On Feb 6. members of the Party for Socialism and Liberation Brooklyn unit joined activists from Crown Heights Tenants Union, Movement to Protect the People, Crown Heights Service Workers Union, Democratic Socialists of America and more to stand in solidarity with Crown Heights community members, including a strong presence of elders, in defense of a local Associated Supermarket. Located at 975 Nostrand Ave. in Brooklyn, Associated Supermarket has served as an anchor in the community for over 50 years. Now developers are threatening to shut it down and rebuild on the land.
Associated was told that they have 90 days to vacate the property. Community members know, from witnessing the patterns of gentrification, that the supermarket would more than likely be replaced with luxury apartment buildings or a high-end, over-priced grocery store like Whole Foods – none of which lifetime residents would be able to afford and access.
Without Associated in their neighborhood, residents would be forced to travel to Western Beef supermarket which is blocks away on Empire Blvd, or to Met Foods, which is known for its violence and profiling of Black community members and is recently being boycotted because an employee placed a Black man in a chokehold after accusing him of stealing.
The true alternative for many Associated shoppers would be living off food pantry boxes that they can pick up around the corner.
Activists connect food access and gentrification
Ms. Clara addressed the crowd. She has lived in the Crown Heights neighborhood since 1966, and is one of the many seniors who, with decreased mobility, would experience great difficulty and sometimes impossibility traveling to a farther supermarket. She was one of dozens of elders who came out in the cold to advocate for the Associated Supermarket.
Alicia Boyd, an organizer with MTOPP, noted that the residents in the area make anywhere from $15-30,000 a year and depend on the sales available at Associated to survive.
Ms. Maxine spoke with the knowledge of 35 years in the community, telling folks, “This is what gentrification does. It takes the food off our tables, takes the roofs from over our heads.”
All these elders connected the plan to shut down Associated to the larger scheme of developers to take away all services available in the community and push out native residents for the sake of their greater profit.
Capitalism creates ‘food deserts’
Under capitalism, food is a commodity rather than a right. Poor and working class neighborhoods in Central Brooklyn and around the United States, especially those home to majority Black and Brown people, are often considered “food deserts,” meaning that residents don’t have access to affordable and healthy food options.
The creation of food deserts is no accident, as seen in the case of Associated Supermarket: when there is a more profitable business option, like high-rent apartments or a corporate owned grocery store, capitalists are quick to destroy people’s means of survival for their own gain.
During the near year of the COVID pandemic, a record 60-million plus people have applied for unemployment, signaling that they need government-provided benefits just to feed themselves and their families. Even during such a crisis, the capitalist system is still ready to take the most basic needs away from a community that has been hit hardest. As Alicia Boyd explained, the richest country in the world should never have people who are starving.
Kerbie Joseph, PSL organizer and lifetime resident of the neighborhood, shared her experience of shopping at Associated with her mother, who emigrated from Haiti in 1982. Her message resonated with community members.“There’s a war going on in our community, and it’s all in the name of capitalism… What it does is put its boot on our necks and takes food from our mouths.”
Joseph echoed every prior speaker’s disappointment that no elected or running politicians have joined the fight to save Associated. Even with offices on blocks close to the supermarket, none of them came out in support. Joseph reminded the crowd, “We don’t need to ask why they’re not here, we need to say we’re here. And we’re not going anywhere… Our survival has always been last, and we’re saying we’re putting ourselves first.”
When asked multiple times, “When community is under attack, what do we do?” everyone in attendance roared, “Stand up, fight back!” The outstanding turnout and energy from community members, organizers, and elders reveals that the people will be the ones leading and succeeding in this fight to save Associated Supermarket, and they have only just begun.
MTOPP will be hosting an online meeting on Feb. 7 to continue the campaign, and another meeting on Mar. 4 at 6 pm. Organizers are looking to pursue legal struggle against the closing. They emphasized the showing up in person for more actions, because internet organizing is not accessible for all. To donate to MTOPP, click here.