose or goal, but the Occupy framework has proved adaptable to situations and communities worldwide precisely because of it’s lack of an established, stated goal. Occupy is a nebulous brand that can be co-opted by people around the world to fit their struggles, which is the case with Occupy Guyana. The emergence of Occupy Guyana is one instance of what can be characterized as a global mobilization of poor people. Many of the articles posted on the official Occupy Guyana Facebook page point to nascent movements in neighboring countries such as Trinidad & Tobago. Postings such as these place the Occupy Guyana movement in a broader global context of poor people’s movement, and see the issues facing the Guyanese people as emblematic of issues with the capitalist world system (as opposed to issues specific to the Guyanese government).

There are a number of potential obstacles to the success of Occupy Guyana. The success of this movement is contingent upon the participation of the people, and the building of broad coalitions that cross partisan boundaries and racial and ethnic lines. This will be perhaps the hardest obstacle for Occupy Guyana to overcome. For much of its post-colonial history, the politics of Guyana have been marked by tension and strife between the nation’s two dominant ethnic groups—those of black African heritage (who make up 30 percent of the population), and those of East Indian heritage (who account for 44 percent of the population). The country’s current parliament is split along those lines, with the People’s National Congress (PNC) being primarily comprised of and supported by blacks, and the opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) being composed of and supported by East Indians. Racial politics in Guyana have been the source of intense violence and upheaval, and “voting patterns… occur along strictly racial lines.”22 Since 1968 there have been a number of efforts—by the Working People’s Alliance, Labor party and others—to form a “multi-racial support base”23 that have not yielded great results.

Another obstacle that Occupy Guyana will face is internal opposition from the government. As the protest in Linden that sparked the movement proved, the Guyanese police are not above using lethal force in their efforts to quell protests. Occupy Guyana can expect a lot of pushback and repression form the state as their movement begins to gain traction. Sherlina Nageer has gone on record as stating that “less than twenty-four hours after we set up our tents in the park, the authorities showed up and started harassing us.” This harassment will only continue—though Guyana is a weak state comparatively, they still make use of repressive tactics. Government corruption is rampant in Guyana, and those in power will make use of all the means at their disposal in order to retain that power.

Yet another massive obstacle that Occupy Guyana will face has to do with the prospects of successfully organizing and motivating poor people to stick with a sustained protest movement. Mobilizing people in the throes of poverty, as Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward state in Poor People’s Movements, “entails a transformation both of consciousness and of behavior”24 which takes a long time to occur. After the initial bursts of interest people lose interest in a movement that doesn’t have an instant payoff, and they become preoccupied with the hardships and struggles of their day-to-day lives. It is extremely difficult to sustain a movement for radical change for a prolonged period of time, and the fact that the people being organized are in the throes of poverty and don’t have access to means limits their ability to made a substantive impact on the structural level. Furthermore, “the occasions when protest is possible among the poor, the forms that it must take and the impact it can have are all delimited by the social structure in ways which usually… diminish its force”25 —so while organizing the poor is a noble goal, the ultimate effect that their mobilization can have on the structural level is questionable.

In closing, the prospects for the success of Occupy Guyana depend on how one defines success. Since Occupy Guyana does not have specific legislative goals or policy changes it wants to enact, success can be measured on a number of levels. There will be obstacles, but if Occupy Guyana can continue to keep citizens interested and build a broader cross-racial coalition then success on some level is very possible.

    FOOTNOTES

  1. AP News. (2012, August 18). Guyana makes concessions to end monthlong protest. Retrieved from http://www.businessweek.com/ap/2012-08-18/guyana-makes-concessions-to-end-monthlong-protest
  2. Kaiteur News. (2012, August 14). Ramotar explains govt. inability to maintain $2.2b linden subsidy. Retrieved from http://www.kaieteurnewsonline.com/2012/08/14/ramotar-explains-govt-inability-to-maintain-2-2b-linden-subsidy/
  3. Guyananese Bureau of Statistics
  4. Castells, M. (1996). The rise of the network society. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers.
  5. Guyana Population & Housing Census
  6. World Bank. (n.d.). Guyana.
  7. (2012, July 19). BBC News. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-18918839
  8. McAdam, D., & Snow, D. A. (2010). Readings on social movement: Origins, dynamics and outcomes. (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press. Pg. 17
  9. Ibid, Pg. 15
  10. Kaiteur News. (2012, August 14).
  11. Guyana Chronicle Online. (2012, April 13). Pm hinds explains reform of linden electricity supply. Guyana Chronicle. Retrieved from http://www.guyanachronicle.com/site/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=42066:pm-hinds-explains-reform-of-linden-electricity-supply
  12. Ibid
  13. Kaiteur News. (2012, August 14).
  14. McAdam, D., & Snow, D. A. (2010). pg. 26
  15. Ibid pg.17
  16. Ibid
  17. Facebook
  18. Hunte, M. (2012, September 04). [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://globalvoicesonline.org/2012/09/04/guyana-the-occupy-movement-supports-linden/
  19. Facebook
  20. Ibid
  21. Hunte, M. (2012, September 04).
  22. Westmaas, N. (2009). 1968 and the social and political foundations and impact of the “new politics” in Guyana. Caribbean Studies, 37(2), 105–132. pg 124
  23. Ibid pg. 124
  24. Piven, F. F., & Cloward, R. A. (1977). Poor people’s movements: why they succeed, how they fail. New York: Pantheon Books. pg 3
  25. Ibid.
    WORKS CITED

  1. AP News. (2012, August 18). Guyana makes concessions to end monthlong protest.Retrieved from http://www.businessweek.com/ap/2012-08-18/guyana-makes-concessions-to-end-monthlong-protest
  2. Castells, M. (1996). The rise of the network society. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers.
  3. Guyana Chronicle Online. (2012, April 13). Pm hinds explains reform of linden electricity supply. Guyana Chronicle. Retrieved from http://www.guyanachronicle.com/site/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=42066:pm-hinds-explains-reform-of-linden-electricity-supply
  4. Hunte, M. (2012, September 04). [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://globalvoicesonline.org/2012/09/04/guyana-the-occupy-movement-supports-linden/
  5. Kaiteur News. (2012, August 14). Ramotar explains govt. inability to maintain $2.2b linden subsidy. Retrieved from http://www.kaieteurnewsonline.com/2012/08/14/ramotar-explains-govt-inability-to-maintain-2-2b-linden-subsidy/
  6. McAdam, D., & Snow, D. A. (2010). Readings on social movement: Origins, dynamics and outcomes. (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
  7. Piven, F. F., & Cloward, R. A. (1977). Poor people’s movements: why they succeed, how they fail. New York: Pantheon Books.
  8. Westmaas, N. (2009). 1968 and the social and political foundations and impact of the “new politics” in Guyana. Caribbean Studies, 37(2), 105–132.
  9. World Bank. (n.d.). Guyana.

Jess Williard

First Prize, Poetry
Jess Williard  English Literature, Queens College

On Summer in Southern Iowa

“Hard Working Hands”, photograph by Nick Fornaro, 2007

I.

