Democracy Now! co-host and Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez received the 2010 Justice in Action Award from the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund last week. We play an excerpt of his acceptance speech. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: Democracy Now! co-host and New York Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez has just received the 2010 Justice in Action Award from the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund. We wanted to play an excerpt of his address.
JUAN GONZALEZ: I think of people like Luis Manuel Tejada, the director of the wonderful Mirabal Sisters Cultural Center in Washington Heights, who came to me several years ago to tell me of the thousands of people being forced from their homes by a single landlord called Pinnacle Management. I didn’t believe him — how could so many people be forced out by one landlord? — until I went to housing court, and I checked the court records, and I found that, indeed, over the past two years, a single company, Pinnacle, had filed eviction proceedings against 5,000 people. Pinnacle was funded by a hedge fund group, and it was operating a huge scam to drive people from their rent-stabilized apartments, then create fraudulent paperwork claiming that they were renovating these apartments, to be able to jack the rents up beyond the rent stabilization levels. And I wrote a series of articles about Pinnacle and the leader of Pinnacle and the hedge fund that was backing him.
I think of Antoinette Hargrove, the president of the parents association of PS 123 in Harlem, who begged me last year to help her and her parents association fight off a charter school that had suddenly come into her building and was trying to take up all the space in that building.
Or I think of Shirley Kwan, a twenty-eight-year-old Chinese American woman who lived on Mott Street in Chinatown after 9/11, who told me that none of the buildings in her neighborhood had been cleaned of toxic dust after the fall of the World Trade Center towers.
Or of Marilena Christodoulou the head of the parents association at Stuyvesant High School, who told me around the same time that all — many of the students at Stuyvesant were getting sick, because the school system in the city had not properly cleaned Stuyvesant High School and had brought the students back too soon.
Or of the mother of a soldier in Fort Dix who called me up one day to complain that her son had come back from Iraq very sick, was at Fort Dix, but was being ordered by his commander to go back to the battlefield. “There’s a whole lot of soldiers from his company who are all sick at Fort Dix,” she told me. And she gave me the number of a staff sergeant, and on his cell phone, I called him up and went out to Fort Dix and met at a McDonald’s outside of Fort Dix with fourteen members of the 443rd National Guard unit from New York, who were all very, very sick. And it turned out that they had been sickened from their exposure to depleted uranium while serving in Iraq.
There are many others like them. And it’s on those citizens of our city, who come forward and call me up, and I answer my phone, and I try to listen to them, because, you know, people, whistleblowers — three-quarters of the whistleblowers in America are not all there. You can’t be a whistleblower in America and be all there. You know? So you have to listen to what people say and try to empathize and be able to try to understand what they’re telling you and then try to investigate for yourself. But if you don’t listen, you will never get those stories. And there are many others like them who have made my career in journalism possible, only because I listen to people who no one else pays attention to.
I want to leave you with a final thought. For the past few years, I’ve sought to chronicle one of the truly epic injustices of our time. You wouldn’t be able to tell it, unless you’re a regular reader of the Daily News — and I excuse many of you who may not be regular readers of the Daily News —- because in a 700-word column, there’s not a whole lot you can get into. But if you follow the string of the columns, you will understand what I’ve been trying to do.
This epic injustice is the complete takeover and reengineering of the modern American metropolis by our nation’s wealthiest sectors -— the seizure of public parks, public schools and public lands, largely through the use of land use and zoning policies and executive tax breaks, so that the largely black and brown and Asian populations of those cities, along with the officials they elect, get to have only the most minimal say over a city’s most precious resources: the public commons.
From the parks that we have turned over to wealthy private schools and to professional sports teams, to private tennis and golfing concessions, and to luxury restaurant operators, to huge high-income housing and office development projects that spawn special economic districts, that then siphon off payments in lieu of taxes to pay off private bonds, instead of using that money to add to the city’s general funds, to charter schools that spread at breakneck speed, even though they have no real public oversight and no extensive track record of proven success, yet they are encouraged to displace existing public schools, through all of these ways, our public commons is being taken away.
The American city is being reengineered along the European model, with the poor pushed out to the far-off suburbs, and only the wealthy and middle class able to find housing in a central city core protected by thousands of surveillance cameras that track and record all who enter.
Who will stand up against this? Who will say this is the opposite of a democratic society? Who will defend those who have no power? Where are the leaders who will not simply talk about change, but actually fight for it?
Luckily, there are heroic organizations, like AALDEF and the Mirabal Sisters Center and NEDAP and the Chinese Staff Workers’ Association and the Association for Union Democracy, and scores of others, that persevere. And thankfully, there are still a few places in this wasteland of the American news media where your voices can still be heard. A better world is indeed possible, and we will get there. And I want to thank AALDEF for giving me this award.
AMY GOODMAN: Juan Gonzalez, co-host here on Democracy Now!, longtime columnist for the New York Daily News, receiving the 2010 Justice in Action Award from the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund. Congratulations, Juan.