'It's All Political': Eviction and Arrests of Global Revolution Livestreamers Part of Pattern of Crackdowns on Alternative Living
A sign in Foley Square, November 17th 2011
Photo by Sarah Seltzer
Photo Credit: Sarah Seltzer
"It's all political," said Jai, one of the Global Revolution livestreamers arrested in the eviction Monday, January 2nd, of the 13 Thames collective art space that was housing the Occupy Wall Street-affiliated media crew.
After he was released from prison Wednesday night, Jai told AlterNet, "The fact is, I'm homeless now."
Global Revolution is the international network for the independent media from Occupy movements across the globe. While the eviction and arrests could have been another tactic to target and silence Occupy media, another possibility looms: Before Global Revolution, before Occupy, 13 Thames was a communal home in Bushwick, Brooklyn with a punk-anarchist edge, where tactical media projects were produced, and radical ideas were exchanged and practiced. Activists by lifestyle, inhabitants at 13 Thames created a space for communal living, rejection of norms, and demonstration planning.
Out of 13 Thames came not only Global Revolution, but musicians and artists of all sorts, as well as the Glass Bead Collective, a tactical media group that projected images of political prisoners onto the FBI building, and filmed Amy Goodman’s arrest at the 2008 Republican National Convention. If the order to vacate was not a tactic to disrupt Occupy livestreamers, it may still have been issued to strike down yet another radical space.
On Monday night, two representatives from the Department of Buildings and two NYPD officers showed up at 13 Thames, demanding they do an on-site inspection while they were in the building to inspect the neighbors at 15 Thames. The visit stemmed from an outstanding vacate order for the first floor of both 13 and 15 Thames. It was last addressed in May of 2010, but the inspectors appeared determined to take care of it immediately.
"I didn't let them in," Jai said. "They barged in on Monday, with the police, without our consent or a warrant to come into our home." Then, he said, the Department of Buildings called the fire department, who checked the sprinklers, and determined they were functioning. Unsatisfied, the inspectors decided they wanted an additional sprinkler in the hallway between the front and back rooms. "We've had inspections before, and they never said anything about sprinklers in the hallway," Jai said.
According to Jai, the need for an additional sprinkler was enough for the building inspector to declare the space "perilous to life," and they were ordered to leave right away. Vlad Teichberg, a 13 Thames resident and cofounder of the Glass Bead Collective and Global Revolution Livestream, explained to AlterNet the circumstances of the vacate order. On January 2nd, "The Buildings Department and Fire Department arrived at 8pm -- on a holiday -- which is very strange. These are not normal working hours," Teichberg said. Teichberg and Jai also said they heard an inspector say he had received a phone call that day, ordering him to take care of the old issue immediately.
Teichberg said inspectors immediately showed interest in the media equipment, and made comments like "What were you filming here?" before telling residents they could no longer "occupy" the space. "It was very strange," said Teichberg.
The next day, after having an argument with the landlord -- who residents say had entered the space without permission -- Teichberg was arrested on his way out of the space, after having gathered some legal documents to challenge the vacate order in court. He and his wife, Nikky Schiller, a livestreamer/revolutionary transplant from Spain who came to see America’s uprising, were en route to an appointment for their baby's first ultrasound. "It's a really important part of becoming a father, to see the baby for the first time," said Teichberg, "but the appointment had to be postponed."
A friend of 13 Thames and tactical media activist who goes by the name Spike was also arrested, but according to Jai, he was not even in the building -- instead videotaping from the sidewalk -- when the police were rounding them up. "He was charged with trespassing, but how can you be trespassing when you're on the curb?" said Jai. Another arrestee, who goes by the name Acadia, was also filming on the sidewalk.
Video of the arrests, shot by a colleague named Luke,* has already been responsible for getting “resisting arrest” charges against the residents dropped. "They adjusted their narrative to information that was publicly available," Teichberg told AlterNet, "The voice of the police has a lot more weight than the voice of citizens in court, but the truth is on our side."
