2021: Best of All Worlds?

Oh babe, meet me in Tompkins Square Park
I wanna hold you in the dark
One last time
Just one last time

Mumford & Sons

*** Warning *** In a post-truth world, this is not a happy Christmas story.

There was a police riot in Tompkins Square Park in 1988 when Mayor Koch of New York city decided it was time to remove the homeless from the Park in East Village. The Wikipedia entry reads thus:

In August 1988, a riot erupted in the park when police attempted to clear the park of homeless people; 38 people were injured. Bystanders as well as homeless people and political activists got caught up in the police action that took place on the night of August 6 and the early morning of August 7, after a large number of police surrounded the park and charged at the hemmed-in crowd while other police ordered all pedestrians not to walk on streets neighboring the park. Much of the violence was videotaped and clips were shown on local TV news reports (notably including one by a man who sat on his stoop across the street from the park and continued to film while a police officer beat him up), but ultimately, although at least one case went to trial, no police officers were found culpable. A punk rock festival has been held in the park in the years since, in commemoration of the event.

However this was not the first riot in Tompkins Square park. In 1874 the Workers movements throughout the United States had been making demands of the government to help ease the strain of a country wide depression. Workers and poor people clashed with police in the park. Over 7,000 workers gathered in Tompkins Square Park on January 13, 1874, including about 1,200 workers from the German Tenth Ward Workingmen’s Association. This was the largest demonstration that New York City had ever seen. Roughly 1,600 policemen were stationed in the surrounding area. There were no notices in sight, however, to inform the crowd that the meeting’s permit had been revoked.


In 1988 a conservative President Reagan was in the White House and Mayor Koch had been in power in New York since 1977. Ed Koch, a Democrat and arch supporter of Israel, had run to the right of the other candidates on a “law and order” platform.

According to historian Jonathan Mahler, the New York City blackout of 1977 that happened in July, and the subsequent rioting, helped catapult Koch and his message of restoring public safety to front-runner status.


In the same year as the riot, journalist Milton Coleman claimed Presidential hopeful, Jesse Jackson, had talked to him at breakfast about the preoccupation of some with Israel. Coleman claimed Jackson said something to the effect of the following: `That’s all Hymie wants to talk about, is Israel; every time you go to Hymietown, that’s all they want to talk about.’ “

It was these words that lost Jesse Jackson the nomination as Democratic Party candidate for President against George Bush Senior. Jesse Jackson was beside Martin Luther King when he was shot and killed in Atlanta in 1968. He was always to the left of Barack Obama who became the first African American President.

Mayor Koch claimed Reverend Jackson’s comments to be anti-semitic, and told New York Jews that they would be “crazy” to vote for Jackson. Instead Koch endorsed Tennessee Senator Al Gore, who had won less than 20% in any northern state. As Koch’s anti-Jackson rhetoric intensified, Gore seemed to shy away from Koch. On primary day, Gore finished a weak third place with 10% of the vote and dropped out of the race. Jackson ran ten points behind Dukakis, whose nomination to run against George Bush senior became assured after his New York win.

Both George Bush and his son, as presidents of the United States, supporting Israel, attacked Iraq bringing the country to its knees and killing over a million people. It is unlikely the Iraqi people will recover in this generation or the next.

It is ironic that in a country of anti-semitism, the democratic party should have such a history of preferring strongly zionist presidential and vice-presidential candidates. The party of ‘liberals’ have backed conservatives over progressives like Bernie Sanders and Jesse Jackson. If that is still their aim to-day, the democrats could have chosen no better pro-Israel candidates than Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Their foreign policy agenda is likely to do great harm in the Middle East and elsewhere in coming years. They have already backed the Palestinian Authority to do the work of Israel in cracking down on their own people in the West Bank.


Over the years that followed gentrification in East Village, New York, and forced eviction of the homeless made it possible for an indie rock band from West London, Mumford & Sons, to pile cliché upon cliché in a song titled Tompkins Square Park:

But no flame burns forever
You and I both know this [all] too well.’

The events at Tompkins Square Park remind me of the Occupy movement in Brisbane and a speech given by KC after weeks of activists being chased around Brisbane CBD by Queensland cops and city council officers handing out $500 fines for camping in public parks:

They (the ruling class) know, just as we do, that we are everything that matters right now because we are giving HOPE. Hope for a better world. That is all that matters. Because it is awakening people. It is bringing inspiration to the 99% who have suffered so long under their rule, their exploitation and their repression.

KC in Post Office Square Brisbane in 2011

One hundred years on from the formation of strong workers organisation we are seeing our greatest challenge in a post-truth, post pandemic world. We have some basic principles upon which all in the working class can agree and strive for.

Capitalism has struggled to come to grips with Covid-19. The United States, the home of free enterprise market capitalism, not surprisingly, has been hit worst by the pandemic. So much so, that social democrats in Australia which has manged the pandemic better than most countries – when confronted by racist-police-state tactics in inner city tower blocks in Melbourne where poverty is rife and workers are paid minimal rates by the hour – say that it could be worse. In the US they would let them starve and die say apologists for the Vicorian ALP government. Perhaps they are unaware, that it is African and Asian migrant workers in those tower blocks that have kept the capital city in food deliveries and basic services during lock-down.

So by the time May Day 2021 comes around we should be planning how to build stronger workers movement and better organisation for the struggles ahead.

Workers of all countries unite!

Ian Curr
25 December 2020

Ed Koch
Tompkins Square Park
Hymie Town revisited