Let me state this as simply as possible:

There was a girl whose hands cupped to her hips when she walked
like they were holding liquid secrets.

What was interesting to me weren’t so much the things she said
but the way she said them,
pushing promises through purple stained lips

and tucking them in,
breathing hazy hued volition into crevasses I didn’t know were there
or had forgotten about.

But what I haven’t forgotten about is how,
in the dim light of motel room lamps,
what was interesting to her were the calluses on my hands.

Where do they come from, she would ask.
Work, I tell her.

And all this girl will ever know of work
will be the rough hills of skin on my hands
or someone else’s.
And what was left wasn’t enough for my mother to stop sorting second hand clothing
or to banish the allure of out of state plates,

so this girl will say
kiss me here and here and here.
And I will.

But I won’t know where to go next
and because I’m not quite sure how to talk about love,
let me state this as simply as possible:

There was a girl who hushed things into my skull.
My ears won’t stop ringing.

But that was when we would sit on swing sets and drink green sodas.
Static clouds of gnats hung over anything wet: it was summer.

II.

That summer someone I didn’t know
got diagnosed with something I couldn’t pronounce
and my father got dark beneath the eyes and forgot how syllables worked.
He would drag his knuckles across anything rough and called all strangers Gerrys.

I roofed houses with work-release cons
And blow addicts who’d eightball out of the
L-crevasse between their thumb and index finger
And then tell stories about when they had all their teeth.
Then I’d wait tables at a small Mexican restaurant
where they’d let me drink for free and glow off
my sunburn hitting on women much older and much
drunker than I was.

I’d read to my dad when I got home,
Conrad and O’Connor,
as the sun was coming up,
and although he had all his teeth
and hadn’t been to jail for decades,
he’d share stories infinitely better than
what I heard on the rooftops.

When I sold my Buick and moved
east, I forgot about the girl and the cons
and the Mexican restaurant, but the calluses
were there. I met a man named Flaco
at a truck stop who told me I had an old school
handshake and asked me for change
to buy a Black and Mild that,
for a reason I’ve never figured out,
he gave back to me.


Samontha Forbes

Second Prize, Poetry
Samontha Forbes  English/Creative Writing, Lehman College

Lace Work

“Lace running by hand” from Charles Knight’s Pictorial Gallery of Arts, Vol. I, c.1862

My knotted fingers held the bobbins and threads in place.
The stitch slipped to delete the spider’s crawl across the back-fabric,
and the threads twisted in burden.

Master promised cookies and milk, but
his nose twitched and he scratched his beard.

I had no stars or tinsel-work to braid,
for the shivers closed in on my blistered flesh.

Where is my mother? At my pluck, he struck
my wet cheek with a leathered hand.

“You mama no’ here,” he piped in with crooked teeth
as he peddled to Ladies and Lords with lacy eyes.
The bobbins were stained from runny red nose and weeping cracked lips.


Ricci L. Niles

Third Prize, Poetry
Ricci L. Niles  Writing and Literature, Borough of Manhattan Community College

Cardinal Points

“The slave deck of the bark ‘Wildfire’” by Harper’s Weekly, date illegible (1800s)

Ships and galleys were the original Skull and Bones Society.

   People, sold, wholesale: “To the Trade Only”

The Atlantic—
            watershed moments.

      Mausoleums in
      wave after wave after more waves
      Still.

Atoning for nothing
the indifference of the surf
the irreverence of the tides

a co-defendant
the Sea offers up
no audible apologies.


Stephanie Davis

Honorable Mention, Poetry
Stephanie Davis  English, Queens College

Pickin’ Cotton

Picking cotton in the Mississippi delta, photograph by Marion Post Wolcott, 1939, from Jackson Fine Art gallery

Black and broken from bristles
that pricked the delicate skin,

blood breaks out from the tips
of your hands, which are attacked

by the dark protective shell
of industry. Withered

from the sun that burns
moisture like an engine burns

fuel. Feel the petals and remember
these hands, when they were

smoothed by the oils of orange
and rosewood and you could feel

the air dancing on your fingertips
when they moved.

Before they became numb
and unfamiliar, the product of producing

bales of the cash crop.
Grab the delicate, fur-like gold

before your agility evaporates
in the sun’s prime—loosening the grip

on your life’s worth.


Honorable Mention, Poetry
Darren Bowman  English, Queens College

I’ve Learned That

Chelsea, 1938, photograph by Sid Grossman, 1938

I’ve Learned That

work used to be stuffing Lucky Lights
in the breast pocket of your plaid shirt.
& pouring ginger ale
in an empty water bottle,
to copy the Cuervo your father poured
in a flask, over a bowl on the counter.
Timbs, blue sweat pants, & a red parker,
with a hoodie was your hazmat suit,
like the uniform your father wore
when you rode with him
in the garbage truck.

Now, work is. The click of that Bundy clock at 8:15,
with the hollow ring of its spring. The light mist Randy sprays at
you from the hose, before you soap-up, wash,
& dry an endless stream of hubcaps,
doors, hoods, mirrors & grills with the Infiniti logo,
until your right hand starts to cramp-up. Then you use your left.
It’s saying, “Yes mam,” & holding open the car door
for girls your age in tight-tees, with freckles & wayfarer shades,
hoping they won’t tip you.


Ariella Michal Medows

First Prize, Narrative
Ariella Michal Medows  ABC Major (Anthropology, Biology, and Chemistry) Macaulay Honors College of CUNY at Lehman

Bubby’s Blood

Bubby in her Brooklyn apartment., photograph by Lee Kahn, February 2013

Although an eager student, there is one skill I have never been able to completely master: sewing. Over the years, my grandmother, Bubby, has tried sitting me down numerous times and teaching me the skill that saved her life, but her feverish-paced impatience combined with my vexing right-handedness did not ensure for productive sessions. Eventually we reached a compromise that left me relieved and Bubby satisfied; I managed to pick up the modus operandi of “stab and thrust” which enables me to piece together two bits of cloth in a crisis but leaves fine needlepoint out of the question.

To Bubby, sewing is more than a skill. It runs in her blood and makes her blood run. Today, despite being nearly ninety-three years old (which she always admonishes us never to reveal, even in her doctor’s office) and on blood thinners, Bubby still seats herself dutifully in front of her sewing table in her bedroom and asks if we have anything we need her to fix. Her fingers itch to get to work, to make the most of the sunlight left in the day, and perhaps to take a stroll down memory lane.

The year was 1939, and Bubby was on a ship from Poland to the United States. Her mother had filed for a visa for her at the age of fourteen, and now, five years later, it had finally arrived. She traveled alone in the steerage class with sixty-five cents in her pocket. Originally, she had been given $20 by her mother, who had sold her heirloom gold necklace, her only valuable possession, for the price of the visa and a warm woolen coat for Bubby, her oldest daughter. Bubby spent $2 on a telegram to let her aunt know of her arrival, and sent back $18 to her mother so she could buy the family some much-needed food. They had shared a luxurious orange together before her departure, which spoke of a fresh and vibrant new beginning.