The landlord charged Teichberg with assaulting him, but he disputes the claim and says he has footage for most of their argument. Regardless, he can't go back to 13 because there is a restraining order against him.
"Because of false accusations, I can't go back to the space," he said.
"My theory is that the city made the call, and the landlord decided to take the opportunity. The landlord saw an opportunity to get rid of us -- by vacating and arresting us, distracting us." He also says, "The police were acting on the landlord's orders. He was pointing out who to arrest."
"He is an acting one percenter," said Teichberg, referencing his ownership of multiple restaurants in the Bushwick neighborhood.
13 Thames has long been embattled in a legal case to determine the nature of their residency, and the vacate order could have been the result of a tumultuous relationship with their landlord and city agencies. By the end of September, the landlord had withdrawn an eviction order, but 13 and the landlord were still arguing over who is responsible for repairs. According to Fiona Campbell, a resident who was deeply involved with the space's legal issues, "There's been a lot of confusion between the tenants and the landlord, which is a trickle-down effect, because there is no dialogue between the buildings department and the loft board."
The buildings department and the loft board, she said, have different standards, confusing the landlord. Campbell said the building is full of code violations, but, "The landlord wants to be told by the city that he has to fix stuff, but the loft board doesn't tell him to. It's just a mess. If there was something set that made sense between the loft board and the buildings department, it would be a much simpler process."
Still, she says, communication must go both ways: 13 must be willing to pay rent, if the landlord is willing to make renovations. Otherwise, they must make renovations themselves, and pay whatever price of the building is left over to buy it out. But Campbell is not sure whether the raid is completely related to problems with the landlord, or whether residents' involvement with Occupy provoked the raid. "The two times they came in and raided everyone were before the Anarchist Book Fair, and now this," she said.
Regardless, "We were there legally, as residents of that building." said Vlad. Now, at least eight people are homeless.
"I can't say that the department of buildings and the fire department doesn't have a legal right to enter into space in the city of New York. They clearly do, but I believe that there's more at play here. I think that this is a politically motivated situation," Wylie Stecklow, an attorney for the livestreamers, told AlterNet. 13's inhabitants, Stecklow said, had been utilizing the space with impunity for years, all the while working regularly with the fire department to make sure it was not a dangerous space. "Nothing occurred in the days or weeks leading up to the vacate order that was now again put on here for the 5th or 6th time that made it all of a sudden dangerous or perilous to life," said Stecklow, who believes the order to vacate was issued from people in power, higher up than the inspectors or fire department who made the visit to 13 Thames.
Whether the vacate order was an attempt to shut down the Global Revolution livestream, the byproduct of a nasty fight with the landlord, or a combination of both, the story runs much deeper.
Inside 13 Thames
I embarked on a journey to 13 Thames before Global Revolution found its home there, and as integral as Global Revolution has become to the space, 13-1, as it is also called, was much more than Occupy's livestream station. And like 13 is more than Global Revolution’s home base, its eviction is part of a larger framework.
13 Thames was an experiment in living; it exemplified another option. Its inhabitants, dwellers, and weary travelers, many of whom used 13 to crash for a day or two (or much longer), had created a space similar to Zuccotti Park, long before it became Liberty Square. Radical ideas were rampant, leadership was shunned, and community and sharing were necessities, because money was tight. To provide one small example, Jai walked me to the subway at the end of every visit I paid to 13 Thames, to swipe me onto the subway with his unlimited metro card.
I first visited 13 Thames in May, when my desire to write about punk culture in New York led me to Nick James (who would only give his first and middle name), and Ryan Perry (stage name as former member of the punk band Total Chaos: Ryan Rebel) two homeless street punks who seemed much younger than their mid-twenties. They had both been homeless since around the age 12 or 13, and met in upstate New York when they were 16 and 17, while Ryan was living in a bus with his mom and her boyfriend, and Nick was sleeping in a yurt. Nick and Ryan were crashing at 13 Thames when I first met them, and they often had nowhere else to go. 13 Thames was like a shelter, but without the sense of charity. It was welcoming, and there, Nick and Ryan shared their music, and their stories, with people who cared.
