Notes on the Struggle in Chinatown


Recently, members of the UFAD joined several protests against MOCA (Museum of Chinese in America) organized by the Chinese Staff and Workers’ Association, Youth Against Displacement, the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side, and a few other groups. On September 26, several hundred protesters marched through Chinatown and assembled in front of the museum, urging visitors to join the ongoing boycott and picket.

The protest focused on efforts to co-opt struggles by highlighting so-called cultural leaders and related institutions that make room for displacement on an epic scale. In this case, displacement was heavily abetted by museum board co-chair and managing director of a large real estate consortium, Jonathan Chu, as well as Nancy Yao Maasbach, museum president and flunky of many corporate cabals including the Council of Foreign Relations, and Goldman Sachs.

At issue in particular is:

1) The museum’s decision to accept a “publicly-acceptable bribe,” a grant of millions in dollars in return for an agreement to endorse development in Chinatown, including a 29-story expansion to the Manhattan Detention Complex jail

2) Chu’s decision to close the Jing Fong Restaurant, the only unionized restaurant in Chinatown.

This mobilization deserves the careful attention and support from activists near and far. The blatant use of cultural representatives to sell-out the community is, for good reason, the square target of the protesters, some of whom called out the museum as the “Museum of Capitalist Asians.” The Democratic Party in particular has gone all-in on this strategy in recent years with its use of identity politics to push its real agenda, the furthering of the exploitative and racist agenda of the ruling elite. In the struggle against the privatization of public housing, in development after development, local representatives who will play ball with developers are promoted as “community leaders”, even if this means ignoring or suppressing regular elections and meetings. Banks promote NGOs to be the middlemen between their funding sources and the people, and the management authorities bring in the muscle to evict residents—in New York City this even includes the Legal Aid Society, which is on contract to represent the city’s plan to privatize developments under the RAD program.

When protesters target these community sell-outs, the system goes haywire. A petition “an appeal for healing” was drafted in defense of the Museum by the so-called progressive academics and cultural icons in the community urging protesters to stand down (similarly when UFAD protesters in San Francisco protested the demolition of public housing, local NGOs and city workers decried protesters as “causing trauma”). This week, the Daily News Editorial Board stated of protesters “They harass museum visitors and its staff. They beclown themselves and their cause.” The message of these academics, officials, and media representatives is the same—get in line and buy the corporate shit that our masters prepare for us—or get lost. The Museum is supposed to be a testament to a version of the American dream, telling how past Chinese-Americans suffered so we could enjoy “progress” today, but what progress does this amount to when Chinese-Americans and their neighbors are fired from their jobs and lose their housing and entire community. How chillingly fitting it is that a high-rise jail is built to support this “great cultural narrative.” As George Carlin stated, “That’s why they call it the American dream, because you have to be asleep to believe it.”


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