Mass Transit Mass Movement

Spotted – from Carl Schurz Park – this tank barge carrying “Clean Oil” up the East River

As developments around the Gateway project show, it can be impossible, or nearly so, to pursue certain necessary undertakings without Federal support. On the flipside, concerted public resistance to the Williams Pipeline points to the fact that, sometimes, popular action can be enough to block even the most concerted efforts of corporations and political officials.

Shortly after our return from India, a young man asked me what I thought about the Green New Deal (GND). I said I supported it wholeheartedly, and he blurted out in reply:

“But don’t you think it’s a little extreme?”

Upon inquiring what exactly he meant by that, I came to learn that he was under the impression that the GND would entail all Americans becoming vegan and giving up all air travel. Now, of course, moving to a plant-based diet and reducing air travel are both sane and rational choices in view of the global climate crisis, but I wouldn’t say that mandatory veganism and an air travel ban represent key pillars of the GND as I understand it.

Of course, there is humor in this, but also a deep lesson to be learned. In this profound moment of urgency, we can’t afford to be victims of our own defensive and reactionary urges and the propaganda of climate change deniers which is designed to prey on just those insecurities. I have now adjusted my position on the GND so as to preemptively shift the terms of discussion. The GND is insufficiently ambitious and too-little-too-late, but it is also by far the best option we have in our national discourse around climate, and we should all be throwing our wholehearted support behind developing a robust plan from what is currently only a bold proposal. The devil may be in the Republican Party, but it is also in the details.

Much the same can be said about Corey Johnson’s new plan for NYC’s mass transit. The devil will certainly be in the details, but it reflects a welcome breath of fresh air. Given that I started the year calling for “a mass people’s movement to demand restoration and renewal of New York’s mass transit“, I was pleased to read, in the transcript of the Signal Problems interview with Johnson and a few of his staffers, Johnson’s own assessment of the current stalemate around mass transit governance and accountability:

“Do I think people give up power willingly or in a happy-go-lucky way? No. And that’s why it’s important to build public support and build a movement around this. And I think, hopefully that’s what we’ll do.”

Johnson echoed a similar sentiment in his interview with Benjamin Kabak on the first episode of the Second Avenue Sagas podcast:

“You can only get big things done if you get public, broad-based support from the people it affects the most.”

I recommend that you read/listen to both (and consider becoming a subscriber to Signal Problems, as the full interview with Johnson is paywalled, but makes for interesting reading for those of you who are concerned about the nitty-gritty).

I’m still waiting for my hardcopy of the 103-page report, so my own assessment of it will have to wait until April, but for the time being, I’ll just echo this notion, that what we need is a mass movement of informed and engaged citizens demanding sane and just policies around transit, and around climate, for the future of our City, as of the country and the world.

What I’m Doing

Just two things this month:

  • Thinking long and hard about my ongoing failure to transition away from Chase in view of its long-standing role as the leading financier of fossil fuel companies and projects globally. For context, have a look at this (short) report – all the major American banks are major culprits and nearly $2 trillion have flowed into fossil fuel projects since the signing of the Paris Agreement.
  • Continuing to urge my friends, relatives, neighbors, and fellow New Yorkers to get educated about and get involved with efforts to block the Williams Pipeline. We absolutely do not need fracked gas flowing under New York Harbor. Or anywhere in New York State. Or the country. Or the world.

What I’m Reading

My New Plan to Climate-Proof Lower Manhattan – Bill de Blasio’s ambitious, vague, and in my opinion, confused proposal to “push out the Lower Manhattan coastline as much as 500 feet” so as to defend all that real estate.

‘A lot at stake’: indigenous and minorities sidelined on climate change fight – Guardian article for which the title says it all.

An Ecosocialist Green New Deal: Guiding Principles – some thoughts from the DSA on the GND.

An open letter to all people and organizations working to combat global warming and Open letter to 1Sky from the grassroots – an open letter and an open reply to it that give some interesting insight into what has changed and what hasn’t in the last decade or so.

The Green New Deal can’t just be a bill or two. It needs to be the framework for politics for the next few decades. –  Jacobin series on the GND.


I bumped into our friend Harry from the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation the other day, and he recruited me to join for what turned out to be a photo shoot in defense of the White Horse Tavern. I wouldn’t call us “Angry”, per se, but that’s another story…

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