It was not to be. When my grandmother arrived in the United States, she stayed at the home of her aunt, her only relative in America. When it became apparent that Bubby had no intention of marrying her pleasant enough but dull first-cousin Julius, which had never previously been part of the equation, her aunt’s attitude toward Bubby changed. If Bubby would not marry her aunt’s son, she was no longer considered family, and certainly not blood. Bubby entered into an indentured servitude, becoming the family maid, and was sent to the factories to work so that she could reimburse her aunt for the ship ticket out of Poland, and for room and board. The aunt was very strict. When Bubby asked her if she minded if she took twelve dollars out of her own paycheck to buy a wristwatch, her aunt refused to allow her niece to do so. Until every last cent for the ticket was repaid, Bubby would not be permitted the luxury of even a modest watch to tell the time.

Ever mindful of the importance of education, Bubby attended high school classes at night. She spent the rest of her youth laboring in the sweatshops with no respite, even on Sundays. In my mind’s eye, I imagine her heavy with fatigue from working at a grueling pace during the regular workweek, and looking forward to a well-deserved day of rest. She would dream of having to clean her aunt’s apartment, and cook for the family, too, but not having to work like a speed demon in the factory on Sunday. Yet another part of Bubby must have been glad that she could take the extra money she earned on Sundays and send it to her family, who was relying on her. What a tremendous responsibility she had on her diminutive shoulders!

When my grandmother talks, in my mind I can see her in the somber and dingy sweatshop in Brooklyn, looking down at her finger when the needle from the machine becomes stuck in her flesh. The foreman saunters over, sees the problem, and casually yanks the needle out with a pair of pliers. The pliers are utilized for another purpose also; when not necessary for extracting sewing needles, they are used to repair the machines. Bubby needs to continue to do her piece-work, as she gets paid solely for each item she churns out. She sorely needs the money, so she says nothing. Only the beads of perspiration coating her now ashen face betray her pain. The rivulets of blood seep generously, as she tries to stop them from contaminating the garment she is working on, and so Bubby continues with her labor. The rivers of red flow like the waters that separate her from her loved ones, unwanted, unrelentless, but nonetheless pooling oceans that divide her from her family in Bialykamin, Poland, where she lived like a church mouse. Unlike Bubby, even church mice are contented, as long as they are with their families. Her eyes stayed dry, she always says, even when the foreman had to pull needles out of her fingers with pliers and did nothing to relieve her pain or clean the wound. Crying accomplishes nothing.

Ordinarily a scrupulously honest person, my teenaged grandmother would do what it took to keep working. She would tell the hiring boss whatever he needed to hear for her to work at the factory. She was older. She had experience. Of course, she knew how to use that machine. She always hoped she could learn fast enough and could figure out how to work the machine in her head before it would enter her body.

I could almost see the demanding bosses to whom the workers, like Bubby, were identical, replaceable spokes in a wheel, snapping about increasing productivity to the immigrant working women. The women who sewed silently next to Bubby on the Singer and Merrow sewing machines also kept up a brisk pace, but none worked so feverishly as Bubby who knew that her family’s future was in her hands. Those new friends fortunate enough to be born in America and receive an education would work in offices, and never know the humiliation of working in the joyless, degrading factory for the often cruel and abusive bosses.

Bubby would work very hard at the factories, convinced that if she could work harder, just a little bit harder, she could earn enough to bring her family to America. After all, the Germans had invaded Poland already, and there was no time to waste if she were to save her family. They were the only family she had left, as she was reminded when her aunt invited Bubby to dinner along with her husband and three strapping sons. Bubby was happy to be included with the family (how she missed her own parents, grandparents, and brothers and sisters!) until the end of the meal. Her aunt handed Bubby a separate bill, as the dinner was, as her aunt explained to a crestfallen Bubby, for “family only.”

Bubby never saw her immediate family again. One day, a visitor knocked on her door to relay the news that he had been hiding in her parents’ cellar and had witnessed her entire family being murdered, shot to death by their next-door neighbors during the Holocaust, their blood spattering in Poland as hers leaked onto the material she attempted to sew. It was at the factory, that Bubby, who was now alone in the world, was able to learn the value of hard work and persistence, in order to create a better life for herself and not be forced to depend on anyone.

It was this outlook on life, derived from the factories that kept her from succumbing to tuberculosis when it was a virtual death sentence in the 1950s. All of her invalid friends in the hospital ward died, refusing to eat the putrid hospital food or swallow the newfangled pills that enlarged the patients’ livers, but killed the tuberculosis. Bubby knew that she had to persevere, just like she did in the factory, and that resilient spirit kept her alive. Her liver became enlarged, her lungs were now scarred, but she was alive. The blood was still moving, and so was she. The grandmother that I have always known is fearless.

When her older son was twenty, he helped her to improve her English, tutoring her in her reading and writing skills so that she became proficient enough to pass a test and merit a job working for the city. But it was at the factories where Bubby learned to keep going, no matter how unbearable life may have seemed or how bleak the present appeared, because she knew the potential of a promising future.

Today I live in another world. I wear mass-produced clothing instead of sewing them. I coordinate blood drives where I rally my peers to freely give theirs, rather than losing my own because of inexperience with sewing machines coupled with the desperate hunger to work at a factory, which was the only hope of a job for an uneducated, non-English speaking immigrant teenager.

And yet, Bubby’s story is part of who I am. Through her narratives, she has imparted her spirit in her blood to drive harder, be more efficient, and make something of myself in the workforce so that I will not have to rely on anyone. It is her commitment to hard labor that motivates me to study. When I agonize over my final exams, I realize how trivial my battles are, compared to her sewing assignments. I know that I may be tired at the end of the day from a challenging day at school, but my feet are nowhere near as tired and swollen as hers were at the end of a long shift. I take comfort in the fact that I will hopefully have the opportunity to work hard, but in a different setting, using my education gained at CUNY to toil but in a subject matter about which I am passionate. I have the agency to write my own future because of the past that she has shared with me, complete with blood, sweat, and the absence of tears.


Aleksandr Smechov

Second Prize, Narrative
Aleksandr Smechov  Journalism, Baruch College

Cart

Nestor Gonzales, school cafeteria cook, DC 37, photograph by George Cohen, 2001

I want to see stars when I drive out at five a.m., but you can never see stars here, maybe one or two. Maybe three or five. I remember them being so vivid in Minsk and later in Vilnus, when I couldn’t take Belarus anymore because of otetz. There were millions. No need for street lamps, the stars would guide your way to the small shack bars where the Piva and vodka could kill you a little, if you wanted them to. But you can’t be a bagel cart man in Minsk, or Vilnus or even the Mojave, which I have heard so much about, and its stars, so far up in the sky like a cathedral’s huge ceiling. My girlfriend Rita tells me one day in spring we will drive up to the Mojave and lie on the roof of the car and smoke cigars and look at the desert sky and see all the starts in the universe.

I drive from the Bronx to Brooklyn and buy sesame bagels, wheat bagels, blueberry bagels, poppy bagels, plain bagels and everything bagels. I buy tea bags and water bottles and cream cheese and butter. I buy eggs and bacon and blueberry muffins and also chocolate muffins. Usually I have enough coffee powder and napkins and forks and spoons and sugar and straws for a couple days but when I need them I buy them too. Today I do not need them. I drive to Madison Avenue. I feel somewhat without weight.

