Lower East Side protesters say anti-pol poster not offensive, take aim at development issues

Photo by Dean Moses

Residents of Chinatown and the Lower East Side gathered on Tuesday to condemn the reconstruction of East River Park while also defending the design of a poster depicting Council Member Margaret Chin as a rampaging monster. 

National Mobilization Against Sweatshops (NMASS,) the National Lower East Side Workers Center, and East River Park Action organized a public demonstration with about 50 individuals brandishing “Chinzilla” signs — an image with Margaret Chin’s face photoshopped onto Godzilla — outside of the NMASS headquarters on 345 Grand St.

This rally was held in response to a number of local leaders and politicians condemning the poster for having racist undertones, as previously reported in amNewYork Metro.

Locals say no to East River Park construction plans. (Photo by Dean Moses)

A cluster of multi-racial residents united to ensure fellow community members that the poster is not a racist attack, but in their view, a representation of the destruction they feel Chin is unleashing on District 1 with the proposed East Side Coastal Resiliency (ESCR) Project.

The ESCR aims to reduce flood risk by reconstructing the East River Park and areas from East 25th Street down to Montgomery Street.           

JoAnn Lum, the executive director of NMASS and of Asian descent, says that the poster is not about race but instead about the tyranny of living under Chin’s leadership.   

“They say it’s racist to depict City Council Member Margaret Chin as a marauding monster, but we made this poster because we feel that it speaks the truth. What do you call it when an elected representative uses her power to sell out and destroy a community to help developers get rich, isn’t that monstrous? How is it racist when we call out our elected official for displacing us? What do you call it when an elected official does this to a community that is mostly Chinese, Latino, Black, poor and working people like us in the Lower East Side in Chinatown, isn’t that racist?” Lum said. 

JoAnn Lum amidst an array of “Chinzilla” posters. (Photo by Dean Moses)

She shared the plight that many individuals in the neighborhood face, particularly the up-zoning issues and battle with luxury real estate developers. For Lum, the poster shines a light on who they consider to be a racist, and the depiction reflects a much bigger issue–the displacement of members of her community. 

“I’m Chinese, so it is particularly galling to me that people think that just because our elected official is Chinese that she can get away with murder. The critics of this poster, they’re so concerned about racism, why aren’t they concerned about all the evictions, the homelessness, the uprooting of people from our community, and the small businesses that cannot afford it anymore?” Lum said. 

Some residents are afraid that through the construction work set to begin in Spring of 2021, they will lose access to the park during the COVID-19 pandemic, a time when many seek safe places to be outdoors. Additionally, concerns were raised that a new, revitalized East River Park could lead to further gentrification and displacements.

The “Chinazilla” poster made the rounds on social media last week, with Twitter and Instagram users shaming the image as racist. After reaching out for comment for an initial news story concerning the poster, Chin told amNewYork Metro that it was “hurtful.”   

In response to this, Yanin Pena of the Youth Against Displacement says that Chin’s actions have disproportionately affected Black, Latino, and Asian community members. 

“Margaret Chin, who recently called our picture in the amNewYork as ‘hurtful and ridiculous.’ She forgot to mention that for the past 10 years that she has been in office she teamed up with the Tale of Two City Mayor Bill de Blasio, to push policies that line the pockets of real estate that displaced our mainly Puerto Rican, Black, Dominican, and Chinese communities and small businesses, and its workers,” Pena said. “Recently when the developers sought to build the four mega towers, she played the whole charade to green light them in exchange for comps, instead of using her power to stop them outright. Now ask yourselves, who is the racist?”

Yanin Pena of the Youth Against Displacement says that Chin’s displacement actions have disproportionately affected Black, Latino, and Asian community members. (Photo by Dean Moses)

At the press conference, Wing Lam, a member of the Chinese Staff and Workers Association offered his support and praised NMASS, contributing a $1,000 check to their cause.  He emphasized that critics should look at what Chin has done to the community before jumping to her aid.

“Racists!? Chin not China! She doesn’t represent Chinese. She represents that the Chinese beware of her. Developers destroy our community! She is leading them. She is one of the people along with the organization called themselves ‘Helping Chinese.’ They are the one that the East Village rezoning plan. They are exploiting us, exploiting the people. So that’s what happened here,” Lam said.

After reaching out for comment, Council Member Margaret Chin said she was not surprised by the accusations hurled her way at the rally. 

“The sentiment behind these personal attacks is nothing new. Perhaps xenophobia in the wake of coronavirus has made this poster less palatable than when we first encountered it. Nevertheless, I am reassured by those who stood with me to condemn this ludicrous (and poorly photoshopped) piece of propaganda. Other elected officials of color have endured and will endure similar tactics and it’s important that we denounce racism in any form – and yes, the poster is still racist even if a person of color produced it,” Chin said.

Chin is familiar with NMASS and says that the group spreads misinformation and opposes any change in the community. She added, “To NMASS and any other organization who seeks to poison the well with misinformation and racism, I want you to know that I see you, and I will never shy away from calling you out.”