In the wake of days of intense protests against the murder of George Floyd on the streets of New York City, Bill de Blasio, a failed presidential candidate and now infamous bungler of the city’s response to the COVID 19 virus epidemic, has joined the chorus, led by Donald Trump, that violence is the work of “outside agitators.” I’ve lived in New York for a lot longer than de Blasio has (and not only because I’m older than he is) and I’d suggest that he’s not such a great pretender at being a New Yorker—even if he goes out at 7 PM and bangs a pot.
Just to be clear, I believe that the New Yorkers on the streets would welcome people from anywhere to join them; in all likelihood, especially given the overwhelmingly young composition of the protesters, some have come from nearby states, if not from around the country. Many of the protesters probably still list their home addresses from elsewhere on their identification. In light of what’s been happening in cities just about everywhere, though, there doesn’t seem to be much reason for people to travel to other places to cause trouble; there are more than enough opportunities at home.
The protesters, including many of those who have directly confronted the cops, aren’t the product of manipulations dreamed up by liberal or reactionary fantasies about who’s behind the most militant of the protest actions. They are real products of life on this earth and in this country. They are almost certainly the kinds of people that neither the supporters of Trump nor de Blasio want to acknowledge existing. They are young people who are, perhaps intuitively, coming to realize that only a fundamental rebellion is an adequate one. They have few beliefs in “I Love New York” or “Make America Great Again.” Without saying as much, they look forward to a world without de Blasio’s or Trump’s.
Lest readers think that I have fonder thoughts about Governor Cuomo, I don’t. I’ll save most of the specifics for another day but two items deserve mention. First, in spite of his daily press conference performances, he too bungled the response to the epidemic; among other things, he effectively gave a green light to the state’s nursing homes, whose owners have been major contributors to his various campaigns, to basically let their residents die – or, perhaps better said, DIE! Second, many years ago, in 1977, when Cuomo’s father, Mario, ran against Ed Koch in a Democratic primary for mayor, the then young Andrew was responsible for coming up with the memorable slogan, “Vote for Cuomo, not the Homo!”
To the extent that the young people are outsiders or becoming outsiders, I’d argue that they are outsiders to the “live and let die” world of business and politics as usual. That means that they are increasingly dismissive of the impoverished limits of “left” politics imposed by participation in the Democratic Party. It means that they refuse to imagine that a new world can be built on the groundwork of the so-called prosperity created by the financial and real estate interests that dominate economic life in the city. It means that they have discovered the hollowness of the claims of those (like de Blasio) who obscure their every betrayal of the cause of liberation by a proclamation of their progressive credentials. It means that they see through the argument that we need to build new “better” jails across the city if we want to close Rikers Island.
And more. They don’t think that it’s such a great idea that de Blasio holds off on shutting down the schools because the leadership of Local 1199 tells him not to (there was once a time, a long, long time ago when 1199 was imagined to be a progressive union; now it’s simply an interest group which, nonetheless, still manages to screw its worst paid members). They don’t believe de Blasio’s lies about why the New York City Housing Authority didn’t conduct inspections for lead in their buildings under his watch. They certainly can’t imagine that he was actually trying to do something to reduce homelessness when one in seven kids in the city’s public schools doesn’t have a permanent home. They are incredulous about his claims about developing affordable housing when, even before he was elected mayor, he exchanged favored treatment for Park Slope brownstones (perhaps the world center of gentrification) for the rapid development of the ugliest condominiums known to humankind along the Fourth Avenue corridor in Brooklyn. And no one will believe that he’s in favor of equal education when he’s not done one thing to change the discriminatory admissions process for the city’s selective high schools.
De Blasio cultivates his enablers and those enablers (in the so-called reform wing of the Democratic Party, the “progressive” unions and the vast array of non-profit organizations that depend on city funding) respond as they’re expected to: “The mayor is advancing our cause in difficult times; now is not the time to abandon him.”
It’s likely that de Blasio’s despicable rule in New York will not end until he is no longer able to run for re-election. It’s not likely that the current crop of potential successors will be much of an improvement. It’s time to think about an alternative to miserable politics and miserable politicians in the face of catastrophes. I don’t think that the alternative is going to come from de Blasio supporters, unless they too decide to become outsiders. But perhaps the times are changing–as I was finishing this article, over two hundred individuals who had worked for de Blasio, released an open letter criticizing the mayor and demanding “radical change.”
 Thomas Frieden, a former Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has suggested that if New York had shut things down earlier, it could have cut the death toll by as much as 80 percent.