Sunset Park residents look to build on OWS

October 28, 2011 Heather Chin
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There are myriad reasons why thousands of people have supportedand joined the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement around the world,but for some residents of Sunset Park, the biggest movement of allis what can happen in their own neighborhood.

That is why 15 neighbors and friends gathered at Trinity LutheranChurch in Sunset Park on a recent Saturday to discuss how theycould build on OWS’s momentum to effect change in their streets,backyards and schools. After their teach-in, the group headed toZuccotti Park to see the OWS protests and encampment forthemselves.

People are clamoring for change, social and economic justice, andnot just in the centers of power, said community activist DavidGalarza. There needs to be a clamor for change at the verygrassroots level, where people live in neighborhoods like SunsetPark or the South Bronx or Flushing. [This is] a way to connectworking families and, in particular, people of color [aroundissues] that relate to our specific community.

The meeting on October 22 had the feel of a small town hall, witheveryone introducing themselves and, while snacking on bagels,sharing what goals they would like to see tackled in southwestBrooklyn.

I was born in Sunset Park and moved back a week and a half ago tobuild something in the neighborhood that connects youth of color,said Dennis Flores, who teaches documentary filmmaking to highschool students. I want to start an artist’s collective with amedia lab and video documentary classes that are free for youth. Iwant to engage this community.

Another native son, George Martinez, shares Flores’s belief thatart can serve as a tool to unify and communicate between people ofdifferent generations, gender and backgrounds.

The New York Times was looking for a celebrity melodyabout OWS, but that’s not the point, said Martinez, who created aYouTube video called Occupy Wall St. Hip Hop Anthem: OccupationFreedom. The people can make their own music… It helpstranslate what’s possible for us.

The fact that the group’s meeting coincided with the National Dayof Protest to Stop Police Brutality seemed serendipitous andfitting to some..

Education justice, food justice, immigration reform, economicjustice and criminal justice are why I’m here, said LeticiaAlanis, director of local nonprofit La Unión. I want to try toaffect legislation, locally and overall – it’s allconnected.

There is a connection between OWS and the broader picture ofeconomic exploitation and housing, gentrification and the criminaljustice system, noted Samuel Cruz, pastor at Trinity Lutheran.We’re a church that emphasizes involvement with the real world[and] social justice. Our mission is to be involved in real lifeissues and what people of faith think. And many of the people inour congregation and people we serve outside the church buildingare suffering from the economic situation… It can never be wrongfor people to engage civilly in civil society to beconcerned.

Collectively, the group agreed on shared goals of meetingregularly, bringing at least one friend each to future meetings,and delving into issues so that something concrete can come outof the group’s meetings.

The group will meet every Saturday morning at 10 a.m. inside thechurch, 411 46th Street. To learn more about, [email protected].

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