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Radical New Year’s Eve in Tompkins Square Park

BY THE VILLAGE SUN | Free beer, brownies and tips on squatting, which might well come in handy soon — what more could you ask for on New Year’s Eve in the time of COVID?

A Cancel The Rent Protest Anarchist New Year’s Virtual and Live Afterparty will happen in Tompkins Square Park from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Dec. 31. Fittingly, for the pandemic, the event is being organized remotely. East Village activist John Penley, who now lives in Las Vegas, has been putting it all together using Facebook. The hoppy happening will also be livestreamed.

Penley said he is just waiting for his $600 stimulus payment to hit his direct deposit and then will be PayPaling $50 to a friend in New York City to buy 12-ounce bottles of beer — no 40-ouncers — for the bash.

There will also be “magic brownies,” he said, though no joints, either.

“No passing joints, no passing anything, that’s a main way to spread the virus,” he noted. He stressed he wants the event to be safe, with people masking up and social distancing.

Obviously, it won’t be a drunkfest, either, since, with only $50, the suds will be “limited,” he noted.

In May 1995, police famously brought in a “tank,” an armored vehicle on treads, during an eviction of squatters from two buildings on E. 13th St. (Photo by John Penley)

The former activist, who shot photos for the New York daily tabloids during the East Village’s squatter heyday in the 1980s and ’90s, predicts squatting may well soon return. Evictions have been postponed for another four months, but eventually landlords will expect to collect the rent, he warned. In the ’80s, many landlords simply abandoned their buildings, some also setting them on fire, for insurance money.

Former squatters have already registered on the event’s Facebook page that they are either “going” or “interested.”

“There will be talks by squatters about how squatting may be coming back,” Penley said. “A laundry list of former squatters have said they’re interested [in attending].

“The way that things are going in New York, eventually people are going to get evicted,” he warned. “They want to extend [eviction protections] until at least people get vaccinated, so you don’t have a whole lot of infected people living on the streets.

“That’s the same way it was before,” he recalled of the former squatter days and the thinking back then. “I mean, ‘Why should we stay on the street when there are all these building we can go in?'”

The Tompkins Square Christmas tree on the first day of its lighting this year. While a feel-good symbol for many in the community, for veterans of the squatter movement, it rekindles memories of the eviction of the homeless “Tent City” from the park in 1991. (Photo by Everynight Charley Crespo)

Because there are two other annual radical New Year’s Eve events kicking off earlier — a Noise Demo against prisons by NYC Anarchist Black Cross and a Time’s Up! mass bike ride — Penley is dubbing his shindig an afterparty.

There’s a backstory — actually, you might call it a “backlash” — behind why Penley organized the radical New Year’s bash. The idea came to him when he saw photos of the Tompkins Square Christmas tree on E.V. Grieve earlier this December. The images stirred up bad memories for him of when the police, under Mayor Dinkins, kicked the homeless out of the East Village park, where they had been living in “Tent City” for two years.

Tompkins Square Park was cleared out in 1991 and then closed for renovations for two years. In 1992, activist Albert Fabozzi planted an evergreen tree in the park for his partner Glen Barnett, who had died of AIDS. Three years later, Fabozzi became chairperson of Community Board 3. He was a leader in the fight against squatters and anarchists for control of the park.

Every Christmas there is now caroling around the tree, led by the Theater for the New City, along with a community gathering.

“I was inspired by pictures of the Christmas tree,” Penley said, “how it forgets how all the homeless were evicted and were forced to carry their Christmas tree out of the park.

“Barbara Henry was pictured in The New York Times carrying her Christmas tree out of the park,” he recalled. “I actually saw her doing it myself.

“Barbara Henry died the next year of AIDS in the hospital. I went to see her. It was horrible. A lot of people that had been in that park died of AIDS.”

Despite the annual feel-good holiday celebrations around the tree, Penley has a hard time forgetting the eviction of the downtrodden homeless encampment right before Christmas nearly 30 years ago.

He sees the planting of the current tree as the victors planting their flag in the park.

“That tree was sort of an ‘F-U’ to us,” he said. “Like, ‘Now we got our Christmas tree in the park because we got rid of you.’