The cart gets very warm so even when it is cold like now I wear only a shirt or two. I park the car behind the stand and heat the water and get the coffee ready and then I eat a sesame bagel with bacon and eggs and black coffee while the cart is still closed. I eat inside the tiny closed cart. Sometimes I feel very empty and small, but this is only sometimes and it goes away when many people come to my cart and I feed them bagels and sandwiches and coffee and tea. Rita once told me I should never feel small because every single one of those people would starve without me. This I don’t argue with.

While I was young and still in Belarus grandmother told me that Vlad—my otetz—was very different after the Second World War. He became distant and angry, and very sad. This is before he married my mother. It was grandmother’s way of saying sorry for him because he could never do so himself. He was not that kind of man. Piva for breakfast and vodka for lunch. Asleep by seven at night and awake by four or five a.m. to bother me with worries or beat his frustrations into me. Maybe this is why it is so simple for me to get up so early.

I look at the dusty greasy metal floor of the cart and softly kick a green penny with the toe of my boot while I bite the bacon and egg and sesame bagel. I kick the penny and think about my big beautiful dog, Volk, who is now with my ex-wife in Brooklyn. She said he is her baby, her only happiness, and who am I to argue with the law of the court and the law of nature, against a woman who cannot have her own children? I kick the green penny into the street and it rolls in a curve under the front tire of my car.

The sky turns red and yellow like orange juice and blood mixing together on an empty canvas and the sounds of hurried footsteps begin to drum the asphalt and I open the front awning-piece of my cart and start my day.

The first customer is a traffic officer. I see him on all the weekdays. He told me some weeks ago that his daughter is in the 4th grade and she is ashamed of her father because he is a traffic officer. He said it made him mad enough to want to hit her, even though he loved her and still would do the twelve hours daily just for her. I repeated what Rita told me and I told him without people like us, everyone would starve and get into car crashes. I told him to tell his little girl that. I told him my ex-wife could not even have a daughter and he should consider himself lucky. He was indeed lucky.

The traffic officer is dark skinned and has a round stomach like a basketball but his legs are small and thin like pine branches. He is very nice. He always gets a cold everything bagel with cream cheese—he is eating one now, telling me his daughter Anita turns eleven tomorrow and he has been saving up for a new phone to give to her. I ask him why not a doll or a dress and he tells me she doesn’t want to look poor and if she has a new phone she will not look poor in front of her friends. In my head I think: his daughter reminds me of my brother. In Minsk my brother Marat went to stores to buy rich-seeming clothing and sometimes he would have very little money for food left because it would all go to a new fur coat or a German watch or a new chain for the gold cross our otetz gave him around the time when mother left. As long as people knew Marat had money and he looked important, he was happy. But I don’t tell the traffic officer about Marat because Marat is gone and you don’t make examples of the dead.

Around seven a.m. many people I do not recognize come to buy my bagels and coffee and get their sandwiches made and maybe get a muffin with tea. I cannot talk to them like I talk to the traffic officer because I cannot tell most of them apart and they are always hurrying and gazing into their phones or their watches as if they were looking at their future in magic crystal balls. Some of them avoid my eyes and watch the grazing Madison traffic. Sometimes I imagine them as my loyal cows, feeding from a mutual trough, unaware of the humble farmer who lays their food before them every morning. It is a calming thought.

I began to feel a feeling of no weight, like as if I was going to float up and get lost in the night sky unless I tied myself to the earth with a rope, when otetz lost his legs to gangrene. I could not look at him, despite him not lacking energy due to his continued drinking. I couldn’t stay anywhere in that city without thinking of those legs. I moved to Lithuania and I met my ex-wife there and on the day I had met her I got a call from my mother and she told me otetz didn’t wake up. That is when I began to feel weightless, and I still do sometimes, when I am away from Rita.

At nine a.m. it gets even busier and I cannot even imagine anything or think because I must get into my machine mode where my head is clear and only my body works because there are many people and many bagels to spread with cream cheese and much coffee to pour. Only one phrase sometimes gets into my head and that is a phrase of Schopenhauer: A man can do whatever he wants, but he can’t want what he wants. What do I want? If I knew this precisely maybe I would not have the feeling of no weight. Maybe I would be, as Rita tells me, grounded.

I can tell the sun is at the peak because the tall building across my cart has windows that shimmer very vividly now, like a tiny very bright star shining across the road. Rita called in the morning and told me to meet her at The Gentle Cannibal tonight for dinner. A very nice place, so I was surprised, but she would not tell me why she chose the Cannibal. Rita is very young, much younger than I. She is in the university, so I expect her to be childish sometimes and want to make surprises.

I see a sick man walk by my cart. Those with his sickness, they do not have it on the face or the skin, but in the eyes, and how they walk and how they bend their back. They are sick in what my grandmother had called the ousia. The essence. They can be bankers with nice suits or women with tall shoes and fur coat like Marat had worn in Belarus. Or they can be young university men or women. They walk as if they are sick and their eyes are downcast and solemn and they try to hide it. It is a true illness because it is able to be felt by the body. I know this because I feel this sickness of the ousia now. It is the no-weight feeling. As if I am full of helium like those balloons at the carnivals, or like a corn stalk that is pulled out by strong winds and is floating in the air, with no balance or direction.

Uprooted, Rita says.

There is not many people at my cart at two p.m. and I begin to fidget on my right foot and then after this my left because I do not stop wondering why Rita told me to meet her at The Gentle Cannibal on a small day such as this one.

“Here. This enough?”

It is a homeless man who always gives half the money for plain bagel and coffee around this time. He gives one dollar and fifty cents instead of three dollars.

“If you count so well, why you do not have a job, eh?” I laugh and give him many napkins with his bagel and coffee. He says no words and walks away. He is also sick in the ousia.

Rita is a student of psychology at the university. She asks me family questions, and asks much about otetz. She “analyzes me” sometimes as if I was a chemical sample. She also believes I may be “floating” because my mother had left when I was a young man. I tell her I had grown into a man before I was even twenty years old because of otetz. Mother has nothing to do with this.

The sun shimmer across the building is dying dramatically like a weak fire. An old Spanish janitor with long hair like an American Indian comes out from the building at five p.m. every day and this is when I get my opportunity to urinate. When I see him today I hail him, whistling with my fingers in my mouth as if I am calling a taxi, and I give him a bacon and egg sandwich and coffee and he watches the cart as I run into his building with his keys and open the private bathroom at the back of the lobby where there are mops and cleaning sprays and many very thin brown paper towels. It is a deal I have with him.

When it is six, I begin to close and pull down the awning of the cart as the sky pulls down the shades on the sun. I attach the cart to the parked car and leave to meet Rita. I am fidgeting more so now because I am not keen on surprises. Rita sure knows how to “screw” with my head.

