Volume 78 / Number 3 - June 18 - 24, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since


The youthful audience enjoyed the dance and spoken-word performances, in addition to FIERCE’s organizing message about Pier 40, at the L.G.B.T. Community Center on Friday.

L.G.B.T. youth group fights fiercely for a S.P.O.T. to drop in at Pier 40 in the Hudson River Park

By Lucas Mann

The Chelsea office of the Fabulous Independent Educated Radicals for Community Empowerment (FIERCE) was not as hectic as one would have expected last Friday afternoon, just a few hours before the launch of their S.P.O.T Campaign to include a 24-hour, L.G.B.T. youth, drop-in center in Pier 40’s redevelopment plans.

A Michael Jackson album played and the leaders of FIERCE, as well as some of their more dedicated young volunteers, rolled up their signs, printed out more pamphlets and prepared.

“I’m super-excited for tonight,” said Tony Mango, a volunteer on the group’s Outreach Team Committee. “I’m excited for the performances. There’s going to be singing, dancing, spoken word. And I’m always excited for new people to hear about our campaigns.”

Mango heard about FIERCE’s campaigns for the first time a couple of years ago, after moving to New York from Canada. Now, like many other lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth who have found their way to Downtown Manhattan, Mango has dedicated a lot of his life to FIERCE.

“As long as they need my help, I’ll be here,” he said.

Glo Ross, lead organizer, said that the types of performances that Mango anticipated were an integral part of FIERCE’s campaigns, including this all-important one for Pier 40.

“Part of sustaining our power is about community building,” Ross said. “The creativity is part of how we sustain ourselves as people and communicate with one another.”

FIERCE’s campaigns are also unique because of how young its members are. Ross, Rickke Mananzala, their executive director, and Yasmeen Perez, FIERCE’s leadership development director, all could be ID’d at a local bar. But it is that youthfulness that, when combined with the tenacity and political awareness of their team, makes FIERCE such an effective group at representing the needs of a population many of whom are too young to drive.

“Somebody was telling me the other day that what they appreciate most about us was that the staff was almost their same age and experienced the same issues,” Perez pointed out.

The campaign launch, held on the ground floor of the L.G.B.T. Community Center on W. 13th St, was designed to be a mixture of fun and hard facts. The evening began with the presentation of the vision for the drop-in center on Pier 40 at the end of W. Houston St., followed by a slide show, with the “Rent” soundtrack playing over it. The emphasis of each of the night’s speakers, as well as of the slide show, and the varied performances, put the focus on the young crowd, easily 100 strong.

When describing some of the services that the hoped-for, 24-hour center would provide — H.I.V. testing, job training, job assistance — organizer Gaurav Jashnani paused and directly addressed the crowd.

“So who here wants a job?” he asked, followed by a loud response.

“And who has had trouble finding a job?” There was an even louder response.

“We need this center to empower our community to do what whatever we want to do,” he said, segueing into the crowd response. “This is about challenging developments that favor profit over people.”

FIERCE’s presentation also included a video montage featuring responses of some of the 300 L.G.B.T. youths the organization interviewed about their thoughts on the proposed drop-in center and what it should offer. Again, the emphasis was on the campaign’s grassroots nature, taking into account the opinions of many of the people who potentially would be served on Pier 40.

FIERCE also showed sample architectural plans for the center, including organizing rooms, a music studio, an art room, a classroom and a medical center.

Representatives from other organizations also took the stage to emphasize their support for FIERCE’s proposal. Speakers from the Ali Forney Center, the Callen-Lourde Community Health Center and The Door told the crowd that they were all involved in an integral movement to keep the West Village safe and open for L.G.B.T. youth. A speaker from San Francisco with the Grassroots Global Justice group told the crowd that they had “taught us what it means to fight displacement out on the pier” — to “win a world where rich people don’t steal our neighborhoods.”

The messages of political motivation were constantly balanced with entertainment. There were spoken-word poems, including two from FIERCE organizer Desiree Marshall. There were also several intense dance performances from teenagers that got the crowd fired up. Before FIERCE made its final comments and passed around yellow pieces of paper, on which everyone in attendance could vote yes to the drop-in center, they made sure the audience was still with them: They brought out a dance crew that, for a good 10 minutes, got the entire room on its feet, as the crew did energetic splits and leaps across the stage.

By the evening’s end, the FIERCE members were overjoyed with how the campaign launch went. Not only did they get a better turnout than expected from their constituency, there was also a showing by other neighborhood organizations, including Jill Hanekamp, a representative of the Pier 40 Partnership.

Tobi Bergman, who was a leading opponent of The Related Companies’ $618 million Pier 40 mega-development plan, until it was recently declared out of the running, was also in attendance; the Pier Park & Playground president received what was probably his first shout-out.

The Pier 40 Partnership, a community-based group hoping to redevelop Pier 40 in a low-impact manner, recently partnered with Urban Dove/CampGroup to come up with a joint plan for the 15-acre pier. The Partnership’s earlier plan included community space, which the Partnership indicated could possibly be used as a drop-in center for L.G.B.T. youth.

“All of our turnout was great, but the presence of the community and from the Partnership means a great deal to us,” Mananzala said happily, after the campaign launch had ended. “And this is good timing for the Hudson River Park Trust vote on the pier at the end of July. If everyone in this room turned out for the vote, it would be hard to ignore us.”

Once the presentation was over, the night could turn to pure fun. As the speakers left the stage, the deejay cranked the music’s volume and a dance party sprang up where moments before there had been political organizing.

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