The radical rager will likely happen in the park’s plaza where the band shell used to be, he said. Though, he quipped of the revelers, “Maybe they might drink a few beers and walk over and take a piss on the tree.

“I have no problem with that tree and the community liking it,” he said. “I don’t want the tree harmed. But I do want people to remember the way the homeless were evicted from the park.”

3 Comments

  1. John Penley John Penley December 30, 2020

    Within six months of the Park eviction, three of the most well-known leaders of Tent City besides Barbara Henry, Ronald Casanova, Terry Taylor and Keith Thompson, all died of AIDS. Fabozzi and Antonio Pagan definitely did not mention that when they planted the tree in memory of Fabozzi’s partner. Those two also opposed and tried to stop the Housing Works housing project on Ave. D because they didn’t like the director of Housing Works, Charles King. They failed to stop the project and it became home to many who were HIV positive despite their vindictive meanness. Here is a link to the Historical Society interview with Fabozzi where he brags about getting Mayor Dinkins to evict Tent City before Christmas and also talks about getting him to knock down the beloved band shell. I was arrested when the band shell was knocked down and spent three days in jail, which is another reason I organized this event…..https://www.villagepreservation.org/wp-content/uploads/pdf/Fabozzi_AlbertTranscriptFinalWebsite.pdf

  2. Chris Flash Chris Flash December 30, 2020

    John Penley is right — folks either forget or do not know the dirty history behind that xmas tree. It was installed in 1992 as a political favor for a group calling itself “Tompkins Square Park Neighborhood Coalition” — this “coalition” was no coalition at all. It was a group of single-minded gentrifiers that included real estate attorney Samuel Turvey, real estate “developer” Donald Capoccia, City Councilmember Antonio Pagan [RIH] and his lackey Albert Fabozzi, whom he appointed to “Community” Board Three. Pagan had been appointed to CB3 by then-Manhattan Borough President David Dinkins [RIH] as a favor for Amsterdam News publisher Wilbert Tatum [RIH], who owned a string of 1830s federal townhouses along East Third Street and Second Avenue. Tatum and others put together a group they called “BASTA” that sought (and failed) to close the men’s shelter located in the former YMCA building down the block from Tatum’s properties. Pagan was their spokesperson, who Tatum and Dinkins used to attack the homeless, as if THEY, the symptoms of the city’s failures, were the CAUSE of those failures.

    With assistance from Dinkins and corrupt-as-hell NYS Assemblyman Sheldon Silver, Pagan, with the added benefit of a 1990 redrawing of the district, in which he claimed to live at 7 East Third Street [The SHADOW discovered that Pagan had an actual address at 201 East 90th Street, thereby disqualifying him from running for City Council on the LES], Pagan was able to unseat Miriam Friedlander [RIP] as city councilmember for the LES in an “interim” election.

    In December 1989, Mayor-elect Dinkins sent two of his lackeys, Michael Karfen and Bill Lynch [RIH], to Tompkins Square Park to assure the homeless that they would NOT be removed from the park and that they could winterize their tents and gear. Dinkins’s lackeys also attempted to drive a wedge between the TSP homeless and their supporters (the punks, Anarchists and squatters) who brought them food and supplies and fought off attempts at evicting them from the park, telling the homeless that we were using them for our political agenda, or some crap like that. A few weeks later, on what had to be the COLDEST day of the year, an army of kops accompanied by an armada of Parks Dept. sanitation trucks, invaded the park. The homeless burned their tents and other items in protest. We took a famous photo of a homeless man Terry Taylor holding up a mirror to Captain Savage (his REAL name!), the officer in charge of the raid.

    The Tompkins Square Park Neighborhood “Coalition” existed solely for the purpose of paving the way for the gentrification to come, by dividing the neighborhood against itself. Their xmas tree was, in effect, an invading army planting its flag in the soil of a conquered nation.

    At this point, many people enjoy that tree and its glimmering lights, but, as John Penley points out, folks ought to be aware of how that tree came to be planted there.

    Chris Flash
    Editor/Publisher
    The SHADOW

    • John Penley John Penley December 30, 2020

      Thank you Chris, this is all true.

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