The Gentle Cannibal is no more than several avenues and three blocks away and I take my time and try not to think of Rita and what she could say. The Cannibal is below street level, and it is made to look like a basement. Only ten people may fit in it. It has the atmosphere of “chic” as Rita says and a good charm that is held well by the name. The lighting is usually low, dim, and very cozy, and it is all done by very large yellow candles that are put on many shelves and many sills. Rita calls it a “posh speakeasy” and it is where we went to first as a couple.

When I walk in there, there are not many people, only staff and very few patrons, one of them Rita who sits in a small corner table by the door with her young face in the menu. I sit down and when her menu comes down to the table she seems to be glowing with the candles and her smile appears to be a flickering flame.

“Kenny, I ordered cinnamon ribs for you already, your favorite.” She smiles warmly.

“I am too tired for surprises. Out with it, Rita,” I try to smile.

The strange waiter comes over. He always wears on him the same herringbone shirt and brown glasses for reading that have no glass in them. He is also bald.

As he pours sparkling water from a pickle jar, Rita plays with her hair. When the waiter comes out he brings the glazed ribs on a small heavy plate and pours more water.

“Kenny?”

I remember in my head the first night we went out. We went here and ordered ribs. Why did Rita order ribs today? It was not our anniversary or any such date. The light from the candle is dancing on my plate, and it reminds me of a desert sunrise I had seen on television.

“Kenny you look tense.”

I do not want to tell Rita that surprises make me and my feet fidgety. She laughs at this but she does not know how bad surprises can be.

“I was just thinking of a desert sunset I had seen on television,” I say to her.

“Oh that’s nice.”

She glows bright like a star. I feel the fork I am holding dig unpleasantly into my palm. She peers at her food and then to me.

“Well I wanted to talk to you about the grounding thing. You see, I wanted to ask you if you ever considered me, you know, as an anchor.”

Rita here means as a supplemental mother, since my mother had left. She is doing that head doctor stuff on me again. It is mildly displeasing.

“Rita, there were no problems with the mother, you know of this. It is not why I feel like I am losing myself in time and space, floating. And before you say a word, this is not an ‘existential dilemma.’ This is in the body, physical. I feel it like I feel sickness.”

Rita is now smiling, her eyes are watching her food. It is something about this way she is looking down that makes me feel as if there is a hot storm inside my ribs and chest, and this storm passes inside me so ferociously, like an angry snake, that I need to grip the table to get myself level. It is the way she smiles so quietly, like she is in the black space of the sky. It is as if she has the biggest secret in the world.

“Well,” she raises her eyebrows, “I do, in fact, have a physical solution. I’ve had it for some days now, actually. It’s something that may very well keep you rooted for a long time. And this probable solution,” she winks, “is only two words.”

I am waiving to the waiter to approach and pour me the water from the pickle jar. I cannot help but hold the table very hard and my hands are shaking the table very slightly. The Gentle Cannibal feels too large and I wish to be confined inside my small bagel cart. The waiter comes to pour water.

“I was going to tell you earlier today but I got a little sidetracked.”

The waiter finishes pouring the water.

“Kenny, I’m pregnant. Three words, sorry.” Rita is trying to smile.

When the waiter hears this he very quickly goes back into the kitchen at the back of the restaurant. What a coward. I see that I cannot let go of the table. I am floating in a sea of candles. I feel seasick.

The waiter comes out with wine and a fancy long glass.

“For you,” he says, with his teeth showing.

I drive out at five a.m. and look out the car window and only see two stars. I smile and think in my head, it will have to do until me, Rita and Vlad can go to desert and watch the stars on the roof of the car.


Third Prize, Narrative
Michael Youmans  English, City Tech

The Hands of Time

Poster from the Bread and Roses series; painting by Milton Glaser, 1980

It was always his hands. He hated them, they were big and scarred as if they were in a constant state of pain. There were callouses on top of other callouses, as if they ran out of room to spread out and decided to built up, living on top of each other as if a small city. His fingers looked like hot dogs that fell off a bun, so badly damaged and dirty that not even the dog would try to eat. Taking one sniff would tell it that there is better prey elsewhere. He knew that if he showed her his hands it would be the last time he would see her. She would know that he was a laborer, someone who used his body, not his mind. He would then be placed in a category below, someone from another place that could never provide her with the cerebral comfort she needed.

She wondered why he kept his hands in his pockets. It was already the beginning of June and the cold winds had been replaced by a warming breeze smelling clean, fresh, with a hint of sour coming from the crab apple trees in bloom. He never held her hand, even though this was only their second date, she felt so comfortable with him already. Perhaps he didn’t like her the same way she did him.

They met in the train. She remembered the moment he walked by her, they made eye contact as he strode by—confident, silent, but forceful all at the same time. They both looked away almost as quickly as they had made contact, but it was enough. She noticed that he got on the same train car but a few doors away. She needed to get closer, so as soon as the door opened she cut to her left, looking as if she was searching for a seat—perhaps there was a map that she could look at as if she was unsure of where she was going. Having been taking the same route for over two years she smiled to herself, ‘childish’, she chastised herself, ‘but effective?’ she replied as she snaked her way to the map knowing that at least it was a bit closer. She saw him out of the corner of her eye and he looked to be attentive to her moves. They were now two benches apart, how to make up the space became apparent when someone moved to get out at the next stop and as her luck would have it, the empty space was right in front of him.

Later she found out that he was trying to do the same, not using the map as his excuse, but instead using the clumps of people who always congregate at the doors (why were they always doing that when everyone knew you were never getting anywhere fast upon exiting the train) to excuse him for walking towards her as if looking for a better place to stand. They teased each other upon discovering their shared secret.

At the same time she was devising her plan he was devising his. Perhaps he could get closer to her, but then what? He was very shy so speaking to her was out of the question. But the least he could do was to look into her beautiful eyes once before she went out of his life, so he could at least have that. A small story tucked in the recesses of the memory that he could return to when alone, deep in his own thoughts. Something to give us hope when we find ourselves in that dark place and don’t have the fortitude to feel our way back to the light. He just knew he had to have the memory if nothing else. Just then it happened, he saw her look at the empty seat in front of him, so he stood aside to block one of the Chinese women who bee-line for any empty chair, bouncing off him to pinball her way to another. Desperately seeking solace for the long ride back to whatever factory or backroom she had to work in that night. He was sorry, but didn’t care too much when she slide into her seat like a ball player sliding into home… Safe!

She saw him step aside, ‘was that for me?’ she asked herself—but she the answer was in his eyes. When she looked up into the blue that reminded her of the cool waters she used to swim in as a child. They were as deep, too, which would have frightened her under any other circumstance, but the pull was too strong for her to think about that now. No further thoughts, just take the chair. “Thank you”, was all she said—she needed an opening and here it was. She said something, now to wait for him.

Her thank you was so genuine that he answered before he could realize what he was doing, “I saw your intentions and I just thought I’d help a little bit”, he said as he smiled. They both looked over to the Asian who had claimed her post, she didn’t even notice them as she settled in for the long ride.