13 Thames was designed to accommodate parties and residency, so that the artists and activists who lived there could pay the rent promoting their passions and enjoy a communal life. In each other, they found mutual inspiration and support, an effective achievement of self-sufficiency. For youths like Ryan and Nick, whose histories should have condemned them to reliance on our broken social system, this was especially important. Someone always had their backs.
The residents have shifted some since I wrote about 13 Thames in May (Schiller is one example) but the substance of what I wrote then holds:
They use this space to be free -- to make art and seek refuge from a society that does not serve them. In the midst of the devastated economy, they are able to hold their own. Kids like Nick, whom society failed, find a way to live free and be happy. At 13 Thames, one might meet at a Trinidian black metal kid who grew up in Bed-Stuy, a punk rock woman mechanic who worked for six years at a law firm, a dreadlocked community gardener, or an interestingly “off” German man. They come together to accept people that society fails and rejects, and they pride themselves on open-mindedness.
And then they party – often with a conscience. They throw film screenings, noise, metal, and punk shows, art galleries, showcasing whatever parcel of the underground they deem cool enough.
Residents were activists, artists, and musicians -- many of them people of color -- who shared a desire to reject the mainstream and experience alternative living. But they struggled within the confines of a society that demands one lifestyle, and overwhelmingly champions the pursuit of individual wealth and accomplishments. 13 paid the bills hosting rock shows, but when the Department of Buildings and police presence demanded they stop the music, they were forced to pool their resources to survive, and abandon part of their dream -- to have a free, creative space. The change added considerable pressure to 13 Thames, as money to secure rent and pay bills became tighter, and dwellers without economic means scrambled to find new ways to contribute. And still, they survived.
That is, until Monday, when the space was issued a vacate order for being “perilous to life.” But it wasn't life that the collective threatened. 13 Thames was perilous to the very leadership that ultimately dismantled it -- as was Occupy Wall Street -- by exemplifying the possibility of another life, away from the dog-eat-dog lifestyle of capitalistic gain.
At the very least, spreading the merits of anarcho-community threatens the egos and self-worth of those in power. The media‘s role in this process of presenting new possibilities is crucial, and the 13 Thames crew understood that, becoming media makers themselves.
Nigel Parry, an independent media pioneer and Global Revolution affiliate, said he is not one to believe that the NYPD is always out to shut down media, but added “They definitely targeted the media in Zuccotti Park. That's why they do this code violation bullshit. It seems completely unrelated and reasonable -- they're worried about health and safety.” Both inhabitants of 13 Thames and Liberty Square, as well as occupations around the country, were forced out of their spaces under the official, bogus pretext of health concerns (Look at Occupy Oakland -- are tear gas, flash bang grenades, and rubber bullets not more physically damaging than mass cohabitation?).
"There is a concerted effort to deprive people of the Occupy movement, and those in their media team, of their First Amendment rights," said attorney Stecklow. On November 17th, at least seven members of the Occupy media team were arrested while streaming, and Teichberg considers the police force an attempt to stop independent media. In the weeks leading up to the raid, most of the Global Revolution equipment was in the unit next door, 15 Thames, where "People were coming in from all the country, and all over the world, to spend a few days with us working and learning how to edit the channel. The space is shut down, but people are streaming all over the world," Teichberg said.
"Just like we saw in Russia, like we saw in these Arab countries, we're seeing it here in New York," said Stecklow, who noted that because Global Revolution connects the Occupy movement worldwide, "it is clearly the media team behind the Occupy movement."
Teichberg agreed. "Independent media is under attack worldwide - in Syria, Egypt, and now in the USA. People on our media team have been arrested five times,” he said, "It's an attempt at censorship."
