Back in November, the Crown Heights Assembly led a protest outside the Franklin Avenue office of real estate firm MySpaceNYC. A few weeks ago, the concerns and critiques the Assembly outlined in November received a more extensive airing in the much-discussed article "The Ins and the Outs: a look below the surface in gentrifying Crown Heights," published by Narratively. The accusations in this article (MySpace declined to comment), along with plans for additional actions by the Assembly outlined in leaked meeting minutes last week, led MySpace to reply with a cease-and-desist letter, reproduced above, which they shared with Brooklynian yesterday afternoon (scroll to the bottom for the original link).
The text of the Assembly's leaked meeting minutes (referred to in the letter above) are as follows:
- Ourspace Blogroll to Document/build the story of Our Space. A blogroll that represents the stories of people who have come through CHA meetings; Documentation of MySpace research, Goldman Sachs property buy, what else?
- Have some people go undercover – go to MySpace, check out some houses, and run through the demands, subtly, ask for rent histories, etc. Then have them document their experience.
- Smear their brand: Adbust their logoStickerbomb Franklin a week before ”Action”
- Next action: Flyering on the day of (across the street?) encouraging people to jump on the phone right away and phonejam for a day. Disrupt their business – 100 people pledge to call again and again.And then, drop worst rental histories on doorsteps at end of day?
- Follow-up covert “occupy” action – on a given day, or 4 people a day for 2 weeks, have 20 people go through whole process of looking at apartments, seem interested in a particular spot, then at last minute, pull out demands and say we're not interested unless you will do these things. (video this somehow? Or tape record)
- Our Space Block Party (or at Brower?) with anti-gentrification theme, housing information, lega; information tables, etc in summer
ILFA is not an attorney, so I'll allow those with more extensive knowledge to weigh in on the finer points of this back-and-forth. At the extremes, it's clear that vandalism is illegal, and equally clear that accusing a business of promoting gentrification and displacement on the internet is not.
I'm also inclined to refrain from extensive comment in the interest of hearing what readers have to say about these competing documents themselves, but suffice to say that two different visions of community (and community leadership, and community interest) are at play in this contest. MySpace makes money in real estate and gives a chunk of that back to support community groups and their initiatives including the Kids Day and the MLK Day Clean-Up effort. The Assembly couldn't care less about MySpace's charitable giving; they want to change real estate business practices through social pressure and direct action. The MySpace model is one in which successful businesses take the lead in the communities where they operate; the Assembly's is one in which those businesses are held accountable by the community.
This all raises big, broad questions: Who or what constitutes a community, and what are its boundaries (are they geographic, demographic, voluntary, etc)? Who speaks on behalf of community interests (and decides what these interests are)? What responsibilities do individuals have to others in the neighborhoods where they live and work, and how are these responsibilities enforced, if they are? The answers to these questions, it seems to me, are a big part of what's at stake in this ongoing debate.