The gauntlet was down. Both were each smiling at their small victory when he slid into the next seat and as natural as a casual glance, they started their first conversation. It struck him how easy it was—she was like an old friend, a steamy rendezvous and a long-lost soul mate wrapped up into one beautiful package that he loved opening, one sentence at a time. He was so wrapped into their conversation that he missed his stop. He missed several more before he realized that he had long passed where he lived. They were in Bay Ridge before he even knew it, about forty blocks from his house. She stood up and said, “The next stop is mine, where do you live?”

He smiled, “We passed mine about seven stops ago. I’m in the Slope,” he answered in the local colloquialism for Park Slope. She laughed, such a captivating laugh, it reminded him his mother, her laughter stayed clear in his mind even as her features seemed to fade more and more each year. He asked her if he could walk her home, she said, “Are you sure you want to walk around Bay Ridge, being from snobby Park Slope and all.” He laughed at this; she was good, he thought. He asked her for her number on the way and they had set another date before they even got to her door. He knew that no matter how shy he was, he couldn’t just let her go without at least trying to see her again. Little did he know she was thinking the exact same thing.

“Next Saturday then,” he said as she slowly closed the door.

For the first date he wanted to take her somewhere special, so they walked near the Prospect Park Carousel, one of his favorite places in the world because it reminded him of his childhood. His father and mother, being of modest means, would take the family to the park at least once each month during the Summer so they could all ride the carousel. He felt that it was a part of him, he would sometimes just sit on the bench and watch the carousel going around and around, blurring his vision he could almost see the family as he and his brother played cowboys while his parents would coo and kiss in the bench behind. His father would always gently rub his mother’s arms as they spun around in that chair, acting as children without a care in the world. The memory of her laughter always brought tears to his eyes because it was more beautiful than the calliope music that always seemed to dim in reverence. He winced as he remembered losing them both when he was still a young man, before their time to be taken and before his time to let them go. He let the memory escape, not wanting to hold onto it this time. There was plenty of time to think about the past, but he was in the present and he didn’t want anything to cloud this perfect day.

She loved the carousel, how did he know that this part of the park was her favorite? She didn’t linger on this thought because of how right each moment was for both of them. She turned a bit as they walked and she put out her hand, perhaps he needed a little prod to tell him it was ok to hold her hand; that she wanted him to hold it.

He saw she was looking at him, smiling at him and he knew that it was only for him, that he did the right thing by bringing her here. Then he saw her turn towards him and hold her hand slightly out from her body, his eyes followed hers as they reached out to her hand as she wanted him to do with his. Oh no, please not now, was all he could think, but the only thing he could do was look dumbly at her, as if he had no idea what she wanted. She stopped and turned to him, he knew what was coming.

“Why won’t you hold my hand?” she said shyly.

“Um, er… ” he stammered. “I don’t really like to hold hands”, was all he could find to say.

Catching her off guard, she blurted, “Do you not like me?” Ready to end it here if he said so, but also knowing full well she was in for a long night of crying.

“No, no, I like you so much” he said. Calming her nerves but opening up a whole Pandora of questions in her mind. He saw the confusion in her face, so he started to tell her about his hands, but stopped. He simply took them out of his pockets and offered them to her, palms up.

She looked at the deep crevasses in his hands, his fingers bent and swelled, looked like old lumber that has sat in the hard sun and splintered. She saw the countless callouses that had grew and regrew so many times it made his skin as hard and thick as old tires, the ripped skin like steel showing through the bald treads. She couldn’t stop staring as she felt the pain of his hands as if it was her own, her own knuckles tightened involuntarily, as her hands tightened into fists in her pockets.

“This is why I can’t hold your hand, because of these stupid things,” he said, not being able to look her in the eyes because of his shame. “They tell a horrible story of a simple man who has a simple job and who make a simple living. I want to be something more, someone more, but at an early age I fell in love with wood. I fell in love with the ability to take a rough, gnarled, ugly old tree stump and make it into a smooth, tempered, handcrafted piece of art that is priceless. But in all the years that I have made such beauty, in turn all it did was make me ugly. These splintered and damaged hands aren’t worth a ticket to ride that carousel.”

She looked at him and smiled as the tears gently rolled down her cheek. “This was it?” she asked. “This is why you wouldn’t hold my hand?” Then she began to tell him her own story, “When I was a little girl, my father would come home after working twelve hour days and he would take off his heavy jacket and work boots. My mother would never allow anyone in our house with boots on, and in that house she ruled. He would come over to the table sit down and light his pipe. Then he would sit back and look over at my sister and I, knowing what we wanted more than anything was to hear about his day. He was a stonemason and he did that his entire life, until we buried him. He was so surprised by us wanting to hear about his day, he would say that it was just like any other. There was no way we would ever let him off the hook that easily, so he would wait until we begged enough and tell us all about the other men he worked with, how the boss was always yelling things like, ‘get back to work, we are too far behind for you to have another break’ and always getting on them about not working fast or hard enough.”

She stopped and took his hands into hers. He could barely feel her softness, as he tried to pull away. She pulled back until he stopped. Defeated, all he could do was into her beautiful eyes. Which was all the comfort he needed.

“Do you know what I used to do while he told me his stories every day?” she asked.

He just shook his head silently, never taking his eyes off of hers.

“I used to look at his hands. They were like these,” she raised his hand for him to look, “You might think they are horrible, but I think they are beautiful. I loved my father’s hands because they told me stories that he couldn’t. They told me of the time when he burned himself because the lye from the cement wedged between his fingers and he couldn’t wash them for hours because he had to carry several tons of cement from the trucks to the foundation. Back and forth he would walk, making the same trip over and over, leaving a bloodied stamp on each block he carried. When he got home he could barely move his fingers, I remember my mother crying as she massaged cooling salve onto his rough, bloody palms. All he did was joke and say, ‘it’s ok, there’s ten of them, that’s plenty in case I lose one or two’, and he would calmly sit until she was done crying and still he would put us to bed, carrying us in his big strong hands like he didn’t have a care in the world. My father always told me that no one should be ashamed of what they do, as long as they do it the best they can.”

She continued, “My mother loved his hands, she would laugh at them, cry over them, yell at him to use some stupid lotion she would buy that, ‘would make them soft again’ she would say to him. He knew that they would never be soft again and so did she, but that didn’t stop her from trying and it didn’t stop him from teasing her about it. Some nights she would just sit on the couch and massage his hands, knowing that it was those hands that fed us, clothed us and gave our home to live in. I miss him a lot,” she said as our eyes locked together, “I miss his smell, his skin, his voice, his stories, but mostly I miss those hands. That was our security blanket, those hands would never—did not ever—let anything bad happen to us.”

She held his hands tightly as she pressed them into her chest, her fingers intertwined with his. She then brought them to her soft lips and she softly kissed his rough knuckles with the utmost care, “These hands tell the story of you, who you are and how hard you work, even how honest you are as a man. They tell your story as my father’s did, they tell of pain and hard work, devotion and artistic expression. Hands like yours—like his—they can’t lie, even if they tried.” She hesitated a moment as her eyes bore into his as she made her point, “They also tell me that you will be there for me, that you will care for me and that you will never let anyone hurt me.”

