You will read in this issue about the loss of the historic queer “People’s Beach” at Jacob Riis Park, one of the last semi-unsanctioned spaces in the city. You will read about tenants being evicted by billionaire landlords, about retired city workers being taken off public health care and about books being banned. But more than just learning about these slices of depressing news, you will learn about how people are resisting them. You’ll notice that — and I believe this is something that makes The Indypendent unique — the notable majority of each page focuses on people’s response to what’s going on.
But it is true; we, the people of New York City, are being asphyxiated! Pushed out of our apartments, yes, but not only. Free space is being privatized, bulldozed and policed more than ever. The Indy exists to find out how we can reclaim these public commons and to highlight those who are doing so.
The increasing corporatization of this city isn’t something that we simply cover, but are threatened by, because The Indypendent is a public commons. We provide free news for the people, by the people on the politics in New York City that most affect the working and poor. We, the team that puts together the paper, are not separate from those identities. We know well the struggle to make ends meet.
And it’s something I accept. While I wish that our highly unequal society didn’t make it so hard for radical projects to be well-funded, I do not for one moment wish I were anywhere else other than here, under a pile of blankets encased in a sweater because my cheap landlord won’t put the heat on, working to put together another issue.
The first article I read in The Indy was titled “58 Arrested in Standoff with NYPD Over Broken-Windows Subway Policing” featuring incredible action shots of the Harlem protest. I totally identified; I was enraged about the hiring of extra subway cops (it cost more to hire them than the money the MTA would save by “fighting” fare evasion), and thought it was frankly badass to see an established news outlet reporting from the heart of the protest. Soon after, I reached out to Indy Editor-in-Chief John Tarleton with my resumé. He invited me to come to an editorial meeting and said he was impressed with my CV, which was a little surprising — I didn’t have direct experience with journalism and wasn’t sure how well radical community organizing and trekking through the country’s southern borderlands would come off, but it turns out I fit right in.
Although I sweated bullets throughout my entire first editorial meeting (and in order to conceal this, felt the need to keep my jacket on in The Indy’s warm, tiny, well-packed office), I had a blast. When John made a wiseass comment about The New York Times and everyone burst into laughter, I knew I was home. The next month, there was an opening for officer manager and I took the job.
In December 2020 I got my first cover story, “Black Lives Matter Backlash: The NYPD’s War on Protesters Intensifies,” and soon another one — “Cold as ICE: North Jersey Counties Rake in Millions from the Feds While Holding Immigrant Detainees in Subhuman Conditions” (see above). I had done some deep investigating which paid off; within a few weeks of the piece being published, two Jersey counties announced they would end contracts with ICE. I still cover immigration and incarceration, my original beats, but have branched out to include housing and labor. In March, The Indy broke news when I authored “Labor Advocates Denounce Amazon’s Presence at Workplace Safety Conference.” Within two months of the article’s publication, the American Bar Association, which hosted the conference, ruled against allowing corporate sponsors.
It’s not always so glamorous. Plenty of grunt work is required to make this project happen. If you’re a subscriber, John or I probably personally sent you your Indy this month. Between distribution cycles, I take my ‘03 Pontiac Vibe up to our office in Downtown Brooklyn, pack that baby full with newspaper bundles and drive around the city refilling empty newsboxes, hands dyed with ink for days afterwards.
It’s not just myself and John, though. We have an incredible team of contributing writers, artists, copy editors, proofreaders and neighborhood news-box stewards who simply check on the newspaper box closest to them every once in a while and make sure it’s looking good. Something I heard when I first started hanging around the paper has been ringing particularly true lately. The Indy is a community, a network built over the past 22 years that spans across the city, encompassing the reporters, photographers, artists and delivery team that work on the paper as well as readers, donors, advertisers and the many fearless groups and organizations that we cover. Our community is elastic, so we constantly see it shifting, adapting, including more voices and concerns.
That’s why The Indy is a public commons, and like all public commons, we are constantly facing the threat of extinction. Media is being monopolized. Newsrooms are closing across the country. It’s sad. I write to whoever is reading with urgency: Now is the time to fortify our existence as a people’s institution.
In this huge city, it’s easy for us as individuals or groups to feel isolated. The Indy helps us see our connectedness, see ourselves as something more than the sum of our parts, as a movement of movements. If you believe in what we do, if you want more of it and if you can see yourself as a part of our extended community, please make a donation. And if you can afford to, even if it’s a small amount, please make that donation recurring. You can visit indypendent.org/donate or send a check to The Indypendent/388 Atlantic Ave., 2nd Fl./Brooklyn, NY/11217.
Amba Guerguerian is The Indypendent’s Associate Editor.