Monday, January 16, 2012
Occupy Movement Reignites 'Battle for Brooklyn'
By Press Action
The producers of Battle for Brooklyn attribute the documentary’s growing success to the Occupy Wall Street movement’s focus on how government institutions operate on behalf of the wealthy few in the United States.
When it was released in April 2011, Battle for Brooklyn, a documentary about a community in Brooklyn fighting real-estate developers who want to build a basketball arena and numerous other buildings, received positive feedback from reviewers and the public.
But as the Occupy movement caught fire in September 2011, Battle for Brooklyn started getting noticed by an even larger audience, said Michael Galinsky, speaking Jan. 15 at a screening of the film at the Artisphere complex in Arlington, Va. Galinsky co-directed and co-produced the film with his wife Suki Hawley.
Battle for Brooklyn addresses the same issues targeted by the Occupiers: corporate greed, crony capitalism, undemocratic institutions and community destruction.
In one of the film’s most memorable scenes, a board member of the Empire State Development Corporation, a public authority of the state of New York, reveals his unfamiliarity with the project by querying ESDC staffers about the boundaries of the project. At this same meeting in December 2006, despite this member’s obvious unfamiliarity with the project, the ESDC voted unanimously to approve the Atlantic Yards project.
This was not a run-of-the-mill project. It was designed as one of the largest construction projects in New York City in recent memory. The $4.9 billion project would include the construction of an arena for the relocated New Jersey Nets basketball team plus 16 residential and office towers.
Galinsky said times have changed over the past four months and that similar efforts by large corporations and their partners in municipal and state governments would be met with much greater resistance today. For example, “there would have been a mic check” if the ESDC had tried to rubber-stamp another major construction project without community involvement and support, he said, referring to the human microphone technique perfected by OWS activists.
“The Occupy movement has made Battle for Brooklyn impossible to ignore,” Bruce Levine wrote in a November 2011 article in the Huffington Post. “Battle for Brooklyn documents a group of the ‘99 percent’ who, between 2004 and 2011, staged a courageous battle against the ‘1 percent’ at a time when most of us had lost our fight.”
The film follows Daniel Goldstein, a graphic designer who owns an apartment in a building inside the footprint of the proposed project. Goldstein was the only resident of his apartment building who refused to take a buyout from the developers to leave. As he learned more about Atlantic Yards, Goldstein realized he could not give in to the demands of the developers. He was appalled at the handouts offered to the developers by government officials. Goldstein emerged as a leading opponent of the project.
The taxpayer support for the project consisted of direct public subsidies, tax breaks, government-backed financing, free and below-market value land as well as other special benefits amounting to a total pegged somewhere between $1 billion and $2 billion.
Goldstein attended the infamous ESDC meeting where its members approved the Atlantic Yards project despite their unfamiliarity. Outside the meeting, he was interviewed by the filmmakers. Goldstein expressed astonishment that no one stood up to denounce the anti-democratic process used by the ESDC to approve the project.
“That’s civilization—the fact that no one screamed their head off in there,” Goldstein said. “Even Patti was civilized in there,” he said, referring to Patti Hagan, a community activist in Brooklyn’s Prospect Heights community who helped to galvanize community opinion against the project and introduced the filmmakers to Goldstein when they were getting started on the documentary in 2004.
At the screening, Galinsky said similar sorts of boondoggles are happening across the United States. City officials in Santa Clara, Calif., for example, are “keeping people out of the loop” about a deal to bring a new stadium for the San Francisco 49ers to their town, he said. Santa Clara officials have decided to take out an $850 million construction loan to build the stadium for the 49ers.
As for Atlantic Yards, the project has been downsized. The only design now is for the arena, not any of the promised affordable housing, or any other part of the project. A large portion of the 24-acre site is now designed to be parking lots. There is no indication that the people who had their homes and businesses confiscated by eminent domain or through the threat of eminent domain will get to return.Share