ZERO PLUS 1129 DAYS,--New York, NY, Friday,
October 15, 2004-- Last night
I had the opportunity to speak out for the Children's
Children's Children in New York City. Like any politician,
I blew it. I spoke as an adult, not a child. I was a
victim of the Beast of Political Terror.
The issue was/is of great concern to the future.
It revolves around the building of a restaurant in Union
Square Park, one of the oldest parks in New York City.
northern end of the park are three playgrounds: a sandy
one on the west side has two metal climbing structures;
one looks like a ladder that was bent into an arc, the
other is an open geodesic dome. There are also three
baby swings. Due north is a relatively new play area
with three climbing structures (small, medium, large),
all above a rubberized surface. There's also a sand
pit and plenty of benches. The third playground is for
little ones and is at the northeast end of the park.
There are four baby swings, a climbing area, and lots
of benches, all above a rubberized surface.
The city, searching for funds, is allowing a full-time restaurant
to be built in the famed Union Square Park as part of a $14
million development of its north end, where a statue of Abraham
Lincoln stands facing a pavilion flanked by two playgrounds
for young children.
The developers claim the playgrounds will be enhanced, and
the intrusion of a commercial business--the restaurant--will
not "steal" public land from the children.
new restaurant site
New York City has jealously guarded its private park territory
from private development. Small chunks of real estate such
as the parks belong to the people, the citizens, the travelers
of the world who seek to find respite under a tree as well
as a sandbox, swing, or monkey bar for their little ones to
enjoy without the hawking of commerce.
Last night, the prime issue was about the planting of commerce
into the kids land, the public's land. Was it in the best
interests of the city, the people, the children to allow a
full-time restaurant to be built where a pavilion now exists,
in not great condition, and playgrounds flank it where families
and children enjoy the respite of sand, slides and swings?
I was asked to attend a week before to stand up for the kids.
Being a grandparent of three children who use the park, I
went and planned to speak out in behalf of the children, to
question the right of the city and planners and developers
to take away their privacy and commercialize it.
But when my time came to stand up and speak, I looked out
at the audience. In a second, the children's faces seemed
to disappear from sight. I saw a room full of adults, and
began to speak as an adult.
I forgot to pound the rights of the children, as a child
might, and began to wax on as an adult, trying to sound adult-like
instead of child-like.
Then the two-minute buzzer rang.
I felt as though a club had slammed on my head.
Where were the children in my words? I had impressed no one
but myself. I had not paraded the children's rights before
the adults with their thirst to have a restaurant, to have
a place where they--the "grownups"--could have coffee
and dinner and enjoy the beauty of a free-land space, geared
not for commercial development, but dedicated to the freedom
Had I been wary of the Beast of Political Power, that great
seducer of lips and tongue, I would have known it would divert
my mission and force me to wander into adult talk, where I
was more concerned in getting people to "like" what
I said instead of saying what was "right."
Politics is about swaying people, even if what is said is
not to the point. It isn't about saying the truth. It isn't
about hammering home the facts that startle and frighten people
out of the delusion of now into the stark reality of tomorrow.
shouldn't be about hammering home facts that frighten
Take the park issue. Here is a group of adults using the
playground development of the park as a seductive tool to
push through the approval of a commercial restaurant. It was
clearly an example of "child real estate abuse."
Using children to promote commercial development of a park
is about a low as you can go on the political slime barometer,
but that was the key to the argument proffered by those seeking
to get the restaurant approved.
"Expand the playgrounds by 53 percent," said the
promoters, "and add new bathrooms with changing stations,"
was the icing on the cake.
Little attention was paid to the fact that no alternatives
to the restaurant were given. Why wasn't there another plan
that excluded a restaurant, and dealt only with improving
the park without commercial intrusion?
Rumor had it the $14 million in funds was contingent on the
restaurant, and that $5 million of those funds came from a
group who wanted the restaurant concession, and that without
the restaurant, those funds would not be available. In other
words, the redevelopment was about the restaurant, not the
kids, not the power of Union Square as a public place, a forum
for dissent and relaxation, a chunk of public land to be preserved
for future generations.
When I sat down, I felt a dark cloud over my head. I felt
I had let the children down, because instead of using all
two minutes of my speaking time to rail on the flagrant violation
of the children's rights to execute a restaurant, I had waxed
on about how important I was as a speaker for the children.
In other words, I was casting votes for myself...forgetting
about the kids.
Beast of Political Terror caused me to forget about
I wondered how many politicians start out with good intentions
about "saving the world" and then when they stand
up on the platform and take the microphone, something happens
to them. The words of purity they had planned to speak become
polluted with the desire to be "recognized" by their
peers--adults--and to win their affection and support?
It had to be some chemical nullification of purpose, because
before I stood up, all I thought about was the rights of the
children--my grandchildren--my grandchildren's grandchildren.
I wanted everyone there to know that the voices of the children
should be heard before the plan was set in concrete, and the
rights of the kids be duly noted before a restaurant stole
from them the privacy of non-commercialized land that could--under
another plan, with a more public-geared proposal--give them
even greater freedom and rights to privacy in Union Square.
But those points were crushed between my teeth as I found
my words wandering about who I was, and why I was a good advocate
for the kids. So when it came time to speak for the kids,
I was cut shot. I got a few shots in, but the full power of
the message was diluted, crippled by my own egotism.
Parents like to say: "I'm a good parent. I'm a good
grandparent. I stand up for my kids."
But last night I felt just the opposite.
I felt I had left them in the wake. I could hear them calling
at me: "What about me, G-Pa?"
It was my first time at the political dais, of that I admit.
But it was shocking that I was so easily diverted, so easily
deterred from my primary mission of being a Sentinel of Children's
Some might think it was a small event, but for me, it was
very large. It reminds me that even with all the time and
effort I make to be an advocate for the children, I must be
cautious of the Beast of Political Terror, the one that wants
me to be accepted, liked, respected, adored by my peers.
That is a slimy feeling. It made me feel dirty walking home,
that I had surrendered to the pressure of the group, of the
room. That I had been more an adult than a child, more eager
to impress than to demand, for people who have their minds
set need to be hammered with the truth, with the raw truth.
could only be told from the children's view
That truth could only be told from the children's view- when
they are told not to make too much noise because the customers
in the restaurant can't enjoy their food with all the clamor
going on....or when the public bathrooms aren't working and
the restaurant won't allow the kids to traipse through their
fancy entrance to use the toilet, or when the kid population
grows and the restaurant has already frozen the expansion
of the playground in fierce, hard concrete, and the kids have
no place to evolve.
Or, worse yet, that the land the kids own today has been
given over to someone else, by parents and grandparents, who
feel good they did something by selling out the future generations--boasting
about with puffed chests that they put a restaurant into Union
Square Park--and forgetting what price it cost future generations.
I was one of them last night.
next time I speak for the children I'll be a statesman
I became a politician, not a statesman.
The Beast of Political Terror won.
But only for the moment.
The next time, I'll be prepared.
The next time, I'll bring the kids with me.