He smiled at her, and in that instant he knew that he had to remember every word, every syllable that was said this day, since he would be telling this story to his children. To their children.


Chante L. Reid

Honorable Mention, Narrative
Chante L. Reid  Liberal Arts & Sciences, Bronx Community College

Monotony

Painting from the Images of Labor poster series, inspired by a quote from Mark Twain, by Jacob Lawrence, 1980

You walk to the Castle Hill train station from your East Tremont apartment. You climb the four flights of stairs to the turnstile. You take out your yellow and blue metro card from the second space in your wallet where your green and white metro card was once housed as well as the orange and white metro card before that. You and this walk, those stairs, and these various colored metro cards have had this relationship for a long time.

The woman sitting behind the bulletproof, knife-proof, flame resistant, kindness shield glass tells you there are no downtown trains today. You know what she said and you know what to do but you wait. You stare through the bulletproof, knife-proof, flame resistant, kindness shield glass and wait for further instructions. She unexcitedly looks up from her Ebony Magazine. She tells you to take the 4 bus to Parkchester. You know it is faster to walk. You and that walk, those stairs, no downtown trains at this stop, and annoyed women behind bulletproof, knife-proof, flame resistant, kindness shield glasses have had this relationship for a long time.

You arrive at an overcrowded Parkchester. The escalators are off and there are cops checking bags at a card table posted in front of payphones that have not been used since your metro card was orange and white. They do not stop you. You are not a man or wearing un-Christian like garb so they are not interested. You swipe your metro card through the turnstile. It asks you to please swipe again. You do. It asks again and the line that has formed behind you grows impatient and distressed. Your malfunctioning metro card has ruined their entire day. It finally allows you to go, informing you of its expiration date and wishing you a nice day. You almost say “thank you” to this machine that is far more polite than the woman behind the bulletproof, knife-proof, flame resistant, kindness shield glass but think better of it. Being seen talking to machines today, might get your bag checked tomorrow.

The train is here. The only stop it has made before this is Pelham Bay Park. People who live in Pelham Bay Park rarely take the 6 train so it is empty. However, those of you that normally get on at Castle Hill, Zerega, and Westchester Sq. are all on this elevated platform preparing to race for a cold plastic seat. You get a seat but kindly offer it to an old woman who could not outrun a young man in a UPS uniform. She thanks you in Spanish; you smile politely. You and malfunctioning various colored metro cards, overcrowded train stations, and old women too slow to outrun young men in uniforms have had this relationship for a long time.

You get off the train at 125th Street. You walk west. A woman with a beautiful dark complexion free of blemishes and diluted bloodlines asks if she can braid the heap of bush-like hair that springs from your scalp. You politely decline. There is another on Park and Madison and 5th who you also politely decline. By the time you reach what is Adam Clayton Powell Blvd. in Harlem but 7th everywhere else, you are out of polite refusals. For the rest you have avoiding eyes and a closed mouth.

You walk past a store on Frederick Douglas. It sells electronics and clothing and jewelry and the guy upstairs does haircuts and the guy downstairs does tattoos. There is a man outside handing out flyers. He gives you one. It advertises their new pizza delivery service. You throw it out at the nearest trashcan because you still have the one from yesterday in your back pocket. You and these beautifully dark, hair braiding women, and men who hand out flyers for stores that sell electronics and clothing and jewelry and the guy upstairs that does haircuts and the guy downstairs that does tattoos have had this relationship for a long time.

You reach your destination, a fast food joint across the street from the only book store in Harlem and next door to the twenty-seventh- make that twenty-eighth (they just put a new one on 2nd)- sneaker store. Your manager informs you of your tardiness. He tells you the biscuits need buttering. You apologize and promise to do better tomorrow. He lets it go. He knows you and that walk, no downtown trains, annoyed women behind bulletproof, knife-proof, flame resistant, kindness shield glasses, overcrowded platforms, malfunctioning various colored metro cards, old women too slow for seats taken by young men in uniforms, beautifully dark hair braiders, stores that sell jewelry and electronics and clothes while the guy upstairs cuts hair and the guy downstairs does tattoos and biscuits that need buttering will have this relationship for a long time.


Jardley Jean-Louis

First Prize, Visual Arts
Jardley Jean-Louis  Film Production, Brooklyn College

 

“Look There” (2013)
11″ x 14″
Diluted Acrylic, Colored Pencil

Certified Nurse Aide. Look past the Doctor or even the Registered Nurse whose titles held such high regard that as children we chose them so quickly when asked what would we become, to this job overlooked. Look to the CNA to see long work hours, a life lived paycheck to paycheck, a weakened physical body. Who aspires to become her? Who aspires to stay her? And yet within this structure, for her family she has provided opportunity, with her patients she has heard their stories, been present in their life and death and held their hand in each tomorrow.


Elizabeth Arias

Second Prize, Visual Arts
Elizabeth Arias  Studio Art/English, City College of New York

 

“Balance” (2011)
9″ x 14″
Digital Photograph

This photograph represents the labor arts spirit because it shows the balance between two jobs that many women have in this country: being a mother and being the bread winner. Mothers are able to care for their children and keep the family together while still working outside the home. For women that have moved from their native country to the United States it is difficult because of the language barrier and cultural differences. The blinds act as this barrier but the sunlight is still able to shine through, just like women are still able to succeed despite these barriers.


Bao Lin Zhang

Third Prize, Visual Arts
Bao Lin Zhang  Studio Art/Photography, City College of New York

 

“Working on Sunday” (2013)
1000 x 1000 pixels
Digital Photograph

This picture is taken around 61st Woodside in Queens and I am always amazed by the neighborhood and how different it is than Manhattan. When people think of the image of New York, we often neglect small communities like these where a mix of cultures assimilate and manage to live in the same place. In small communities like such, one can still find people who work hard even on a Sunday, just for a better life. Like most of the immigrants in New York City who try to work as hard as possible to make a little change in their life, these moments that I found on the streets of New York are very touching to me.


Jessica Rowshandel

Honorable Mention, Visual Arts
Jessica Rowshandel  Studio Art, Hunter College

 

“Get It Right” (2012)
18″ x 24″
Oil Painting

Making art requires intense mental, emotional, and physical labor. An artist often feels like her work is never complete because many of us are perfectionists and as the cliché goes, we are our own worst critics. While we do need to develop this inner critic to improve our work and grow, sometimes the criticism can be excessive and counterproductive. Although tongue-in-cheek, this piece gives a glimpse of art criticism either from a teacher to a student, or from within an artist’s own mind.


Honorable Mention, Visual Arts
Steven Chalmers  Studio Art, Hunter College

 

“Untitled (Joe Wyble)”
Photograph

Joe Wyble lives and works on his smallholding with his wife, and his sons in the Catskills region of New York State. Traditional farming is in decline. With supermarkets driving down the cost of produce, and the constant threat from the unpredictable climate it is becoming increasingly difficult to earn a living from the land. This story rings true, not only in North America, but in many other parts of the world as well. I have admiration for farmers like Joe, who persevere through adversity to uphold a way of life they know and love.


