Arbor Day Protest at Union Square: Stop the Privatization of Public Space Event Report Back

An Arbor Day protest on Friday, April 25th in Union Square Park united artist/vendors with tree-savers and bike riders around the theme: Stop Privatization of Public Space / Protect Our Trees.

Artists, performers, eco-activists and community members leafleted the thousands of people streaming through Union Square Park with information about what’s happening in our city – the mass cutting down of trees in our parks, the privatization of public space, and reduction of public space – under the auspices of Mayor Bloomberg.

Many of the Washington Square Park activists who have worked so hard and for so long to help that Park came out in support of protecting the trees and stopping the privatization at Union Square and in our City overall. I met some WSP blog-readers too!

Members of the Bronx Treekeepers arrived with a new petition and collected many signatures as we circled the Square. We approached – and were approached by – numerous people (including people playing Twister on the plaza who held the flyer in their mouths so as not to lose their positions!). They all wanted information on how Mayor Bloomberg is encroaching on our public space and his tree destruction (despite his MillionTreesNYC p.r.). The information that 14 trees were going to be chopped down to make way for a private restaurant left people aghast.

There were other protests going on that evening — notably the Sean Bell verdict protest in Queens had been called for the same time — so we knew that many activists who would have attended had headed over there, understandably.

The protest was to begin at the Gandhi statue, and a number of folks gathered there. I started out near the statue of George Washington on his horse and the Main Plaza, and met up with a few others there. Chalking messages on the voluminous plaza seemed to garner the crowd’s attention (wondering perhaps what is this chalk-wielding woman doing?). One message: “Stop Mayor Bloomberg from Privatizing our Parks – Union Square is Next!” In the days immediately following September 11th, 2001, Union Square had become the main gathering point for “peace” speak-outs, and the Park back then was filled with chalked messages of New Yorkers searching for loved ones and expressing their desire for “No War” and for peace. (If only they’d listened to the Voices of Union Square Park back then…)

When I finally got to the Gandhi statue, a spirited group was flyering the crowd. Artists had painted and set up signs on every table. Official-looking posters, signed by the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation, adorned nearby trees as well as the Park’s four prominent statues. These posters, with UPC-bar codes (see the photo above); were each sponsored by a different corporation, and cited the kind of tree that would be cut down, signifying the privatization of our public space. (The sign in the above photo states: Property of Bank of America, Tree # USP6 Bloomberg Gingko, To be cut down and its plot privatized.)

Later, we met up with the folks from Critical Mass who were about to embark on their monthly bike ride, which gathers at Union Square. Street artists were everywhere! Once they’d closed up their tables, many helped hand out flyers and carried signs such as: “Stop Park Privatization,” “Stop Harassing Artists” “Green Market – Yes, Artists – Yes, Privatization – No.”

The Park itself was abuzz that night with all sorts of political and artistic projects. “Free Tibet” protesters set up one hundred white candles encased in glass containers all along the Main Plaza. 9/11 Truth activists collected signatures. Musicians, dancers, tourists, pounded out the cadences of a new counterculture emerging. Union Square on Arbor Day: It was an amazing tribute and example of a great use of public space.


Thank you to Rebecca, Mitchel, Robert L., Elizabeth, Gloria, Joel K., Tony, Miriam, Ned, Alex, Ernie, Jessie, Sharon, Linda, Carl, Kevin, Suzannah, Susan (and partner), Ben, ALL the street artists, and anyone else I inadvertently left out for your help, support, and great activism around this event.

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