This week Bernie Sanders opened his Brooklyn campaign office in the neighborhood of Gowanus. Plenty of the young volunteers who attended the Democratic presidential candidate’s street party wondered why. Unlike Williamsburg or Bushwick, better-known Brooklyn neighborhoods where a lot of these volunteers live, Gowanus is just starting to gentrify. It’s better known for the Gowanus Canal, which carries sewage and industrial waste and has been a federal superfund site since 2010. But maybe that venue, which attracts the young and is affected by the very social and environmental problems that Sanders has been talking about, was the perfect choice.
Ygael Tresser, 39, came with his son to the Sanders event, both decked out in campaign clothing. The locals know environmental problems personally, he says.
“This is a very industrial area, very polluted, so a lot of people didn’t want to live here until the Environmental Protection Agency decided to spend a lot of money to clean out the Gowanus Canal. People were like, ‘no way, even just walking by it you can lose your hair.’ Now that the cleanup is happening, money is coming in and so are major developers, though they are also erecting buildings that the neighborhood’s original residents can’t afford,” Tresser mourns. “Gentrification just happens very quickly in New York and it’s a big problem, and that is also something that I hope we can address, not having the landlord kick people out who have been living there for 10 years to make $300 more a month. There is a lot of things happening that should not be happening, because of money and politics.”
Linda Sarsour, executive director of the Arab American Association of New York, is an activist for Muslims in the city. At the start of her address she said she’s from Brooklyn and supports Sanders because he cares about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The crowed cheered.
“I feel honored, as a Palestinian American, to support a candidate who somehow has the radical idea that Palestinians are deserving of respect and human rights,” Sarsour said. “New York is famous for one thing: We tell it like it is and we don’t let anyone stop us. As a Palestinian, I support the only Jewish candidate for the presidency, and this is how we do it in New York,” Sarsour told the rally, to loud cheers and applause.
“I’m supporting a candidate who sees the humanity of the Palestinian people, because I am Palestinian,” Sarsour told Haaretz. “Bernie Sanders’ very balanced approach to the Palestinian conflict is something we have never seen in any presidential candidate. He says that Israel has a right to exist but also that Palestinians have a right to dignity and respect. And that we need to end the blockade on Gaza – that is not something that we are used to hearing. I welcome his approach to peace and reconciliation, and demanding equal right for all people.”
She thinks the New York Muslim community is likely to come out and vote this time around, in primaries and in the presidential election too.
“New York’s Muslim communities have been under unwarranted surveillance since 9/11, and Bernie Sanders is very clear that we should never target any community based on religion or race, that we should be looking for criminals and not putting the whole group under suspicion. That is important for us to know, and we are very supportive of a candidate who has always worked on civil rights issues – and surveillance is a civil rights issue,” Sarsour says.
“The Bernie Sanders campaign has reached out to a lot of diverse communities in New York. There will be people going to mosques and going to register voters. I think that the Muslim community has become a lot more civically engaged in the last couple of years. They feel very compelled by this particular election, based on the anti-Arab, anti-Muslim rhetoric, and I think this is very motivating for them to come out to the polls. I think we will be looking at a big turnout at the New York State primary, as well as in the general elections in November.”
Jesus the Jewish socialist?
Senator Nina Turner of Ohio also addressed the audience, losing it when she asked what Jesus would have done but regaining adulation when she added that Jesus was also a revolutionary and a Jewish socialist. See who else meets that description, she said.
After the rally, Sanders supporters set out to recruit more in Gowanus and in the impoverished neighborhood of Red Hook next door. On Tuesday morning volunteers were undergoing training with Carmen Holbert, a veteran of Red Hook, who explained that for instance, the Chinese residents are considered harder to reach and Latinos are supporting Hillary Clinton.
“I have been living in Red Hook since 1989, as an immigrant I couldn’t afford to buy any other property,” says Holbert. “At the time it was dilapidated, but the neighborhood has emerged from its ashes, and it’s a beautiful place. Bernie has been inspiring some people, and we have been changing minds. Their main need is jobs. There’s a large group of young African Americans with no jobs, no college education, and jobs of that kind in United States have been outsourced to India, to China. The only jobs available to them are in the service industry, like McDonalds, and these are dead-end jobs. There’s no upward mobility, and this is where Bernie Sanders’s message gets across and brings up some smiles. Hope is a very important thing when you are young.”