Breaking Up Radical Spaces
But Liberty Square and 13 Thames are not the only communal spaces the Bloomberg administration has targeted. While maintaining a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) space has always been turbulent, breaking them up has become increasingly common. As the Village Voice recently reported, new rules enforced by new task forces have become somewhat of a tool “to force out New York's bohemian culture in hopes of creating a future perfect Gotham.” The Voice explains:
Not long after the new Quality of Life Task Force began to crack down on long-unenforced cabaret laws during the Giuliani administration, the Social Club Task Force—established after the 1990 Happy Land fire—evolved into the Multi-Agency Response to Community Hotspots (MARCH), overseen by the New York Police Department. "Unauthorized dancing" was now only one of many potential infractions.
According to the Voice, when Bloomberg took office in 2002, “MARCH activities rose immediately by 35 percent and kept growing.” The Voice continues:
"If you listen to stories about what led to this homicide or what led to this assault, you would be surprised how many stem from nightclubs," Robert F. Messner, a police commissioner who oversaw club shutdowns, told the Times. "We don't want those places in New York. We make it very clear." In 2003, the smoking ban went into effect, outlawing one of the city's longest-running cultural institutions: the smoky jazz club. Regulations have kept creeping into other bastions of the old, free New York. The Algonquin Hotel has had to confine its lobby cat to a space behind the check-in counter, and don't even think about trying to have a bar dog.
This is all despite the fact that DIY spaces have been a staple of New York’s creativity since the art scene flourished in the 1960s. As the Voice explained,
Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, and the Almanac Singers had live music at their communal Almanac House on West 10th Street as early as 1939, but history records a December 1960 gathering on Chambers Street organized by Yoko Ono as the first proper loft show.
Alcohol infractions, too, have become reasons to shut down DIY spaces. In April of 2010, cops raided one of Bushwick's most renowned DIY spaces, the Market Hotel, and shut it down after "receiving a tip that alcohol was being served without a license," according to the Brooklyn Paper. The Market Hotel was the brain child of Todd Patrick, AKA Todd P, who has been credited with inspiring the DIY scene in New York. The Arch Collective, too, was legally reprimanded in April, for “operating an illegal bottle club” while serving wine and beer to party guests. That same month, the Trailer Park, a neighboring collective to 13 Thames, was shut down for fire code violations.
The Silent Barn, also in Bushwick, was raided in July. A DIY/living space like 13 Thames, its residents were temporarily homeless after a Department of Buildings inspection ended in a vacate order. When they returned the next day, the front door was wide open and $15,000 worth of equipment and personal possessions was stolen or destroyed, the Voice said, adding that "Despite security-camera footage of three men loading equipment into a van, police were less than helpful."
For 13 Thames, this latest brush with the law was not their first time. Police raided their space in April of last year, just days before they were scheduled to host an after-party for the Anarchist Book Fair. Residents said the police entered without a warrant, checked IDs, and arrested some with outstanding warrants.
One of them, Johnny Ludolph, 19, told the New York Times he was arrested for old, unpaid tickets issued for drinking beer on the sidewalk. But when he arrived at the police station, Ludolph told the Times the police seemed most interested in asking him about fliers for the NYC Anarchist Film Festival, with 13 Thames Street listed as an address.
Proof that the eviction of 13 Thames was entirely Global Revolution-related is limited. Nevertheless, what is clear is that across the country, people in positions of power are using minor violations and health code ‘concerns’ to evict ideas. That Bloomberg and others either do not understand the thriving livelihood of these spaces, or are so threatened by their ideology they try to suppress it, should not be a surprise. Occupy and 13 Thames derived wealth from creativity and art; they defined their value by contributions to community. Bloomberg’s wealth stemmed from self-promotion, and is measured by money.
Yet shutting down the space hasn't stopped the Global Revolution crew from working. Immediately following their release, Jai said, they were "back to the studio," preparing to find the stuff they stashed away and keep on working. Their release guarantees the resumption of their activities -- without a home -- but with more attention.
As Teichberg said after his arrest, “We can do all of this from laptops," not to mention smart phones.
"You can hit us, but you can't stop us, because we're everywhere," he said, "This will only make us stronger."
*Editor's note: An earlier version of this piece incorrectly identified the videographers..