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Jun 30, 21

NYC Reportback: A People’s Park Queer Takeover

Radical queers report back from PRIDE as showdowns between police and the wider community in Washington Square Park continue.

On Sunday, June 27, a group of radical queers and accomplices gathered in Washington Square Park on the stolen island of Manhatta, Lenapehoking—now part of so-called New York City—to celebrate our love, our struggle, and each other. People from all over the city created a shared space for community defense, mutual aid, political education, and the unrepentant joy of Queerness.

New Yorkers took over the park and held it in direct violation of an arbitrary curfew. The violent targeting of Washington Square Park in particular has been used to repress the communal atmosphere of the park for decades and criminalize our unhoused neighbors.

We stand in opposition to the police, the state, and the wealthy Greenwich Village residents using the tools of both in an attempt to usurp our right to exist in public spaces. We act in the tradition of our elders who rioted against the NYPD at the Stonewall Inn 52 years ago and their kin: those who threw bricks and punches, those who cared for their loved ones as they lay dying, those who refused to be silent while enduring a devastating epidemic. The radical community in New York City continues to be inspired by their legacy and we recommit ourselves today to carrying it forward together.

The March, the Park, the People

The Queer Liberation March is an alternative to Pride that rejects both cops and corporations. The organizers of the march had planned a rally at Washington Square Park to cap off the event, but canceled because the Washington Square Park Conservancy—a group of elitists who think they can control a public space—made it impossible to coordinate a permitted rally without police involvement.

We, the community, saw an opportunity. We wanted to create an action inspired by radical joy in defiance police and capitalism, which sits at the heart of the Queer Liberation March. We wanted to celebrate our hard and ongoing work in pursuit of a more just world, the solidarity we use to build it, and the community-to-be we should always welcome with open arms.

Washington Square Park has been a special place for many communities. After Manhatta was stolen from the Lenape people and colonized by the Dutch, the area became home to a free Black community. This community was later evicted by English settlers, and the future park became a public burial ground. Over 20,000 bodies lie beneath it. Now, centuries later, it has become a communal space with a rich tradition of art and activism. We cannot allow this or other public spaces to become further enclosed; we have so few left.

As of late, Washington Square Park has become a flashpoint of over-policing in New York City. Many of the complaints about the park lodged by housed residents nearby could be mitigated with social services and public amenities that our city has the ability to provide at a fraction of the NYPD budget. Instead, the state chooses to use police violence against its most vulnerable residents while standing on a blood-soaked potter’s field, all on stolen land. Nothing could be more fitting.

The NYPD has used the curfew at Washington Square Park to train new pigs in rioting against vulnerable people. We knew that organizing an unpermitted rally following an unpermitted march presented the possibility of police violence, especially knowing that the NYPD’s Strategic Response Group (SRG, the NYPD’s most violent arm) was assigned to stalk the march. We came together to create a space to defy the various ways in which the NYPD seeks to control our city and our bodies.

How it Went Down

On Sunday afternoon, multiple marches converged at Washington Square Park, where thousands of New Yorkers danced, socialized, and celebrated radical queer joy. Around 6:30pm, the barricade circle beneath the Washington Square Arch (“the pig pen”) was moved inward by New Yorkers irate at the presence of the NYPD at a celebration that was started with an uprising against the NYPD. An NYPD officer in the pig pen forcefully shoved a barricade at a woman, prompting a handful of people to speak out against his aggression. It’s at this point the officer released pepper spray on the crowd.

Shortly before then, the pig pen had called for reinforcements citing claims of “air mail” despite the fact that nothing had been thrown at the cops — a glass bottle had simply broken nearby.

Countless cops in hats and bats from SRG’s bike squad, Emergency Services Unit, and an LRAD all arrived to escalate the crowd in a truly surreal scene reminiscent of the NYPD’s history of violently repressing collective joy.

Several beloved comrades were assaulted, pepper sprayed, and even arrested while attempting to protect vulnerable people who had never experienced a cop riot before. Many comrades were successfully de-arrested and, with thousands of bodies standing ground against the NYPD, held cops off.

Multiple times, police attempted to escalate with excessive force and each time, comrades held the line and kept people safe. Police retreated at least twice, and were forced to walk through darkened sections of the park to avoiding heckling by a defiant crowd. The Pride celebration at Washington Square Park continued late into the night, with a community of protectors holding it down.


How Did We Do This Beautiful Thing?

A handful of trusted comrades reached deep into our networks, with each individual acting as a node connected to their affinity groups and organizations. Medics, frontliners, mutual aid, and activists all came together to create a People’s Park. We were able to pool resources and bring our people into the streets while minimizing the chatter and chaos associated with coordinating large groups in a short period of time.

We created a safety framework built on the RUST model (Remote Uprising Support Team) monitoring police scanners and social media to keep tabs on the movements of pigs and fash. This way, we could communicate any risk of violence, allowing everyone to practice informed consent in accordance with their participation level and personal safety needs.

Each comrade functioned as facilitator between their networks and the organizing collective. Medics reached out to other medics; frontliners reached out to trusted affinity groups. While each comrade was responsible for their networks, one comrade coordinated directly between these facilitators to ensure everyone felt supported and empowered in their work. This ensured that we could maintain a streamlined coordinating space, rather than a generalized loop with unwieldy numbers and vague expectations. No one person was left scrambling to do everything. Through this structure, we could also circulate information widely via a whisper network without losing clarity and cohesion.

The queers of New York City will continue to claim our right to be an open community of love, lust, and mutual support in public spaces. We will not allow ourselves to become further alienated through capitalism and technology, expected to remain isolated in our apartments, and denied access to sites of joy and our own history.

Fuck your curfew.

In Solidarity,

The Queers of New York City

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