Victoria Mathew

Honorable Mention, Visual Arts
Victoria Mathew  Commercial Photography, LaGuardia Community

 

“Chilean Worker” (2012)
1000 x 667 pixels
Digital Photograph

On the outside he is serious and determined. Working hard to provide for his family. The materials he handles have blackened his nails. This is dirty manual work—work he is proud of. He may be cutting and selling the fish but they did not just come to him themselves. His labor is constant. Getting the best catch, bringing it to his station, setting up, requires skill and dedication. Making a living is rarely easy. You have to make the best out of everything, and that is exactly what this Chilean worker daily sets out to do.


Honorable Mention, Visual Arts
Stacey Brayman  Fine Arts, Brooklyn college

 

“The People’s Revolution” (2011)
1000 x 664 pixels
Digital Photograph

This photograph is of the “Occupy Wall Street” protest held in Times Square on October 15, 2011. On this day, thousands of people gathered in countries all over the world with one purpose. These demonstrations “aim to fight back against the richest 1% of people that are writing the rules of an unfair global economy that is foreclosing on our future”, as well as issues with unemployment, discrimination in the workforce, and unfair wages. In this photograph, you can see a huge crowd of people of all ages, races, and backgrounds, looking hopeful that this protest will draw awareness and bring about change.


Honorable Mention, Visual Arts
Manjinder Kaur  Criminal Justice, John Jay College of Criminal Justice

 

“Handmade Embroidery” (2011)
3264 × 2448 pixels
Digital Photograph

A man was photographed working on a ladies garment in Amritsar, India. He is carefully putting small beads and other vivid sequence on the fabrics using a thread and needle. Both men and women of India possess special talents in crafting numerous designs on various pieces of fabric. The varieties of these pieces of finished clothing are endless and come in all sizes.


 

Background & Credits

The CUNY/Labor Arts contest is dedicated to expanding and revitalizing the study of work and workers at CUNY, and is open to any undergraduate attending a CUNY college. Begun in 2010, it encourages students to write creatively and analytically about work and workers, to make art about work and workers, and to link their efforts to labor arts. Art by or about working people, including photographs, paintings, buttons, banners, posters and songs are all included in our definition of labor arts.

We would like to thank all of the students who submitted work for the 2012–13 contest, and to congratulate the authors of the prize-winning essays and poems and the creators of the visual art featured in this exhibit.

The contest is funded by The Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation, and was made possible this year through the efforts of The Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation and Don Rubin and Bruce Payne; Lehman College/CUNY and Associate Dean Terrence Cheng; and LaborArts and Rachel Bernstein, Henry Foner and Evelyn Jones Rich.

Special thanks go to our judges: Professors Salita Bryant (Narrative, Fiction/non-fiction); Nicole Cooley (Poetry); Vincent DiGirolamo (Essays); and Becca Albee (Visual Art).

The photographs of students were all taken by photographer Gary Schoichet at the Awards Ceremony, held at the Lehman College Art Gallery on April 18, 2012.

We were honored to have CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein, Brooklyn College Dean and labor historian Kimberley Phillips and Lehman College Dean Deirdre Pettipiece all speak at the awards ceremony.


 

Making Work Visible—2014
A Labor Arts Contest

Nina Talbot Open to CUNY undergraduates, this contest offers cash prizes in four categories: poetry, essay, fiction/non-fiction narratives, and art (excluding photography). Click here to read the winning entries from previous contests.

Entries should relate to labor arts—visual art about work and workers, and art by working people. Labor arts are broadly construed to include photographs, posters, buttons, banners and flyers, as well as paintings, sculpture and other fine art by or about working people. Funded by the Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation, the contest aims to expand student engagement with the under—appreciated history of work and workers in this country, and to re-vitalize the study of labor history at CUNY.


Guidelines & Entry Procedures

Undergraduates in good standing enrolled at any CUNY institution are eligible to compete. Entries must be submitted by March 1, 2014 to mwv@brooklyn.cuny.edu. The contest is coordinated this year by Terrence Cheng (Associate Provost), and Patrick Kavanagh (Associate Provost’s office) at Brooklyn College.

Garment WorkerEntries will be judged according to originality, content, and style by an impartial panel of CUNY faculty. Students may enter as many of the four categories as they wish (one entry per category), but may only win one prize in one category. Winners from previous years are not eligible. All entries must be the student's original work; winning entries will be published on the Labor Arts website. Prizes will be awarded at a ceremony in Spring 2014.

Think Visually!

Students submitting written work must include an image that is related to the themes in their writing. You may include a link to: a) one of the images below; b) one of the images from this gallery; c) an image from the Labor Arts exhibits or collections; or d) an image from another source. Sample images from the LaborArts.org web museum:

  • Sample 1
  • Sample 2
  • Sample 3
  • Sample 4
  • Sample 5
  • Sample 6
  • Sample 7

Students submitting visual artwork (excluding photography) should include on their cover sheet a brief paragraph (50–100 words) explaining how their work shares and is a part of the Labor Arts spirit.

Prizes & Categories

Prizes in each category: First Place: $1,000 // Second Place: $500 // Third Place: $250 // Honorable Mention $100.

All entries must be submitted via e-mail. The subject line of your email should include the title of your entry and the category you are submitting to (i.e. "My Contest Entry—Poetry").

Writing Categories: Poetry, Fiction/Non-Fiction Narrative, and Essay
Written entries must be Microsoft Word documents attached to your e-mail. Please save your file according to the following sample format: title_category_laborarts2014; i.e. for a fiction entry it would be mystory_fiction_laborarts2014.docx. The .jpg image associated with your written work may be pasted in to the first page of your document, accompanied by the title, artist or photographer, date, source, and URL for the image.

A separate cover sheet (also a Word document) should include the title of the piece, student name, e-mail, phone number, address, college, and major; if the piece was written for a class please identify the class, department, and instructor.

  • Poetry submissions should be single-spaced, no page limit.
  • Essays should not exceed 25 pages double-spaced (1 inch margins, 12 point font).
  • Fiction/Non-Fiction Narrative submissions should not exceed 25 pages double-spaced (1 inch margins, 12 point font).

Visual Art Category
Entries in Visual Art (excluding photography) must be saved in JPEG format and must be 1000 pixels in the longest dimension (at 72 dpi).

  • Please save the file according to the following sample format: myartwork_visualart_laborarts2014.jpg.
  • A separate cover sheet should include title of the work, media, dimensions, and year; plus student name, e-mail, phone number, address, college, and major. If the piece was created for a class please identify the class, department, and instructor.
  • Cover sheet should also include a brief paragraph (50–100 words) explaining how the work shares and is a part of the Labor Arts spirit.

Topics might include, but are not limited to: economic and social problems; issues of immigration; conflicts based on race, class, and ethnic identity; environmental concerns; child labor; women in the labor force; economic justice; globalization and international labor markets; organizing campaigns; crime and corruption; anti-labor campaigns; cultural and artistic visions; ideals and ideologies.

For more information, contact Professor Terrence Cheng (Associate Provost) and Patrick Kavanagh (Associate Provost’s office) at mwv@brooklyn.cuny.edu.